02/02/2023 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Pakistan’s systematic suppression of religious freedom has repeatedly earned its designation as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) by the U.S. Government. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at that time that Pakistan’s designation was “for having engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.”
Just months after this designation, Pakistan was thrust into political turmoil following a vote of no-confidence which ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan. No prime minister has ever completed their term of service, and historically, periods of political transition increase religious minorities’ vulnerability.
Meanwhile, institutions such as the National Rehmatullil-Alameen Authority, created to ensure education and media adhere to Islamic values, are given increased opportunity to function in ways that suppress human rights.
While blasphemy laws have existed in Pakistan since the mid-1800s, their formal usage within society has increased steadily. These laws carry harsh sentences, including life in prison and the death penalty. The laws overwhelmingly penalize religious minorities for any actions deemed offensive to Islam, and their subjective nature magnifies the inherent religious freedom issues contained within them. Any Christian may face blasphemy accusations based on community perceptions rather than any actual crime.
Women who belong to a religious minority group are often more severely targeted for persecution. Within the Christian context, forced marriages are a common practice that legally compels women and girls to convert to Islam. Often these victims are kidnapped before the marriage. Despite laws declaring a minimum age for marriage, law enforcement is not reliable, and therefore perpetrators often walk away with impunity.
While these are the two predominant forms of persecution faced by Pakistan’s Christian community, broader trends within the community exist that actively discourage Christians from identifying and practicing their faith publicly. For example, a Christian clergyman was assassinated in January 2022 while traveling home from church. Targeting a clergyman, whose dress is often distinctly Christian, discourages other believers from openly identifying their faith within society. That case also served as an example of the authorities not conducting a serious and effective investigation into persecution cases.
The U.S. decision to designate Pakistan as a CPC was a positive step toward acknowledging the extreme persecution that Christians face in Pakistan. The country’s current political instability is expected to increase the vulnerability of Christians, requiring further detailed human rights monitoring and a more detailed focus on those groups regarding the status of minorities.
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