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Religious Freedom Environment In Pakistan Worsened: USCIRF


WASHINGTON: The United States Commission on International Religious Freedomin its annual report 2013, recommends Pakistan to be designated as Country of Special Concern.



An extract from the Annual Report 2013 by USCIRF is as follows:


The government of Pakistan continues to engage in and tolerate systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of freedom of religion or belief. Sectarian and religiously-motivated violence is chronic, especially against Shi’i Muslims, and the government has failed to protect members of religious minority communities, as well as the majority faith. Pakistan’s repressive blasphemy laws and other religiously discriminatory legislation, such as the anti-Ahmadi laws, have fostered an atmosphere of violent extremism and vigilantism. Pakistani authorities have not consistently brought perpetrators to justice or taken action against societal actors who incite violence. Growing religious extremism threatens Pakistan’s security and stability, as well as the freedoms of religion and expression, and other human rights, for everyone in Pakistan. In light of these particularly severe violations, USCIRF recommends in 2013 that Pakistan be designated a “country of particular concern,” or CPC.


The exceedingly poor religious freedom environment in Pakistan worsened during the reporting period. The Pakistani government failed to effectively intervene against a spike in targeted violence against the Shi’i Muslim minority community, as well as violence against other minorities. The country’s blasphemy law used predominantly in Punjab province but also nationwide, targets members of religious minority communities and dissenting Muslims and frequently results in imprisonment. USCIRF is aware of at least 16 individuals on death row and 20 more serving life sentences.



Promoting respect for freedom of religion or belief must be an integral part of U.S. policy towards Pakistan, and designating Pakistan as a CPC would enable the


United States to press Islamabad to undertake needed reforms. To make religious freedom a key element in the bilateral relationship, the U.S. government should include discussions on religious freedom and religious tolerance in U.S.-Pakistan strategic dialogues and summits. It should urge Pakistan to protect religious minorities from violence and actively prosecute those committing act of violence against Shi’a, Ahmadis, Christians, Hindus, and others; unconditionally release individuals currently jailed for blasphemy; repeal or reform the blasphemy law and repeal anti-Ahmadi laws; and ensure that the Federal Ministry for National Harmony continues in the new government. Additional recommendations for U.S. policy towards Pakistan can be found at the end of this chapter.



Discriminatory laws promulgated in previous decades and persistently enforced have fostered an atmosphere of religious intolerance and eroded the social and legal status of members of religious minorities, including Shi’a, Christians, Ahmadis, and Hindus. While the constitution provides for religious freedom, the right is undercut by other provisions and basic laws. Government authorities do not adequately protect members of religious minority communities from societal violence, and rarely bring perpetrators of attacks on minorities to justice.


Overall, the U.S. Department of State has noted a five-fold increase in extremist violence since 2006. In this environment, armed extremists, some with ties to banned militant groups, continued their attacks on religious minorities, including bombings, against Shi’a, Ahmadis, Christians, Hindus and others. The following examples of sectarian or religiously-motivated violence are illustrative of the numerous and often fatal attacks against innocent Pakistanis by militants who use religion to justify their crimes.


Attacks and Discrimination against Christians


Violence against Christians continued, usually perpetrated by banned militant groups or other societal actors, but also at times at the hands of government officials. USCIRF received reports of 16 different incidents of violent attacks against Christians during the reporting period, with 11 individuals killed.


While the murders could not always be definitely linked to religious animus, five churches were attacked by mobs during the reporting period, as were one Catholic hospital and one Christian village. These attacks were on: St. Francis Xavier’s Catholic Cathedral in Hyderabad; St. Francis Catholic Church in Karachi; Bawa Chak Presbyterian Church in Faisalabad; PhiladelphiaPentecostalChurch in Karachi; St. Paul’s LutheranChurch in Mardan; St.ElizabethHospital in Hyderabad; and the Christian colony in Lahore. The vulnerable position of Christians in Pakistani society makes them susceptible to such violence.


Punjab province is the locus for the majority of violence, blasphemy cases, and discrimination against Christians, as it is home to the largest Christian community. (See the section below for more about blasphemy cases.) Observers note a trend of Christian cemeteries being seized without compensation. In addition, some Christian schools that were nationalized by past governments have yet to be de-nationalized. In January 2012, a Catholic facility used to provide community assistance in Lahore was bulldozed to the ground on orders of the provincial government, which claimed the church did not have proper title to the property. During the demolition copies of the Bible were destroyed. The Christian community is requesting the return of the property and restitution for the destroyed facilities. Local authorities have reportedly made a verbal commitment to do so, but it had not been fulfilled by the end of the reporting period. Marginalization and poverty make the Christian community in Pakistan vulnerable, and sexual assaults against underage Christian girls by Muslim men continue to be reported. Catholic NGOs estimate at least 700 Christian girls are kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam every year. During the reporting period, two reports surfaced of Christian women being forcibly converted to Islam, married, and then raped, with law enforcement either hesitant to act or societal actors pressuring victims to recant their allegations. Three cases of kidnapping of Christians were also reported.