WASHINGTON: The State Department’s annual International Religious Freedom report for 2011 observed that there have been instances in which law enforcement personnel in Pakistan have reportedly abused religious minorities while in police custody, along with a general apathy shown by the authorities to persecute extremists or those targeting religious minorities.
The report, which highlights the state of religious freedom in several countries, says that some government practises in Pakistan have limited the freedom of religion, particularly in the case of religious minorities.
“Abuses under the blasphemy law and other discriminatory laws continued; the government did not take adequate measures to prevent these incidents or reform the laws to prevent abuse. Since the government rarely investigated or prosecuted the perpetrators of increased extremist attacks on religious minorities and members of the Muslim majority promoting tolerance, the climate of impunity continued.”
The executive summary of the report said that there was an increase in intolerance and violence against minorities and those Muslims promoting tolerance. “There were reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice.”
The report highlights that many hesitated to speak out in favour of religious tolerance in the light of the killings of Salmaan Taseer, the former Governor of Punjab, and Shahbaz Bhatti, the Federal Minister for Minorities.
The IRF report says that extremist elements demanded “that all citizens follow their authoritarian interpretation of Islam and threatened brutal consequences if they did not abide by it.” The report also highlighted that there had been attacks on Ahmadi, Hindi, Sufi and Shia gatherings and religious sites in 2011.
The only seemingly positive aspect of the report was that the government had taken some steps to improve religious freedom, via the creation of a Ministry of National Harmony. “Following the assassination of Minister of Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti, the president appointed his brother, Paul Bhatti, as his special advisor for minority affairs.”
It also noted the inauguration of Darul Qaza (an appellate or revision court) in Swat by the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa chief minister in January as a step to implement the Nifaz-e-Adl Regulation.
Highlighting intolerance in the press, the report said that some Urdu newspapers in the country “frequently published articles that contained derogatory references to religious minorities, especially Ahmedis, Hindus, and Jews.” Additionally, while the government barred the sale of Ahmedi religious literature, “some Sunni Muslim groups published literature calling for violence against Ahmedis, Shia Muslims, other Sunni sects, and Hindus.”
The State Department IRF report said that while madrassahs in Pakistan were barred from teaching sectarian or religious hatred, yet in recent years “a small yet influential number of madrassahs have taught extremist doctrine in support of terrorism in violation of the law.”