PAKISTAN: USCIRF: “Religious liberty from bad to worse in Pakistan”
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom denounces the “dire condition” of religious minorities.
By Massimo Introvigne
Bitter Winter (17.08.2022) – https://bit.ly/3CfBogv – It is a bad month of August for Pakistan. As Bitter Winter has reported, the newly elected Chief Minister of Punjab came under heavy international criticism for making the persecution of the Ahmadis in his province even worse. Accusations of visa trafficking against a senior Pakistani diplomat, former ambassador to Czech Republic Israr Husain, highlighted the presence of human trafficking and corruption at the highest level of the Pakistani bureaucracy. Meanwhile, in the United States, a detailed report by the USCIRF, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, indicted the government of Pakistan noting that the situation of religious liberty is going from bad to worse.
The report notes that Islam is the state religion in Pakistan. The constitution reserves a small number of seats in the national and some provincial assemblies to religious minorities but, through a perverse mechanism, the Ahmadis, who are part of the most persecuted minority, in practice are not allowed to vote.
The USCIRF report reviews the laws punishing blasphemy with the death penalty. It notes that, “Those accused of blasphemy face violence, imprisonment with limited opportunity for bail, and even the death sentence, although no blasphemy convict has been executed by the state in Pakistan. Even if acquitted by a court of law, the accused and their family are often ostracized or expelled from the community and face continued aggression. Mere allegations of blasphemy are enough to cause riots and the killing of the accused by armed assailants or vigilante groups. Blasphemy laws are also used to fulfill personal vendettas.”
The fact that so far no death sentence for blasphemy has been carried out is balanced by the sad finding that “many of those who are charged or merely accused of blasphemy are killed by vigilante mobs or in targeted killings.” Obtaining justice from the court against those who were part of the lynching mobs is not easy.
The report mentions the case reported by Bitter Winter in December 2021 of a Sri Lankan manager accused of blasphemy and lynched by a mob who burned his body. It also mentions the horrific case that happened in “February 2022, [when] an angry mob stoned to death Muhammad Mushtaq, a mentally ill man accused of burning the Qur’an, in Khanewal District, Punjab Province. Officers at the scene were also injured while trying to take the accused into custody. The mob of some 300 people then hung his body from a tree. Videos shared on social media showed a large crowd gathered at the site.”
Christians, Sikhs, and Ahmadis have also been killed in sectarian hate crimes outside any accusation of blasphemy. The laws prohibiting the Ahmadis to refer to themselves as Muslims are enforced with more and more strictness. The use by the Ahmadis of any symbol that may constructed as Muslim is enough to arrest them, vandalize their places of worship, and even their graves.
Christians and Hindus report that forced conversions and kidnapping girls from the minority religions who are then “converted” to Islam and married to Muslim men are on the rise. Courts often side with the perpetrators, and claim conversions have been voluntary.
The report also notes the rise of xenophobic and fundamentalist Sunni Muslim political organizations, including Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan, which target Shiite Muslims as heretics.
The report concludes that, notwithstanding Pakistan’s promises to improve its human rights record, the situation of religious liberty, if anything, has deteriorated, and religious minorities remain in a “dire” situation. “The existence and enforcement of blasphemy laws and anti-Ahmadiyya laws facilitate Islamist extremist elements and support their narrative that leaves little space for religious inclusion. Pakistan’s laws further fail to protect religious minorities at increasing risk of abduction, forced marriage, and forced conversion to Islam.” “As the U.S. government continues to engage with Pakistan, the USCIRF notes, it should continue to raise religious freedom concerns and ensure protection of religious communities targeted by Pakistan’s problematic laws and extremist groups.”
Photo: Protests against forced conversions in Pakistan. Credits.
Massimo Introvigne (born June 14, 1955 in Rome) is an Italian sociologist of religions. He is the founder and managing director of the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR), an international network of scholars who study new religious movements. Introvigne is the author of some 70 books and more than 100 articles in the field of sociology of religion. He was the main author of the Enciclopedia delle religioni in Italia (Encyclopedia of Religions in Italy). He is a member of the editorial board for the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion and of the executive board of University of California Press’ Nova Religio. From January 5 to December 31, 2011, he has served as the “Representative on combating racism, xenophobia and discrimination, with a special focus on discrimination against Christians and members of other religions” of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). From 2012 to 2015 he served as chairperson of the Observatory of Religious Liberty, instituted by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in order to monitor problems of religious liberty on a worldwide scale.