A human rights panel has called on the Pakistani authorities to protect the right to freedom of religion and belief for the country’s beleaguered Hindu community, including the construction of temples to exercise that right.
“The respect for the right to freedom of religion was promised to Pakistan’s Hindus by the country’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Those who deny a long-marginalized community the right to practise 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,” said Omar Waraich, Head of South Asia at Amnesty International.
The human rights organization’s call came as authorities in Islamabad capitulated to pressure from a discriminatory campaign mounted by politicians, media outlets and clerics to halt the construction of a rare temple in the Pakistani capital.
“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,” Waraich said.
The destruction of the Hindu temple site is yet another example of the discrimination faced by Hindu community in Pakistan. In recent years, they have faced increasing marginalization, with individuals facing false accusations of “blasphemy”, attacks on temples and shops, and the horrific abduction, forced conversion and forced marriage of hundreds of young Hindu women.
In 2019, in two separate incidents, mobs attacked Hindu properties and places of worship in the southern Sindh province after allegations of “blasphemy” were made against a Hindu school principal and a Hindu veterinarian.
“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.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has made repeated commitments to protect Pakistan’s religious minorities. In February this year, he said: “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.”
“Prime Minister Imran Khan must lend his commitments some weight to ensure religious freedom for all and to ensure that Pakistan’s Hindus and other religious minorities are able to practice their faith freely and without fear,” said Waraich.