US welcomes Pakistan’s religious minorities day

Published August 14, 2021
In its 2021 annual report, USCIRF recommended the US government work with the Pakistani government to “encourage substantial steps to address extremist rhetoric". — APP/File
In its 2021 annual report, USCIRF recommended the US government work with the Pakistani government to “encourage substantial steps to address extremist rhetoric". — APP/File

WASHINGTON: The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has welcomed the celebration of religious minorities day in Pakistan, hoping that the government would uphold the vision of inclusiveness and religious freedom advocated by its founding father, Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

In a message on Pakistan’s National Minority Day, USCRIF also posted one of Mr Jinnah’s quotes on its official Twitter site, declaring: “You are free: you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion, caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the state.”

USCIRF is a federal commission whose commissioners are appointed by the US president and the leadership of both political parties in the Senate and the House of Representatives. It publishes an annual report on international religious freedom.

In its 2021 annual report, USCIRF recommended the US government work with the Pakistani government to “encourage substantial steps to address extremist rhetoric often preceding attacks on minorities, while protecting freedom of expression”.

In December 2020, the Trump administration declared Pakistan a country of particular concern (CPC) on the commission’s recommendation. USCRIF’s 2020 report accused Pakistan of “engaging in or tolerating systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom”.

The US administration, however, gave Pakistan a national interest waiver to protect the country from legislatively-mandated sanctions that follow the designation.

The 2021 report urged the US Congress to advocate for the release of religious prisoners of conscience in Pakistan, including Junaid Hafeez, Ramzan Bibi, Shafqat Emmanuel, and Shagufta Kausar.

The report urged the US administration to enter into a binding agreement with the Pak­­istani government to encourage substantial steps to address religious freedom violations.

The suggested benchmarks included, but were not limited to, release of “blasphemy prisoners” and other individuals imprisoned for their religion or beliefs. The commission also asked Pakistan to repeal blasphemy and “anti-Ahmadiyya” laws.

The commission also suggested allowing authorities to dismiss unfounded accusations, and enforcing Penal Code articles that criminalise perjury and false accusations. It urged Pakistan to address extremist rhetoric often preceding attacks on minorities, while protecting freedom of expression.

“Individuals who incite or participate in vigilante violence, targeted killings, forced conversions, and other hate crimes should be held accountable,” the statement added.

The commission asked for reforming textbooks, curriculum, and teacher training materials to “ensure content is inclusive of and not discriminatory toward religious minorities”. The report asked Pakistan also to remove requirements for self-identification of religion on identity documents.

The report suggested imposing targeted sanctions on Pakistani government agenc­ies and officials responsible for severe violations of religious freedom by freezing those individuals’ assets and/or barring their entry into the United States under human rights-related financial and visa authorities, citing specific religious freedom violations.

Published in Dawn, August 14th, 2021

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