Treatment by Muslim extremists of lawyers who defend religious minorities; state protection available to lawyers who are harassed by extremists [PAK31673.E]

According to Section 5 (Discrimination based on religion) of Country Reports 1996 and 1997, "government authorities afford religious minorities less legal protection than is afforded to Muslim citizens. Members of religious minorities are subject to violence and harassment, and police at times refuse to prevent such actions or to charge those who commit them" (1997; 1998). Please consult PAK31582.E of 15 April 1999 on the police response to victims of Sipah-e/i-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) violence.

Information specific to human rights lawyers being targeted by Muslim extremists because they represented religious minorities is scarce among the sources consulted.

Human Rights Watch World Report 1997 stated that "human rights lawyers in Pakistan faced threats of violence more from religious activists than from the government" (Dec. 1996). Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported the same in its 1998 annual report (Dec. 1997). The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) stated in its annual report State of Human Rights in 1997 that "next to religious leaders and workers, the victims of sectarian violence were mostly shopkeepers, doctors and lawyers, in that order" (Feb. 1998, 137). HRCP did not specify whether the lawyers were killed for representing minorities nor who the perpetrators were. HRCP reported in its 1998 annual report that "at least 15 lawyers were killed for providing legal services in cases of sectarian or other nature" (Dawn 10 Mar. 1999).

In October 1995 armed men broke into the home of Asma Jehangir, a well-known human rights activist and lawyer who "represents minorities in cases involving religious persecution," with the intention of killing her, Hina Jilani (her sister who is also an attorney) and their families, because she and Hina had defended two Christians accused of blasphemy that year (Federal Document Clearing House Congressional Testimony 6 Mar. 1996). Asma has been the "target of religious extremists' criticism," has received death threats, and has had her home broken into (Country Reports 1996 1997).

The following information may be of general interest.

During 1997 government lawyers reportedly informed the Supreme Court that "some high court judges had refused to hear cases involving religious militants because they feared for their lives" (DPA 21 Jan. 1998). On 10 October 1997 retired Lahore High Court Justice Arif Iqbal Hussain Bhatti, one of two judges who acquitted Christians Salamat and Rehmat Masih of blasphemy in 1995, was killed, reportedly by religious militants (HRW Dec. 1997; Country Reports 1997 1998; AI 1998). Prior to his death, he had received death threats from Islamic extremists groups (Country Reports 1997 1998; Country Reports 1996 1997).

HRCP reported in its July 1998 newsletter that Syed Afzal Hussain Kazmi, Additional Session Judge of Mianwali, requested his superiors to remove him from a blasphemy case against four Ahmadis, because supporters of the complainants had attended the hearings and had fired weapons outside his residence during the night (18).

Section 2c (Respect for civil liberties: freedom of religion) of Country Reports 1996 and 1997 describes how religious militants attend religious-based cases, intimidate the judges and magistrates, and make public threats regarding possible acquittals (1997). Ann Buwalda's testimony relating to the treatment of minorities in South Asia before the Near East and South Asia Subcommittee of the United States Senate supports this information relating to the intimidation of defence lawyers and judges by Muslim extremists in religious cases (Federal Document Clearing House Congressional Testimony 6 Mar. 1996).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Amnesty International (AI). 1998. Amnesty International Report 1998. New York: AI. [Internet] [Accessed 29 Apr. 1999]

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1997. 1998.United States Department of State. (Electronic version)

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1996. 1997. United States Department of State. (Electronic version)

Dawn [Karachi]. 10 March 1999. "Highest Rate of Death Sentences in Pakistan: HRCP." [Internet] [Accessed 11 Mar. 1999]

Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA). 21 January 1998. BC Cycle. "Pakistan Anti-Terrorism Judge Resigns After Being Told He is Slow." (NEXIS)

Federal Document Clearing House Congressional Testimony. 6 March. 1996. Testimony March 06, 1996. Ann J. Buwalda, US Director Jubilee Campaign Senate Foreign Relations Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs Religious Freedom in Pakistan. (NEXIS)

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). February 1998. State of Human Rights in 1997. Lahore: HRCP.

HRCP Newsletter [Lahore]. July 1998. "Minorities: Actions Against Ahmadis: Judge's Fear."

Human Rights Watch (HRW). December 1997. Human Rights Watch World Report 1998. New York: HRW. [Internet] [Accessed 29 Apr. 1999]

_____. December 1996. Human Rights Watch World Report 1997. New York. (REFWORLD)

Additional Sources Consulted

Amnesty International Report 1997. 1997.

Human Rights Watch World Report 1999. December 1998.

United Nations. Economic and Social Council. Commission on Human Rights. 18 February 1997. Question of the Human Rights of all Persons Subjected to any Form of Detention or Imprisonment. Report of the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Mr. Param Cumaraswamy. (E/CN.4/1997/32)

Electronic sources: Internet, IRB Databases.