Dawn’s editorial on religious freedom today:
This year’s report by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, released on Thursday, puts Pakistan on the list of 13 “countries of particular concern” that are serious violators of religious freedom.
The country has escaped being ranked amongst the worst offenders which include Saudi Arabia, China, Myanmar and North Korea. Nevertheless, this indictment should cause serious concern. Abuse of the right to religious freedom is rampant as evidenced by the rise in religiously motivated crimes against minorities. There is on the one side growing intolerance fuelled in recent years by attacks organised by proscribed terrorist organisations such as the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi and the Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan. On the other, as the societal mindset shifts towards the right, there is a growing lack of understanding of the rights of people of other faiths.
Reversing this trend requires steps at multiple levels. First, extremist organisations guilty of inciting religious hatred must be stamped out. Their leaders and members need to be identified and brought to trial, and the sources of their funding severed. Beyond that, awareness must be spread about the constitutional right to religious freedom and the minority communities’ status as equal citizens.
As the report notes: “Serious religious freedom concerns persist in Pakistan, where religiously discriminatory legislation has fostered an atmosphere of intolerance…. A number of Pakistan’s laws abridge freedom of religion or belief. Anti-Ahmadi legislation results in discrimination against individual Ahmadis and effectively criminalises various practices of their faith. Blasphemy laws have been used to silence members of religious minorities and dissenters within the majority Muslim community, and frequently result in imprisonment on account of religion or belief and/or vigilante violence.… The government’s response to sectarian and religiously motivated violence continues to be inadequate, despite increased security operations against extremists.” These shortcomings must be addressed on a priority basis.