Pakistan is the most religiously conservative of all South Asian countries. Laws in Pakistan are mix of “sharia” (Islamic Law) and secular laws, with the predominance of Islamic Law varying to some degree from region to region and leader to leader. A Federal Shariah Court has the power to nullify any law it finds repugnant to Islam. Islamic laws are tend to be given less weight in cities like Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad but are taken more seriously in tribal regions, the North-West Frontier area and rural areas.

The judiciary is proscribed from issuing any order contrary to the decisions of the President. Federal Sharia Court hears cases that primarily involve Sharia, or Islamic law. Legislation enacted in 1991 gave legal status to Sharia. Although Sharia was declared the law of the land, it did not replace the existing legal code. [Source: U.S. State Department]

In February 1979, President Zia promulgated a new legal code for Pakistan based on Islamic law and established the Federal Shariat Court to hear appeals arising from the new code. The process of Islamization that has taken place in Pakistan, especially in the Zia years, has raised considerable concern about criminal law. The Federal Shariat Court also has extensive other powers. It lies within the discretion of the court of first instance to decide whether to try a case under civil or sharia law. If the latter, then the appeals process goes to the Federal Shariat Court, rather than to the high courts. [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994 *]

Sharia law was not intended to replace the criminal code but to bring specific parts of it into accordance with the Quran and the sharia. Its most notable provisions are contained in the hudood (sing., hadd) ordinances promulgated in 1979. The first ordinance deals with offenses against property, the second with zina (adultery) and zina-bil-jabr (rape), the third with qazf (false accusation of zina), and the fourth with prohibition of alcoholic beverages. Under the ordinances, there are two levels of cases: hudood cases, which have particularly strict Islamic evidentiary requirements and call for specific "Islamic" punishments; and tazir cases, where the evidence requirements are less strict and the punishments less draconian. *

The Federal Shariah Court was given wide discretionary powers to implement Hudood ordinances and blasphemy laws. A major component in the Islamization program, the Shariat Bill, was passed in May 1991. This bill required that all laws in the country conform with Islam. Women's groups in particular were concerned that the reforms in the Muslim Family Laws Ordinance of 1961 could be jeopardized by the new bill. *

According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”: Islamic beliefs are inculcated in the public schools and disseminated widely by the mass media. Laws against drinking alcoholic beverages, adultery, and bearing false witness have been strictly enforced. [Source:”Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”, Thomson Gale, 2007]

Zia and Sharia (Islamic Law)

In 1978, Pakistan leader President Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq announced that Pakistani law would be based on Nizam-i-Mustafa, one of the demands of the Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) political alliance in the 1977 election. This requirement meant that any laws passed by legislative bodies had to conform to Islamic law and any passed previously would be nullified if they were repugnant to Islamic law. Nizam-i-Mustafa raised several problems. Most Pakistanis are Sunni, but there is a substantial minority of Shia whose interpretation of Islamic law differs in some important aspects from that of the Sunnis. Zia's introduction of state collection of zakat was strongly protested by the Shia, and after they demonstrated in Islamabad, the rules were modified in 1981 for Shia adherents. There were also major differences in the views held by the ulama in the interpretation of what constituted nonconformity and repugnance in Islam. [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994 *]

In 1979 Zia decreed the establishment of shariat courts to try cases under Islamic law. A year later, Islamic punishments were assigned to various violations, including drinking alcoholic beverages, theft, prostitution, fornication, adultery, and bearing false witness. Zia also began a process for the eventual Islamization of the financial system aimed at "eliminating that which is forbidden and establishing that which is enjoined by Islam." Of special concern to Zia was the Islamic prohibition on interest or riba (sometimes translated as usury). *

Women's groups feared that Zia would repeal the Family Laws Ordinance of 1961, but he did not. The Family Laws Ordinance provided women critical access to basic legal protection, including, among other things, the right to divorce, support, and inheritance, and it placed limitations on polygyny. Still, women found unfair the rules of evidence under Islamic law by which women frequently were found guilty of adultery or fornication when in fact they had been raped. They also opposed rules that in some cases equated the testimony of two women with that of one man. *

Initiation of Sharia in Pakistan

A number of measures were taken to make Pakistan an Islamic state including the introduction of the Federal Shariat Court. A referendum held in 1984 confirmed Zia's policy of Islamization. In this referendum, a "yes" vote agreeing with Zia's Islamization policy was also to be interpreted as a vote for Zia to remain in office as president for another five years. According to the results reported by the government but contested by the opposition, Zia obtained 98 percent of total votes cast. [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994 *]

In 1984 parts of the Indian Evidence Act of 1872 were changed with much fanfare to meet Islamic criteria, but there was little substantial change. Demands by Islamic enthusiasts that the testimony of two women be considered the equivalent of that of one man were met only symbolically. The hudood ordinances, however, do contain evidential provisions that discriminate sharply against women.*

After the 1985 election, two members of the Senate from the Jamaat-i-Islami introduced legislation to make the sharia the basic law of Pakistan, placing it above the constitution and other legislation. The bill also would have added the ulama to sharia courts and would have prohibited appeals from these courts from going to the Supreme Court. The bill did not pass in 1985, but after the dismissal of Prime Minister Junejo and the dissolution of the national assembly and provincial assemblies in 1988, Zia enacted the bill by ordinance. The ordinance died when it was not approved by Parliament during the first prime ministership of Benazir Bhutto (December 1988-August 1990), but a revised shariat bill was passed by the government of Nawaz Sharif (November 1990-July 1993) in May 1991. *

In May 1991, the National Assembly passed the Shariat Bill, legislation that incorporated the Islamic legal code, the Shariah (Islamic law) into Pakistan’s legal system. The bill intended to bring the entire justice system into accord with Islamic norms. These norms had not yet been established, and, as of early 1994, no serious attempt had been made to draft and pass the laws and constitutional amendments that would be required. Many observers believed that the act was meant as an empty sop to Islamist extremists, but it seemed likely that there would be constant pressure to implement the act more fully. *

In June 2003, the North West Frontier Assembly pass a bill that made sharia the law of the land. The move was made possible by the MMA (Muttahida Majlis–e–Amal, is a conservative, Islamist political alliance). The national government can still challenge any aspect of the law that goes against national laws. In 2009, with pressure from the Taliban, sharia was imposed in the swat valley in northwestern Pakistan

Islam and the State in Pakistan

According to “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”: “According to Islam, moral principles are preordained by God and must be obeyed—they cannot be shaped according to ballot counts. As such, social justice is not compatible with the democratic principle of majority rule. Therefore, social justice is restricted to those who abide by God's law. This has posed significant problems in Pakistan. For example, under General Zia ul-Haq, zakat, the Islamic charity to the poor, was automatically deducted from bank accounts by the government and allocated solely to Sunni religious projects, such as the madrassas. [Source:“Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices,” Thomson Gale, 2006]

“Similarly, Pakistan's blasphemy laws privilege Sunni Islam above all other religious beliefs and serve as the legal basis for discrimination, victimization, and persecution of Shiites and non-Muslims. There are no measures in place to protect the civil and political rights of Shiites and non-Muslims who fall outside the boundaries of the ummah (Islamic community), as defined by Sunni ideologues in Pakistan. Also, under the prevailing Islamic legal system, civil rights for women are severely restricted. There are high rates of domestic violence against women, who have no judicial protection or redress. Under Pakistan's Hudood ordinances, marital rape is acceptable, and no distinction is made between forced and consensual sex.

Legal Concepts of Sharia and Tribal Law in Pakistan

Laws passed in the 1980s give the victim of a murder or other violence, or the victim's heirs, the right to inflict an equivalent harm. At the same time, however, there is a legal alternative in payment of blood money, which enables wealthy Pakistanis to avoid punishment by paying money. Under the law, only half of the amount must be paid if the victim is female. [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994]

Testimony from non-Muslims is given only half the weight of that of Muslims. The testimony from of women is often given less value than that of men. “Ghairat” is an Islamic legal concept often used to justify violent crimes. It refers to an uncontrollable action caused by an extreme provocation such as finding out a wife has been unfaithful.

According to the legal concept called “qisas” and “diyat” a blood relative a victim can formally "forgive" a crime in exchange for a payment. When applicable there are specific sums for each damaged body part.

Some times jirgas (tribal councils) make judgments that they say is based on Islamic law but that is often not the case. Their decisions are often based on tribal law not sharia. Jirgas themselves are generally not supposed have Islamic authority.

Jirgas often serve as vehicles for violence and revenge, and often the victims are women. Alex Rodriguez wrote in Los Angeles Times: “Jirgas routinely settle disputes through a tradition called vani, in which a family is ordered to agree to the marriage of one of its daughters to a male in the “plaintiff” family. The daughter can be in her teens, and in some cases she is only a few days old when the marriage contract is signed. [Source: Alex Rodriguez, Los Angeles Times, August. 1, 2012]

Federal Shariat Court in Pakistan

The Federal Shariat Court consisting of eight Muslim judges, including a chief justice appointed by the president. Three of the judges are ulama, that is, Islamic Scholars, and are well versed in Islamic law. The Federal Shariat Court has original and appellate jurisdiction. This court decides whether any law is repugnant to the injunctions of Islam. When a law is deemed repugnant to Islam, the president, in the case of a federal law, or the governor, in the case of a provincial law, is charged with taking steps to bring the law into conformity with the injunctions of Islam. The court also hears appeals from decisions of criminal courts under laws relating to the enforcement of hudood laws that is, laws pertaining to such offenses as intoxication, theft, and unlawful sexual intercourse. [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994 *]

The Federal Shariat Court has been involved mainly with noncriminal matters, aside from the review of hudood convictions, which in most cases the Federal Shariat Court has reversed. In other matters, such as provision of equal treatment under the law and requirement for a standard of evidence, its application of Islamic principles has even served as a liberalizing factor, including in the military justice system. Overall, as of early 1994 Islamic legal intrusions have had only a limited effect on criminal law, although the potential for growth is there, especially under the more activist leadership that the Federal Shariat Court has shown since 1990.*

The Federal Sharia Court is the highest religious court. It was set up under Zia. The Council of Islamic Ideology is Pakistan’s top religion body which oversees Pakistani laws to ensure that they are in line with the tenets of Islam. It is a neglected constitutional body that among other things has recommended the mandatory wearing of the veil for women, a ban on music and in-Islamic posters on public transport and the dismissal of employees who fail to pray five times a day.

Punishments Under Sharia in Pakistan

In 1979 Zia decreed the establishment of shariat courts to try cases under Islamic law. A year later, Islamic punishments were assigned to various violations, including drinking alcoholic beverages, theft, prostitution, fornication, adultery, and bearing false witness. Zia also began a process for the eventual Islamization of the financial system aimed at "eliminating that which is forbidden and establishing that which is enjoined by Islam." Of special concern to Zia was the Islamic prohibition on interest or riba (sometimes translated as usury). [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994 *]

Pakistani courts can, and do impose the death sentence, as well as imprisonment, forfeiture of property, and fines. Imprisonment is either "rigorous" — the equivalent of hard labor for up to fourteen years — or "simple" — confinement without hard labor. Another form is "banishment," which involves serving in a maximum security prison for periods of seven years to life. In February 1979, Zia ul-Haq issued new laws that punished rape, adultery, and the "carnal knowledge of a virgin" by stoning; first time theft by amputation of the right hand; and consumption of alcohol by eighty lashes. Stoning and amputation, it should be noted, had not been carried out as of early 1994 — at least not outside of the tribal area where tribal custom, rather than the Pakistani penal code, is the law of the land.*

For the most part, Islamic punishments have not been carried out, the sole exception being flogging, which has been imposed primarily for tazir crimes, as well as for narcotics-related crimes. In addition, alleged political crimes also resulted in flogging during the last period of martial law (1977- 85). Hudood sentences of amputation have been passed but either have been reversed on appeal or have not been carried out. Occasional stonings for adultery have always taken place in tribal and other rural areas, but no sentence of stoning under the 1979 hudood laws has been carried out.*

According to a 1993 Amnesty International report, "Sentences of flogging continue to be imposed and carried out. In 1992 at least seven people were sentenced to judicial amputation of limbs and in early 1993 two people were sentenced to be stoned to death." the punishments, however, were not carried out. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”, Thomson Gale, 2007]

Rape, Adultery and Sex-Related Crimes in Pakistan

As a hadd crime, rape is punishable by hanging; adultery and fornication, as well as qazf, by stoning to death. Crimes against property of substantial value call for amputation of hands or feet. Public drunkenness and, in the case of Muslims, any consumption of alcohol, is punishable by flogging. [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994 *]

Among the more notable peculiarities of the application of Islamic law is in regard to the issue of rape (zina-bil-jabr). On the one hand, the crime is rarely proven because four adult Muslim males of good reputation must appear as witness to the act. If the charge fails, then the woman who has brought it can be punished for false accusation (qazf) or, more commonly, for adultery (zina) herself because through her charge she has admitted an illicit sexual act. In 1991 two-thirds (some 2,000) of the women imprisoned in Pakistan were being held on such charges. This treatment, of course, has a very chilling effect on women who are raped.*

Also, under the prevailing Islamic legal system, civil rights for women are severely restricted. There are high rates of domestic violence against women, who have no judicial protection or redress. Under Pakistan's Hudood ordinances, marital rape is acceptable, and no distinction is made between forced and consensual sex. [Source: Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices, Thomson Gale, 2006]

Pakistan Amends Law on Adultery

In 1979 Zia decreed the establishment of shariat courts to try cases under Islamic law. A year later, Islamic punishments were assigned to various violations, including drinking alcoholic beverages, theft, prostitution, fornication, adultery, and bearing false witness. Women's groups feared that Zia would repeal the Family Laws Ordinance of 1961, but he did not. The Family Laws Ordinance provided women critical access to basic legal protection, including, among other things, the right to divorce, support, and inheritance, and it placed limitations on polygyny. Still, women found unfair the rules of evidence under Islamic law by which women frequently were found guilty of adultery or fornication when in fact they had been raped. They also opposed rules that in some cases equated the testimony of two women with that of one man.

Among some ethnic and tribal groups ssch as the Pashtun and Baloch, adultery has traditionally been punished by death to both parties. During her second term as prime minister, Benazir Bhutto tried to enact legislation to prevent rape victims from being charged with adultery and provide more educational opportunities for girls. She didn't have much success.

In 2006, th president of Pakistan amended an Islamic law which allowed hundreds of women facing charges for adultery and other minor crimes to be freed on bail. AFP reported: “The much-awaited amendment by General Pervez Musharraf would free 1,300 women facing various charges until their trial. The president has sought to reform Islamic laws on blasphemy and women's rights in the past but backed off because of strong opposition in deeply conservative Pakistan. [Source: AFP, 8 July 2006]

The “amendment is the president's first to the Hadood Ordinance, legislation based on the Quran and Islamic tradition. Under the ordinance, women can be sentenced to death by stoning if found guilty of having sex outside of marriage. Drinking is punishable with 80 lashes, theft with the amputation of the right hand. However, such punishments have not been carried out in Pakistan as courts from the Islamic and ordinary legal systems overturn each others' decisions in unresolved jurisdictional battles. Human rights groups say the Hadood Ordinance makes rape prosecutions almost impossible because under the laws, the victim must produce four male Muslim witnesses in court to prove the charge.

Flogging and Amputations in Pakistan

Penalties of amputation are permitted by Islamic law, but not a single doctor in the country is willing to do it. Muslim Sunnis and Shia (Shiite) disagree about what the penalty should be. Sunnis believe the hand should be loped off at the wrist. Shias maintain that the fingers should only be cut off at the first knuckle, so that the victim can still feed himself. As you might recall some Muslims are only allowed to eat with their left hand, which is used to wipe oneself. It is the right hand that is chopped off. [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994 *]

Public flogging is permitted; sometimes a microphone is placed before a criminal so this moaning and cries of pain can be heard by the assembled crowd. During public flogging of rapists, Islamic scholar sometimes take turns meeting out the punishment with a leather covered rod. In 1996, the government moved to ban flogging.

A few weeks after sharia was imposed in the Swat Valley in 2009, Qaiser Felix of wrote: Almost unanimous protests and condemnation have erupted across Pakistan after the Taliban publicly whipped Chand Bibi, a 17-year-old girl. The “barbaric act” was taped by videophone. Muslim Khan, spokesman for the fundamentalist Islamic group Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), said that the video was a fake. However, a few days ago he claimed the action was justified. Last Saturday Pakistani TV stations broadcast a video clip showing a young woman repeatedly whipped by a bearded man, his face made unrecognisable by a turban, wielding a whip. She was punished for an “unlawful relationship with her father-in-law.” The alleged incident took place in the Swat Valley, an area of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) where Islamic law was imposed following an agreement between the Pakistani government and the Tahrik-e-Nifaz Shariat Muhammadi (TNSM) movement. [Source: Qaiser Felix,, April 6, 2009]

“For Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry the whipping of the 17-year-old girl by the Taliban was a serious violation of fundamental rights and ordered the interior secretary to bring the girl before his court on 6 April where he will head an eight-judge panel to hear the case, but the young woman did not appear today. For their part the Taliban are claiming that the video at the centre of the controversy is a fake and a distortion of reality. In turn, those who back the charges have reasserted the authenticity of the video. Documentary film maker Samar Minallah said she received the video from an activist from the Swat Valley. She confirmed that the young woman seen in the video spoke Pashto, a language spoken in the Afghan-Pakistan border area. “Everyone knew about the incident,” Ms Samar said, but the provincial government is trying to draw attention away from the violence and abuses inflicted on women. Furthermore, she noted that “Muslim Khan had said that the actual punishment for the girl was stoning to death” when in reality “she was ‘only’ flogged”.”

Apostasy in Pakistan

Apostasy is crime punishable by death in some Islamic countries. The dictionary definition of apostasy is “having rejected your religious beliefs or your political party or a cause (often in favor of opposing beliefs or causes)." In Islam, any sane Muslim who renounces Islam and persists in doing so after being given chances to repent loses a variety of rights. There is no penalty for any Muslim who kills such a convert on the grounds of his apostasy. Converting to Christianity is regarded as a form of apostasy by Muslims.

A 2013 study by the Pew Research Center found that 62 percent of Pakistanis believe that leaving Islam should be punishable by death. Time Craig wrote in the Washington Post: “Pakistan’s criminal code makes no direct reference to apostasy, although many legal experts believe a Pakistani Muslim who tried to leave that religion would be vulnerable to blasphemy charges. The country's blasphemy law makes insulting the prophet Muhammad — even by innuendo — punishable by imprisonment or death.” [Source: Tim Craig, Washington Post, June 20, 2016]

There is no specific statutory law that criminalizes apostasy in Pakistan. In 2007, a bill to impose the death penalty for apostasy for males and life imprisonment for females was proposed in Parliament but failed to pass. Nevertheless, some scholars believe that the principle that “a lacuna in the statute law was to be filled with reference to Islamic law” could potentially apply to the crime of apostasy. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Although no examples of anyone actually being criminally prosecuted for apostasy were found, conversion is not without consequence. It has been reported that if a married Muslim couple converts to another religion, the couple’s children become illegitimate and may become wards of the State. In addition, according to one report, though it is theoretically possible to change one’s religion from Islam, in practice, the state attempts to hinder the process. Converts from Islam and atheists may also be vulnerable to Pakistan’s blasphemy law, which prescribes life imprisonment for desecrating or defiling the Quran and the death sentence to anyone for using derogatory remarks towards the Prophet Mohamed.

In December 1990, an Air Force mechanic paralyzed from the waist down was charged under the blasphemy laws after he converted from Islam to Christianity. In June 1992, the night before his trail was to begin, he was found dead in his prison cell. He was accused of insulting the Prophet and was denied bail by a Sessions Court and an Appeals Division of the Lahore High Court on the basis that his conversion from Islam to Christianity was a cognizable offense, even though there was no such specific offense in Pakistan’s Penal Code.

Blasphemy Laws in Pakistan

Pakistan has draconian blasphemy laws. According a 1984 law “derogatory remarks, etc., in respect of the Holy Prophet...either spoken, written or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the name of the Holy Prophet Mohammed...shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be label to a fine.” In 1990 a Federal Sharia Court proclaimed, “The penalty for contempt of the Holy death and nothing else.” Less serious form of blasphemy, of things like speaking ill of holy figures, such as one of Mohammed wives, is punishable by three years in prison or a fine.

According to Muslim blasphemy laws the saying of blasphemous words against Allah, implied or otherwise, is against Muslim law. Some interpretations of blasphemy also include saying of blasphemous words against Muhammad, implying that other prophets are ranked above Muhammad or defacing a Quran in any way. The Quran admonishes blasphemy, but does not specify any worldly punishment for it. The hadiths, which are another source of Sharia, suggest various punishments for blasphemy, which may include death. Blasphemy laws, originally established to prevent people from disrespecting Islam, have been used by Muslim extremists to crack down on and harass opponents.

In 1979 General Zia ul-Haq established the Federal Shariah Court, which was given wide discretionary powers to implement Hudood ordinances and blasphemy laws. A major component in the Islamization program, the Shariat Bill, was passed in May 1991. A later decision by the Federal Shariat Court has made defiling the name of the Prophet Muhammad punishable by a mandatory death penalty. [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994 *]

The blasphemy laws in Pakistan are based in part on British colonial era laws that prohibited blasphemy against any of the South Asia’s faiths. In 1986, under Gen. Zia and, these laws were written to apply to Islam alone and originally called for life in prison. In 1992, a special religious court ruled that death penalty was mandatory. Efforts to reform or get rid of the blasphemy laws have been thwarted by large street protests by Islamic extremists.

Pervez Musharraf, who led Pakistan from 1999 to 2008, backed down against Islamists on the issue of blasphemy laws. He had originally planned to aggressively reform Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws and clamp down on the honor killing of women. September 11th gave him an excuse to crack down hard on them, which he did while extremists burned his effigy in the streets. “There is no reason why ths minority should hold the majority hostage,” he said.

See Separate Article on Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws

Problems with Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws

Filling blasphemy charges in Pakistan is relatively easy. Most of those charged are denied bail and convicted. The trials can last a long time and sometimes years pass before they even begin. The deaths sentence is given in fewer than half the cases and is usually held up in appeal.. Some of those who are charged are clearly insane and would be placed in a mental institution if they lived in any other country.

A controversial law, Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, has drawn a great deal of attention from critics associated with the Human Rights Commission in 1993-94. Introduced in 1986 by Zia, the law, referred to as "the blasphemy trap," states that "whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Prophet Muhammad shall be punished with death or imprisoned for life and shall be liable to fine." The law extends to Muslims and nonMuslims alike, but it has been indiscriminately used against members of minorities. *

According to Amnesty International, several dozen people had been charged under Pakistan's blasphemy laws. In all cases, these charges appear to have been arbitrarily brought and to have been based on an individual's minority religious beliefs or on malicious accusations. Benazir Bhutto, sensitive to Pakistan's image in the world community, attempted to approve changes in the blasphemy law in order to "curb abuses of the law" — especially those involving false accusations and fabricated cases. Critics claim, however, that Benazir, constantly under attack for being too liberal by the religious right, has been overly cautious and slow to introduce amendments to the law.*

Abuse of Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws

A review of the blasphemy laws by the minister of religious affairs said the that majority of cases originate from "ill-will and personal prejudice." In some cases blasphemy laws have been used to hound people out of their property or out of a good job so the property or job can be claimed by someone with ties to the accuser.

The blasphemy laws are used to attack liberals. One human rights worker told the New York Times, "Before saying anything in this country, you must always be aware of the forum, the place and the time. If accused of blasphemy, you are in great difficulty. The mullahs are not known for their generosity. Even if exonerated, you will always be in danger."

Blasphemy trials are often based on flimsy evidence and rely on testimonies of Muslim against and the word of minorities. Suspects are often held without bail while religious cleric whip up support against the accused by packing the court with zealots who "show righteous concern."

Some of those who are charged under blasphemy laws are eventually set free but even then they are not out of danger. Muslim extremists vow to kill them if they are set free. Sometimes they are killed before they are sentenced or before their case comes to trial. Some are killed in jail by other prisoners.

Judges are afraid to throw out even weak blasphemy cases out of fear of attacks from Muslim extremists. Sometimes the judges are the victims. In 1998, a judge in Lahore was killed by Muslim extremists after he overturned a blasphemy conviction against two Christians.

Islamic Law in the Swat Valley of Pakistan

In April 2009, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari signed a measure that imposed Islamic law in the northwestern valley of Swat, a move that was largely seen as a capitulation to Taliban militants. Sabrina Tavernise wrote in the New York Times: Parliament voted overwhelmingly for the measure, which would allow militants to administer justice through courts whose judges have Islamic training. The local government in Swat agreed in February to allow the militants to impose Islamic law in exchange for a cease-fire. The deal came after months of fighting, during which the Pakistani Army was unable to subdue the militants. [Source: Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times, April 14, 2009]

“Residents of the Swat Valley, once one of Pakistan’s most popular vacation spots, have been terrorized by militants from the Taliban, who human rights activists say are using Islam as an excuse to extend their own power. The Taliban made inroads into Buner, a district only 100 kilometers from Islamabad. “The conflict is political, not religious,” said Ibn-e-Abduh Rehman, head of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. “They don’t want Parliament, they don’t want elections, they don’t want judges.”

“A former interior minister, Aftab Ahmad Sherpao, said the government had no choice but to back the deal because its military campaign in the area had failed and civilian casualties had been mounting. “This agreement was reached not from a position of strength but from a position of weakness,” he said. Critics of the deal worry that it could simply provide the militants with a new haven from which they can carry out attacks. But Mr. Sherpao said the signing meant the militants had no excuse to use violence.

Fareed Khan wrote in “The people of Malakand Division” in the Swat Valley “ in North-West Frontier Province, remain under the jurisdiction of Sharia. The confirmation comes from Qalandar Ali Khan, registrar of the High Court of Peshawar, who reiterated that in the territorial division all cases, including those pending, are subject to the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation 2009, the agreement that resulted from the pact between Islamabad and the Taliban in March, which attaches to the Darul Qaza and Darul-Darul Qaza Islamic courts, the administration of justice. [Source: Fareed Khan,, July 29, 2009]

“The maintenance of Sharia in the district has extinguished the feeble hope of many people in the region who had been calling for the restoration of a non-Islamic judicial system. After the offensive launched by Islamabad against the Taliban in May, much of the population expected a review of the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation 2009. Their hopes were further boosted by the July 26 arrest of Maulana Sufi Muhammad. The police ensured that the head of the fundamentalist movement Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammad (TNSM), signatory of the agreement with the government, would be brought quickly to trial and this fact had been read by many as the signal of a possible change that would have influenced the revision of the Islamic judicial system.

“Instead Ali Khan said the district judges (Zilla qazis) and regional judges (illaqa qazis) who manage the Nizam-e-Adl in Malakand are already at work and the government has also approved an increase in their number. So far the Islamic courts are also operating in the districts of Chitral, Upper Dir and Shangla while in parts of Swat Valley, Lower Dir and Buner military operations continue and the reorganization of the judiciary will be carried out only after the return of refugees.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (, Official Gateway to the Government of Pakistan (, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated February 2022

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