06/03/2021 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern)- The International Religious Freedom (IRF) Office at the Department of State recently published its 2020 Annual Report. In this report, IRF has highlighted Pakistan due to its worsening religious freedom conditions for Christians and other religious minorities.
Citing civil society reporting, the IRF report focuses heavily on the fact that many individuals have been imprisoned on blasphemy charges, at least 35 of whom had received death sentences, as compared with 82 individuals imprisoned on blasphemy charges and 29 who received death sentences in 2019.
Since Pakistan added Section 295-B and 295-C to the country’s blasphemy laws in 1987, the number of blasphemy accusations have skyrocketed. Between 1987 and 2017, 1,534 individuals in Pakistan have been accused of blasphemy. Out of that 1,534, 829 accusations (54%), were made against religious minorities. With Christians only making up 1.6% of Pakistan’s total population, the 238 accusations (15.5%) made against Christians is highly disproportionate.
The report additionally mentioned the discrimination towards Christians when looking for employment.
Due to Pakistan’s widespread discrimination and religious intolerance, the Christian community is extremely overrepresented in dangerous, unsanitary jobs. Christians make up between 80% to 90% of the sanitation workforce, including the country’s sewer workers, street sweepers, and janitors.
“I get 15,000 rupees ($91.00) per month and work for 12 hours a day,” Perveen Bibi, a Christian sanitation worker, told ICC last year.
Christians like Bibi spend hours in city sewers. Most of them end up developing respiratory and skin diseases due to toxic fumes and waste. It is known that doctors will refuse to help people who work menial jobs because they are seen as unclean and untouchable.
Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult for Christians to obtain a job outside of the sanitation workforce.
In another example of job discrimination, the IRF office reported that two Christians, Kamran Sandhu and Nauman Aslam, applied for seats reserved for minorities in the Gujranwala Electric Power Company (GEPCO) Punjab. Both Christians passed the recruitment test and had successful interviews but were denied appointment by the assistant manager. When the Christians took the issue to court, the court ordered the GEPCO to hire the Christians. However, the Christians were not hired and the case was dismissed.
The U.S. State Department report adds more weight to the growing criticism that Pakistan is facing internationally for upholding its blasphemy law and enabling discrimination against religious minorities. Hopefully, with international pressure towards the Pakistan government, change will be made to help the Christian community.
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