US State Department’s Report: ‘Pakistan has discriminatory legislation for minorities’

US State Department’s Report: ‘Pakistan has discriminatory legislation for minorities’

New York City : NY : USA | Sep 14, 2011 at 1:57 PM PDT
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The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) expressed concern over the facts about religious freedom in Pakistan after a report in this regard was published by the US State Department. The report says the constitution of Pakistan and other laws and policies restrict religious freedom and, in practice, the government enforces these restrictions. The constitution establishes Islam as the state religion and it requires that laws be consistent with Islam.

The constitution states, "Subject to law, public order, and morality, every citizen shall have the right to profess, practice, and propagate his religion." In practice, however, the government limits freedom of religion. Freedom of speech is also constitutionally "subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam."

The report alleges the Pakistani government rarely investigates or prosecutes the perpetrators of increased extremist attacks on minorities and the majority promoting tolerance - which has deepened the climate of impunity. Despite the government's steps to protect religious minorities, societal intolerance and violence against minorities and Muslims promoting tolerance has increased and abuses under the blasphemy laws continue. The government has not taken adequate measures to prevent these incidents or undertaken reform measures to prevent the abuse of the blasphemy law.

The US State Department's report further says the government is reluctant in addressing the issue of blasphemy law. President Zardari refrained from pardoning a blasphemy convict - Aasia Bibi - owing to public pressure. Discriminatory legislation, such as the blasphemy law and the anti-Ahmadi provisions of law, and the government's failure or delay in addressing religious hostility by societal actors has been fostering religious intolerance, acts of violence, and intimidation against religious minorities and Muslims alike. The country's blasphemy law continues to be used as a legal weapon against religious minorities and some Muslims.

The Ahmadiyya community continues to face governmental and societal discrimination and legal bars to the practice of its religious beliefs. Members of other Islamic sects, Christians, Sikhs, and Hindus have also reported governmental and societal discrimination. There were instances in which law enforcement personnel reportedly abused religious minorities in custody.

The report, however, eulogizes late Federal Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, for promoting interfaith harmony and dialogue. The ministry also provided scholarships to minority students and approved new programs aimed at the maintenance of minority places of worship and the development and welfare of minority communities. Hindus and Sikhs welcomed the government decision to approve Lahore's first crematorium to serve the over one million Hindus and Sikhs living in Punjab. Bhatti also established district level interfaith committees to meet monthly to address issues of religious tolerance and interfaith dialogue.

Societal discrimination against religious minorities is, however, widespread, and societal violence against them continues. Nongovernmental actors, including violent extremist groups and individuals, continue to target religious congregations. Acts of violence and intimidation against religious minorities by extremists increased and exacerbated existing sectarian tensions. Extremists in some parts of the country demand that all citizens follow a strict version of Islam and threaten brutal consequences if they do not abide by it.

Extremists also target violence on Muslims advocating for tolerance and pluralism, including followers of Sufism and other moderate forms of Islam. Several of the recent attacks were directed at Sufi and Shia gatherings and religious sites, resulting in numerous deaths and extensive damage.

In the light of the above report, US should remain in constant contact with Pakistan and press its rulers for amendment in the controversial blasphemy law. Pakistani government should also be told in clear terms about protection of minorities.

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Pakistani activists a protest in Lahore against the government moves to amend a controversial blasphemy law
Pakistani activists a protest in Lahore against the government moves to amend a controversial blasphemy law
StephenManual is based in New York City, New York, United States of America, and is a Reporter on Allvoices.
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