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Pakistan Must Protect Religious Freedom for Hindus: Amnesty International

by Newsweek Pakistan

File photo of a Hindu temple in Sindh province. Asif Hassan—AFP

Human rights watchdog urges P.M. Khan to fulfill his commitments of ensuring protection of country’s minorities

Pakistan must protect the right to freedom of religion and belief for it’s Hindu minority, including the construction of temples to exercise that right, Amnesty International said on Tuesday.

“The respect for the right to freedom of religion was promised to Pakistan’s Hindus by the country’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah,” said Omar Waraich, South Asia head at Amnesty, in a press release. “Those who deny a long-marginalized community the right to practice their faith freely not only betray his legacy, but also violate the human rights of religious minorities protected under Pakistan’s Constitution and its international human rights obligations,” he added.

In a landmark speech on religious freedom, Jinnah had in August 1947 said: “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or any other place of worship in the state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed—that has nothing to do with the business of the state.”

The call to protect the rights of Hindus in Pakistan came a few days after authorities in Islamabad capitulated to pressure from a discriminatory campaign mounted by politicians, media outlets and clerics to halt the construction of a temple in the federal capital. A mob, incorrectly claiming the construction of a temple went against Islam, also tore down a boundary wall constructed at the site where the temple is supposed to be constructed.

“Pakistan claimed positive global attention last year when it opened the Sikh temple at Kartarpur to pilgrims from India. By caving into hateful pressure, it now threatens to reverse that achievement and deepen the discrimination that Pakistan’s Hindu community faces,” warned Waraich.

According to the press statement, the destruction of the temple also feeds into the persistent discrimination faced by Pakistan’s Hindu community on a regular basis. It said that Hindus were increasingly marginalized in public life; individuals often accused of blasphemy; their temples and shops attacked; and hundreds of young Hindu women were abducted and forcibly converted to Muslim and married off.

“The Pakistani authorities must clearly and publicly condemn such acts instead of giving into them. Every reported act of violence against minorities must be promptly investigated and those responsible must be brought to justice. A recurrence can only be prevented if adequate measures are taken,” said Waraich.

The press release noted that Prime Minister Imran Khan had repeatedly claimed he would protect Pakistan’s religious minorities, posting on Twitter in February: “I want to warn our people that anyone in Pakistan targeting our non-Muslim citizens or their places of worship will be dealt with strictly. Our minorities are equal citizens of the country.”

Waraich urged the prime minister to act on his commitments and ensure that Pakistan’s religious minorities were allowed to practice their faith freely and without fear.

Hindus constitute around two to four percent of Pakistan’s population, with the community boasting members of parliament and the country’s judiciary.

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