02/03/2021 Pakistan (International Christian Concern) – The recent release of Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the murderer of American journalist Daniel Pearl, created a rough start to Antony Blinken’s tenure as Secretary of State. The Secretary expressed Washington’s deep concerns to Pakistani officials over the Pakistani Supreme Court’s decision to acquit the murderers. Saeed Sheikh and his accomplices kidnapped and beheaded Daniel Pearl in 2002 and were subsequently arrested and imprisoned.
International Christian Concern has covered the developments in Pakistan’s troubled religious freedom record for many years. A large piece of the how religious freedom develops in Pakistan depends on the relationship that the United States carries with Pakistan which has seen more downs than ups over the years. This decision by the Pakistani Supreme Court definitely harms this already delicate relationship.
The Department of State has designated Pakistan as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) sighting significant violations of religious freedom. Pakistan continues to uphold and enforce their Blasphemy laws mostly to suppress Christians and other religious minorities. The laws are largely used at a communal level by the Muslim-majority population to settle scores with Christians and others in the minority. The law essentially serves as a free speech suppressor and limits the ability of Christians to express their religious convictions publicly or in many cases, privately. The mere accusation of blasphemy has the ability to spark attacks against the accused.
Moreover, forced conversions and kidnappings of underage religious minority girls continue to create a precarious domestic situation for all religious minorities. They live in fear as kidnappers roam free and are seldom arrested and held to account for their crimes. Minor-aged Christians and Hindus in particular are targeted by Muslim men. Reports have indicated that nearly a 1,000 cases of such kidnappings happen annually.
Conditions such as these have already provided a difficult context for the Pakistan-U.S. relationship and the recent decision to acquit the murderers of Daniel Pearl will only add complexity to the relationship. The United States takes human rights at all levels very seriously in its relationships with foreign governments, and Pakistan is no exception. Daniel’s murder not only constituted a major international incident, but was a clear indicator of Pakistan’s disposition to free press and other human rights in general. The decision ultimately promotes a culture of violence over justice, and condones the actions of Islamic extremists.
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