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Watchdog says minorities in Pakistan face discrimination

People visit a market in Rawalpindi, near Islamabad, on June 25, 2020, without wearing face masks amid the spread of the novel coronavirus. (Kyodo)

ISLAMABAD (Kyodo) -- Pakistan's human rights watchdog on Tuesday expressed concern over the state of religious minorities in the country and called for amending the Constitution to protect their rights and freedoms.

    The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said in a statement that over seven decades after the country's founding, its religious minorities "continue to be relegated to the status of second-class citizens, vulnerable to inherent discriminatory practices, forced conversions, and faith-based violence."

    Pakistan observes Aug. 11 as National Minorities Day to honor its religious minorities and commemorate the speech of founding father Muhammad Ali Jinnah to the legislature on Aug. 11, 1947, days before Pakistan separated from India, in which he pledged to protect the rights of non-Muslims in the then newly created country.

    Pakistan, home to over 207 million people, is a Muslim majority country, where Muslims, according to Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, constitute 96.28 percent of the population. Major religious minorities are Hindus, Christians, Ahmadis and Sikhs.

    HRCP had in its annual report on state of human rights in the country, which was launched in May, said that religious minorities continued to suffer in 2019, facing forced conversions and persecution under blasphemy laws and discrimination.

    The rights watchdog in its statement expressed concern over the government's plan to introduce a single national curriculum fearing that it could undermine the non-Muslims' freedom about not "receiving religious instruction" irrelevant to their own religion.

    It urged the federal and provincial governments to "refrain from law-making that infringes any community's right to freedom of religion or belief".

    The religious minorities have faced security threats and suffered desecration of their places of worship.

    Last month a newly found Buddha statue from the Gandhara civilization was vandalized in Mardan district in the country's northwest on the instructions of an Isamic cleric. Earlier in May Buddha rock carvings were defaced in the northern region of Gilgit-Baltistan.

    Meanwhile, a U.S. citizen of Pakistani origin, Tahir Ahmed Naseem, 57, was on July 29 shot dead during a court hearing. He was an Ahmadi by religion. The assassin said he killed him in defense of Islam.

    Pakistan was last year designated as a country "of particular concern" on religious freedom by U.S. State Department on the basis of the findings of U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

    "During the year (2018), extremist groups and societal actors continued to discriminate against and attack religious minorities, including Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Ahmadis, and Shi'a Muslims. The government of Pakistan failed to adequately protect these groups, and it perpetrated systematic, ongoing, egregious religious freedom violations," USCIRF had said in its report.

    President Arif Alvi, in his message, on the minorities' day said, "all communities residing in the country will be treated and respected equally".

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