The United States Department of State has released its official blacklist of countries guilty of egregious violations of religious freedom, and for the 14th consecutive year has left Pakistan off the roster.
Secretary of State John Kerry has re-designated Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, as “countries of particular concern,” or CPCs, under the International Religious Freedom Act, and has added the ex-Soviet republic of Tajikistan for the first time.
State Department spokesperson John Kirby announced this year’s list of countries of particular concern at a press briefing last week, underscoring that these designations “help us shine a spotlight on countries and conditions that require the international community’s attention.”
Nonetheless, despite persistent urging from the bipartisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), the list omits mention of Pakistan, despite recent incidents that have drawn world attention to the country.
The Easter-Day massacre targeting Christians in Lahore saw the death of 72 victims, mostly women and children, along with at least 320 injured.
Islamist suicide bomber Yousuf Farid blew himself up in a large park, where hundreds of families had gathered to celebrate the feast of Easter. Among the victims are more than 30 small children, who at the time of the blast were playing sports and outdoor games.
Moreover, just last week USCIRF released a comprehensive report on textbooks used in Pakistan’s public schools, which revealed “deeply troubling content” in the representation of Christians and other minority religions as fundamentally inferior and less trustworthy than Muslims.
The report titled “Teaching Intolerance in Pakistan: Religious Bias in Public School Textbooks” found that the textbooks are used to confer “public shaming” on Christians and other minorities, indoctrinating schoolchildren with a pro-Muslim prejudice from the earliest ages.
“Public shaming begins at a very young age,” the report found, and the Pakistani curriculum teaches that religious minorities, particularly Christians and Hindus, are “nefarious, violent, and tyrannical by nature.”
The study concluded that the textbooks, which reach over 41 million children and negatively portray religious minorities as outsiders, unpatriotic, and inferior, helps account for the alarming state of religious freedom in Pakistan today.
Although the State Department has acknowledged a “general failure” on the part of the Pakistani government “to investigate, arrest, or prosecute those responsible for religious freedom abuses,” and that this dereliction of duty “promoted an environment of impunity that fostered intolerance and acts of violence,” it has resisted added Pakistan to its list of the worst violators of religious freedom.
By contrast, the independent, bipartisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), in its 2015 report, stated categorically that “Pakistan represents one of the worst situations in the world for religious freedom for countries not currently designated by the U.S. government as ‘countries of particular concern.’”
Pakistan boasts some of the most severe blasphemy laws in the world, where freedom of speech is severely curtailed. Those guilty of “defiling the Prophet Muhammad” face the death penalty, while life imprisonment is given for damaging the Qur’an. “Insulting another’s religious feelings” can result in up to ten years in jail.
Islam is the official state religion in Pakistan, and its Constitution states, “Every citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, and there shall be freedom of the press, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam” (art. 19, emphasis added).
Human rights groups have repeatedly asserted that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are easily abused by extremists. False charges are often brought against minority groups to settle personal scores or even to seize property or businesses.
In a statement sent to Breitbart News Wednesday, the USCIRF commended the State Department for adding Tajikistan to its CPC list, but once again urged that the list “be expanded to include seven other countries: Central African Republic, Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, and Vietnam.”
The statement also criticizes Secretary Kerry for waiving the imposition of “any consequences on Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan.”
“The CPC designation brings with it a unique toolbox of policy options to effectively promote religious freedom, and USCIRF encourages the Administration to use these tools,” said Robert P. George, USCIRF’s Chairman.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter Follow @tdwilliamsrome