Testimony of Rev. Thomas J. Reese, S.J.

Pakistan: Pakistan’s religious freedom environment long has been marred by religiously- discriminatory constitutional provisions and laws, including its blasphemy laws. Sections 295 and 298 of Pakistan’s Penal Code criminalize acts and speech that insult a religion or religious beliefs or defile the Qur’an, the Prophet Muhammad, a place of worship, or religious symbols. Accusers are not required to present any evidence that blasphemy occurred, which leads to abuse, including false accusations. There are no penalties for false allegations. Moreover, the law sets severe punishments, including death or life in prison, which have been levied against religious minorities including Christians, Hindus, and Ahmadiyya and Shi’a Muslims, as well as Sunni Muslims. USCIRF is aware of nearly 40 individuals currently sentenced to death or serving life sentences for blasphemy in Pakistan. The Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, a Pakistan-based NGO, compiled and sent to USCIRF the list of blasphemy prisoners included in the Appendix.

An estimated two-thirds of all blasphemy cases in Pakistan occur in Punjab province, where the majority of Pakistan’s religious minorities reside. While Muslims represent the greatest number of individuals charged or sentenced, religious minority communities disproportionately are the victims of blasphemy allegations and arrests. The non-governmental National Commission for Justice and Peace has reported that in 2014, 105 people were charged with blasphemy: 11 Ahmadis, seven Christians, five Hindus, and 82 Muslims. In February 2015, the Punjab Prosecution Department and provincial judiciary announced that they had reviewed 262 blasphemy cases awaiting trial and recommended that 50 be reviewed for dismissal because the accused had been victimized by complainants. No religious minorities were included in the review. Prisoners of conscience include:

Abdul Shakoor was sentenced on January 2, 2016 to five years in prison on blasphemy charges and three years on terrorism charges for propagating the Ahmadiyya Muslim faith, which is banned in Pakistan, by selling copies of the Qur’an and Ahmadiyya publications. His Shi’a Muslim store manager, Mazhar Sipra, was sentenced to 5 years on terrorism charges.

Ahmadis in Pakistan are subject to severe legal restrictions, both in the constitution and criminal code, and suffer from officially-sanctioned discrimination. Ahmadis also continue to be murdered in religiously-motivated attacks that take place with impunity. Pakistan’s constitution declares Ahmadis to be “non-Muslims,” and the penal code make it criminal for Ahmadis to refer to themselves as Muslims; preach, propagate, or disseminate materials on

their faith; or refer to their houses of worship as mosques.


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