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WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson alleged on Wednes­day that religious freedom was under attack in Pakistan, where more than two dozen people were on death row or serving a life imprisonment for blasphemy.

He said the Pakistan government had marginalised the Ahmadiya community and refused to recognise them as Muslim.

“It is my hope that the new prime minister and his government will promote interfaith harmony and protect the rights of religious minorities,” said Secretary Tillerson while releasing the annual US report on religious freedom for 2016.

The report also highlights attacks in India by cow protection groups against people accused of bovine trafficking or having beef in their refrigerators or vehicles.

The report singles out some key US partners in the Gulf, particularly Saudi Arabia, for not allowing religious freedom in their territories. It also criticises Israel for refusing to implement an agreement on egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

The report points out that Israel has ignored the advice to establish a “shared society for Jewish and Arab populations” and notes that relations among religious and ethnic groups in Israel and the Palestinian territories remain “strained”.

US report highlights attacks on Muslims by cow protection groups in India

The chapter on India says that in 2016, “there was an increase in violent incidents by cow protection groups against mostly Muslim victims, including killings, mob violence, assaults and intimidation”.

The report also mentions “religiously motivated killings, assaults, riots, discrimination and vandalism” in India where state governments also took “actions restricting the right of individuals to practice their religious beliefs and proselytise.”

The Indian Ministry of Home Affairs reported 751 conflicts between religious communities, which resulted in 97 deaths and 2,264 injuries in 2015, the report adds.

“Religious minority communities (in India) stated that, while the national government sometimes spoke out against incidents of violence, local political leaders often did not, which left victims and minority religious communities feeling vulnerable.”

Taking note of religious intolerance in Saudi Arabia, Secretary Tillerson said: “We remain concerned about the state of religious freedom in Saudi Arabia.”

The report says the Saudi government does not recognise the right of non-Muslims to practice their religion in public and applied criminal penalties, including prison sentences, lashings, and fines, for apostasy, atheism, blasphemy, and insulting the state’s interpretation of Islam. Of particular concern are attacks targeting the Shia community and the continued pattern of social prejudice and discrimination against them. “We urge Saudi Arabia to embrace greater degrees of religious freedom for all of its citizens,” Secretary Tillerson said.

In Bahrain, the report says, the government continues to question, detain and arrest Shia clerics, community members and opposition politicians. Members of the Shia community there continue to report ongoing discrimination in government employment, education and the justice system. Bahrain must stop discriminating against the Shia community, it adds.

The report also recognises the genocide of Christians by the militant Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq.

Published in Dawn, August 17th, 2017