Religious Freedom Watchdog Pushes State Department to Get Tougher on Pakistan

Pakistan is considered one of the worse violators of religious liberty in the world according to the US watchdog on religious freedom, but the State Department allows the nation a special waiver to protect it from punishing sanctions.

Pakistan, a majority Muslim country, punishes blasphemy which easily snares Christians and other minorities living out their faith.

“There are at least 80 individuals who have been unjustly imprisoned and more than half of those individuals are facing the death penalty,” USCIRF Vice Chair Anurima Bhargava tells CBN News.

Just this week a Pakistani Christian couple sentenced to death for blasphemy had their appeal heard before the nation’s high court.

And Pakistan has made some positive strides, like acquiting Christian Asia Bibi of blasphemy. Bhargava says some top government officials also genuinely appear to want to create a more inclusive society, but without pressure, it’s unlikely change will happen.

That’s why USCIRF is proposing the State Department enter into a binding agreement with Pakistan under the International Religious Freedom Act which would provide a roadmap on how the country can take meaningful steps to address religious freedom with defined benchmarks.

They would include requiring Pakistan to review all blasphemy cases and eventually repeal the law, along with others that inhibit religious freedom.

The US has only entered into this type of agreement once before – with Vietnam in 2005.

The State Department currently gives Pakistan a waiver because of US security interests in the region.

Bhargava says she recognizes those interests but says the nation’s religious freedom violations also severely need addressing and correcting.

“Our position at the commission has long been that the blasphemy laws and the ways in which Pakistan has treated religious communities that are in the minority is something that is of such extraordinary concern that we have designated them a top offender for so many years,” Bhargava says.

“In the midst of the global pandemic that we are facing the ability of people to be able to practice their faith and their religion freely is something that I think is important to people in countries around the world,” she continues.

Saudi Arabia and Tajikistan are two other top religious freedom offenders that the State Department issues waivers.

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