Does Religious Freedom Have a Future in Pakistan? January 2012 and June 2013, Pakistan experienced 203 instances of targeted violence against religious communities resulting in more than 700 deaths and 1,100 injuries; the Shi’a community was hardest hit, with 635 individuals killed in 77 separate attacks, while Christians, Ahmadis, and Hindus also suffered. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), where I serve as Director of Policy and Research, called attention to the issue of religious freedom in Pakistan last month by releasing a report detailing these sectarian attacks and hosting a briefing and panel discussion on the topic in Washington, D.C.

At the July 18 panel event, a wide array of representatives from nongovernmental organizations, government agencies, and the press gathered to discuss the current state and the future of religious freedom in Pakistan.

Peter Bhatti, Chairman of International Christian Voice and the brother of assassinated Pakistani Cabinet member Shahbaz Bhatti, presented on the vital role that Christians played in the creation of Pakistan and contrasted that with the insecurity and fear they now experience in their homeland. According to Bhatti, Pakistan’s discriminatory laws, such as the blasphemy law, aid violent extremist religious groups like the Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaeda and result in the victimization of Christians, with many persecuted or killed and churches or properties destroyed.

Spokesman for the Ahmadiyya Muslim community Qasim Rashid explained how the blasphemy law and discriminatory voting procedures act as two of Pakistan’s biggest constraints on religious freedom for his community. Pakistan’s constitution declares Ahmadis as non-Muslims, and its blasphemy law violates the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. Chief Executive Order No. 15 prohibits Ahmadis from voting in elections unless they either affirm the government’s insistence that they are not Muslim or denounce the founder of their faith community.


Categories: Asia

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