Religious minorities in Pakistan: A dramatic year

Minority rights in Pakistan became a heated topic of discussion making headlines all year round in 2022, according to a report of the Pakistan daily The Express Tribune.

Mob lynching in Khanewal, murder of Pastor William Siraj, kidnappings and forced conversions, vandalisation of Hindu temple, tensions in Hyderabad, and desecration of Ahmadi place of worship were some of the biggest stories of the year pertaining to religious minorities in Pakistan.

The Express Tribune reported that the year had begun under the shadow of the shocking news of a Sri Lankan national being brutally lynched and his body set on fire by a mob in Sialkot. The sickening incident outraged the nation as the civil and military leaders denounced it as “horrific” “shameful” and “extra-judicial vigilantism”

However, yet another similar incident was reported only a month later as a mob in Punjab’s Khanewal district tortured and killed a man accused of burning pages of the Holy Quran.

As per details, the local police, in order to protect themselves, allegedly allowed the accused to leave the police station in MianChunnu where the mob was present.

The victim was dragged to a nearby place, tortured and killed whereas the police allegedly played the role of silent spectator.

Pastor William Siraj was shot dead by unidentified motorcyclists while his friend Patrick was injured in the same incident in Peshawar on January 30, sparking protests from the city’s religious minority.

The incident, which took place in the Chamkani Ring Road area, had also sparked fears of targeted killings and terrorism resurging in the provincial capital. It is worth noting here that previously, police personnel as well as some members of religious minorities have been targeted in the city.

In a similar incident in May, a seminary student stabbed Abdul Salam, 33, a member of the Ahmadiyya community in Okara district, a community activist told Reuters.

Meanwhile, another member of the community had been stabbed and killed in the eastern town of Rabwah – officially known as Chenab Nagar – allegedly for refusing to chant religious slogans, a community activist and police had said.

In an unprecedented incident, three women madrassa teachers in Dera Ismail Khan, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa had also allegedly murdered their colleague on the pretext that she committed blasphemy.

In November, Washington had grouped Pakistan along with 11 other countries, including China, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and North Korea, as being states that have “engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom”.

“Around the world, governments and non-state actors harass, threaten, jail, and even kill individuals on account of their beliefs,” Blinken said in the statement. “The United States will not stand by in the face of these abuses.”

He added that Washington would welcome the opportunity to meet with all governments to outline concrete steps for removal from the lists.

Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari had later rejected the US’ listing of his country as a state of “particular concern” over religious freedoms, wondering why India escaped the list.

However, the US was not alone to raise concerns over human rights violations, particularly those pertaining to the protection of minorities in the country.

In September, members of the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI) had called on the Pakistan government to undertake timely reforms and legislative changes on human rights issues and translate them into concrete improvements, especially the prevention of any misuse of blasphemy laws.