Pakistan rejects US report on religious freedom as lacking transparency


ISLAMABAD: Foreign Office Spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch on Thursday rejected the US report on religious freedom, criticizing it for its lack of transparency and failure to acknowledge Pakistan’s efforts in ensuring religious freedom.

During the weekly media briefing, Baloch stated that the US report ignored Pakistan’s initiatives to uphold human rights and religious freedom.

The report, which recommended that the US State Department designate 17 countries, including Pakistan, as Countries of Particular Concern (CPC), criticized Pakistan for issues such as the enforcement of blasphemy laws and the protection of religious minorities from forced conversions.

The other countries recommended for CPC status include Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Burma, China, Cuba, Eritrea, India, Iran, Nicaragua, Nigeria, North Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam.

Baloch emphasized that Pakistan is a pluralistic country with a rich tradition of interfaith harmony. She asserted that Pakistan has undertaken wide-ranging measures to promote religious freedom and protect minority rights, in line with its Constitution.

The spokesperson expressed deep concern over India’s exclusion from the list, despite recommendations by the USCIRF and international human rights concerns about India’s treatment of religious minorities.

Pakistan questioned the process’s credibility, transparency, and objectivity, asserting that such unilateral exercises undermine the shared objective of advancing religious freedom globally. Pakistan advocated for countering religious intolerance through constructive engagement and collective efforts based on mutual understanding and respect.

In addition to addressing the report, Baloch announced that the Pakistani government has approved a plan for Gaza’s medical students to complete their education in Pakistan. These students will join Pakistani medical colleges to study fields such as cardiology and surgery.

Regarding Afghanistan, Baloch highlighted that Asif Durrani represented Pakistan at the Afghan conference in Doha on July 1. During the conference, Durrani expressed Pakistan’s concerns about terrorist support originating from within Afghanistan. The two nations are engaged in ongoing discussions to address these security issues.

The US State Department has designated Burma, China, Cuba, North Korea, Eritrea, Iran, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan as CPCs for severe violations of religious freedom. Algeria, Azerbaijan, Central African Republic, Comoros, and Vietnam are on the department’s Special Watch List (SPL), which contains countries that do not meet all the CPC criteria.

Additionally, specific entities like al-Shabab, Boko Haram, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the Houthis, ISIS-Sahel, ISIS-West Africa, Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal-Muslimin, and the Taliban are also designated. The department emphasizes the need for global efforts to address structural and systemic challenges to religious freedom, urging an end to abuses worldwide.

USCIRF in a press release on January 4 expressed extreme disappointment with the State Department for not designating Nigeria and India as CPCs, despite meeting the legal standard. USCIRF called for a congressional hearing on the matter.

Furthermore, they also highlighted the waiver of sanctions on Pakistan despite its re-designation as a CPC. Earlier in December, USCIRF had reiterated its recommendation of re-designation for Pakistan in a report on the abuse of blasphemy laws against minorities.

The USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan US federal government commission established by the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). It monitors global religious freedom violations using international standards and makes policy recommendations to the US president, secretary of state and Congress.

IRFA mandates the secretary of state to designate “countries of particular concern” (CPCs) for systematic and egregious violations of religious freedom. USCIRF recommends countries meeting the CPC threshold and IRFA grants the Secretary of State flexible policy options, including sanctions or waivers, to address these violations. These actions are not automatically imposed but provide a range of responses to serious religious freedom abuses.__Pakistan Today