Politics & Policy

Religious Persecution in Pakistan

Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif (Oli Scarff/Getty Images)
The Obama administration should add that country to its list of worst offenders.

With the world’s attention recently focused on the kidnapping and forced religious conversion of nearly 200 young girls in Nigeria — who have yet to be returned to their homes — we believe it is time for the United States to take this opportunity to not only speak out against these atrocities, but to call attention to violations of human rights and religious freedoms that mark countries and harm individuals around the world every day.

Americans are blessed by broad protections for freedom of religion, enshrined in our Constitution, which guarantee that individuals and families will not be persecuted for the faith they profess or choose not to profess. But more than 75 percent of the world’s population lives in countries that fail to respect religious freedom, and China, Iran, and Pakistan stand among the most egregious examples.

We continue to hear of the Chinese government fining, imprisoning, and torturing Tibetan Buddhists, Uighur Muslims, independent Christians, and the Falun Gong, alongside their defenders. Most recently, China ordered the destruction of a Christian church in the heart of one of the nation’s Christian population centers.

Despite promises of reform, Iran has faced a renewed crackdown on Protestant Christians and Baha’i under the tenure of President Hassan Rouhani. Pastor Saeed Abedini, a U.S. citizen, has been imprisoned since the summer of 2012 for his involvement in Iran’s Christian house-church movement.

In Pakistan, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government continues to both perpetrate and tolerate the persecution of Ahmadis, Christians, Hindus, and Shiites. The government’s enforcement of repressive blasphemy laws — under which 40 Pakistanis are currently jailed — and anti-Ahmadi laws also constitute serious religious-freedom abuses and open the door to religious extremists. And three years after the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian and former Pakistani cabinet member for interfaith harmony, the government has failed to bring his killers to justice.

The United States should continue to raise concerns about these atrocities in multilateral forums and underscore them in all discussions with these nations. The administration should also follow recommendations provided in the House-passed fiscal-year 2015 budget to prioritize any necessary foreign-aid reductions to target those countries that abuse religious freedoms.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is an independent government organization that monitors religious freedom abroad. USCIRF and members of the House of Representatives have recommended that all three of these countries — China, Iran, and Pakistan — be listed by the U.S. State Department as Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) for religious freedom because of these and other atrocities. The State Department has answered our calls on China and Iran in the past; it is time that Secretary John Kerry does the same regarding Pakistan.

As part of designating China and Iran as CPCs, the State Department should use more of the tools already at its disposal, including targeted sanctions such as travel bans and asset freezes against those responsible for religious-freedom abuses. The House of Representatives has passed additional sanctions on Iran — which has been designated as a CPC annually since 1999 — and the Senate and president should follow suit, particularly noting Iran’s religious-freedom violations.

And now we again ask Secretary John Kerry and the State Department to designate Pakistan a CPC. Secretary Kerry must press for Pakistani government leaders to protect religious freedom to stem its frightening spiral toward extremist violence and instability. USCIRF has recommended this designation, and congressional leaders have requested it. What more evidence does Secretary Kerry need?

The Obama administration must step up and make protecting religious freedom a pillar of its foreign policy. As the United States turns a blind eye, so too does the world. We must open our eyes now, act accordingly and show these governments and the world that these acts will not stand.

— Matt Salmon represents Arizona’​s fifth congressional district and is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and chairman of its subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere. Sean Duffy represents Wisconsin’​s seventh congressional district and is a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and its Western Hemisphere subcommittee. 

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