Tuesday 25 October 2016

Pak Yet to Punish Attackers of Religious Minorities: US Report

Lalit K Jha/Washington

Pakistan is yet to take steps to bring to justice those responsible for attacks against religious minorities in the country, a US State Department report has said.

"In Pakistan, militants killed more than 500 Shia Muslims in sectarian bloodletting and brutally murdered 80 Christians in a single church bombing last year. The Pakistani government has yet to take adequate steps to bring those responsible to justice," Secretary of State John Kerry said yesterday after releasing the annual Congressional Report on International Religious Freedom for the year 2013.

At the same time Kerry praised the people of Pakistan for standing against violence against religious minorities.

"In Pakistan, following the militant attacks I just mentioned, members of the Muslim community formed human chains around churches to demonstrate solidarity against senseless sectarian violence," he said.

US Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labour, Tom Malinowski, told reporters that in Pakistan, violence targeted at members of religious minorities and human rights defenders underscored the government's failure to provide adequate security.

"Earlier this year, we were deeply saddened by the murder of Rashid Rehman, a lawyer and human rights defender who, despite threats to his life, was representing a university professor accused of blasphemy. And authorities continue to enforce blasphemy laws and laws designed to marginalise the Ahmadiyya Muslim community," the report said.

These laws continued to restrict religious freedom, and remained the most visible symbols of religious intolerance, the State Department said in its report.

"Meanwhile, the government took some limited steps in response to major incidents of violence against members of religious minority communities, such as condemning attacks against Shia and Christian worshipers and adding some additional security measures, but generally failed to take adequate steps to hold accountable those responsible for the attacks," the report said.

"There were continued reports of law enforcement personnel abusing members of religious minorities and persons accused of blasphemy while in custody," it said.

According to the report, there is no legal mechanism for the government to register the marriages of Hindus and Sikhs, causing women of those religious groups difficulties in inheritance, accessing health services, voting, obtaining a passport, and buying or selling property.

The marriages of non-Muslim men remain legal upon conversion to Islam while discrimination against Hindus, Sikhs, and Ahmadis in admission to higher education institutions persisted, it said.

Sikh leaders reported they faced restrictions in securing admissions into colleges and universities, it said.

"They indicated each Sikh student was required to obtain a certificate of permission from the Evacuee Trust Property Board, which they said was a lengthy process that discouraged Sikhs from pursuing higher education. There were no reports of discrimination against Christians when they applied for entry to universities and medical schools," the report said.

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