U.S. State Department Urged to Add Pakistan to List of Religious Freedom Violators

Increased reports of attacks and harassment of Christians in Pakistan has led America’s oldest human rights group to urge the U.S. State Department to add the predominantly Muslim nation to a list of religious freedom violators.

Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom is urging for the addition of Pakistan to the State Department’s annual list of “Countries of Particular Concern” (CPC) for particularly severe violations of religious freedom under the International Religious Freedom Act. A new list is expected to be released shortly.

"Human rights violations, religious intolerance and hate crimes are on the rise in Pakistan. The misuse of blasphemy law against the minorities is increasing day by day," says Shahbaz Bhatti, Chairman of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance – a nongovernmental organization providing legal representation for persecuted Christians in Pakistan – in a statement published by Freedom House.

The All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA) recently reported to Freedom’s House’s Center for Religious Freedom about the case of Younis Masih, whom the organization is legally representing. Masih, a 27-year-old Christian, was severely beaten and arrested in the Sidhu province of Lahore, Pakistan on Sept. 10, 2005. A day prior to his attack, Masih had reportedly requested that a neighbor turn down the volume of some loud religious music. This resulted in Masih being beaten unconscious by a stick-wielding mob. Masih’s wife attempted to intervene and was also beaten.

According to APMA, Masih proceeded to file a complaint with the police. However, the local mosques reportedly countered his complaint by accusing him of blasphemy against the prophet. The allegation of the mosques provoked several hundred Muslims to attack and loot Christian homes, with over 100 Christian families forced to flee, APMA reported further. The mob also forced the police to charge Masih with blasphemy by surrounding the police station and refusing to leave until he was charged. Masih is presently held in Kot Lakhpat jail and has reportedly been tortured.

Furthermore, the Center for Religious Freedom reported that on Sept.16 at a conference in Lahore, extremist groups urged Muslims to wage jihad on non-Muslims and proclaimed that “blasphemers should be killed on the spot,” naming Younis Masih in particular.

In Pakistan blasphemy is a serious crime with some cases leading to the death penalty.

Under the country's Sharia law, the testimony of a Muslim can equal the testimony of two non-Muslims, thus non-Muslims can be convicted on the testimony of a single Muslim. Currently some 80 Christians are imprisoned on blasphemy and over six hundred – Muslims and non-Muslims – have been arrested under blasphemy laws since 1988. Some have been killed while awaiting trial or following acquittal.

"Since 1986, Pakistan's blasphemy laws have given legal cover for Islamic radicals to persecute Christians, Ahmadis, Hindus and dissenting Muslims in Pakistan," said Nina Shea, the Director of the Center for Religious Freedom. "The government has refused to end this tool of repression and we call on the U.S. State Department to designate Pakistan a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) in its forthcoming report on religious freedom.

The Center for Religious Freedom is a department of Freedom House – the oldest human rights group in America, which formed in 1941 by Eleanor Roosevelt and Wendell Willkie to oppose Nazism and Communism in Europe. The organization presents the case of persecuted groups to the media, Congress, State Department, and White House, urging these groups to respond and defend the persecuted groups. Among the groups the Center is advocating in Washington are China, Sudan, Vietnam, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt.