The United States has designated Pakistan and seven other countries as having engaged in or tolerated systematic violations of religious freedom. Pakistan is in the dubious company of countries like China which was recently blacklisted for Uighur rights violations, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. The US State Department had last week re-designated Pakistan as a country of particular concern over violations of religious freedom. The US designation is based on an evaluation carried out by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). This commission is an independent body and has its charter of duties.

It is funded by the US government. Hindustan Times has reported that the Foreign Office has condemned the move, saying the report was detached from on the ground realities in Pakistan.

Indictment

This indictment by the American government is based on an independent evaluation by the commission. The report presented to the government makes a special mention of the blasphemy laws which are prevalent in Pakistan. From all accounts, it appears these blasphemy laws are used extensively. The law carries the death penalty and was introduced by General Zia -Ul-Haq. The dictator had seized power by deposing Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the elected prime minister of Pakistan. Subsequently, in a farcical trial, he got Ali Bhutto hanged like a common criminal on a dubious charge of murder.

Al Jazeera has reported that the Pakistan government has rejected the findings of the US commission.

The blasphemy law criminalizes any act which is deemed as insulting to Prophet Muhammad or the holy book and carries a mandatory death sentence. It has been increasingly used since 1990.

Pakistan rejects findings

The Pakistan government has rejected the findings of the commission. It has referred to the commission report as being biased. The foreign ministry has rejected the assertion that the laws of blasphemy are applied selectively. Pakistan is also hurt that it has been singled out while its neighbor, India, has not been criticized for violations.

The fact remains that there is no blasphemy law in India. The blasphemy law is like a sword hanging over the minority population in Pakistan. Actually, at least 40 people remain on death row or have been sentenced to life for committing blasphemy.

Blasphemy Law

The blasphemy laws strike an emotive chord in this predominantly Islamic country. Recently, one of the women, Asia Bibi, who was on death row for blasphemy was acquitted by the High Court and this led to violent demonstrations and rioting in the country. Similarly, the former Punjab governor Salman Taseer who wanted the blasphemy law to be repealed was shot dead by his bodyguard. The bodyguard was honored by the Pakistan public with garlands and flowers.

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