Provincial and local governments have arrested journalists and closed newspapers that report on matters perceived as socially offensive or critical of the government or military. Journalists also have been victims of violence and intimidation by various groups and individuals. In spite of these difficulties, the press publishes freely on other matters, although journalists often exercise self-restraint in their writing to avoid inuring the wrath of the government or military.
In 2001, citizens participated in general elections, but those elections were criticized as deeply flawed by domestic and international observers. Societal actors also are responsible for human rights abuses. Violence by drug lords and sectarian militias claims numerous innocent lives, discrimination and violence against women are widespread, human trafficking is problematic, and debt slavery and bonded labor persist.
The government often ignores abuses against children and religious minorities, and some government institutions and Muslim groups have persecuted non-Muslims and used some laws as the legal basis for doing so. The Blasphemy law, for example, allows life imprisonment or the death penalty for contravening Islamic principles, but legislation was passed in October 2004 to attempt to counter misuse of the law. Furthermore, the social acceptance of many these problems hinders their eradication. One prominent example is honor killings (“karo Kari”), which are believed to have accounted for more than 4,000 deaths from 1998 to 2003. Many view this practice as indicative of a feudal mentality and falsely anathema to Islam, but others defend the practice as a means of punishing violators of cultural norms and view attempts to stop it to as an assault on cultural heritage.
Pakistan was recommended by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in May to be designated as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) by the Department of State because of its government’s engagement or toleration of systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.