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Freedom House Calls on Pakistani President to Protect Religious Minorities
After the second deadly attack on Christians in less that a week, Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom today called on Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to increase the protection of Pakistan's religious minorities. Freedom House also urged him to increase protection of minorities, clamp down on violent Islamic extremists, and repeal laws that legitimize religious discrimination.
Friday's attack is the latest in a series of deadly assaults against religious minorities. In October 2001, gunmen killed 15 Protestants in a Catholic church in Bahawalpur. On January 13, 2002, a bomb damaged a Protestant church in Islamabad. On February 26, minority Muslims were targeted when gunmen killed ten people praying in a Shia mosque in Rawalpindi. On March 17, an attacker hurled grenades into a Protestant congregation In Islamabad's diplomatic enclave, killing four people, including two Americans.
"These attacks are not only anti-western. The terrorist attackers say explicitly that they target "infidels," those believers, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, who do not share their brand of extremist Islam," said Dr. Paul Marshall, a senior fellow at the Center for Religious Freedom. "While President Musharraf has taken important steps by banning extremist groups, arresting those who foment violence, regulating schools that teach religious hatred, and moving to reform religiously-based electoral rules, many important problems have still not been addressed," he said. "Pakistan still maintains blasphemy and other laws that make non-Muslims second-class citizens."
In the last two decades, Pakistan has seen the rise of an extreme version of Islamic sharia law. This gives the death penalty for those convicted of blaspheming against Islam. Currently dozens of people, disproportionally Christians and Ahmadiya, face execution under these laws. Under Pakistan's version of sharia, their testimony is given significantly less weight so that they can be killed based on the testimony of a single Muslim. In some cases those who have been acquitted have been killed by angry mobs. Muslim extremists have murdered Muslim judges who have granted acquittals to minorities charged under the blasphemy law.
While President Musharraf has in the past said he would abolish the blasphemy law, he has backed away from fundamental changes.
"As long as Pakistan has laws that make religious minorities second class citizens, it creates an atmosphere that prompts massacres like those this week," said Dr. Marshall. "We call on President Musharraf not only to act forcefully against those responsible but also to remove religiously discriminatory laws in Pakistan. We also call on the U.S. government to urgently raise these issues with Pakistan."
Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.