Serious problems in Pak on religious freedom: US

A US report notes that ties between religious communities remained tense.

Washington: Noting that serious problems remain in Pakistan with regard to religious freedom, the Obama administration has expressed its concern over the existence of laws that are "discriminatory" against religious minorities.

"There have been attacks against Christians, against the Ahmadis. There`s still discriminatory laws on the books, blasphemy laws, anti-Ahmadi laws.”

"We`re raising these issues with the government of Pakistan," Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labour, Michael Posner, said.

Posner was responding to questions after the release of the annual State Department Report on Global Religious Freedom by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

"The (Pak) government is taking steps. It`s a very tense situation now, and there are tensions within the society. So it`s a mixed picture, honestly.”

“We give the government credit for steps it has taken, but also recognise that more needs to be done. And it`s part of our diplomacy with them," Posner said in response to a question.

One of the things this report does is identify, in Pakistan and elsewhere, government actions that contribute to the problem, he said.

The annual State Department Report said despite the government`s steps to protect religious minorities, the number and severity of reported high-profile cases against minorities increased during the reporting period.

"Organised violence against minorities increased; for example, there was violence against Christians in Gojra, Punjab, and a terrorist attack on Ahmadis in Lahore, Punjab.”

"There were instances in which law enforcement personnel abused religious minorities in custody," it said.

Security forces and other government agencies did not adequately prevent or address societal abuse against minorities.

Discriminatory legislation and the government`s failure or delay in addressing religious hostility by societal actors fostered religious intolerance, acts of violence, and intimidation against religious minorities, it said.

"Specific laws that discriminated against religious minorities included the anti-Ahmadi provisions of the penal code and the blasphemy laws which provided the death penalty for defiling Islam or its prophets," said the report.

The Ahmadiyya community continued to face governmental and societal discrimination and legal bars to the practice of its religious beliefs. Members of other Islamic sects, Christians, Sikhs, and Hindus also reported governmental and societal discrimination, it said.

Noting that relations between religious communities remained tense, the State Department Report said societal discrimination against religious minorities was widespread, and societal violence against such groups occurred.

Non-governmental actors, including terrorist and extremist groups and individuals, targeted religious congregations, it said, adding that a domestic insurgency led by religious militants increased acts of violence and intimidation against religious minorities and exacerbated existing sectarian tensions.

"Extremists target violence against Muslims advocating for tolerance and pluralism, including followers of Sufism," the report said.

During the reporting period, US embassy officials closely monitored the treatment of religious minorities, worked to eliminate the teaching of religious intolerance, and encouraged the amendment or repeal of the blasphemy laws, it added.


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