Religious freedom under attack in Pakistan: US

WASHINGTON: The religious freedom is under attack in Pakistan, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said and hoped that the new prime minister would promote interfaith harmony in the country.

Releasing a Congressional-mandated 2016 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom yesterday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the Pakistan government marginalises Ahmadiyya Muslims, and refuses to recognise them as Muslim.

“Religious freedom is under attack in Pakistan, where more than two dozen are on death row or serving a life imprisonment for blasphemy,” he said.

Tillerson hoped that new Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and his government will promote interfaith harmony and protect the rights of religious minorities in Pakistan.

Abbasi, 58, was sworn-in as Pakistan’s prime minister on August 1 after the Supreme Court disqualified the incumbent Nawaz Sharif for dishonesty following the Panama papers case.

The US report said that in 2016 there continued to be violence and abuses committed by armed sectarian groups connected to organisations banned by the government, including Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, and Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, as well as abuses by individuals and groups designated as terrorist organisations by the US and other governments, such as ISIL-Khorasan.

According to the State Department, members of religious minority communities said there continued to be inconsistent application of laws safeguarding minority rights and enforcement of protections of religious minorities at both the federal and provincial levels by the federal Ministry of Law, Justice, and Human Rights and its provincial counterparts.

“Religious minorities said they remained concerned that government action to address coerced conversions of religious minorities to Islam was inadequate,” the report said.

Religious minority activists, however, said they believed the Sindh Assembly’s new law criminalizing forced conversions, which passed in November but was under review by the Sindh Assembly at year’s end, would be a step to restrict the practice and better protect minors belonging to religious minorities, it added.

Religious minority community leaders said the government failed to take adequate action to protect minorities from bonded labor in the brick-making and agricultural sectors, an illegal practice in which victims were disproportionately Christians and Hindus, according to the report.

According to Hindu and Sikh leaders, the legal uncertainty surrounding the process of registering marriages for their communities continued to create difficulties for Hindu and Sikh women in obtaining their inheritances, accessing health services, voting, obtaining a passport, and buying or selling property, the report added.

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