Global Freedom of Expression

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Justice Helpline & Ors v. Attorney General

Closed Expands Expression

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Electronic / Internet-based Communication
  • Date of Decision
    June 19, 2014
  • Outcome
    Other
  • Case Number
    SMC No. 1/2014 etc
  • Region & Country
    Pakistan, Asia and Asia Pacific
  • Judicial Body
    Supreme (court of final appeal)
  • Type of Law
    Civil Law, Constitutional Law, International/Regional Human Rights Law, Islamic Jurisprudence
  • Themes
    Religious Expression
  • Tags
    Hate Speech, Freedom of Religion

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Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

In June 2014, the Supreme Court of Pakistan ordered the federal government to form a council for the protection of minority rights and religious harmony. The council was tasked to frame policy recommendations that would enhance the protection of minority rights and encourage religious tolerance in Pakistan.


Facts

This is a case concerning the violence and subjugation of religious minorities’ rights in Pakistan. As a sua motu proceeding, the Supreme Court of Pakistan ordered the federal government to create a council to address some of the major issues religious minorities face. This case is a response to several acts of violence that have been perpetrated against religious minority groups within Pakistan. In particular, a letter written by the Justice Helpline, a non-government organization, addressed the Court’s attention to an attack on a church in Peshawar wherein 81 people were killed. This event and several others experience by the Christian, Hindu, and Sikh religious communities prompted the Court to outline the fundamental right of religious conscience inherent in Islam, the Pakistani constitution, and universal human rights at large.


Decision Overview

The decision first explains and condemns some of the challenges that minority religious communities face in Pakistan, such as: forced conversions to Islam; death threats; desecration of historical sites and places of worship; and general government discrimination in the form of delayed reaction to the actions mentioned above or simply in the administration of government services, such as marriage registrations.

Second, the decision argues that these actions against religious minorities are an affront to the fundamental right of religious conscience that is found in and supported by Islam, the Pakistani constitution, and universal human rights at large. In paragraphs 24 through 28, the decision discusses the nature of religious freedom within Islam and finds that according to both the Quran and the prophetic teachings (Sunnah), Islam respects freedom of religious conscience.

Furthermore, the decision explains that Pakistan’s history and constitution also support freedom of religious conscience. The history of the Pakistan Movement indicates that the protection of the freedom of religious belief and practice was a significant concern of the All India Muslim League (AIML) and ultimately a cornerstone upon which Pakistan as a state was established.  Furthermore, this historical background is used by the Court to interpret the constitutional provisions that establish this right. Thus, while Islam and Muslims indeed occupy a special place within the constitution, according to paragraph 12 of the decision, article 20 of the constitution also confers protections upon non-Muslims and minorities that ensure their religious freedom. Freedom of religion is not rigidly defined in the decision, but rather is construed to include freedom of conscience, thought, expression, belief, and faith.

Finally, the Court closes its discussion by explaining this right within the larger international law and human rights. It references article 18 of the United Nations Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR) and the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief as establishing human rights norms that protect freedom of conscience and ultimately freedom of religion. Overall, this decision outlines the legal authority via Islam, the Pakistani constitution, and the larger network of human rights documents that establishes the communal as well as individual right of religious freedom.

In light of the legality of religious freedom within Pakistani law, the decision orders the federal government to address inequalities faced by religious minorities by: (1) establishing a taskforce to develop a strategy of religious tolerance; (2) developing appropriate curricula to be implemented at schools and colleges to promulgate a culture of religious and social tolerance; (3) monitoring hate speech disseminated on social media and discourage its presence; (4) creating a National Council for minorities’ rights, which is to monitor minorities’ rights and submit policy recommendations that would help promote those rights; (5) organizing a Special Police Force to protect minority places of worship; (6) ensuring the enforcement of relevant policy directives regarding the reservation of quota for minorities in all services; (7) responding in a timely manner and with appropriate measures to the desecration of minority places of worship; and (8) creating a separate three Member Bench to oversee this judgment and petitions/complaints related to the violation of minorities’ rights in Pakistan.


Decision Direction

Quick Info

Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Expands Expression

This decision ultimately expands freedom of expression by acknowledging the right to religious freedom and setting up a council to direct the fruition of that right for minorities within Pakistan.

Global Perspective

Quick Info

Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

Table of Authorities

Related International and/or regional laws

National standards, law or jurisprudence

Other national standards, law or jurisprudence

Case Significance

Quick Info

Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

The decision establishes a binding or persuasive precedent within its jurisdiction.

Official Case Documents

Official Case Documents:

  • S.M.C. NO. 1 OF 2014 AND C.M.A. NOs. 217-K/2014 IN S.M.C. NO. 1/2014, H.R.C. NO. 29960-P/2012, C.M.A. NO. 110- K/2014 IN C.M.A. NO. 737/2014, C.M.A. NO. 120-K/2014 IN C.M.A. NO. 737/2014, C.M.A. NO. 1388-K/2014 IN C.M.A. NO. 737/2014, C.M.A. NO. 139-K/2014 IN C.M.A. NO. 737/2014, C.M.A. NO. 142-K/2014 IN C.M.A. NO. 737/2014, CRIMINAL M.A. NO. 322/2014 IN CRIMINAL ORIGINAL PETITION NO. 17- L/2013 & CONSTITUTION PETITION NO. 98/2011
    http://www.supremecourt.gov.pk/web/user_files/File/smc_1_2014.pdf

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