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By Atika Rehman
Published: September 15, 2011
KARACHI: Pakistan was cited among 10 countries “failing to sufficiently protect religious rights”, in a report regarding religious freedom released by Washington on Wednesday.
The other countries, mentioned in the US State Department’s International Religious Freedom report for the second half of 2010, included Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Venezuela and Vietnam.
However, Pakistan was not included in the list of ‘countries of particular concern’ regarding religious freedom – much to the dismay of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). The list named China, Saudi Arabia, Myanmar, North Korea, Eritrea, Iran, Sudan and Uzbekistan.
“… the current list continues with glaring omissions, such as Pakistan and Vietnam. We respectfully urge Secretary Clinton to consider the six additional countries we recommended for designation,” said USCIRF Chair Leonard Leo.
The report details actions such as active state repression, violence against religious groups, apostasy and blasphemy laws, anti-Semitism and restrictions on religious attire and expression.
The report bluntly states that the constitution and laws in Pakistan “restricted religious freedom and, in practice, the government enforced these restrictions.”
Citing acts of violence against religious minorities as well as societal and governmental discrimination, it states that “the government rarely investigated or prosecuted the perpetrators of increased extremist attacks on minorities and the majority promoting tolerance, which deepened the climate of impunity.”
The report includes a long list of case studies of violence and discrimination against Ahmadis, Christians, Sikhs, Hindus and other Muslim sects.
The controversial blasphemy law, Aasia Bibi’s case in particular, and discrimination against the Ahmadiyya community take centre stage in the 30 pages of the report dedicated solely to Pakistan. “The government did not undertake reform measures to prevent the abuse of the blasphemy laws.
Toward the end of the reporting period the public discourse regarding the blasphemy laws became increasingly heated, which contributed to the government’s reluctance to address the issue. For example, after initially signalling he was considering pardoning Aasia Bibi’s death penalty sentence for alleged blasphemy, President Zardari refrained from doing so,” the report states.
It adds that the government, in fact, distanced itself from a bill introduced by a member of the ruling party that would have amended the blasphemy laws to prevent abuse.
Terming the blasphemy laws “a legal weapon against religious minorities and other Muslims”, the report says that the government’s failure in addressing religious hostility fostered intolerance and acts of violence against minorities and Muslims alike.
However, the report gives credit to the slain minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti for promoting religious tolerance and taking an active role in assisting victims of religiously motivated attacks on Christians and Ahmadis.
The report states that, according to the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), between 1987 and 2010, a total of 1,068 persons were charged under the blasphemy laws. In 2010, blasphemy complaints were registered with the police against 17 Christians, eight Muslims, five Ahmadis, and seven Hindus, according to the report.
(ADDITIONAL INPUT FROM AFP)
Published in The Express Tribune, September 15th, 2011.