WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has marked out both India and Pakistan for restricting religious freedom — India for rising attacks on religious minorities and their places of worship and Pakistan for sentencing 16 people to death last year on blasphemy charges.

“In India, … we’ve seen rising attacks on people and places of worship,” said the chief US diplomat while launching the annual US report on religious freedom.

“In Pakistan, at least 16 individuals accused of blasphemy were sentenced to death in 2021, though none of these sentences has yet to be carried out,” he added.

Secretary Blinken also noted that conditions for religious freedom have deteriorated dramatically in Afghanistan under the Taliban while ISIS-K continued to conduct increasingly violent attacks against religious minorities, particularly Shia Hazaras.

Ambassador Rashad Hussain, who heads the US Office of International Religious Freedom that produces the annual report, went a step ahead and accused Indian officials of supporting the attacks.

“In India some officials are ignoring or even supporting rising attacks on people and places of worship,” he said at the inaugural event.

Besides Afghanistan, India and Pakistan, Ambassador Hussain also identified Burma [Myanmar], China, Nigeria, and Vietnam as the countries where “we remain concerned about … trend lines” of targeting religious minorities.

Asked to clarify his remarks about India at the State Department’s regular briefing, Ambassador Hussain said: “In India, we’re concerned that some officials are ignoring or even supporting rising attacks on people in places of worship.”

Responding to another question, he said: “We are concerned with targeting of a number of religious communities in India, including Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindu Dalits, and indigenous communities as well.”

The State Department’s report on religious freedom in 2021 stated that attacks on religious minorities in India continued throughout the year.

“Attacks on members of religious minority communities, including killings, assaults, and intimidation, occurred throughout the year. These included incidents of ‘cow vigilantism’ against non-Hindus based on allegations of cow slaughter or trade in beef,” said the India section of the report.

The report also accused China of continued genocide and repression of predominantly Muslim Uyghurs.

Secretary Blinken recalled that in March, he made the determination that Burma’s [Myanmar’s] military committed genocide and crimes against humanity with the intent to destroy predominantly Muslim Rohingya in 2017.

Their “intent was evidenced by, among other things, attacks on mosques, the use of religious and ethnic slurs, the desecration of Korans, among, again, many other actions”, he said.

The chapter on Pakistan noted that 84 persons were accused of blasphemy in 2021, a significant decrease from the 199 individuals accused in 2020.

Published in Dawn, June 4th, 2022

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