A climate of fear continues to impede media coverage of abuses both by government security forces and militant groups. Journalists increasingly practiced self-censorship in 2018, after threats and attacks from militant groups. Media outlets came under pressure from authorities to avoid reporting on several issues, including criticism of government institutions and the judiciary. In several cases, government regulatory agencies blocked cable operators from broadcasting networks that had aired critical programs.
Gul Bukhari, a journalist in Lahore, was abducted in June by unknown assailants and released after a few hours. On the same night, Asad Kharal, a broadcast journalist, was assaulted and injured in Lahore.
Kadafi Zaman, a Norwegian journalist, was arrested by police in July while covering a political rally and was beaten up. Zaman was released after three days.
Human Rights Watch received several credible reports of intimidation, harassment, and surveillance of various NGOs by government authorities in 2018. The government used its “Regulation of INGOs in Pakistan” policy to impede the registration and functioning of international humanitarian and human rights groups.
Freedom of Religion and Belief
At least 17 people remain on death row in Pakistan after being convicted under the draconian blasphemy law, and hundreds await trial. Most of those facing blasphemy allegations are members of religious minorities.
In October, Pakistan’s Supreme Court quashed the conviction and ordered the release of 47-year-old Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman from a village in Punjab province who had been on death row for eight years. Groups supporting the blasphemy law took to the streets to protest the decision of Aasia’s release, damaged public and private property, and threatened judges of the Supreme Court, government officials, and military leadership with violent reprisals.
Blasphemy allegations and related rhetoric from both private actors and officials increased in 2018. However, the government did not amend the law and instead encouraged discriminatory prosecutions and other abuses against vulnerable groups.
In February, Patras Masih, 18, and Sajid Masih, 24, were charged with blasphemy in Lahore. Sajid Masih alleged that the police torture he endured while being held led him to attempt suicide, by jumping out of the interrogation room window. He was badly injured but survived.
In May, then-Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal was shot in an assassination attempt by an individual affiliated with an anti-blasphemy group at an election rally in Narowal district, Punjab.
In May, a mob led by anti-blasphemy clerics attacked and destroyed two historic Ahmadiyya religious buildings.
Members of the Ahmadiyya religious community continue to be a major target for prosecutions under blasphemy laws, as well as specific anti-Ahmadi laws across Pakistan. They face increasing social discrimination as militant groups and the Islamist political party Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP) accuse them of “posing as Muslims.” The Pakistan penal code continues to treat “posing as Muslims” by Ahamdis as a criminal offense. They were effectively excluded from participating in the 2018 parliamentary elections: to vote, Ahmadis are required to declare they are not Muslims, which many see as a renunciation of their faith.
In September, the new Imran Khan government appointed Atif Mian, a prominent academic belonging to the Ahmadiyya community, to join the government as economic adviser and then, almost immediately after, asked him to step down after the TLP and other Islamist groups objected to his appointment because of his religion. Atif Mian said he stepped down because of “adverse pressure regarding my appointment from the mullahs and their supporters.”