The Plight of Religious Minorities in Pakistan

The brutal killings of the Governor of Punjab Mr. Salman Taseer and the Federal Minister for Minorities’ Affairs Mr. Shahbaz Bhatti have indicated the vulnerability of people’s rights and freedoms, especially the religious minorities in Pakistan.

It seems very clear that anyone who is against the blasphemy laws puts his life at risk and the danger is rising in Pakistan to those who oppose what is essentially an anti-free speech law and the number of people whose life is threatened is growing in Pakistan. 

Governor of Punjab and Federal Minister for minorities were killed for their support to Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman, unjustly convicted for life under Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws that carry the death penalty for derogatory remarks or any other action against Islam, the Holy Quran or the Prophet Muhammad.

Hundreds of families have suffered due to blasphemy laws. From 1986 to August 2011, at  least 40 people accused of blasphemy were either killed before their trail started or were murdered  at some stage during the trial. Of these, 35 murders took place in Punjab, three in Sindh and one in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Within Punjab, the killings were concentrated in Lahore, Faisalabad,sheikhupura, Gujranwala, Gujrat, Sialkot and other small towns around these cities.



Year of death



Tahir Iqbal

Lahore (Punjab)


Died in prison under mysterious circumstances

Niamat Masih



Murdered by a schoolboy

Baba Bantu Masih

Lahore  (Punjab)


Stabbed to death in the presence of policeman

Manzoor Masih

Lahore  (Punjab)


Murdered while leaving court after hearing

Mukhtar Masih

Lahore  (Punjab)

Unclear likely around 199-97

Died in police custody

Samuel Masih

Lahore (Punjab)


Killed by Police constable

Simon Emmanuel

Toba Tek Singh (Punjab)


Brother of blasphemy accused, shot dead

Hameed Masih, Parveen Victor, Aslya Mohsin, Asifa Almas, Akhtar Hameed, Umla Almas, Moosa Almas and one other

Gojra (Punjab)


Seven burnt alive, one shot dead in mob attack

Fanish Robert Masih

Sialkot (Punjab)


Found hanging in police custody

Rashid Emmanuel and Sajid Emmanuel

Faisalabad (Punjab)


Shot dead

Shahbaz Bhatti (Minister for Monitories)

Islamabad (Capital)


Shoot dead by unidentified persons



Adnan Ahmad

Sargodha (Punjab)



Zafar Ahmad

Dadu (Sindh)





Jagdesh Kumar

Karachi (Sindh)


Murdered by factory colleagues



Hafiz Farooq Sajad

Gujranwala (Punjab)


Murdered by mob

Yousaf Ali

Lahore (Punjaba)


Murdered by fellow prisoner in jail

Pandu Khan

Gujranwala (Punjab)


Allegedly committed suicide in jail

Mohammad Asghar

Noshehra Wirkan (Punjab)


Fired at by constable during arrest

Zahid Shah

Chak Jhumra (Punjab)


Stoned to death by a mob

Maulvi Sanaullah

Kasur (Punjab)


Murdered while on bail

Mushtaq Ahmed

Lahore (Punjab)


Murdered while on bail

Idrees Rabbani

Multan (Punjab)


Died in prison hospital

Ashiq Nabi

Nowshera (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa)



Master Sadiq

Hasilpur (Punjab)


Killed by mob

Abdul Sattar Gopang

Muzaffargarh (Punjab)


Stabbed to death by two assailants

Mian Qasim Ansari

Gujrat (Punjab)


Murdered by police constable

Shaikh Najeeb Zafar



Factory owner: shot dead by employees

Anees Mallah

Sanghar (sindh)


Tortured and then shot dead by fellow prisoners in jail

Imran Latif

Lahore (Punjab)


Shot dead by unidentified persons

Salman Taseer (Governor Punjab)

Islamabad (Capital)


Shot dead by own security guard



Unidentified woman 
(reportedly mentally II)

Rahim Yar Khan (Punjab)


Burnt alive by mob

Unidentified man

DG Khan (Punjab)


Died in Jail


Blasphey laws lead to the violence against Christains in Shanti Nagar (1997), Sangla Hill (2005), Gojra (2009) where people were killed and their homes, churches, schools and other properties were destroyed. 

Due to the increased incidents of the persecution of minorities Minority Rights Group, an international watchdog organization, lists Pakistan seventh on the list of 10 most dangerous countries for minorities.  

Non-Muslims make up less than 5 percent of Pakistan’s 175 million people with majority Muslims. These minorities are: Christians, Hindus, Parsis, Sikhs, Behais and scheduled castes. These are distinct religious groups recognised as such since the British period. 

Pakistan formed a new religious minority called the Ahmadis. Ahmadis claim to be Muslim but they were declared out of Islam through a constitutional amendment in 1974. There have been attempts to declare the Zikris (a sect in Baluchistan) as non-Muslims but so far these moves not been successful. There are also minority Muslim sects, such as Shias, Ismailis and Bohras, that are not treated as religious minorities.

Pakistan began as a secular democratic country but has gradually moved close to a theocratic state. The political structure of Pakistan is based on the parliamentary democracy but it is known as an Islamic country and Islam has been declared as the state religion.

The constitution of Pakistan does not explicitly recognise the national or ethnic minorities, whereas it refers to religious minorities at quite a few places. Adding up to the provisions of the Objective Resolution, which guarantees the religious minorities freedom of belief and safeguards for the legitimate interests of all minorities, the fundamental rights are guaranteed to all citizens.

A non- Muslim has the right to freedom of belief; every religious denomination has the right to maintain its religious institutions and is exempted from payment of any special tax raised in the interest of a religion other than its own. No one can be required to receive instruction in a religion, or join a religious ceremony related to a belief other than his own but there exist several laws and regulations, especially the Articles and provisions of the constitution, which discriminate against religious minorities. While some provisions clearly treat Muslim citizens preferentially, the others just ignore the fact that Pakistan is a multi-religious society. 

The following are specimens of such discrimination and biases in the Constitution of Pakistan:

a). Islam is the state religion ............. Article 2

b). The head of the state can only be a Muslim and practically the Prime Minister also can only be a Muslim because the oath of the Prime Minister recommends that this office be also reserved for a Muslim. It is obligatory for the Prime Minister to declare his belief in the finality of the prophet-hood of Mohammed (PBUH), Quran and Sunnah. Art 41(2), 91(3)

c). The sovereignty belongs to God alone and the parliament exercises authority within the limits prescribed by God, is a substantive part of the constitution. No law that is repugnant to Islamic injunctions can be enacted and all the existing laws are to be brought in conformity with these injunctions.

d). A religious court titled the Federal Shariat Court has the power to strike down any law on the ground of repugnancy to Islam and also to suggest amendments in statutes. Federal Shariat Court is a parallel judicial system, whose utility remains evaluated by a competent body and yet unproven. Its jurisdiction extends to the whole Pakistan. 

e). Council of Islamic Ideology, comprising religious scholars is functioning in the country, to advise the government on Islamisation of laws and state policies and practice.

Apart from the discriminatory provisions of the constitution noted above, the biggest cause of discrimination against religious minorities till 2002, there was the system of separate electorate. Under this system Muslims elected legislators on an exclusively Muslim list of voters while non-Muslim denominations voted only for their co-religionists on separate voters’ lists. The religious minorities opposed this system as it kept them out of the political mainstream and led to discrimination in education and services and also in social and economic fields.

In 2002 the system of common voters’ list was adopted except for Ahmadis. The religious minorities have reserved seats in all legislatures except for the Senate, but these seats are filled with candidates appearing on political parties’ lists in proportion to the seats won by these parties in the various legislatures. These political parties are largely all- Muslim outfits. 

There exist laws that discriminate on the basis of religion and have created difficulties for the religious minorities:

a). Hundreds of hundreds of families have suffered due to blasphemy laws (Sections 295- B&C, 298-A, B & C), enforced gradually since the 1980. Under the blasphemy law even non-Muslims faces mandatory death penalty for insulting the prophet of Islam. The blasphemy laws infringe right to free expression and cases have been registered against the editors, journalists and other staff and some newspapers had to face ban on such allegation. Blasphemy laws in their use and abuse have proven to be a tool to infringe on fundamental rights of thought and expression.

b). The Hudood and Zina Ordinance are part of criminal law and makes a religious law and punishments applicable on non-Muslims, which are against their belief system.

c). The Qisas and Diyat Ordinance (Shariat laws regarding homicide and blood money) is part of Pakistan Penal Code since 1990.  

Compensation for killing a non-Muslim is less than that for a killing a Muslim, religious courts can hear cases against non-Muslims but non-Muslims counsel cannot represent them. 

d). The Law of Evidence reduces the value of court testimony of a Muslim woman and non-Muslim citizen to half of that of a Muslim male, in cases constituted under Islamic laws.

e). Zakat & Ushar (religious taxes for the Muslims) laws not only between non-Muslims and Muslims but also between Muslim sects. Deducting Zakat by the banks has caused division and discrimination among citizens of Pakistan. Moreover these taxes, according to interpretations, are not to be spent on the welfare of religious minorities. 

f). Religious minorities come across a number of problems regarding their Personal Laws that manage matters concerning marriage, divorce, guardianship and inheritance.

Some provisions of these laws are defunct because of subsequent legislation. For instance, adultery is a ground for Christian marriage but, since 1979, adultery has become a crime punishable by stoning to death. Therefore spouses wanting divorce cannot use this ground.

The personal laws of Muslims have an overriding effect on the personal laws of non-Muslims. A duly solemnized marriage under Christian or Hindi rites ceases to have effect or value if one declares oneself a Muslims. The marriage solemnized under family laws of non- Muslims stand dissolved with immediate effect, according to a decision by the Federal Shariat Court (1988, SC 78, Sardar Masih vs. Haider Masih). The decision further said that the marriage of a non-Muslim woman stands dissolved after Iddat (three menstrual cycles) if during this period her husband does not embrace Islam.

The question remains that how can a law allow a spouse to enter a new marriage contract without settling or dissolving the previous one and without deciding on the fate of children born out of the previous wedlock, if so. It is happening under the cover of conversion to Islam. Christian spouses who want to break their marriages find a convenient way of getting rid of their marital obligations under such religiously biased interpretations of law. Moreover this interpretation has given a rise to crimes such as abduction of non-Muslim women.  

The girls belonging to minority communities are abducted and forcibly converted to Islam and state machinery often denies them justice. The properties belonging to minorities’ places of worship, shrines, graveyards, trusts etc. are being grabbed.

The minorities’ lives and properties are threatened as a reaction to events abroad. When the Babri Mosque was demolished in India many temples and churches were demolished in Pakistan. Christians have come under regular and intense attacks after the September 2001 events in the United States.

The Freedom of belief, guaranteed to all is subjected to law and public order. The Ahmadis are not allowed to preach their belief, cannot call their prayer houses mosques nor pray in public in Muslim style. They can be punished for displaying epithets belonging to Islam and they are not allowed to hold congregations on the ground that these will hurt the feelings of Muslims and create law and order problems.

The judiciary consistently remained unsuccessful to recognize the Ahmadis’ basic rights. The constitution does not recognise the right to change one’s belief. While non-Muslims’ conversion to Islam is welcomed a Muslim converting to any other faith runs the risk of losing his life. 

There are a number of regulations and policies concerning; syllabus for educational institutions, government controlled media, concession for the inmates in jail, admissions and filling vacancies that are based on biases for religious minorities.

Pakistan is lacking in watchdog bodies to protect the rights of the minorities in Pakistan. It has a division in the Ministry of Minority Affairs, Culture, Sports and Youth Affairs but its mandate is limited. A broader mandate has been allowed to a minority’ commission but it is an appendage of the Ministry Affairs Division and has done little to protect the minority rights. There exists Minority Advisory Council in Punjab, which is without any statute or mandate. Putting in a nutshell it can be said that all minorities are disadvantaged in Pakistan and subjected to discrimination in a lot of ways.