The US State Department’s annual International Religious Freedom report for 2011 says that there have been instances in which law enforcement personnel in Pakistan have reportedly abused religious minorities while in police custody.
The report, which highlights the state of religious freedom in several countries, says that some government practices 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 light of the killings of Salman Taseer, the Governor of Punjab, and Shahbaz Bhatti, the Federal Minister for Minorities.
The report also 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 highlights that there were 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 Minister of National Harmony.
“Following the assassination of Minister of Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti, the president appointed his brother, Paul Bhatti, as his special adviser for minority affairs.”
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 Ahmadis, Hindus, and Jews.” Additionally, “some Sunni Muslim groups published literature calling for violence against Ahmadis, Shia Muslims, other Sunni sects, and Hindus.”
The State Department 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.”
After the report was issued, the United States warned the world was sliding backwards on religious freedoms, slamming China for cracking down on Tibetan Buddhists and hitting out at Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said it was a “signal to the worst offenders” that the world was watching. “New technologies have given repressive governments additional tools for cracking down on religious expression,” Clinton told a US think-tank, adding that pressure was rising on some faith groups around the globe.
“More than a billion people live under governments that systematically suppress religious freedom,” she stressed. “When it comes to this human right – this key feature of stable, secure, peaceful societies – the world is sliding backward.”
For full report, go here.
(with additional input from AFP)
Published in The Express Tribune, August 1st, 2012.