Pakistan’s authorities must protect the right to freedom of religion and belief for the country’s beleaguered Hindu community, including the construction of temples to exercise that right, Amnesty International said today.
The human rights organization’s call came as authorities in Islamabad capitulated to pressure from a discriminatory campaign mounted by politicians, media outlets and clerics to halt the construction of a rare temple in the Pakistani capital. The boundary wall of the site where the temple is supposed to be constructed has also been torn down by a mob.
“The respect for the right to freedom of religion was promised to Pakistan’s Hindus by the country’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Those who deny a long-marginalized community the right to practise their faith freely not only betray his legacy, but also violate the human rights of religious minorities protected under Pakistan’s constitution and its international human rights obligations,” said Omar Waraich, Head of South Asia at Amnesty International.
“Pakistan claimed positive global attention last year when it opened the Sikh temple at Kartarpur to pilgrims from India. By caving into hateful pressure, it now threatens to reverse that achievement and deepen the discrimination that Pakistan’s Hindu community faces.”
The destruction of the Hindu temple site is yet another example of persistent discrimination faced by the Hindu community in Pakistan. In recent years, they have faced increasing marginalization, with individuals facing false accusations of “blasphemy” – a crime that carries a mandatory death penalty in Pakistan – attacks on temples and shops, and the horrific abduction, forced conversion and forced marriage of hundreds of young Hindu women.
In 2019, in two separate incidents, mobs attacked Hindu properties and places of worship in the southern Sindh province after allegations of “blasphemy” were made against a Hindu school principal and a Hindu veterinarian.
Every reported act of violence against minorities must be promptly investigated and those responsible must be brought to justice.
“The Pakistani authorities must clearly and publicly condemn such acts instead of giving into them. Every reported act of violence against minorities must be promptly investigated and those responsible must be brought to justice. A recurrence can only be prevented if adequate measures are taken,” said Omar Waraich.
In Pakistan, “blasphemy” allegations are often made on the basis of little or no evidence. There is overwhelming evidence that the laws violate human rights and have encouraged people to take the law into their own hands. Once a person is accused, they become ensnared in a system that presumes them guilty and fails to protect them against people willing to use violence.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has made repeated commitments to protect Pakistan’s religious minorities. In February 2020, he said: “I want to warn our people that anyone in Pakistan targeting our non-Muslim citizens or their places of worship will be dealt with strictly. Our minorities are equal citizens of the country.”
“Prime Minister Imran Khan must lend his commitments to religious freedom for all some weight and ensure that Pakistan’s Hindus and other religious minorities are able to practise their faith freely and without fear,” said Omar Waraich.
Hindus constitute Pakistan’s largest non-Muslim minority, estimated at between two and four per cent of the population. They include members of parliament, a former chief justice, military officers, and prominent names in the arts.
In a landmark speech on religious freedom, Pakistan’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah said in August 1947: “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or any other place of worship in the state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the state.”