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HRW urges govt to protect Shias from attacks during Muharram

November 21, 2012

Security personnel stand alert to avoid any untoward incident after bomb blasts near Imambargah Hyder-e-Karrar in Orangi Town in Karachi on Wednesday. – Photo by PPI

New York: The Pakistani government should urgently act to protect Shia Muslims in Pakistan from sectarian attack during the Muslim holy month of Muharram, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesday.

Today’s deadly twin bomb attacks in Karachi at a Shia Imbargah underscore the seriousness of the threat faced by the Shia community, said Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistan director at Human Rights Watch.

Concerns are greatest for possible attacks on Shia processions marking Ashura, the 10th day of Muharram, which this year is on November 25.

“Shias in Pakistan should be able to participate in Ashura processions without fear of attack,” said Hasan. “Pakistani authorities need to address the severe danger faced by the Shia population with all necessary security measures. They can start by arresting extremist group members responsible for past attacks,” he added.

Pakistani and international human rights organisations, including Human Rights Watch, have made numerous calls to Pakistan’s authorities to hold those responsible for the attacks to account. While authorities claim to have arrested dozens of suspects, no one has been charged in these attacks.

“The ongoing targeted killings of Shias send a chilling message to all Pakistanis that their government won’t necessarily act to protect them,” said Hasan. “The government’s failure to break up the extremist groups that carry out these attacks calls into question its commitment to protect all of its citizens,” he added.

Some Sunni extremist groups are known to have links to the Pakistani military and its intelligence agencies. Groups, such as the banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), operate with impunity even in areas where state authority is well established, such as Punjab province and the port city of Karachi.

“Pakistan’s civilian and military leaders should recognise that their tolerance for extremist groups is killing their own citizens,” said the chairman HRW Pakistan. ”They need to stop appeasing extremists and start holding them accountable,” he added.