WASHINGTON, July 30: In Pakistan, the Constitution and other laws and policies restrict religious freedom and the government enforced these restrictions, says a US State Department report released on Monday.
The report, which examines religious freedom or the lack of it across the globe, points out in a chapter on Pakistan that individuals accused of blasphemy or who publicly criticised the blasphemy laws and called for their reform continued to be killed.
The two most prominent victims of this practice were Governor Punjab Salman Taseer and Minister of Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti, who was the only Christian in the cabinet, the report adds.
“The government demonstrated a trend towards deterioration in respect for and protection of the right to religious freedom,” claims the report, adding that “some government practices limited freedom of religion, particularly for religious minorities”.
The report also points out that:
Abuses under the blasphemy law and other discriminatory laws continued; the government did not take adequate measures to prevent these incidents or reform the laws to prevent abuse.
Since the government rarely investigated or prosecuted the perpetrators of increased extremist attacks on religious minorities and members of the Muslim majority promoting tolerance, the climate of impunity continued. There were instances in which law-enforcement personnel reportedly abused religious minorities in custody.
The government took some steps to improve religious freedom and promote tolerance, such as the creation of a Ministry of National Harmony and the appointment of a special adviser for minority affairs following Shahbaz Bhatti’s assassination.
There were reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice. Societal intolerance and violence against minorities and Muslims promoting tolerance increased.
There were increased reports of human rights and religious freedom activists and members of minorities hesitating to speak in favour of religious tolerance due to “a climate of intolerance and fear, especially after the killings of Salman Taseer and Minister Bhatti as a result of their opposition to the blasphemy laws.
A rise in acts of violence and intimidation against religious minorities by extremists exacerbated existing sectarian tensions.
Extremists in some parts of the country demanded that all citizens follow their authoritarian interpretation of Islam and threatened brutal consequences if they did not abide by it". — Anwar Iqbal