Religious minorities in Pakistan facing increased persecution

REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood

Violence and discrimination against religious minorities in Pakistan has intensified, according to a new report released this week.

The Minority Rights Group and International and Sustainable Development Policy Institute said an "oppressive environment" in Pakistan has made it "increasingly difficult for many religious communities to live securely and free from danger in places where they have often spent the majority of their lives."

"Violent attacks against religious minorities occur against a backdrop of legal and social discrimination in almost every aspect of their lives, including political participation, marriage and freedom of belief," the report added, highlighting Ahmadis, Christians and Hindus as minorities particularly at risk.

In response to their findings, the rights groups are calling on the Pakistani government to increase protections for all citizens, regardless of their religious belief.

According to the report, this will be "a test of its willingness to preserve [Pakistan's] rich social diversity", as well as "a major determinant of Pakistan's future stability".

A report from the US Commission on International Religious Freedom earlier this year also found that violence against Christian communities has risen substantially.

On the anniversary of the Peshawar bombing in September, a year after at least 119 people were killed in a suicide attack outside All Saints Church, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby urged Christians to "continue to pray and call for justice, and for the peace of Pakistan and the protection of Christ's people there".

"As we reflect on the Peshawar martyrs, and their families, and all those injured in those shocking attacks, we do so knowing with deep concern that the often deadly persecution of Christians and other minorities has further escalated in many places, especially Iraq and Syria," Welby continued.

"We look back knowing that our prayers are needed with fresh urgency, as we cry them out to a God who shares deeply in the pain, anxiety, suffering and despair of all those persecuted for their beliefs."

The archbishop also urged Christians to "pray fervently to the God of peace and justice...that those who suffer persecution will know relief; that those who do harm will know justice; and that all people – both our friends or our enemies – will know God's peace and love in Jesus Christ."

Religious minorities, which include Shi'ite Muslims, make up to 20 per cent of 180 million mainly Sunni Muslim population in Pakistan.

Hundreds of Hindus are believed to have fled Pakistan during the past year as a result of religious persecution, while doctors, lawyers and human rights activists have been murdered for supporting the cause of minority rights.

In November, a mob beat a Christian married couple to death and burned their bodies in a brick kiln for allegedly desecrating a Koran.

Days later, a policeman in Punjab Province hacked a man to death for allegedly making derogatory remarks about the companions of the Prophet Mohammed.

The previous month a Pakistani court upheld the death penalty against a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, who was accused of blasphemy, in a case that drew global headlines after two prominent politicians who tried to help her were assassinated.

The blasphemy laws in particular have been blamed for increasing inter-religious tensions in Pakistan.

(Additional reporting by Reuters)