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Ever since Pakistan’s independence in 1947, the struggle for democracy and human rights has been difficult. Steady democratic governance has been lacking, with no prime minister in its history having been able to serve a full term, alongside interventions by non-democratic actors like the military. Despite experiencing improvements in the state of democratic institutions and human rights in the first decade of the 2000s, in the second decade and onwards, this pattern seems to have reversed. According to V-Dem Institute’s “Liberal Democracy Index”, since 2013, Pakistan has seen gradual and steady autocratization. Presently, democracy in Pakistan is increasingly threatened, and the state of human rights remains precarious amid multiple political crises that have short and long-term causes.[1] One such crisis occurred in 2021, when the then-Prime Minister Imran Khan attempted to override the vote of no-confidence taken against him by dissolving the parliament. The level of academic freedom in Pakistan has mostly followed the trend set by liberal democratic institutions and rights. Academic freedom in Pakistan has always been limited and the Academic Freedom Index (AFI) score of the country, for the vast majority of the time, remained under the world average. Although the state of academic freedom in the country saw speedy improvements after the end of the military regime in 1988, it has been steadily deteriorating since 2001. The AFI reports that the most serious setback has been in the “freedom of academic and cultural expression”, but other components like “institutional autonomy” and “freedom of academic exchange and dissemination” have also seriously declined.


The state of democracy and academic freedom is severely impacted by several long-term factors, such as the ongoing military conflict with India, as well as the conflict between state forces and non-state paramilitary and terrorist groups. Continuous military conflict has meant that the vaguely-worded laws on terrorism and sedition that have roots going all the way back to the era of British colonial rule have been used and abused by several governments.[2] Additionally, the vast gender inequality that exists in Pakistani society works to systematically exclude women from public spaces, restrict their access to education, and prevent them from exercising their fundamental human rights. On top of these long-term trends, in recent years, Pakistan has experienced political tumult as a result of the deteriorating humanitarian and economic conditions in the country, which intensified the conflict between the government and the political and societal opposition. All of these factors have created an unsuitable political environment for the enjoyment of democratic rights and academic freedom.


The policies of the government and law enforcement is one of the main sources of the deterioration of academic freedom in Pakistan. For example, in a move that further centralized governmental power, a bill passed in July of 2023 increased the power of the Higher Education Commission (HEC) over universities, as well as tightened the control of the government over the HEC itself.[3] Aside from targeting institutions, the government also targets individual students and academics at schools and universities. In 2020 and 2021, it was reported that “security forces arrested at least 170 university students and personnel and 240 school students and personnel for participating in education-related protests”.[4] In the past, those detained by security forces have been forcefully disappeared, such as the case of Doda Ellahi and Ghamshad Baloch, who were later released following protests. Academics and students are frequently targeted by the blasphemy laws of Pakistan, which require a death penalty for those charged with blasphemy.[5] On December 21st, 2019, Junaid Hafeez, an academic who had been arrested in March of 2013, was sentenced to death under the blasphemy laws. He remains incarcerated as of November, 2023. In another case, Sajid Soomro, a professor from Shah Abdul Latif University, was arrested on June 10th, 2020 for his alleged violation of the blasphemy laws. Accusations of “blasphemy” also lead to mob violence against students and academic personnel. On April 13th, 2017, a student named Mashal Khan at Abdul Wali Khan University was attacked and killed by a group of students after he was accused of “blaspheming” by another student. Violence between student groups have also occurred recently, as is exemplified by the violent clash of student groups in Punjab University of Lahore on September 3rd, 2022.


Indeed, it is not only the government or state forces that constitute a threat to academic freedom as academics and students also face threats from paramilitary groups. The Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) reports 41 separate attacks on campuses by non-state groups.[6] Endangered Scholars Worldwide (ESW) has been following and reporting on such events like the attack on the Balochistan Police College, which killed at least 61 people and injured at least 120, or the attack on Bacha Khan University where an academic named Syed Hamid Hussain was among the at least 20 people that were killed. While these groups and others like them often engage in indiscriminate violence, they also often intentionally target girls’ schools, as part of wider campaigns aimed to restrict the access of women to education.


ESW calls on the Pakistani government to uphold the rights of the people in Pakistan to academic freedom, an obligation of Pakistan under international law, by ceasing the weaponization of law to target academics and students, ending the crackdown on protests in universities, protecting universities against attacks by non-state armed groups, and respecting the institutional autonomy of universities.


(Last Updated: November 30th, 2023)


Please send appeals to the following:


Anwaar ul Haq Kakar

Caretaker Prime Minister of Pakistan

Prime Minister’s Office

Islamabad, Pakistan


Jalil Abbas Jilani

Foreign Minister of Pakistan

Phone: 051-9210335

Fax: 051-9207600

Islamabad, Pakistan


Ahmed Irfan Aslam

Minister for Law and Justice

Phone: 051-9210062 / 051-9212710

Islamabad, Pakistan

[1] Marston, J., & Tsolakis, M. (2022). Education Under Attack 2022 (Education Under Attack). Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack.


[3]Scholars At Risk Network. (2023). Free to Think 2023 (9; Free to Think). Scholars At Risk Network.

[4]Marston, J., & Tsolakis, M. (2022). Education Under Attack 2022 (Education Under Attack). Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack.


[6]Marston, J., & Tsolakis, M. (2022). Education Under Attack 2022 (Education Under Attack). Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack.

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