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Pakistan

A grim year for Pakistan's persecuted religious minorities

Human Rights Watch accuses government of failing to provide adequate protection or hold perpetrators to account

A grim year for Pakistan's persecuted religious minorities

Mourners from the Shia Hazara community gather next to the coffins of 11 miners killed in an attack claimed by Islamic State gunmen during a sit-in protest in Quetta on Jan. 8. (Photo: AFP)

Rights activists in Pakistan have endorsed the findings of a leading advocacy group that reported a grim situation for religious minorities last year.

Attacks by Islamist militants targeting law enforcement officials and religious minorities killed dozens of people in 2020, according to the recently released World Report 2021 of Human Rights Watch (HRW).

“Women, religious minorities and transgender people continued to face violence, discrimination and persecution, with authorities often failing to provide adequate protection or hold perpetrators to account,” the report states.

“The Pakistani government did not amend or repeal blasphemy law provisions that have provided a pretext for violence against religious minorities and have left them vulnerable to arbitrary arrest and prosecution. The death penalty is mandatory for blasphemy, and 40 people remained on death row as of late 2020.

“Child marriage remains a serious problem in Pakistan, with 21 percent of girls marrying before age 18 and 3 percent marrying before 15. Women from religious minority communities remain particularly vulnerable to forced marriage. The government has done little to stop such forced marriages.”

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Saroop Ijaz, senior counsel for HRW’s Asia Division, accused Pakistan’s government of a direct violation of human rights.

“We saw a continuation of the negative trends of attacks on minorities and civil society as well as shackles on freedom of expression since 2018. The challenges became acute last year. There was an increase in attacks on non-Muslims and a failure to stem them,” he said in a recent talk show.

According to I.A. Rehman, spokesperson for the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, 15,000 Pakistani journalists became jobless last year.

“This is extraordinary. This government is bent upon violence. It is sadistic. For the first time in history, castration was in Pakistan’s Penal Code. This is inhuman,” he said.

President Arif Alvi last month approved the Anti-Rape Ordinance 2020 that sanctions chemical castration for convicted rapists.

Speaking to UCA News, Cecil Chaudhry, executive director of the National Commission of Justice and Peace, agreed that 2020 saw a rise in incidents of forced conversions and marriages, hate speech against religious and sectarian minorities, and killings in the name of religion.

According to Washington-based International Christian Concern, 24 Christians are imprisoned in Pakistan on blasphemy charges and face 21 different cases at various stages.

On Dec. 30, hundreds of villagers led by local clerics stormed Krishna Dwara temple in Karak district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and set it on fire. The mob also attacked an under-construction house allegedly occupied by a Hindu man. According to reports, clerics made provocative speeches against the alleged expansion of the Hindu temple, leading to the attack.

This year got off to a bad start when 11 Shia Hazara miners were killed in a brutal attack claimed by Islamic State gunmen in Balochistan province on Jan. 3.

The miners from the persecuted Muslim minority were kidnapped near a coal mine in Mach close to Pakistan's border with Afghanistan.

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