Pakistan’s track record of protection of its minorities – religious or ethnic – is abysmal. On February 24, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) released a report titled “‘Access Denied’: Why are Minorities’ Sites of Worship Being Closed?” The report was put together by an HRCP fact-finding mission undertaken from August to October 2019 in Quetta, Zhob, Islamabad, Peshawar, Lahore, and Toba Tek Singh to “assess why religious minorities’ sites of worship or places of religious significance had been closed, making them inaccessible to the community.”
As the HRCP report pointed out there has been a substantial decline in Pakistan’s minorities with the current figures from the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics placing the population of religious minorities at 3.7 percent of the total population of Pakistan “of which 1.5 percent are Christians, 0.22 percent are Ahmadis, 1.6 percent are Hindus and 0.07 percent are people following other various faiths and beliefs.”
The HRCP report identified “three major instances of the circumstances in which places of religious worship of religious minority communities are closed, which are as follows: Pressure from the Muslim majority inhabitants of the local area; The government taking over religious sites and converting them for use for other purposes such as building schools etc; Internal differences between religious minority communities leading to laying claims to religious sites.”
The HRCP fact finding mission issued the following recommendations
- “Relevant government and state authorities such as the departments of Auqaf and the ETPB need to ensure transparency in their processes and procedures of dealing with religious minorities and their places of religious worship and significance.
- Data about the places of worship of religious minorities needs to be made public by the relevant government authorities and the ETPB.
- Law enforcement agencies such as the police need to be sensitized towards the issues of religious minorities.
- Police needs to be able to counter any undue pressures on them for acting against religious minority communities.
- Relevant provisions of the Supreme Court’s Judgment in 2014 reaffirming the rights of religious minorities in the country with regards to the places of worship need to be implemented, especially the directives about providing safety to such sites.
- Government authorities need to act against elements who misuse the premises of mosques to incite sentiments against religious minority communities in their areas.
- Government authorities need to intervene in matters of dispute of places of worship to control the fall out of such circumstances.”