KARACHI: Freedom of religion has been protected in several treaties and declarations. Article 18 of the United Nations Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966 says that every person shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or adopt a religion and freedom, either individually or communally, and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.
The protection of freedom of religious belief and practice of all communities was indeed the predominant right asserted in several propositions and resolutions passed by the All-India Muslim League. One of the famous Fourteen Points enumerated by Mohammad Ali Jinnah on proposed constitutional changes was “full religious liberty, or liberty of belief, worship and observance, propaganda, association and education shall be guaranteed to all communities.” Thus, the very genesis of Pakistan was grounded in the protection of religious rights of all, especially those of minorities.
The right to religious freedom is not subject to any other provision of the Constitution; it is only subject to law, public order and morality and not to any religious clause of the Constitution of Pakistan. There is a general lack of awareness in Pakistan about minority rights, among the public and those entrusted with the enforcement of law are also not fully conscious of this issue either. Under the Constitution of Pakistan of 1973, minorities have a special status. Of all the articles relating to minorities’ rights, Article 20 is of key significance. It would be counterintuitive if the right to freedom of religion enshrined in Article 20 is interpreted in the manner which has the effect of encroaching upon religious freedoms of minority religions in Pakistan. As per Article 251 of the constitution, any section of citizens having a distinct language, script or culture shall have the right to preserve and promote the same and subject to law, establish institutions for that purpose.
Article 20 does not merely confer a private right to profess but confers a right to practise both privately and publicly. The state shall safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of minorities and the ultimate goal of the state should be to eradicate religious intolerance in Pakistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 30th, 2017.