Pakistan One of the Worst Religious Freedom Offenders, Says USCIRF
According to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom’s (USCIRF) newly released 2015 Annual Report, “Pakistan represents one of the worst situations in the world for religious freedom for countries not currently designated by the U.S. Government as ‘countries of particular concern.’”
USCIRF is an independent U.S. government advisory body separate from the State Department that monitors religious freedom worldwide and makes policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State and the Congress.
The ECLJ has an affiliate office in Pakistan that provides legal aid to the persecuted church. Our attorneys in Pakistan deal on a regular basis with the kind of cases and situations that are detailed in the USCIRF Report. Mob violence against religious minorities, discrimination against and persecution of Christians, false accusations of blasphemy, etc. are just a few examples of the wide range of cases that our attorneys handle in Pakistan.
The USCIRF 2015 Annual Report expresses concern that, despite growing extremism, the Pakistani government “failed to protect citizens, minority and majority alike, from sectarian and religiously-motivated violence, and Pakistani authorities have not consistently brought perpetrators to justice or taken action against societal actors who incite violence.”
An example of the Pakistani government’s attitude toward religious minorities can be seen in its handling of “the 2013 mob attack on the Christian village Joseph Colony in Punjab.” A mob of Muslims attacked Joseph Colony, burning and vandalizing about 200 Christian homes after a false allegation of blasphemy against one Christian was made. The USCIRF report states, although “the provincial government provided some reparations[,] all of the attackers were released on bail. The only person serving a prison sentence is [the] Christian falsely accused of blasphemy, who was sentenced to death.”
The USCIRF Report mentions “122 incidents of sectarian violence” against Shia Muslims, Christians, Hindus and Ahmadis that occurred “from July 2013 to June 2014.” These incidents “result[ed] in more than 1,200 casualties, including 430 deaths.”
In addition to mob violence, the Report raises the issue of “[f]orced conversion of Christian and Hindu girls and young women into Islam” and “forced marriages to Muslim men” as a “systematic problem.”
According to the USCIRF Report, “[b]lasphemy laws are inherently problematic and conflict with fundamental human rights protections.” The Report further provides that, “[d]uring the reporting period, five individuals were sentenced to death and one to life in prison, bringing the total of blasphemy prisoners in Pakistan to 38.”
Pointing out governmental discrimination in reviewing blasphemy cases, the USCIRF Report notes that “the Punjab Prosecution Department and provincial judiciary announced that they had reviewed 262 blasphemy cases awaiting trial and recommended that 50 be reviewed for dismissal because the accused had been victimized by complaints.” However, the Report goes on to state that “[n]o religious minorities were included in the review.”
As such, the USCIRF recommends that the U.S. government “[u]rge the Pakistani government . . . to review all cases of individuals charged with blasphemy in order to release those subjected to abusive charges[.] Another recommendation includes calling for “the repeal of the blasphemy law.”
Due to the Pakistani “government’s engagement in and toleration of particularly severe violations of religious freedom,” the USCIRF recommends that the U.S. government, inter alia, “[d]esignate Pakistan as a ‘country of particular concern’ as required under the IRFA[.]”
In light of the international agreements that Pakistan has signed, that require Pakistan to protect its religious minorities and protect their fundamental rights, Pakistan must bring the perpetrators of violence to justice and provide a safe environment to its religious minorities.
The ECLJ continues to provide legal assistance to victims of discrimination and persecution through its affiliate in Pakistan. The staff in Pakistan needs your prayers for protection and wisdom while they fight against the injustice perpetrated upon innocent victims.
About USCIRF, United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (last visited April 30, 2015), http://www.uscirf.gov/about-uscirf.