USCIRF Report on religious freedom recommends Pakistan be designated as “Country of Particular Concern”


WASHINGTON: The United States has voiced serious concerns about religious freedom in Pakistan, and underlined the need for Islamabad to undertake necessary reforms to curb religious extremism.

“We also remain very concerned about religious freedom or the lack thereof in Pakistan,” Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback said in Washington on Tuesday while briefing on the release of the 2017 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom prepared by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

Sam Brownback citing civil society reports said that in Pakistan, some 50 individuals are serving life sentences for blasphemy while 17 are awaiting execution.

The report – which contained the US State Department’s annual assessment of religious freedom around the World – stated that during the past year, the Pakistani government continued to perpetrate and tolerate systematic, ongoing, and egregious religious freedom violations.

It stated that religiously discriminatory constitutional provisions and legislation, such as the country’s blasphemy and anti-Ahmadiyya laws, continue to result in prosecutions and imprisonments. It said that at least 40 individuals have been sentenced to death or are serving life sentences for blasphemy including two Christians who received death sentences in June 2016.

The reported stated that during the year, an Ahmadi and a Shi’a Muslim were convicted and imprisoned for five years in Pakistan, and four Ahmadis were charged under the anti-Ahmadiyya provisions.

Likewise, it said that religious minority communities including Christians, Hindus, Ahmadis, and Shi’a Muslims also experience religiously motivated and sectarian violence from both terrorist organizations and individuals within society. It maintained that the government’s longstanding failure to prevent or prosecute such violence has created a deep-rooted climate of impunity that has emboldened extremist actors.

The 2017 annual report on international religious freedom also stated that in Pakistan, provincial textbooks with discriminatory content against minorities remain a significant concern.

The reported also mentioned forced conversions and marriages of Hindu and Christian girls and women, although the Pakistani government took some positive steps on this issue and made other encouraging gestures toward religious minorities.

Based on these violations, the USCIRF again finds in 2017 that Pakistan merits designation as a “Country of Particular Concern” or CPC, under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA), as it has found since 2002.

The USCIRF stated that designating Pakistan as a CPC would enable the United States to more effectively press Islamabad to undertake needed reforms. Despite USCIRF’s longstanding recommendation, the US State Department has never designated Pakistan as a CPC.

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