October 9, 2019
Over the past several years lawyers in Pakistan have been subjected to acts of mass terrorism, murder, attempted murder, assaults, (death) threats, contempt proceedings, harassment and intimidation in the execution of their professional duties. They have also been arrested, detained or tortured, and in some cases the family members of the murdered lawyer have also been murdered. Some lawyers have been threatened with disbarment or had their homes raided by the police. Sometimes Christian lawyers or members of minority sects have been assaulted or threatened with death. The most notorious attack on Pakistani lawyers occurred on August 8, 2016 when terrorists attacked the Government Hospital of Quetta with a suicide bombing and shooting which resulted in the death of 56 lawyers. Since there has been an alarming increase in the number of lawyers murdered, with nine reported over the past year. More recently Saif-ul-Malook received serious death threats for representing Asia Bibi, who had been sentenced to death for blasphemy, as a result of which he was forced to flee temporarily to the Netherlands.
The perpetrators of these attacks have been terrorists, religious zealots, the police and unreported sources. There have also been reports that pro-government militias (which still exist today) have been behind some of the murders, and in some cases lawyers have been killed because they are Shia. In response to these repeated attacks, Pakistani lawyers frequently strike, demonstrate, protest and hold boycotts.
The life of an Advocate is at risk the moment he or she takes up a case. It does not matter if it is the opposing party or the very party that the lawyer is representing.
By its constitution of 1956, the official name of Pakistan is the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. More than 96% of Pakistan’s 197 million citizens (2017) are Muslims, and Islam is the state religion, the overwhelming majority of whom are Sunni Muslims. Pakistan has also an important minority of Shi’ite Muslims as well as a number of other minority religions, including Christianity, whose followers are subjected to discrimination, violence and death, especially the misuse of blasphemy laws. Among countries with a Muslim majority, Pakistan has the strictest anti-blasphemy laws. The Pakistan Penal Code punishes blasphemy (Urdu: قانون توہین رسالت) against any recognized religion, providing penalties ranging from a fine to death. From 1967 to 2014, over 1,300 people were accused of blasphemy, with Muslims constituting most of those accused. Between 1987 to 2017 at least 1,500 people were charged with blasphemy and at least 75 people involved in accusations of blasphemy were killed in Pakistan according to the Center for Social Justice.
Many people accused of blasphemy have been murdered before their trials were concluded, and prominent figures who opposed the blasphemy law have been assassinated. In fact since 1990, 62 people have been murdered following blasphemy allegations. According to one religious minority source, an accusation of blasphemy commonly exposes the accused, police, lawyers, and judges to harassment, threats, attacks and rioting.
Violence and the threat of violence are omnipresent in Pakistan, and according to the Ministry of Interior terrorism poses a significant threat to the people of Pakistan. The current wave of terrorism is believed to have started in 2000 and peaked during 2009. According to a 2018 report by Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, 23,372 Pakistani civilians and 8,832 Pakistani security personnel had been killed in the war on terrorism. Pakistan is said to be a safe haven for a number of terrorist groups, including Al-Qaeda, it has been accused of giving aid to the Taliban and hosting terrorist camps, and therefore it is responsible for state-sponsored or state-condoned terrorism.
Pakistani law is based upon the legal system of British India, thus ultimately on the Common Law of England and Wales. There are six Bar Councils in Pakistan which came into being as a result of enactment of Legal Practitioners and Bar Councils Act 1973. These Bar Councils regulate legal professionals across provincial, territorial and national levels. They include the Bar Councils of: Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan, Islamabad, Azad Jammu & Kashmir, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, as well as the Pakistan Bar Council, the national Bar association.
The cases mentioned in this report have been documented by Pakistani lawyers, the International Association of People’s Lawyers (IAPL), Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada (LRWC), Zykyria Muiloo and the European Bar Human Rights Institute (IDHAE).