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US concerned about lack of religious freedom in Pakistan

Washington: The US on Tuesday expressed concern over the lack of religious freedom in Pakistan where some 50 individuals are serving life sentence for blasphemy and 17 are awaiting execution. According to the data provided by civil society organisations (CSOs), police registered at least ten new blasphemy cases against 17 individuals. The CSOs reported lower courts often failed to adhere to basic evidentiary standards in blasphemy cases.Throughout the year, the report said visiting US government officials met with madrassa board leaders and members of the National Counterterrorism Authority to discuss plans for curriculum reform in the public and madrassa education systems. “We remain very concerned about religious freedom, or the lack thereof, in Pakistan, where some 50 individuals are serving life sentences for blasphemy, according to Civil Society reports; 17 are awaiting execution,” said Sam Brownback, the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom.

Brownback said this in a briefing with reporters after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo released the annual report of the State Department on International Religious Freedom. Pompeo and Brownback also met with minority community representatives, parliamentarians, human rights activists, and members of the Office of the Prime Minister to highlight concerns regarding the treatment of the Shia, Ahmadiyya, Christian, Hindu, Sikh, and other minority communities, the application of blasphemy laws, and other forms of discrimination on the basis of religion.According to the 2014 government registration documents cited by the press, there are approximately 1.4 million Hindus, 1.3 million Christians, 126,000 Ahmadis, 34,000 Bahais, 6,000 Sikhs, and 4,000 Parsis.Taking account of the Ahmadi boycott of the official census, however, community sources put the number of Ahmadiyya Muslims at approximately 500,000-600,000. Estimates of the Zikri Muslim community,

located in Balochistan, range between 500,000 and 800,000 individuals. Most of the historic Jewish community has emigrated.The report noted that in March the government enacted legislation codifying the legal mechanisms to register Hindu marriages and to prove the legitimacy of Hindu marriages under the law, a move which proponents state could help reduce the frequency of forced marriages and conversions of Hindus. The law allows for the termination of the marriage upon the conversion of one party to a religion other than Hinduism, it said.”Members of religious minority communities stated the government was inconsistent in safeguarding minority rights, and official discrimination against Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, and Ahmadiyya Muslims persisted,” the report said.A bill passed by the Sindh Assembly in November 2016 criminalising forced conversions stalled when the governor declined to ratify it, disappointing religious minority activists, it added.

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