RELIGIOUS DEMOGRAPHY
Total population 211 million. 96 per cent Muslims (of them, 80-85 per cent Sunni, 15-20 per cent Shi’a); Christians 1.6 per cent; Hindus 1.6 per cent. Community sources put the number of Ahmadi Muslims at approximately 500,000-600,000. Estimates of the Zikri Muslim community, located in Balochistan, range between 500,000 and 800,000 individuals. It is impossible to identify the size of the non-religious population.

APPG Commentary on the current state of Freedom of Religion or Belief 2020

One report suggests between August 2018 to February 2020, at least 31 members of religious minorities were killed, 58 were injured, there were 25 blasphemy cases and seven places of worship were attacked.

2020 witnessed a huge rise in anti-Shi’a violence and hatred. Since 30 August 2020, at least five Shi’as have been killed, more than 30 blasphemy cases were registered against the community members and at least one religious congregation was attacked. At least four big anti-Shi’a rallies were organised in September 2020 in different cities of Pakistan. On 12 September, extremists threw stones at a Shi’a place of worship in Karachi. On 9 October, police manhandled and arrested 7 Shi’a women for participating in a religious procession. The issue of Shi’a missing persons remains unresolved. According to one source, 33 Shi’as, including women, are still missing across Pakistan.
Ahmadiyya Muslims continued to face violence and discrimination. On 9 November 2020, an 82-year-old Ahmadi was shot dead in Peshawar. On 6 October 2020, Ahmadi teacher Naeemuddin Khattak was murdered in Peshawar.

On 13 May 2020, the Punjab Assembly announced that Ahmadis could be part of the minority inclusion commission if they accept that they are non-Muslim.

On 7 May, Minister for Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony Noor-ul-Haq Qadri said whoever sympathises with Ahmadis can never be loyal to Pakistan. In February 2020, a 100-year-old Ahmadiyya mosque was illegally occupied in Kasur, Punjab.

On 29 April, the State Minister for Parliamentary Affairs tweeted, inciting violence against Ahmadis. Four Pakistani clerics who were invited by the UK government to an interfaith event in March 2020 had to apologise and confirm their anti-Ahmadiyya belief after being criticised over meeting Lord Ahmad.

Attacks on places of worships against the Hindu community continued, particularly in Sindh. On 6 July, for example, some young people in Islamabad demolished the under-construction Hindu temple which the federal government had approved earlier.

Christians continued to face false blasphemy charges. On 8 September, a Christian man was sentenced to death over sending ‘blasphemous’ text message in Lahore. On 31 August, a Christian man identified as David was arrested for allegedly ‘desecrating the Holy Quran’. On 25 February, a 22-year Christian labourer, Saleem Masih, was beaten and tortured in Chunian, Punjab, for ‘polluting’ a tube-well. On 9 November, a Christian mother and son were shot dead in Gujranwala, Punjab. On 28 January 2021, Tabitha Gill, a nurse, was beaten and arrested (later released, but forced into hiding) after being accused of blasphemy by hospital staff.

Christian and Hindu girls are targeted for kidnapping, forced conversion and marriage – an experience which usually includes sexual abuse. Every year up to 1,000 young women from these communities between 12 and 25 years of age are abducted – and this may be an under-estimate. A Hindu girl, 14, was married to 40-year Mohammad Aachar Darejo in Sindh in April 2020. In the same province, in October 2020, a 13-year-old Christian girl, Arzoo Raja, was abducted and married to a 44-year Muslim man. In August 2020, a Christian girl, Saneha Kinza Iqbal, was abducted and forcefully converted to Islam in Faisalabad, Punjab. Even if the girls manage to escape, they can receive death threats from their former kidnappers.

The non-religious are targeted by state actors and vigilante groups alike. There is a rising intolerance against liberal/progressive and atheist bloggers and authorities have failed to provide a safe environment. The government designates religious affiliation on identity documents such as passports and in national identity card applications. Applicants must state their religion when applying for a passport. “No Religion” is not accepted as an answer.
Gulalai Ismail, a leading human rights activist, was forced to flee from Pakistan in 2019. She was persecuted in 2019 for speaking out against sexual assaults and disappearances carried out by the Pakistani military. Ever since she relocated to the United States, her family in Pakistan have been subjected to increasing threats, harassment and intimidation from local security forces.

During the first wave of COVID-19, religious minorities were discriminated against and blamed for the spread of the virus. Shi’a Hazaras were particularly singled out by the government of Balochistan. The virus was also called the ‘Shi’a virus’. Similarly, Christians and Hindus were discriminated during food ration distribution and denied aid on the basis of their religious identities.

FCO Human Rights Report 2019

Discrimination and violence against members of Muslim minorities, religious minorities and minority ethnic communities continued, especially against Ahmadiyya Muslims and Christians, but also Hindus and Shia Muslims, including Hazaras. The use of  blasphemy laws remained a concern, with many detained awaiting court hearings. Ahmadiyya Muslims and non-Muslim religious minorities remain unable to hold presidential or prime ministerial office after a bill to allow this was blocked in the National Assembly in November. Reports of Hindu and Christian women being forced to convert to Islam, or to marry Muslim men, continued. In January, the acquittal of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy in 2010, was upheld by the Supreme Court. In November, a Parliamentary Committee to Protect Minorities from Forced Conversions was formed to work on relevant legislation.

A positive development was the Kartarpur Corridor opening, allowing Sikh pilgrims visa-free access to shrines in India and Pakistan. The UK supported efforts to identify barriers to religious freedom for members of minorities. We engaged youth and community discussion on this issue through digital media and community outreach projects. We also worked to strengthen provincial government support to minorities and to improve civil society advocacy skills. The Bishop of Truro’s report of FCO Support for Persecuted Christians highlighted issues faced by Christians and other minorities in Pakistan.

APPG Commentary on the current state of Freedom of Religion or Belief 2019

96% of Pakistan’s population consists of Muslims. Christians and Hindus are 1.6% of the population. Ahmadis, like other religious minorities, claim underrepresentation in official figures which currently suggest they make up 0.22% of the entire population. Pakistan’s official census does not provide any figures of Muslims sects, although unofficial figures suggest that Muslims are further sub-divided into the Sunni majority (consisting of approximately 80%) and Shia minority (representing 15%–20% of the total population).

There are substantial issues for Pakistan’s religious minorities, including the misuse of blasphemy laws, the forced conversion and forced marriage of non-Muslim girls and the discrimination and marginalisation of Christian, Hindu and Ahmadi minority groups.

There are additional worrying issues, such as the inability of successive Pakistani administrations to fully implement in letter and in spirit the Pakistan Supreme Court judgment of 19 June 2014, which ordered, among other things, the application of an employment quota system for minorities and the establishment of a National Council for Minorities.

The new government led by Imran Khan seems to have improved control over extremist groups and there have been some positive developments in the reporting period. Aasia Bibi was finally acquitted of blasphemy charges and left the country. There were violent protests in response but the State stood firm. Khadim Hussain Rizvi, leader of the Tehrik-e-Labaik Pakistan – a group of anti-Ahmadiyya hardliners – was arrested under terrorism charges for leading protests against Bibi’s acquittal.

Pakistani authorities also granted 3,500 visas to Indian Sikhs to visit the holy site of Gurdwara in Pakistan.

In early 2019, the Supreme Court ruled that Christian marriages will now be officially registered with marriage certificates.

However, one of the government’s positive moves, appointing Atif Mian, a world-leading Ahmadi economist as an economic advisor, was immediately reversed due to pressure from extremist, anti-Ahmadi elements.

During the 2018 election campaign, political parties also used anti-minority speech to gain support from hardliners. Political leaders, including Imran Khan, showed support for blasphemy laws and appeased anti-Ahmadiyya groups.

Anti-blasphemy laws are still used as a tool to persecute the non-religious and religious minorities. According to one report, there are at least 40 individuals currently sentenced to death or serving a life sentence for blasphemy. This includes two Christians, Qaiser and Amoon Ayub, and a Shia activist, Taimoor Raza.

Often accusations of blasphemy alone are enough to initiate mob action. A large mob stormed a Hindu temple in Ghotki city of Sindh province and vandalised it. The event happened when a Hindu school principal was accused of committing blasphemy by a student.

In February 2019, around 200 Christian families in the Farooq-e-Azam neighbourhood of Karachi fled after a mob made their way to the area. The mob attacked several Christian houses and a church and killed livestock. It formed after Muslim woman Samina Riaz accused four Christian women of desecrating the Quran. One local resident said: “She claimed they stole a copy of the Quran and ruined it by submerging it into a basin of dirty water”. The incident followed Samina Riaz and her husband being asked to vacate the place they lived by their Christian landlord.

The combined actions of the Pakistan Government and extremist Islamic groups has created an environment where the non-religious are being targeted for violence and abuse. The most egregious recent example of this is the treatment of Gulalai Ismail, a human rights defender and member of the Board of Humanists International. Gulalai was first arrested in October 2018, after flying back from the UK after speaking at a Humanists UK fringe at the Conservative Party Conference. Gulalai was charged with sedition under terrorism laws after being caught attending protests in Pakistan calling for justice for the murder of an 11-year-old girl. In June, Humanists UK supported calls coordinated by Humanists International for charges against Gulalai to be dropped. After her arrest she was subsequently released on bail, but then a further, much more serious arrest warrant was issued, leading her to fear for her life, so she went into hiding from Pakistani authorities who had been trying to arrest her for her human rights activism. Given the threat to both her freedom and her safety, Gulalai has had to flee Pakistan and in September 2019 arrived in the US where she intends to seek asylum.

Pakistan’s Ahmadi community continue to face hate speech and discrimination. Ahmadis are prohibited by law from referring to themselves as Muslims, which the faith group see as highly offensive and a major violation of their right to self-expression. On 19 July 2019, an anti=Ahmadiyya hashtag (#کافر_دنیاکابدترین_قادیانی – Qadiani—a derogatory word for Ahmadis—is the worst infidel in the world) was trending on Twitter.

Also, last year in May, a mob of nearly 100 people, which included the local leader of the ruling party, destroyed a 100-year old Ahmadi mosque in Punjab.

Violent attacks against Shias continued in different parts of Pakistan. In April 2019, a suicide attack in a vegetable market killed at least 24 Shia Hazaras in Quetta. According to the National Commission for Human Rights, more than 509 Shia Hazaras have been killed since 2012. In a hearing on Shia Hazara killings, the Chief Justice of Pakistan termed these killings as “equivalent to wiping out an entire generation”.

A new trend of ‘Shia Missing Persons’ has emerged in recent years. The BBC covered this story, reporting that 140 Shias are said to have been disappeared by security forces. Earlier this year, families of Shia missing persons protested outside the President of Pakistan’s residency in Karachi and were successful in recovering four Shias who were in the illegal custody of security forces without any charge. It is estimated that hundreds are still missing across Pakistan.

Christians also face discrimination and violence. In late May 2019, 35-year old Christian rickshaw driver Sagheer Masih was robbed at knifepoint before being forced to drink poisoned by four Muslims. He died several days later. Mr Masih had experienced ongoing prejudice and verbal abuse as the only Christian rickshaw driver in the town.

At the end of July an armed mob attacked a church in Bhiki village in Punjab’s Sheikhupura district. Members of the mob entered the church during a service and proceeded to beat several members of the church.

Non-Muslims, especially Hindus and Christians, continue to face forced conversions. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, there are around 1,000 young women who are forcibly converted to Islam each year – ‘many are kidnapped, forcibly married and raped’. In late June 2019 an FIR (First Incident Report) was registered in which the father of Christian girl Saima (aged around 14-15 years) claimed that his daughter had been raped twice while working as a domestic in the household of Muslim politician Mian Tahir Jamil in Faisalabad.

In the UK Parliament, 2021

EARLY DAY MOTIONS

1561 Commemoration of 10th anniversary of Shahbaz Bhatti’s assassination Jim Shannon

In the UK Parliament, 2020

ORAL QUESTIONS

Brendan O’Hara 5 March;

WRITTEN QUESTIONS

Lord Alton 27 July; Hilary Benn 20 July; Fleur Anderson 20 July; Fleur Anderson 7 July; Lord Alton 6 July; Margaret Ferrier 3 July; Lord Alton 22 June; Lord Alton 22 June; Jim Shannon 8 June; Jim Shannon 8 June; Jim Shannon 8 June; Jim Shannon 8 June; Baroness Cox 6 May; Baroness Cox 6 May; Baroness Cox 6 May;  Lisa Cameron 28 April; Lisa Cameron 28 April; Louise Haigh 13 March; Lord Alton 9 March; Lord Alton 25 February; Lord Alton 14 January;


USCIRF report 2020

US State Department International Religious Freedom report 2019



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