A Catholic religious rights group has attacked the British government’s decision to increase aid to Pakistan at a time of rising religious extremism. The announcement of the increase, which could mean aid doubling to £446 million ($726 million) a year, came on March 1, a day before Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s minister for religious minorities, was shot dead in the capital, Islamabad. In a statement on March 2, the day Bhatti – a Catholic and the only Christian minister in the cabinet -- died, the UK Department for International Development, said one of its priorities was “building peace and stability across the region and making democracy stick by improving poor governance and strengthening democratic principles.” But this was disputed by Neville Kyrke-Smith, director of the UK office of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). “How can the British government be planning to increase aid to the Pakistan government when religious freedom is not upheld and those who are against the infamous blasphemy laws are not protected and just gunned down?” he asked. “Pressure should be put on the Pakistan government to ensure religious freedom. You cannot provide aid without commitment to human rights. As a democratic country we should be encouraging religious freedom and human rights in those countries we are giving aid to.” UK13502.1643
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