SRW Attends U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom Briefing on the Future of Religious Freedom in Pakistan

SRW-Defending_Justice_and_RightsOn Thursday, July 18th, SRW representatives attended the USCIRF briefing on the future of religious freedom in Pakistan. Every year, USCIRF releases a report detailing various violations of religious freedom. The situation in Pakistan is particularly concerning with a number of religious minorities being persecuted against. Speakers included Peter Bhatti, a member of the Pakistani Christian community and brother of murdered Pakistani Cabinet member Shahbaz Bhatti, Qasim Rashid, a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslims community, Rahat Husain, a Shia Muslim from the Universal Muslim Association of America, and Jay Kansara, a Hindu and associate director of the Hindu American Foundation.
During the briefing, both violent persecution committed by militants and religious extremists, as well as legal discrimination on the part of the Pakistani government were discussed. The four main religious minorities in Pakistan (Shia, Ahmadis, Christians, and Hindus) all faced religiously motivated violence. The situation facing Shia Muslims is especially bad, perhaps even constituting genocide. In the past year, USCIRF documented over 400 deaths of Shia Muslims targeted by militants and terrorist organizations. While the violence against the other groups is not quite as prevalent, all four minorities face kidnappings, rapes, forced conversions, murders and attacks on religious buildings.
The Pakistani government also systematically discriminates against these minorities. The controversial blasphemy laws in Pakistan targets religious minorities and dissenting Muslims. It allows “dissenting Muslims” who do not agree with the state’s interpretation of Islam to be imprisoned, and many are serving life sentences or are to be executed for their religious beliefs.
Another aspect that was talked about was the education system. Minorities are discriminated against in the education system, and the required textbooks often alienate religious minorities. Discrimination is likely to continue if children are taught at a young age to discriminate against these minorities.
Lastly, Shuja Nawaz, Director of the South Asia Center, Atlantic Council, gave an introductory summary of the situation in Pakistan. He spoke of the many schisms in Pakistani society, including religious, ethnic, and tribal breakups. He talked about how various military and political groups will often manipulate exacerbate these tensions to their advantage. Having these conflicting political and military groups, combined with societal tensions and a weak Pakistani government has led to Pakistan becoming a failing state and of particular concern to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
SRW thanks UCIRF for looking into Shia rights violations in Pakistan and hopes to help Pakistani Shia regain their security and dignity.

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