Right to Religious Freedom in Pakistan

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Pakistan was founded on the basis of the Islamic faith on August 14, 1947. Although Muslims made up the majority of Pakistan’s population in 1947, there were also non-Muslim minorities. This reality was well-known to Pakistan’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, also known as Quaid-i-Azam (Great Leader). As a result, in his first statement to the Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947, he made a special mention of minorities:

 “You are free; you are to go to your temples. You are free to go to your mosques or any other places of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State”.

The right to religious freedom is an essential right, but it is not so vital that it is deemed central or fundamental freedom that is absolutely necessary, according to the statement.

The right to religious freedom infuriates states because it implies human autonomy, which is at the heart of modern liberal ideas and provides vital insight into the evolution of modern society. Such beliefs are opposed by Islamic societies and other religiously driven governments, who believe that religion is holy and that only their faith should be promoted.

However, Islam does allow for religious freedom. In order to achieve a balance between the rights, we will investigate the definitions of the right to religious freedom in several treaties and the 1981 declaration, looking for parallels and/or inconsistencies.

The first point is that religious liberty has existed for centuries. From the Edict of Milan allowing Christians the right to practice their faith through the Peace of Augsburg, several treaties to keep the peace has been signed.

The right to religious freedom was always present because religion was such a vital element of people’s lives. Religious teachings from prophets exist throughout history as we know it. Diverse religions became a source of debate and warfare between states as humans advanced, resulting in conflicts of interest.

The right to religious freedom existed at the time, but it was not recognized; nonetheless, as noted above, the right became more overt as states evolved, and it is now visible in the present nation-state system through special mentions in the UDHR, ICCPR, and the 1981 Declaration.

Religious freedom is defined as freedom of mind and conscience in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which declares that everyone has the right to change their religion and beliefs. On this subject, Islamic nations, such as Saudi Arabia, are highly divided, as we will see later.

Article 18 is very similar to Article 18 of the ICCPR. Both have limitations that are separate from those that apply to other rights, such as those of women and children. Concepts such as public order and moral values, which may be utilized to limit the right as essential in a democratic society, are examples of these constraints.

While personal autonomy is at the heart of modern human rights, religious freedom should not be restricted in such circumstances for the sake of morals or public order, because morals differ from person to person. There can’t be an absolute one-sided morality, and neither can public order; the reason we’re talking about it now is that religious freedom should be a self-contained alternative, not one bound by the limits outlined above.

The concept of right is likewise up for dispute. Saudi Arabia has made a controversial decision to reserve the right to freedom of expression protected under article 18 of the ICCPR and the UDHR. Islamic countries believe that no one can alter their religion since Islam is an undisputed faith. People should be able to change their religions or beliefs, according to their rights. Other states are also incompatible with this.

Regional bodies like the European Court of Human Rights, the Inter-American System, and the African System have all demonstrated the right to religious freedom in their respective situations. The jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights is crucial in establishing the right for our purposes, and we will examine it later.

In an attempt to reconcile the right with racial convention, the convention’s drafters omitted to emphasize the right to religious freedom, fearful of the criticisms leveled against the UDHR and ICCPR. The pronouncement has had no effect because it is not legally binding. Rather than emphasizing the right to freedom from religious discrimination, it emphasizes the right to non-discrimination based on religion.

In this way, it’s the same as previous writings. All of these texts have one thing in common: the drafters have focused on the right to religious liberty through the lens of non-discrimination. This also shows that religious liberty has historically been seen as a necessary but not central right.

The jurisprudence of this right is the second argument that shows that religious freedom is significant but not central. The human rights committee has heard cases where the outcome differed from what the European Court of Human Rights had ruled.

In violation of Article 9(2), the manifestation of religion, Kokkinakis, a convert to Jehovah’s Witness, was imprisoned up to 60 times. The European Court of Human Rights found that the Greek government had infringed on the citizen’s right to freely express his faith while taking into account the limits, which included the government’s right to regulate such movements in order to maintain public order.

According to the court, the Act was not legal for that purpose. They also claimed that such liberty was unnecessary in a democratic society, corroborating our prior claim that personal autonomy does not exist and that ideals like these supersede it. Following the Dahlab rulings, the right to wear a headscarf was upheld.

The court analyzed the matter and determined that such a right did not exist under the circumstances of the case, but that invoking public order as a reason allowed it to proceed. This also demonstrates how the right to express one’s religion through clothes, which is a fundamental aspect of practically every religion, including Islam, has been eroded.

The fact that public morality is undermining religious freedom for the greater good tells a lot about how important it is. The courts had adopted a harsh stance in this judgment and the later case of Leyla, declaring the headscarf repressive and discriminating toward women. They didn’t consider that the women who wore it did so of their own volition, not because they were forced to.

In SAS v France, the court examined a full ban on wearing a veil that covered one’s face. Although the court determined that a complete prohibition was not essential for public safety, the court affirmed the ban for other reasons, including living together. The argument is crucial in this case because it demonstrates the court’s shift toward a more liberal stance.

The judges deviated from past precedents, in this case, focusing on the individual’s right to wear whatever they wish. This demonstrates that the courts had earlier grown particularly focused on the preservation of democratic values. They favored individual autonomy to some extent and pushed this concept.

The right not to be forced to convert is implied in the right to religious conversion, which must necessarily mean voluntary or “non-coerced” conversion. In this case, the definition of “force” is crucial. The Human Rights Committee has stated that policies or practices that have the “intention or effect of pressuring believers or non-believers to convert” – such as limiting access to education, medical treatment, or employment – violate Article 18(2) of the ICCPR.

The issue of forced conversion is complex and requires an understanding of what motivates religious conversions to Islam in a country such as Pakistan where religious minorities are discriminated against, and Islam enjoys a special status by virtue of being the state religion. It is also necessary to unearth and investigate the relationship, if one exists, between forced conversion, child marriage, interfaith marriage, and the State’s failure to implement and enforce laws relating to abduction, child marriage, and forced marriage, particularly where the victim is from a religious minority community.

Finally, it is critical to recognize that converting to another religion of one’s own free will is a fundamental aspect of the right to freedom of religion or belief and that any restrictions or limitations on the exercise of that right, including Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, are incompatible with international human rights law provisions binding on Pakistan.

The Human Rights Committee, for example, has called on States Parties to “take measures to ensure that freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, as well as the freedom to adopt the religion or belief of one’s choice – including the freedom to change religion or belief and to express one’s religion or belief – is guaranteed and protected in law and practice for both men and women, on equal terms and without discrimination.”

These liberties, guaranteed by article 18, must not be subjected to constraints other than those recognized by the Covenant, such as rules demanding authorization from third parties or interference from fathers, husbands, brothers, or others.

According to NGO reports, common cases of forced conversion and marriage involve girls aged between 12 and 16 years, who are abducted, “forcibly converted” to Islam, and then “forcibly married” to their abductor or to a third party. In a typical case, the girl’s family will file a criminal complaint about abduction or rape with the police.

Simultaneously, the abductor would submit a counter-complaint on behalf of the victim, claiming that the girl in question converted and married of her own free will and blaming the victim’s family for harassment. After that, the girl is asked to testify in court about whether she married and converted of her own free will or was kidnapped.

In the vast majority of cases, the girl remains with the alleged kidnapper while legal actions are pending. According to NGO reports, she will often be exposed to more threats, intimidation, and coercion as a result, and will thus testify in favor of the abductor. As a result, NGOs believe that there is no meaningful redress for the girls or their families in the majority of cases.

Conversion to another religion is legal in Pakistan. Conversion from Islam to other religions, on the other hand, is rarely acknowledged publicly for fear of being labeled “apostasy,” which is punishable by death under some interpretations of Islamic law. While there is no statute in the country forbidding “apostasy” or conversion from Islam, some courts have construed section 295-C of the Penal Code, which deals with “blasphemy” against the Prophet Muhammad, to include “apostasy” (see the “blasphemy” section above).

NGOs and other civil society organizations have advocated for an 18-year-old minimum legal age for conversion. However, in light of international human rights legislation and standards on freedom of religion or belief, as well as child rights, this idea must be carefully reviewed. States must “respect the liberty of parents and, where applicable, legal guardians to provide the religious and moral education of their children in accordance with their own convictions,” according to article 18(4) of the ICCPR.

As a result, while the right to religious freedom has been protected in previous centuries and years, there are still many things that cause problems with religious freedom in many countries such as Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India, where Muslims are beaten and murdered for minor issues such as cow slaughtering, and the same goes for Pakistan, where a Christian lady was poisoned for several years because of its blasphemy laws and sometimes confined to their religious festivals and activities, it may be claimed that religious freedom legislation is and will always be needed.

Pakistan is blessed with the presence of many major world religions. As Pakistani, we should be proud because freedom of religion in Pakistan is guaranteed by the constitution of Pakistan for individuals of various religions and religious sects which established a fundamental right of Pakistani citizens, irrespective of their religion, to equal rights. 

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