Religious freedom in Pakistan

Ask your representative to co-sponsor H. Res 164. This resolution addresses questions of religious freedom in Pakistan. It is currently in the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights.

This sense of the House resolution expresses the condolences of the House of Representatives to the people of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan upon the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, Minister for Minorities, who courageously advocated for religious freedom and tolerance in Pakistan and calling on the United States to renew its efforts with international partners in the Human Rights Council and the United Nations General Assembly to promote religious freedom and tolerance in accordance with international human rights standards.

The resolution lifts up two deaths to illustrate the challenges of religious freedom in Pakistan:

  • Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, an unapologetic champion of the right of religious freedom and other human rights of all Pakistanis, was shot to death in his vehicle on March 2, 2011, by a group claiming to oppose Bhatti's efforts to reform Pakistan's blasphemy laws.
  • Governor Salman Taseer, who courageously sought to release Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman and mother of 5 who was unjustly sentenced to death under Pakistan's blasphemy laws, was gunned down in broad daylight by his own security guard on January 4, 2011, allegedly because the Governor supported reforms to the blasphemy laww.

The resolution notes that Pakistan is a multireligious society comprised of Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Parsis (Zoroastrians), Sikhs, Buddhists, Baha'is, and others.

It quotes Pakistan's Constitution which states that `subject to law, public order and morality, every citizen shall have the right to profess, practice, and propagate his religion' and that there shall be no discrimination in rights based on religion in the provision of government services, property rights, education, and public access. It cites other examples of Pakistanis who have worked for religious freedom and government actions supporting religious freedoms in the country.

The resolution notes that the blasphemy laws have been wielded falsely against Muslims and non-Muslims alike for the settling of personal disputes, and the law is used against Muslims more than any other religious group.

Two articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are cited:

  • Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance. (Article 18)
  • Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. (Article 19)

That it is the sense of the House of Representatives that the United States should–

(1) include a special working group on interfaith harmony and religious tolerance in United States-Pakistan strategic dialogues to discuss ways to continue the vision of Shahbaz Bhatti in both countries;

(2) urge the Government of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan to reform the blasphemy law, so as to ensure it is no longer abused to limit the rights of Pakistanis, whether Muslims or religious minorities;

(3) assist efforts to protect the religious freedom of all Pakistanis through prioritizing the prevention of religiously motivated and sectarian violence, enhancing training for local law enforcement including emergency response and scene investigation, prompt and thorough investigation of any incidents of violence, and training of judges on international human rights obligations;

(4) work with its partners in the United Nations to support resolutions promoting religious freedom and tolerance, including the prevention of negative stereotyping of individuals based on religion or belief;

(5) engage with its international partners to ensure promotion of interreligious dialogue and protection and promotion of religious freedom and related human rights for all people by–

(A) supporting civil society institutions that work to uphold and guarantee religious freedom and related human rights;

(B) promoting interreligious dialogue designed to strengthen civil society and advance religious freedom;

(C) using all available tools of public diplomacy to spread positive messages about religious freedom and tolerance;

(D) encouraging efforts to strengthen institutions crucial to rule of law and good governance, particularly the judiciary and police; and

(E) recognizing the importance of programs such as the Fulbright Program, the International Visitor Program, and other exchanges for professionals, students, and religious and civil society leaders from diverse communities, including programs that emphasize tolerance for minority groups; and

(6) call on the Government of Pakistan and all other governments to continue the same tradition of leadership and courage as was shown by Minister Bhatti in the fight against violent religious extremism in every form.

The 214th General Assembly (2002) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) affirmed that religious freedom is a human right. The 219th General Assembly (2010) called for the protection of religious minorities around the world.

H. Res 164 expresses the sense of the House that such protection is needed in Pakistan. Ask your representative to co-sponsor H. Res 164.

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