US government watchdog warns of ‘systematic’ threats to religious freedom in Pakistan

By Ian M. Giatti, Christian Post Reporter

ASIF HASSAN/AFP via Getty Images

A United States government watchdog is recommending that the State Department once again designate Pakistan as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) for what it calls ”systematic, ongoing, and egregious” violations of religious freedom and a “growing intolerance for religious diversity.” 

According to a new report from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a recent spate of attacks targeting religious minorities in the Muslim-majority country underscores a “growing intolerance for religious diversity fueled by extremism and existing problematic Pakistani legislation.”

“USCIRF has continued to recommend Pakistan be designated as a CPC since 2003 and the State Department has done so since 2018,” USCIRF Commissioner Sharon Kleinbaum told The Christian Post. “The State Department re-issues these designations each year.” 

Christians, along with members of the Shi’a Muslim, Ahmadiyya Muslim, Hindu and Sikh communities, face what USCIRF describes as “aggressive societal discrimination often propagated by extremist rhetoric,” often due to the Pakistani government’s failure to protect these minority groups.

Such discrimination and persecution include accusations of blasphemy, targeted killings, lynchings, mob violence, forced conversions, and the desecration of their houses of worship and cemeteries against religious minorities or “anyone who interprets or practices their faith differently from the majority.”

“As a country created for a group seeking religious equality and representation, Pakistan has a strong obligation to protect the rights of religious minorities and those of differing faiths or none at all,” Kleinbaum said.

USCIRF’s Freedom of Religion or Belief Victims List highlights 55 individuals who were detained or imprisoned on blasphemy charges in Pakistan.

Under Pakistani law, those accused of blasphemy face violence, imprisonment with limited opportunity for bail, and even death, according to USCIRF.

One such case involved Tabitha Gill, a Christian nurse who was accused of blasphemy by her colleagues and was beaten and tortured by hospital staff in Karachi in January 2021.

“Though the government has publicly condemned mob violence, it has done little to protect religious minorities or provide justice,” the report said.

The report also highlighted the threat of abduction, forced conversion to Islam, rape and forced marriages of religious minority women and children, particularly from the Christian, Hindu and Sikh faiths.

According to USCIRF, last December, the Sindh High Court returned custody of a 14-year-old Christian girl who was abducted, forcefully married and converted to Islam, back to her parents under the condition that she remain Muslim.


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