Pakistani Christians Fear Placing Country on ‘Special Watch List’ Will Create More Problems

ICC Note:

Christians in Pakistan fear that the recent U.S. action to place Pakistan on a ‘Special Watch List’ for severe violations of religious freedom will actually create more problems for them than improvements. Christians in Pakistan are often seen as representations of Western society because they follow Christianity, perceived as the Western religion. As the U.S. tightens sanctions on Pakistan for religious freedom violations, the ire raised by these sanctions may be directed at Pakistani Christians because of this perceived connection to the West. Will placing Pakistan on the ‘Special Watch List’ help or hurt Pakistani Christians already facing severe persecution?  

01/12/2018 Pakistan (World Watch Monitor) – The US State Department last week placed Pakistan on a ‘Special Watch List’ for “severe violations of religious freedom”. The US did not, however, go as far as adding it to its ten ‘Countries of Particular Concern’* – for countries where “governments have engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom”.

The US Secretary of State said: “The protection of religious freedom is vital to peace, stability, and prosperity. These designations are aimed at improving the respect for religious freedom in these countries.”

This naming of Pakistan comes at a time when the two countries have almost severed their long-standing relationship as allies in the ‘war on terror’, and Pakistani religious minorities have responded with diverse views.

The Bishop of Multan, Leo Paul, told World Watch Monitor there can be no denial that religious minorities are treated with contempt and disrespect, despite constitutional guarantees. “But I am not sure if this measure by the US would actually help Pakistani minorities, or if it could create more problems for them,” he said.

Human rights activist and lawyer Nadeem Anthony told World Watch Monitor: “Religious minorities of Pakistan are ‘with’ their country. If Pakistan puts its best and sincere efforts to change this, then we can get our name off this list. The only issue is sincere effort. If we want it, then this would happen. We have seen more than 100 houses of Christians set on fire on a mere accusation, and not a single person is convicted. If that would remain the same, then how can we stop other countries accusing us of human rights violations?”

(In March 2013, a Christian man from Lahore was accused of committing blasphemy while drinking with his Muslim friend a night before. A mob of at least 3,000 set the entire Christian colony on fire. After a lengthy trial, the court acquitted hundreds of suspects accused of arson.)

Several similar incidents have taken place, and because Christians are a beleaguered and poor community, obtaining justice for them is extremely difficult. Stringent blasphemy laws are often misused to accuse poor minorities, especially Christians.

Pakistan is 5th on Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List, published yesterday, of the 50 countries where it is hardest to live as a Christian. Last year it was 4th.

National Assembly member Isphanyar Bhandara, of the Parsee (Zoroastrian faith) community, told World Watch Monitor that all injustice to religious minorities is to be condemned, that any discrimination in any form should stop, and that it is good that Western countries take notice. “But this fresh accusation is purely political,” he added. “This move to place Pakistan on the special list is directly linked with the relationship of the two countries, not out of love for religious minorities.”

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