The United States Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has released its latest report on the situation of religious freedom in countries across the globe. USCIRF has urged the United State government to designate Pakistan as a Country of Particular Concern. (CPC) under IRFA. The report says that the banned groups are increasingly targeting the religious minorities in Pakistan.
“In 2017, religious minorities in Pakistan, including Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Ahmadis, and Shi’a Muslims, continued to face attacks and discrimination from extremist groups and society at large. The government of Pakistan failed to protect these groups adequately, and it perpetrated systematic, ongoing, egregious religious freedom violations. Various media outlets promoted intolerance against religious minorities. Abusive enforcement of the country’s strict blasphemy laws resulted in the suppression of rights for non-Muslims, Shi’a Muslims, and Ahmadis,” the report stated.
The matter of forced conversions was also highlighted by the Commission, as it found that the non-Muslims were forced to convert. “Forced conversions of non-Muslims continued despite the passage of the Hindu Marriage Act, which grants greater rights in family law for Hindu citizens”, the report said.
The commission said that the hardliner groups are entering the political arena. This phenomenon is becoming a threat to the religious minorities. “The entry of fundamentalist, and often extremist, religious parties into the political arena in advance of July 2018 national elections further threatens religious minorities’ already precarious status in the country”, USCIRF stated.
In May, last year a USCIRF delegation called on the Pakistani authorities, the religious and civil representatives in Pakistan. Bearing these findings in mind, the USCIRF has recommended designating Pakistan as a country of particular concern.
“Based on these violations, in 2018 USCIRF again finds that Pakistan should be designated as a “country of particular concern,” or CPC, under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA), as it has found since 2002. Despite USCIRF’s longstanding recommendation, the State Department has never so designated Pakistan. In December 2017, the State Department named Pakistan as the first, and only, country on its “Special Watch List,” a new category created by December 2016 amendments to IRFA”, the report says.
USCIRF report harbors some recommendations to the United States government. The US government was urged to bind Pakistan government to help the imprisoned blasphemy victims. “Negotiate a binding agreement with the government of Pakistan, under section 405(c) of IRFA, to achieve specific and meaningful reforms, with benchmarks including major legal reforms and releasing blasphemy prisoners, and accompany such an agreement with U.S.-provided resources for related capacity building through the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID);” the report said.
“Encourage the government of Pakistan to launch a public information campaign about the historic role of religious minorities in the country, their contributions to society, and their equal rights and protections, and use the tools of U.S. public diplomacy, such as educational and cultural exchanges and U.S.-funded media, to highlight similar themes;” USCIRF recommended.