A US government-appointed panel urged Washington on Tuesday to step up pressure on Pakistan over religious freedom, warning that risks to its minorities have reached a crisis level.
In an annual report, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom also raised concerns about what it called a worsening situation in China, as well as problems in Egypt, Iran, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia and other nations.
The commission, which advises the government but does not make decisions, called for the United States to designate Pakistan as a “country of particular concern,” meaning it could be subject to sanctions if it fails to improve.
Assessing the year through January 31, the commission said religious freedom violations in Pakistan “rose to unprecedented levels due to chronic sectarian violence” that targeted the Shia community.
“The government continues to fail to protect Christians, Ahmadis and Hindus,” the report said, charging that blasphemy and other laws “are widely used to violate religious freedoms and foster a climate of impunity”.
“Pakistan is in a crisis right now with these particularly severe violations of religious freedom,” said Knox Thames, the commission’s director of policy and research.
The commission, whose members are appointed by President Barack Obama and Congress, said Pakistan faced the most serious violations of religious freedom among any country not already on the blacklist.
The State Department has not previously issued the designation for Pakistan.
The designated countries of particular concern on religious freedom are China, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan.
Along with Pakistan, the commission urged the State Department to add Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Vietnam to the list.
The report said that religious freedom in China ‘deteriorated significantly’ in the past year, especially for Tibetan Buddhists and Uighur Muslims, but also for followers of unauthorized churches and the banned Falungong movement.
The report does not cover the United States, where incidents last year included a massacre at a Sikh temple that left six dead.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 2nd, 2013.