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April 23, 2021

US Religious Freedom report 2021: Pakistan retained as ‘country of particular concern’

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April 23, 2021

ISLAMABAD: The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom in its annual report 2021 released this month has recommended to the US administration to pursue the reform of Pakistan’s “public educational textbooks, curriculum, and teacher training materials” to ensure the content is inclusive of and not discriminatory toward religious minorities.

The report, while re-designating Pakistan as a “country of particular concern,” or CPC, for “engaging in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom”, also seeks the repeal of the “blasphemy and anti-Ahmedi laws” and the release of blasphemy accused. The report said that until the blasphemy law is repealed, Pakistan should enact reforms to make blasphemy a bailable offence, require evidence by accusers, ensure proper investigation by senior police officials, allow authorities to dismiss unfounded accusations, and enforce the existing penal code articles criminalizing perjury and false accusations. The US government is asked to enter into a binding agreement with the Pakistan government to encourage substantial steps to address religious freedom viola- tions with benchmarks, including but not limited to: Releasing blasphemy prisoners and other individuals imprisoned for their religion or beliefs; repealing blasphemy and anti-Ahmadiyya laws; until the repeal is accomplished, enact reforms to make blasphemy a bailable offence, require evidence by accusers, ensure proper investigation by senior police officials, allow authorities to dismiss unfounded accusations, and enforce existing penal code articles criminalizing perjury and false accusations.

The report also asks Pakistan to address extremist rhetoric often preceding attacks on minorities, while protecting freedom of expression; hold accountable individuals who incite or participate in vigilante violence, targeted killings, forced conversions, and other hate crimes; reform public educational textbooks, curriculum, and teacher training materials to ensure content is inclusive of and not discriminatory toward reli-gious minorities; remove the requirement for self-identification of religion on identity documents; impose targeted sanctions on Pakistani government agencies and officials responsible for severe violations of religious freedom by freezing those individuals’ assets and/or barring their entry into the United States under human rights-related financial and visa authorities, citing specific religious freedom violations.

The report also said that the US Congress should also advocate for the release of religious prisoners of conscience in Pakistan, including Junaid Hafeez, Ramzan Bibi, Shafqat Emmanuel, and Shagufta Kausar.