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ICC Note:

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reports that attacks on religious freedom increased during 2005.

AsiaNews (03/29/06) – Attacks on Pakistan’s religious minorities increased across the country last year, according to “a report on the state of human rights in 2005” issued by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. The attacks came in the form of fatwas [verdicts by Muslim court that however can condemn even non-Muslims to death], attacks on places of worship and kidnapping of members of minority communities.

“Even more disturbing was government apathy throughout 2005: the authorities failed to act under applicable laws against the culprits, despite official claims to the contrary. This attitude can only lead increased intolerance,” said the report. “The material included by fundamentalists in some text-books contributed towards the bias against religions other than Islam and the way they are tolerated means that the authors of this ‘hate text’ can feel safe.”

The blasphemy law also remains a “serious” problem: “The minor amendment made in the blasphemy law late in 2004, requiring police to investigate any incident before arresting anyone for blasphemy, was frequently ignored.”

Minority communities “remained vulnerable to charges of blasphemy, often made just to steal a community’s property or to tackle personal grievances. The demands from non-Islamic faith leaders that charges of blasphemy should be extended to Muslims, who desecrate the symbols and places of worship of other faiths, have gone unheeded.” Appeals for a total repeal of the law or for amendments defending against “ever more frequently” committed abuses, were also “ignored”.

The report cited a study by the Justice and Peace Commission, which revealed that out of 647 blasphemy cases, reported in the media since 1988, nearly 90 cases were against Christians. This is despite the fact that the Christian minority does not represent more than 3% of the population. Economic and social discrimination continued and the number of direct clashes between Muslims and Christians increased over 2004.

The Ahmadis – a sect of Islamic origin considered by Sunni Islam to be heretical – turned out to be the hardest hit by inter-religious violence: throughout the year, reeling under the impact of national laws targeting them, “they were the victims of multiple threats to life and property.”

Not even a tiny Jewish community was spared: in August, around 10 Jewish families – who had described themselves as Parsi to avoid discrimination – were discovered by the authorities in Karachi . They were fined for their “fraud”. Until then, it was thought that the only Jewish woman in Pakistan was an elderly woman in Karachi . The Jewish synagogue of Karachi was demolished in 1980 to make way for a shopping complex; the community’s cemetery met the same end.

The report submits “recommendations” to the authorities to avoid a repetition of similar events, including the “immediate abolition of all discriminatory laws” and “a more severe approach towards those who instigate violence against minorities”. The writers of the report add: “The judiciary at all levels and law enforcers must be made aware of the need to protect minority groups under the law. Ethnic-religious violence could be stopped with the firm, but right, hand of the government”.