- Secretary Rex Tillerson
Designate Pakistan as a Country of Particular Concern
Despite recommendation from the United State Commission on International Religious Freedom, Pakistan has not been designated as a Country of Particular Concern by the U.S. State Department. Pakistan has a horrendous history of religious freedom abuses, including the continued existence of Blasphemy Laws.
(Photo taken by our partner Centre for Legal Aid Assitance & Settlement)
- Secretary Rex Tillerson
- US State Department
The Honorable Rex Tillerson
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, D. C. 20520
Dear Mr. Secretary:
Congratulations on your appointment to the position of Secretary of State! Under your leadership, we hope the Department of State will make human rights, particularly freedom of religion and belief, a top priority in diplomatic relations with states abroad. The United States was founded on the belief of religious liberty, and as a world leader its foreign policy should promote, aid, and require the highest standards of religious freedom. Per the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, one of the most significant roles of the Secretary of State is to designate countries in severe violations of religious freedom as Countries of Particular Concern (CPC).
For multiple years, Pakistan has been recommended by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) to be designated as a CPC for the government’s continued “systematic, ongoing, and egregious religious freedom violations.” However, the Department of State’s 2016 CPC designations failed to include Pakistan.
The government of Pakistan has continuously failed to protect its religious minority citizens. Though the country’s population is ninety-five percent Muslim, Pakistan is home to followers of a diversity of religions including Christianity, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Baha’ism, Sikhism, and Buddhism. Ahmadis, who consider themselves Muslims, are forbidden from identifying as such in Pakistan and are subject to government-sponsored discrimination.
The religious minority community is especially vulnerable to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. Speech or acts that are considered insulting to Islam, the Prophet Muhammad, or symbols of the religion are criminalized under sections 295 and 298 of Pakistan’s Penal Code. Not only do blasphemy accusations have legal repercussions, but they often incite violence in local communities. The law carries severe punishments, including hefty fines, life in prison, or even death. Local mosques have also been known to take the law into their own hands and order their congregations to kill accused blasphemers without due process.
No evidence is required for an accuser to submit a criminal incident report known as a FIR in Pakistan, which leads to a high proportion of false accusations. As there is no punishment for wrongfully accusing someone of blasphemy, these accusations have been used as a method of pursuing personal or familial vendettas. In its 2016 Annual Report, USCIRF reported that approximately 40 Pakistanis are currently serving life sentences or are sentenced to death under blasphemy charges.
In addition, churches and places of worship are often targeted and attacked, school curriculum discriminates against religious minorities, and individuals fear being attacked or killed for speaking about their faith or against blasphemy laws. This fear has led religious minorities, especially Christians, to seek refuge in other countries. It is estimated that approximately 10,000 Pakistani Christians are currently seeking asylum status in Bangkok, Thailand, with cases pending through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Though Pakistan remains an ally of the United States, it is crucial to emphasize that its treatment of religious minorities is unacceptable and violates international law. We urge the Department of State to designate Pakistan as a Country of Particular Concern and to accept the recommendations provided by USCIRF, including calling on Pakistan to repeal its blasphemy laws.
Thank you for your attention on this very important matter.
Executive Director of Jubilee Campaign
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