ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Religious minorities in Pakistan, particularly Christians and Ahmadis, are increasingly under attack but political parties are unwilling to protect them, the country's leading human rights watchdog said Thursday.
"2010 has been a very bad year for minorities," said IA Rehman, secretary general for the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), unveiling its annual report for 2010.
HRCP condemned a wave of unprecedented attacks on minorities, including Christians and members of the Ahmadi community, whom Muslims consider heretics and whom the Pakistani government has officially declared non-Muslim.
"99 Ahmadis were killed in faith-based violence. Impunity for perpetrators of violence against minority communities continued. At least 64 people were charged under the blasphemy law, including Asia Bibi, a Christian farmhand. Three men, including two Christian brothers, accused of blasphemy were killed in police custody," the report said.
It further stated that as many as 500 Hindu families from Balochistan migrated to India because of threats to their lives and security, while 73 members of religious minority communities committed suicide and 21 tried to take their own lives but failed.
"Four hundred eighteen people were killed in violence against various Muslim sects while 963 were injured," the report reveals.
"We had unprecedented killings of Ahmadis in 2010 and the government hasn't got the guts to console and sympathize with them," Rehman told the press conference.
"People have been killed for demanding changes in the procedures of the blasphemy law," said Rehman, recalling the assassinations of liberal politician Salman Taseer and minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian, for criticizing the laws which make blasphemy punishable by death.
During the press conference, HRCP President Mehdi Hasan said, "There is very little improvement in the condition of human rights prevailing in Pakistan."
The commission expressed concern about a growing number of targeted killings, more than 12,500 in 2010, and kidnappings, nearly 17,000, particularly in southwestern province Balochistan, where government forces and rebels fighting for autonomy have been accused of abuses.
It also underscored the troubling role played by powerful government security agencies, with Hasan saying: "Most of the violations of the human rights are from the government functionaries or the government agencies."
The HRCP condemned indifference on the part of the main political parties, including those in power, with regard to human rights violations. "It is the duty of the government to protect," said Hasan, adding, "The problem is that our mainstream political parties do not have these things on their priority list or their political agenda."
"While all people suffered as a result of the government's inability to provide a safe environment, the most vulnerable were members of minority communities and women. Journalists and human rights defenders encountered hazards in highlighting the tribulations of ordinary citizens and many paid the price for their mission with their lives," the report claimed.
A chronological study reveals that at least four people, including Punjab governor Taseer and minorities minister Bhatti, have been assassinated while several cases were registered and people convicted under the blasphemy laws in the first quarter of 2011.
Among the numerous cases listed are:
Jan. 4, Governor Taseer was shot dead for wanting amendments to the blasphemy laws after Asia Bibi was sentenced to death in November 2010 for allegedly committing blasphemy.
Jan. 26, a woman named Amina accused her sister-in-law Zahira of blasphemy after an argument the night before. Zahira's house was raided by Islamist activists and she was beaten up.
Jan. 29, a teenage boy Samiullah was arrested for allegedly writing blasphemous material on his examination answer sheets. Board of Intermediate Education Karachi (BIEK) Controller of Examinations Agha Akbar Mirza said "it was the boy's neck or mine."
Feb. 8, a man identified as Dr. Jalal registered a blasphemy case against his brother Noor Khan for setting up a preaching center of the Barelvi school of thought in Multan. Jalal followed the Deoband school of thought and was annoyed that his brother had switched to another sect.
Feb. 20, a schoolteacher was booked by the Bhakkar police in Punjab and subsequently lynched by a mob for allegedly disrespecting the images of "holy places" and the "footprint of Prophet Mohammad."
Feb. 21, a dispute on a residential plot among communities ended up in arrest of a Christian woman Agnus Bibi under blasphemy charges by Muslims in Faislabad, Punjab province.
Feb. 26, Mohammad Javed was accused of blasphemy because his friend allegedly sent a blasphemous text from his phone in Multan, Punjab. Shahnawaz, his friend, was rounded up for blasphemy too.
Feb. 27, a mentally challenged person in Karachi was accused of burning pages of the Quran and blasphemy.
March 2, Shahbaz Bhatti, federal minister for minorities was gunned down in Islamabad for wanting amendments in the blasphemy law and supporting blasphemy convict Asia Bibi.
March 4, a man accused in a blasphemy case was shot dead on the outskirts of Rawalpindi just two weeks after he was exonerated from the case. Two gunmen burst into the shoe shop where Mohammad Imran sat talking to a friend, and opened fire on him. He was killed instantly.
March 15, Qamar David, a Christian convict accused of blasphemy in 2006 was found dead in his prison cell. Prison guards claimed it was due to a heart attack, but David's family and lawyer maintain he was in good health and was receiving death threats for some time.
March 23, hardliner clerics from different mosques in Lahore announced that the local Christians from a church deliberately burnt the pages of the Quran at a heap of garbage. Muslim and Christian clerics a reached peace agreement with the condition that church authorities would suspend activities, especially at the time when Muslims living in the area offered prayers.
March 26, Gilgit-Baltistan joined the league of the country's other self-righteous areas after the region's first-ever blasphemy case was registered against a man who allegedly passed contemptuous comments against Prophet Mohammad. A case was registered under the blasphemy law against Yaqoob Shah.