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US report highlights religious freedom violations in India and Pakistan

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Christians shout slogans during a protest in Karachi on August 20, 2023, to condemn the attack on churches in Pakistan. — AFP
Christians shout slogans during a protest in Karachi on August 20, 2023, to condemn the attack on churches in Pakistan. — AFP  
  • US releases annual 2023 Report on International Religious Freedom.
  • Reports says minorities face persecutions in India in 2023. 
  • 16 people killed because of their faith in Pakistan in 2023. 

The US State Department has released its annual report on international religious freedom, highlighting serious concerns about the treatment of religious minorities in India and Pakistan.

In India, the report underscores the troubling situation faced by Muslim and Christian communities. The “2023 Report on International Religious Freedom” report released on Wednesday notes that discriminatory behaviour against these groups has been prevalent.

In February, 20,000 Christians protested in New Delhi against increasing violence. In March, 93 former senior government officials penned an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, expressing concerns over the persistent harassment of Christians by political party leaders. The report details incidents where Christians and Muslims were arrested under anti-conversion laws and faced harassment based on false allegations.

“Christians and Muslims were arrested under laws banning forced religious conversions, which religious groups said in some cases were used to harass and imprison members of religious minority groups on false and fabricated charges or for lawful religious practices,” states the report.

“In some cases, Christian groups said local police aided mobs that disrupted worship services over accusations of conversion activities or stood by while mobs attacked Christians and then arrested the victims on conversion charges.”

Violent incidents against the Christian community have escalated across India. The actions and statements of BJP members often contradicted the positive statements from government officials. The Indian government has been urged to investigate and take legal action against those responsible for violence against minority groups.

“International nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) such as Human Rights Watch (HRW), however, stated that the ‘actions and statements by members and supporters of his (Modi’s) BJP party [Bharatiya Janata Party] contradicted’ government officials’ positive statements.  They further stated that the government should investigate and prosecute those responsible for carrying out violence against members of minority groups,” it states.

The National Crime Records Bureau reported 272 incidents of communal violence in 2022. Attacks on minorities, including murder and threats, occurred across various Indian states. 

“Attacks on members of religious minority groups, including killings, assaults, and intimidation, occurred in various states throughout the year, including cases of “cow vigilantism” based on allegations that Muslim men were participating in cow slaughter or trade in beef,” the report said.

US officials have continued to express concerns about religious freedom issues with their Indian counterparts.

329 accused of blasphemy in Pakistan in 2023

In Pakistan, the situation is equally alarming. In 2023, 329 individuals were accused of blasphemy, with 75% being Muslims, 20% Ahmadis, and 3.3% Christians.

The Federal Investigation Agency arrested 140 people over blasphemy allegations on social media, with 11 sentenced to death and two of these sentences confirmed by higher courts.

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority reduced Wikipedia’s services due to blasphemous content, and social media platforms blocked over 71,000 URLs at the government’s request. In August, the Senate passed legislation increasing the penalties for blasphemy.

Violent attacks by armed sectarian groups targeted religious gatherings and buildings. These often anonymous attackers victimised members of the Hindu, Christian, Ahmadi, Sikh, Sunni, and Shia communities.

In 2023, at least 16 individuals, including seven Shias, four Sikhs, three Christians, one Hindu, and one Ahmadi, were killed because of their faith.

“On December 29, 2023, the Secretary of State redesignated Pakistan as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, as amended, for having engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom and issued a waiver of the sanctions that accompany the designation in the national interest of the United States. Pakistan was first designated a CPC in 2018,” it said.

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