IRLA Urges Stronger Action on Pakistan

The letter sent to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton refers to Shahbaz Bhatti, a Pakistani Christian politician assassinated in March, who had vowed to help reform the country's blasphemy laws.

Letter cites "deep concern" over treatment of religious minorities

Attacks on religious freedom are not only tolerated by Pakistan’s government, but are codified in the country’s notorious “blasphemy laws,” says a letter endorsed by 25 religious and human rights organizations and sent last week to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The letter, citing “deep concern” about “systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of freedom of religion or belief,” calls on the US State Department to name Pakistan as a “country of particular concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act. The letter also urges the US government to engage in more behind-the-scenes diplomacy to encourage Pakistan to reform its blasphemy laws and to provide legal protection for non-Muslims.

According to Dwayne Leslie, IRLA deputy secretary general, there is an urgent need to bring greater international pressure to bear on Pakistan to improve its treatment of religious minorities. “Rather than protecting people of different faiths, Pakistan’s laws actually enable discrimination against the country’s Christian, Hindu, Sikh and other minority faiths,” says Leslie. “The voice of the international community—including both governments and non-governmental organizations—must be heard more clearly on this issue.” Leslie, who helped generate support for the May 17 letter to Secretary Clinton, says that the designation of Pakistan by the US as a “country of particular concern” would be a significant step forward in this effort.  

More than 95 percent of Pakistan’s population is Muslim and, according to human rights organizations, members of minority faiths routinely experience discrimination, harassment and violence. Under the so-called “blasphemy laws” undermining Islam can carry the death penalty and in the past year alone, three people have been sentenced to death under these laws. In recent months, the international community has been shocked by the assassination of two prominent Pakistani politicians, Governor Salman Taseer and Federal Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, who had worked to reform the blasphemy laws.