USCIRF Recommends Pakistan for Countries of Particular Concern (CPC)

Washington, D.C., June 27, 2024 – The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has once again recommended that Pakistan be designated as a "Country of Particular Concern" (CPC). This designation, reserved for countries that engage in or tolerate severe violations of religious freedom, underscores ongoing concerns about the state of religious rights in Pakistan.

The USCIRF’s annual report highlights a series of troubling trends and incidents that have led to this recommendation. According to the report, Pakistan continues to witness widespread abuses of religious freedom, including blasphemy laws, forced conversions, and targeted violence against religious minorities.

Blasphemy Laws and Religious Persecution
One of the most contentious issues raised by the USCIRF is Pakistan's blasphemy laws. These laws, particularly Sections 295-A, B, and C of the Pakistan Penal Code, have been criticized for their broad and vague provisions that are often misused to settle personal scores or target minority communities. The report documents numerous cases where individuals, including members of religious minorities such as Christians, Hindus, and Ahmadis, have been falsely accused and imprisoned under these laws.

The USCIRF notes that the mere accusation of blasphemy can lead to mob violence, extrajudicial killings, and mass protests, creating a climate of fear and intimidation. The recent high-profile case of Zohaib Masih, a young Christian who was wrongfully detained and tortured on false blasphemy charges, exemplifies the ongoing misuse of these laws.

Forced Conversions and Targeted Violence
The report also highlights the issue of forced conversions, particularly affecting young Hindu and Christian girls who are abducted, forcibly converted to Islam, and married off to their abductors. These incidents often go unpunished due to societal and institutional biases.

In addition, the USCIRF report points to numerous instances of targeted violence against religious minorities. Attacks on places of worship, including churches, temples, and Ahmadi mosques, continue to be a serious concern. The lack of adequate government response and protection for these communities exacerbates the situation.

Government Response and Recommendations
The USCIRF has urged the U.S. State Department to designate Pakistan as a CPC, which would subject the country to potential sanctions and other diplomatic measures aimed at improving religious freedom conditions. The commission also recommends increased U.S. support for civil society organizations working to promote religious tolerance and human rights in Pakistan.

The Pakistani government, for its part, has often dismissed such reports as biased and politically motivated. However, the USCIRF insists that its findings are based on thorough investigations and credible sources, urging Pakistan to undertake significant legal and policy reforms to address these issues.

International and Domestic Reactions
The USCIRF's recommendation has drawn varied reactions from international and domestic observers. Human rights organizations have welcomed the report, calling for immediate action to protect religious minorities in Pakistan. "The USCIRF's findings reflect the grim reality faced by many in Pakistan," said Peter Jacob, Executive Director of the Centre for Social Justice. "It's imperative that the international community holds Pakistan accountable and pushes for genuine reforms."

On the other hand, Pakistani officials have criticized the recommendation, arguing that it overlooks the efforts made by the government to promote interfaith harmony and protect minority rights. "We are committed to ensuring the safety and rights of all our citizens," said a spokesperson for Pakistan's Ministry of Religious Affairs. "We reject any biased assessments that ignore our progress."

The USCIRF’s recommendation to designate Pakistan as a "Country of Particular Concern" underscores the urgent need for addressing severe religious freedom violations in the country. As the international community watches closely, the hope remains that this designation will spur meaningful changes and foster a safer environment for all religious communities in Pakistan.

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