The Human Truth Foundation

Human Rights and Freedom in Pakistan

By Vexen Crabtree 2019

#equality #freedom #human_rights #islam #pakistan #politics #tolerance

Islamic Republic of Pakistan

[Country Profile Page]
StatusIndependent State
Social and Moral Index158th best
Land Area 770 880km21
Life Expectancy66.37yrs (2017)3
GNI$5 031 (2017)4
ISO3166-1 CodesPK, PAK, 5865
Internet Domain.pk6
CurrencyRupee (PKR)7

Pakistan is amongst the very worst places in the world at ensuring any human rights and freedoms, and it has severe cultural issues when it comes to tolerance and equality. Pakistan does worse than average in terms of opposing gender inequality9 (amongst the worst in Asia), speed of uptake of HR treaties10, supporting press freedom11 and in LGBT equality12. And finally, it falls into the worst-performing 20 in terms of commentary in Human Rights Watch reports13 (amongst the worst in Asia), supporting personal, civil & economic freedoms14 and in its nominal commitment to Human Rights15. Women, religious minorities and LGBT folk face terrible persecution and violent attacks and government persecution "with authorities failing to provide adequate protection or hold perpetrators accountable"16. Security forces are unaccountable for their own human rights violations16. Decades of increasingly strict and conservative Islam has resulted in a situation of violent intolerance towards any other religion or belief17,18. Pakistan has no freedom of religion nor freedom of belief. The law is used to prevent any criticism of Muhammad, including literary and historical criticism19.

1. Pakistan's Human Rights, Equality & Tolerance

#equality #human_rights #morals #politics #prejudice #tolerance

Human Rights, Equality & Tolerance (2020)20,21
Pos.Lower is better
Avg Rank20,21
185Cook Islands144.5
World Avg89.8

The best countries in the world at ensuring human rights, fostering equality and promoting tolerance, are Denmark, Sweden and Norway20. These countries are displaying the best traits that humanity has to offer. The worst countries are Tuvalu, The Solomon Islands and Palestine20.

The data sets used to calculate points for each country are statistics on commentary in Human Rights Watch reports, its nominal commitment to Human Rights, speed of uptake of HR treaties, supporting personal, civil & economic freedoms, supporting press freedom, eliminating modern slavery, opposing gender inequality, the year from which women could participate in democracy, its success in fighting anti-semitic prejudice and LGBT equality. The regions with the best average results per country are Scandinavia, Baltic States and Europe20, whereas the worst are Micronesia, Melanesia and Australasia20.

2. Human Rights & Tolerance Data Sets

[We are] deeply concerned at repeated reports of abduction, killings and intimidation of human rights defenders, particularly those fighting for economic, social and cultural rights, allegedly committed in some cases by State agents, including members of military intelligence services.

United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
In "World Report 2018" by Human Rights Watch (2018)16

2.1. Human Rights Watch Comments


Human Rights Watch Comments (2017)13
Pos.Higher is better
117N. Korea-10
121Congo, DR-10
122Saudi Arabia-10
World Avg-1.9

Human Rights Watch comments concentrate mostly on negative issues, however, they also make positive comments for those countries that engage in human rights defence around the world, or who make improvements at home. By adding up positive and negative comments (including double-points for negatives that involve large scales and crimes against humanity), the Social and Moral Index turns HRW commentary into quantified values. Some countries may be unfairly penalized because HRW have not examined them, and, some countries "get away" with abuses if they manage to hide it, or if it goes unnoticed - a negative point has been given for those countries in which HRW specifically state that access to investigators has been barred. The points were limited to a minimum of -10 because there are some points at which things are so bad, with abuses affecting so many, it is difficult to be more specific about the depths of the issues.

2.2. Nominal Commitment to HR


Nominal Commitment to HR (2009)15
Pos.Higher is better
3Costa Rica23
181St Lucia6
World Avg15.1

There are many international agreements on human rights, and, many mechanisms by which countries can be brought to account for their actions. Together, these have been the biggest historical movement in the fight against oppression and inhumanity. Or, putting it another way: these are rejected mostly by those who wish to oppress inhumanely. None of them are perfect and many people object to various components and wordings, but, no-one has come up with, and enforced, better methods of controlling the occasional desires that states and peoples have of causing angst for other states and peoples in a violent, unjust or inhumane way. Points are awarded for the number of human rights agreements ratified by the country, plus the acceptance of the petition mechanisms for disputes. The maximum possible score in 2009 was 24.

2.3. HR Treaties Lag

#human_rights #international_law #micronesia #politics #small_islands

HR Treaties Lag (2019)10
Pos.Lower is better
Avg Yrs/Treaty10
144S. Africa12.51
149Antigua & Barbuda12.76
World Avg10.02

Human Rights (HR) Treaties Lag is a count of how long it took each country to sign each of 11 key HR treaties. From the date of the first signatory of each treaty, all other countries have one point added to their score for each day they delayed in signing. Results are presented as average time in years to sign each one. The lower a country's score, the more enthusiastically it has taken on international Human Rights Treaties - which are, of course, minimal standards of good governance. The slowest are the countries of Micronesia, Melanesia, Australasia and Polynesia all lagged by over 12 years per treaty. The best regions are The Americas, Scandinavia and the Mediterranean.

2.4. Personal, Civil & Economic Freedom

#freedom #politics

Personal, Civil & Economic Freedom (2014)14
Pos.Lower is better
1Hong Kong1
3New Zealand3
145Saudi Arabia144
151Congo, DR151
World Avg79.7

The Human Freedom Index published by the Fraser Institute is...

... a broad measure of human freedom, understood as the absence of coercive constraint. It uses 79 distinct indicators of personal and economic freedom in the following areas: Rule of Law, Security and Safety, Movement, Religion, Association, Assembly, and Civil Society, Expression, Relationships, Size of Government, Legal System and Property Rights, Access to Sound Money, Freedom to Trade Internationally, Regulation of Credit, Labor, and Business. [...]

The highest levels of freedom are in Western Europe, Northern Europe, and North America (Canada and the United States. The lowest levels are in the Middle East and North Africa, South Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa. [...]

Countries in the top quartile of freedom enjoy a significant higher per capita income ($37,147) [compared with] the least-free quartile [at] $8,700). The HFI finds a strong correlation between human freedom and democracy.

"The Human Freedom Index" by The Fraser Institute (2016)22

2.5. Press Freedom

#democracy #freedom #mass_media #politics #UK

Press Freedom (2013)11
Pos.Lower is better11
161Sri Lanka5659
162Saudi Arabia5688
World Avg3249

The freedom to investigate, publish information, and have access to others' opinion is a fundamental part of today's information-driven world. Scores on the Press Freedom Index are calculated according to indicators including pluralism - the degree to which opinions are represented in the media, media independence of authorities, self-censorship, legislation, transparency and the infrastructure that supports news and information, and, the level of violence against journalists which includes lengths of imprisonments. The index "does not take direct account of the kind of political system but it is clear that democracies provide better protection for the freedom to produce and circulate accurate news and information than countries where human rights are flouted".

It must be noted that press freedom is not an indicator of press quality and the press itself can be abusive; the UK suffers in particular from a popular brand of nasty reporting that infuses several of its newspapers who are particularly prone to running destructive and often untrue campaigns against victims. The Press Freedom Index notes that "the index should in no way be taken as an indicator of the quality of the media in the countries concerned".

The government muzzled dissenting voices in nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and media on the pretext of national security. Militants and interest groups also threatened freedom of expression. [...] Journalists increasingly practiced self-censorship after numerous attacks by security forces and militant groups in retaliation for critical articles. Media outlets remained under pressure to avoid reporting on or criticizing human rights violations during counterterrorism operations. The Taliban and other armed groups threatened media outlets and attacked journalists and activists because of their work.

"World Report 2018" by Human Rights Watch (2018)16

2.6. Slavery

#burundi #eritrea #france #human_rights #indonesia #slavery

Slavery (2018)23
Pos.Lower is better
% Victims23
161S. Sudan2.05
164Central African Rep.2.23
World Avg0.65

The taking of slaves has been an unwholesome feature of Human cultures since prehistory24. Private households and national endeavours have frequently been augmented with the use of slaves. The Egyptian and Roman empires both thrived on them for both purposes. Aside from labourers they are often abused sexually by their owners and their owners' friends25. The era of colonialism and the beginnings of globalisation changed nothing: the imprisonment and forced movements of labour continued to destroy many lives except that new justifications were invented based on Christian doctrine and the effort to convert non-Christians. By 1786 over 12 million slaves had been extracted from Africa and sent to colonial labour camps, with a truly atrocious condition of life26. But they were not the only ones to blame; in Africa internal nations such as the Asantes sold and bought tens of thousands of slaves27.

The abolition of the slave trade was a long and slow process. Until a relatively modern time, even philosophers, religious leaders and those concerned with ethics justified, or ignored, the problem of slavery28. The first abolitionists were always the slaves themselves. Their protests and rebellions caused the industry to become too expensive to continue. After that, it was the economic costs of maintain slave colonies that led the British to reject and then oppose the slave trade globally. Finally, the enlightenment-era thinkers of France encouraged moral and ethical thinking including the declaration of the inherent value of human life and human dignity29. A long-overdue wave of compassionate and conscientious movements swept across the West, eliminating public support for slavery, until the industries and churches that supported it had no choice but to back down.

'Modern slavery' includes forced labour (often of the under-age), debt bondage (especially generational), sexual slavery, chattel slavery and other forms of abuse, some of which can be surprisingly difficult to detect, but often target those fleeing from warzones and the vulnerable.30. Some industries (diamond, clothing, coal) from some countries (Burundi23, Eritrea23, Indonesia31) are a particular concern. The Walk Free Foundation, say that in 2016, 40.3 million people were living in modern slavery32.

3. Gender Equality Data Sets

Pakistan is an unequal country, with male rights dominating those of women.

Women continue to face violent attacks "with authorities failing to provide adequate protection or hold perpetrators accountable"16.

According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, at least 675 women and girls were murdered in the first nine months of 2011, mostly for having illicit relations. Some were raped or gang-raped before being killed. Of course this is illegal, but the state is too weak and too unwilling to enforce the law consistently. Very few of the culprits will be brought to justice.

The Economist (2012)17

Violence against women and girls–including rape, “honor” killings, acid attacks, domestic violence, and forced marriage–remained a serious problem. Pakistani activists estimate that there are about a 1,000 “honor” killings every year.

"World Report 2018" by Human Rights Watch (2018)16


3.1. Gender Inequality

#gender #gender_equality #human_rights #misogyny #women

Gender Inequality (2015)9
Pos.Lower is better9
World Avg0.36

The UN Human Development Reports include statistics on gender equality which take into account things like maternal mortality, access to political power (seats in parliament) and differences between male and female education rates. Gender inequality is not a necessary part of early human development. Although a separation of roles is almost universal due to different strengths between the genders, this does not have to mean that women are subdued, and, such patriarchialism is not universal in ancient history. Those cultures and peoples who shed, or never developed, the idea that mankind ought to dominate womankind, are better cultures and peoples than those who, even today, cling violently to those mores.

3.2. Year Women Can Vote

#christianity #gender_equality #human_rights #politics #women

Year Women Can Vote
Pos.Lower is better
1New Zealand1893
67Trinidad & Tobago1946
72S. Korea1948
World Avg1930

Women now have equal rights in the vast majority of countries across the world. Although academic literature oftens talks of when a country "grants women the right to vote", this enforces a backwards way of thinking. Women always had the right to vote, however, they were frequently denied that right. The opposition to women's ability to vote in equality with man was most consistently and powerfully opposed by the Catholic Church, other Christian organisations, Islamic authorities and some other religious and secular traditionalists.

4. Prejudice Data Sets

4.1. LGBT Equality

#equality #homosexuality #human_rights #intolerance #sexuality #tolerance

LGBT folk continue to face violent attacks and government-led oppression "with authorities failing to provide adequate protection or hold perpetrators accountable"16. Homosexuality is illegal16. "The inclusion of the transgender population in the 2017 census and the first-ever proposed transgender law were positive developments"16.

LGBT Equality (2017)12
Pos.Higher is better
169St Kitts & Nevis-25
World Avg12.6

Discrimination against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) folk is rife across the world. Legal restrictions co-exist alongside social stigmatisation and physical violence33. LGBT tolerance and equal rights have been fought for country-by-country across the world, often against tightly entrenched cultural and religious opposition. Adult consensual sexual activity is a Human Right, protected by privacy laws34. Despite this, homosexual activity is outlawed in around 80 countries33. The Social & Moral LGBT Equality Index was created to compare countries and regions, granting points to each country for a variety of factors including how long gay sex has been criminalized and the extent of LGBT legal rights. Graded negative points are given for criminality of homosexuality, unequal ages of consent, legal punishments and for not signing international accords on LGBT tolerance. The signs in many developed countries are positive, and things are gradually improving. Europe is by far the least prejudiced region (Scandinavia in particular being exemplary). The Middle East and then Africa are the least morally developed, where cultural bias goes hand-in-hand with state intolerance, all too often including physical violence.

5. Freedom of Belief and Religion

#atheism #christianity #extremism #islam #pakistan #saudi_arabia #USA

Decades of increasingly strict and conservative Islam has resulted in a situation of violent intolerance of anything else17 with the worst possible scale of religious persecution18. Pakistan now has no freedom of religion or belief. The law is used to prevent any criticism of Muhammad, including literary and historical criticism19, with deadly consequences for those who do so or who are accused of blasphemy.

In 1998 Montgommery Watt wrote, not knowing how much worse things would get, that in Pakistan the law is used to prevent any criticism of Muhammad, including literary and historical criticism19.

The worrying and continued increase in religious violence in Pakistan is harming the entire county and destabilizing the government. The Economist35 in 2011 reports that "with the rise in religious observance society has become less tolerant" and bemourns that Pakistan "has become a very violent place. Over 30,000 Pakistanis have lost their lives in terrorist-related violence in the past four years. Even in the comparative lull in suicide-bombings in late 2011, the newspapers carried a litany of horror stories: terrorist attacks; honour killings; ethnic violence in Karachi; assassinations" and states that large numbers of migrant workers who come through Saudi Arabia are responsible for spreading overly strict Islam17.

Human Rights Watch reports that although attacks did decrease in 2017, they still continued against religious minorities16.

When it comes to religious freedom and persecution, sociologists Grim & Finke place Pakistan into the worst category, along with just 13 other countries. In this category, severe restrictions on religious freedom and freedom of belief stem simultaneously from top-down pressure from government and institutionalized religion, and from bottom-up grassroots movements that often go even further than the government in harassing those who do not believe the right things (2011)18.

At least 19 people remained on death row in 2017 after being convicted under Pakistan´s draconian blasphemy law, and hundreds awaited trial. Most of those facing blasphemy are members of religious minorities–including Aasia Bibi, the first woman to face a potential death sentence for blasphemy–and are often victimized by these charges due to personal disputes.

In 2017, Pakistan witnessed an increase in blasphemy-related violence while the government continued to encourage discriminatory prosecutions and other forms of discrimination against vulnerable groups by failing to repeal discriminatory laws and using religious rhetoric inciting hatred against minority groups. In March, the interior minister described blasphemers as “enemies of humanity,”and stated he would take the issue to its “logical conclusion” in taking action against them.

In April, a mob dragged Mashal Khan, a 23-year-old student at a university in Mardan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, from his dormitory and shot him dead over accusations that he made blasphemous remarks against Islamic injunctions. In May, a 10-year-old boy was killed when a mob tried to storm a police station in Balochistan to attack a man held on blasphemy charges.

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) sent out a mass text message in May to millions of users informing them that uploading and sharing blasphemous content is a punishable offense, and asking them to report such content.

"World Report 2018" by Human Rights Watch (2018)16

The country stands in the growing shadow of a new dark ages, inspired by fundamentalist Islam. The mass media is singularly biased. In 2011 the country faced a series of crises, but the press "still agonised over the antics of Veena Malik, a Pakistani actress who had posed on the cover of an Indian men's magazine, apparently wearing nothing but a tattoo"17,36. This distorted perspective seems to go down increasingly well with the masses. In 2011, the Pakistani Taliban was said by 10% to be the greatest threat to Pakistan37 probably because of the destabilisation, negative effects on education, their barbaric beliefs, and their political interference. But how come only 10%, then, say that the Taliban are a threat? 60% said the USA is a bigger threat. It is a culture that is losing its way, misinformed about the world, and many of the most educated (i.e., doctors) take themselves abroad. Few return.

The International Humanist and Ethical Union produced a report entitled "Freedom of Thought" (2012)38, in which they document bias and prejudice at the national level that is based on religion, belief and/or lack of belief. Their entry for Pakistan states:

The constitution and other laws and policies restrict freedom of religion, and in practice national and local government enforces these restrictions.

Chapter XV of Pakistan's Penal Code contains several sections regarding blasphemy-type laws. Article 295-A outlaws "deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs." Article 295-B outlaws the defiling of the Holy Qu'ran. Article 295-C bans the use of derogatory remarks in respect of the Holy Prophet. Article 298 bars uttering works with the deliberate intent to wound religious feelings. And article 298-B punishes any misuse of epithets, descriptions, or titles reserved for certain holy personages or places. Prosecutions for blasphemy are widely thought to be brought against those wishing to eliminate competitors or those against whom they have a feud or grudge. The mere accusation may result in accused's life being endangered in prison, and such is the power of the mullahs who often come to court to intimidate the judiciary in such cases, that obtaining a lawyer, and even a judge to try the case fairly is often impossible. An accusation, however false, can therefore become a sentence of death.

When applying for a passport, applicants must state their religion. "No Religion" is not accepted as an answer. If an applicant states their religious identity as "Muslim" then they are required to sign an additional declaration that they accept the Prophet Mohammad as the "final Prophet".

Cases of Discrimination

On November 8, 2010, Asia Bibi, a Christian farm worker and mother of five was convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death for allegedly making blasphemous remarks following a disagreement with a Muslim co-worker who refused to drink from a container of water she carried, believing it was tainted. Several prominent Pakistani politicians have been assassinated for supporting her freedom (more below).


On March 2, 2011, Shabaz Bhatti, Minister for Minority Affairs, was assassinated at his home in retaliation for his opposition to blasphemy laws. His assassins left leaflets threatening opponents of blasphemy laws with a similar fate. Despite the fact that members of the Tehrik-e-Taliban have taken responsibility for the murder, no one has yet been charged in Bhatti's death. Bhatti had been fighting for a presidential pardon for Asia Bibi, whose case is mentioned above.

On June 22, 2011, 29-year-old Abdul Sattar was sentenced to death and fined 50,000 rupees (US$1,000) for sending text messages and having phone conversations in which the Holy Qu'ran, the Prophet Muhammad, and other Islamic figures were allegedly blasphemed.

On Oct. 13, 2012, a retired schoolteacher named Ameer Ali Wahocho was sentenced to three years in prison for allegedly making insulting remarks about the Prophet Muhammad and his family. Wahocho was originally sentenced to one month, which he appealed. While out on bail, his accuser also petitioned - for a stricter sentence. The accuser's petition was granted and Ameer Ali Wahocho's prison sentence was extended to three years.

[...] An IHEU member organization was formed in Pakistan in the 1990s, but its founder, Dr Younus Shaikh, was soon charged with blasphemy and sentenced to death (following an IHEU campaign, Dr Shaikh's conviction was overturned and he fled the country). Today, there is no registered organization in Pakistan able to become an IHEU member. Yet there is a thriving Facebook group for Pakistani atheists with far more participants than the defunct off-line group ever attracted.

"Freedom of Thought" by IHEU (2012)38

In 2001, the Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, was arguing for leniency against a Christian woman, Asia Bibi (mentioned in the IHEU cases above), who was sentenced to death for blasphemy. Taseer was also campaigning to reform Pakistan's horrible blasphemy laws. As a result of this, Taseer was assassinated by his own bodyguard, Mumtaz Hussein Qadri.38. Demonstrations of support of the bodyguard broke out across Pakistan - "'the demonstrations expressed the feelings of many' according to Pakistanis themselves, the reforms were making people angry and 'God gave Qadri the courage to do something about it'"37. Such is the temper in a country that is being dragged backwards into a barbarous theocracy by religionists, amidst a wave of fear.