Pakistan is a Muslim majority country, where Islam is constitutionally declared as the State religion. While the majority of the population adheres to Sunni Islam, Muslims also comprise Shias, Ahmadis and Ismailis. Article 260 (3)(b) of the Constitution categorically mentions Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Parsis, Ahmadis and Bahais as non-Muslim groups and communities in the country. The Ahmadi community, however, associates itself with Islam and has a long resisted being categorized as non-Muslim in the Constitution. In addition to the Constitutional categorization, Section 298-C of the Pakistan Penal Code which regulates blasphemy laws, proposes up to three years of imprisonment for members of the Ahmadiyya community who associate themselves with Islam, stating that:
“…who directly or indirectly poses himself as Muslim, or calls, or refers to, his faith as Islam, or preaches or propagates his faith, or invites others to accept his faith, by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representations, or in any manner whatsoever outrages the religious feelings of Muslims…”.
Similarly, discrimination and faith-based crimes against citizens belonging to other religions – commonly referred to as religious minorities – are prevalent and include hate crimes. Blasphemy laws have blatantly been misused/abused against people of Christian, Hindu, Shia and Ahmadi faith.
Recently, religious expression in Pakistani social media spaces has been increasingly criminalised by the State – dubbed as either hate crime and/or profaning Islam, as interpreted by the Muslim Sunni majority. Two Christian brothers, Qaisar Ayub and Amoon Ayub were sentenced in December 2018 to capital punishment for spreading sacrilegious content online. Earlier, Taimoor Reza, belonging to the Shia faith, was similarly sentenced to death in June 2017 after being convicted by an anti-terrorism court. Reza was accused of spreading hate speech against the Deobandi sect, a Sunni denomination of majority Islam.
Pakistani social media is filled with faith-based hate and/or dangerous messages directed towards Ahmadis, Christians, Hindus, Shias and other faiths. The COVID-19 pandemic further created situations for the religious minorities where they faced backlash and were targeted with hate speech campaigns, such as #Shiavirus. The following section of the report has taken stock of Pakistani social media, primarily Twitter, to present different shades and trends of dangerous speech in the country.
Although the Pakistani Constitution talks about providing equal rights to all citizens, minority religions, sects and faiths have been facing numerous challenges vis-à-vis the exercise of their constitutional rights and guarantees. During the latest country-specific reviews under the UN Human Rights instruments, particularly the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), the State Party received abundant recommendations to address serious human rights violations against faith-based minorities. These include, but are not limited to, revisiting/decriminalizing blasphemy laws, curricula reforms, equal access to economic, social and cultural rights, etc.
As part of its many global commitments, Pakistan has a legal obligation to adopt and implement international human rights instruments, including treaties on labour and environment. Pakistani is a vulnerable country with regards to its deteriorating financial health. However, it managed to win the European Union’s (EU) Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) status in December 2013, which came with additional obligations vis-à-vis human and labour rights, environmental protection and good governance, with particular reference to 27 human rights, labour and environmental conventions identified by the European Union. In fact, these instruments are none other than the UN multilateral treaties, which Pakistan is already a state party to.
Other than Pakistan, twelve other countries also enjoy this trade advantage. Once a country has been granted this status, it not only has to implement 27 human and labour rights, environmental protection and good governance treaties, but also has the responsibility to report back to the European Parliament
* The names of the author and research associates are kept anonymous fearing any negative security implications. HBMM
 Article 2 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
 In this report, we will refer to majority Sunni Muslims when describing incidents of online hate to show that instigators are from the Sunni majority Sunni in Pakistan, but we are by no means implying that all majority Sunnis act or speak in the ways described.
 Rehman, D. (2018). Pakistan sentences two Christian brothers to death for online blasphemy. Daily Pakistan, accessible at: https://en.dailypakistan.com.pk/15-Dec-2018/pakistan-sentences-christianbrothers-to-death-for-online-blasphemy
 Mirza. J. (2020) Pakistan’s Hazara Shia minority blamed for spread of Covid-19, accessible at: https://www.ids.ac.uk/opinions/pakistans-hazara-shia-minority-blamed-for-spread-of-covid-19/
 OHCHR, (2017). Human Rights Committee’s concluding observations on Pakistan’s review under ICCPR, accessible at: www.OHCHR.org
 OHCHR, (2017). Universal Periodic Review, 3rd Cycle. Concluding observations on Pakistan’s review under UPR, accessible at: www.OHCHR.org