Pak failed to protect religious freedom: US body

The USCIRF wants Pakistan to be declared as a `country of particular concern`.

Washington: Observing that Islamabad has failed to protect freedom of religion or belief, the United States Commission for International Religious Freedom demanded Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declare Pakistan as a `country of particular concern`.

"As human-rights concern with serious security implications, the need for greater respect for religious freedom and related rights should be an integral issue in the US bilateral relationship with Pakistan," USCIRF chairman Leonard Leo and its commissioner Felice Gaer said in an op-ed in The Hill.

"We have identified this as a problem, and the United States should be devising and demanding solutions. While it is complicated and awkward to do so in the case of an ally, the abuses and threats posed by a growing religious extremism threaten both countries," they wrote.

USCIRF said designating Pakistan a “`country of particular concern` will help the US to turn its efforts to new solutions and practices to address Pakistan`s endemic religious freedom problems."

The assassinations of Salman Taseer, governor of Punjab province, and federal minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti underscore Pakistan`s failure to protect the right to freedom of thought, conscience or religion for even its most prominent citizens.

In recent years, armed radicals have escalated attacks against Sufi and Shi`a Muslims and especially against religious minorities, including Ahmadis and Christians, they said. Noting that the USCIRF has reported on a long chain of religiously related murders and violence dating back to 2001, Leo and Gaer said on September 01, 2010, bombers attacked a
Shi`ite procession in Lahore, killing at least 40 and wounding as many as 200.

Two days later, bombers attacked a similar procession in Quetta, murdering at least 70 and wounding 160.

Scores of Ahmadis were gunned down in May 2010 in Lahore during Friday prayers. In July of that year, 40 Sufis were slain and hundreds wounded in the bombing of a shrine, also in Lahore.

In 2009, violence in the village of Gojra was unleashed against Christians, killing eight and injuring 18, and two churches and 75 homes were set on fire, they wrote.

"Not only does Pakistan typically fail to prevent or successfully prosecute such crimes, it fuels them through its harmful laws, including mandates that criminalise Ahmadis` practice of their religion and a blasphemy law that commonly is used to intimidate religious minorities or others with whom the accusers disagree or have unrelated conflicts," the op-ed said.

They wrote: "These measures embolden religious extremists, fostering a climate conducive to vigilantism and other violence against unpopular religious minorities, women and even members of Pakistan`s religious majority."


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