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Pakistan criticized for failing to protect minorities

Some 193 violent incidents took place against religious minorities last year, think-tank says
Pakistani women weep as Christians protest in this file photo against the suicide bombing at All Saints church in the northwestern city of Peshawar on Sept 23, 2013 that left 81 people dead. The latest human rights report from the US State Department says Pakistan has seen no improvement on human rights, especially on rights of minorities

Pakistani women weep as Christians protest in this file photo against the suicide bombing at All Saints church in the northwestern city of Peshawar on Sept 23, 2013 that left 81 people dead. The latest human rights report from the US State Department says Pakistan has seen no improvement on human rights, especially on rights of minorities. (Photo: A Majeed/AFP/Getty Images)

Published: April 24, 2024 06:29 AM GMT
Updated: April 24, 2024 06:49 AM GMT

Pakistan has come under fire for dismal human rights violations, especially for failing to protect minority rights and curbing attacks on religious minorities in the latest human rights report from the US State Department.

The 2023 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, released on April 23, covers internationally recognized individual, civil, political, and worker rights, as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international agreements. 

The report says there was no significant changes in the human rights situation in Pakistan last year.

Violence against religious minorities continued in Pakistan in 2023 including forced conversions, early and forced marriages and mob attacks targeting minorities, it said.

Pakistan is home to about 241 million people, 96.3 percent of whom are Muslims, 1.6 percent are Hindus, and 1.6 percent are Christians. Other religious minorities such as Sikhs, Buddhists and Zoroastrians make up less than one percent, according to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom. 

Civil society and human rights groups reported increasing violence against minorities in the country.

A total of 193 incidents of violence took place against religious minorities in Pakistan last year, according to Islamabad-based Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS).

Of these, Christians were targeted in 113 incidents, 42 cases of violence against Ahmadis, a Muslim sect considered heretics by Islamic hardliners, 37 cases of violence against Hindus and one incident against Sikhs, the CRSS said in its annual report.

The CRSS reported that 35 people, mostly minorities, were killed in sectarian attacks last year, compared to 19 deaths in 2022.

The US human rights report, referring to Pakistani civil society groups, said that the nation’s courts often failed to protect the rights of religious minorities against Muslims who accused them of violating country’s stringent blasphemy laws.

Pakistan’s penal code punishes defamation of Islam and Prophet Mohammad with life and death sentences.

“While the majority of those imprisoned for blasphemy were Muslim, religious minorities were disproportionately affected,” the US report said. 

“Lower courts often failed to adhere to basic evidentiary standards in blasphemy cases, which civil society groups and lawyers ascribed to fear of retaliation from religious groups if they acquitted blasphemy defendants.” 

The report also highlighted that forced religious conversions and enforcement of blasphemy laws were particular areas of concern for religious minorities. 

“Societal violence due to religious intolerance remained a serious problem,” it said. “There were occasional reports of mob violence against religious minorities, including Christians, Ahmadi Muslims, and Hindus.”

Zohra Yusuf, a rights activist, journalist and former chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), agreed there had not been any “substantial improvement” in the rights situation of minorities. 

“The most affected are the Ahmadi community,” Yusuf told UCA News. “Their places of worship and their graveyards are attacked. They are definitely the most persecuted community in Pakistan.”

She said Hindus were the most affected by forced conversions in Pakistan’s Sindh province, adding that girls are being kidnapped in the province and forced to convert to Islam and then married to Muslim men. 

“When they seek help from the courts, it becomes an issue on whether the girl is an adult or not,” she said. “And even if they do get justice from the courts, it is not easy to recover from the ordeal they go through.” 

Nasir William, a member of advocacy group, Center for Social Justice, which promotes social justice for marginalized groups, echoed similar sentiments.

“It is because of a mindset that we have harbored that such incidents happen,” William told UCA News.

Things can improve only when people are properly educated on human rights and this becomes a subject in the school curriculum, so children can learn it from a young age, he said.

He said such initiatives would educate future generations to promote inclusivity, and urged authorities to cut out “hate material” in the curriculum taught by educational institutions. 

US-based Christian rights group, Open Doors, ranks Pakistan 7th among 50 nations worldwide where Christians face high levels of persecution.

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