Pakistan “one of the worst countries” for religious freedom
Pakistan is one of the worst countries in the world for religious freedom not currently designated by Americas as a “country particular concern, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom
(USCIRF) has found.
In its annual report the commission said that Pakistan continued to experience “chronic sectarian violence”, targeted towards its minorities – including Christians.
The damning analysis revealed that the government had failed to adequately protect its minorities or persecute perpetrators of violence.
The USCIRF also said that the country’s blasphemy laws continue to violate religious freedoms, foster a climate of impunity, and need to be repealed.
Again the committee recommended that Pakistan be designated a “country of particular concern,” or CPC, under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA), as it has recommended since 2002.
Observers noted that the National Assembly spent only 15 hours out of 1000 discussing the rising violence against religious minorities. The report states: “Violence against Christians continued, with few concrete actions taken by federal or provincial officials to ensure their protection. For instance, after the 2013 mob attack on the Christian village Joseph Colony in Punjab, the provincial government provided some reparations but all of the attackers were released on bail.”
It also noted that the forced conversion of Christian and Hindu girls into Islam and forced marriage remains a “systemic problem”. “The Movement for Solidarity and Peace in Pakistan estimates that hundreds of Christians and Hindus are victimized each year,” the USCIRF said.
It further found that violence against Christians continued to be perpetrated around blasphemy allegations, “Blasphemy laws are inherently problematic and conflict with fundamental human rights protections. In Pakistan, they are particularly pernicious,” the report declared highlighting that the punishments were so severe that they were either death of life in prison.
The USCIRF also said that as a result of there being no clear definition of blasphemy, the accuser was empowered to decide whether the act alleged had occurred. It drew attention to the fact that no proof of intent is required and that evidence is not needed to be presented after allegations are made.
Relating to education, the report says that discriminatory content against religious minorities, including Christians, in provincial textbooks remains a concern.
USCIRF recommends that the US government should designate Pakistan as a “country of particular concern,” as required under IRFA, due to the government’s engagement in and toleration of particularly severe violations of religious freedom.
It also said the US should press the Pakistani government to implement the Supreme Court decision to create a special police force to protect religious groups from violence and actively prosecute perpetrators.
Other recommendations included working with international partners to raise religious freedom concerns with Pakistani officials in Islamabad, urging the Pakistani government and provincial governments to review all cases of individuals charged with blasphemy in order to release those subjected to abusive charges, and calling for the repeal of the blasphemy law and the rescinding of anti-Ahmadi provisions of law.
Until the law can be repealed the USCIRF recommends urging the Pakistani government to reform the blasphemy law by making blasphemy a bailable offense and/or by adding penalties for false accusations or enforcing such penalties found elsewhere in the penal code.