WASHINGTON, Aug. 16: Religious freedom is under attack in Pakistan where minorities like Sikhs, Christians and Hindus remained concerned over government’s “inadequate” action to address forced conversions to Islam. Members of religious minority communities said that there continued to be inconsistent application of laws safeguarding minority rights and enforcement of protections of religious minorities at both the federal and provincial levels by the federal Ministry of Law, Justice, and Human Rights and its provincial counterparts, said the report released by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
“Religious minorities said they remained concerned that government action to address coerced conversions of religious minorities to Islam was inadequate,” the report, first under the Trump administration, said. “Religious freedom is under attack in Pakistan, where more than two dozen are on death row or serving a life imprisonment for blasphemy,” Tillerson said in his speech as he released the 2016 International Religious Freedom report.
Religious minority community leaders continued to say that the government failed to take adequate action to protect minorities from bonded labour in the brick-making and agricultural sectors, an illegal practice in which victims were disproportionately Christians and Hindus, it said. According to Hindu and Sikh leaders, the legal uncertainty surrounding the process of registering marriages for their communities continued to create difficulties for Hindu and Sikh women in obtaining their inheritances, accessing health services, voting, obtaining a passport, and buying or selling property, the report said.
“It is my hope that the new prime minister (Shahid Khaqan Abbasi) and his government will promote interfaith harmony and protect the rights of religious minorities,” Tillerson said after releasing the Congressional mandated report. The government marginalises Ahmadiyya Muslims and refuses to recognise them as Muslims, the report said.
In 2016, violence and abuses committed by armed sectarian groups connected to organisations banned by the government, including Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), and Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, as well as abuses by individuals and groups designated as terrorist organisations by the US and other governments, such as ISIL-K, continued, the report said.
Religious minority activists, however, said that they believed the Sindh Assembly’s new law criminalising forced conversions, which passed in November but was under review by the Sindh Assembly at year’s end, would be a step to restrict the practice and better protect minors belonging to religious minorities, it added.TIE