The United States Commission of International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recently published its annual report where it highlighted how the new government led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif “weaponized” Pakistan’s blasphemy laws against former Prime Minister Imran Khan.
To clarify, the USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan US federal government entity that monitors, analyzes, and reports on threats to religious freedom. Its members are appointed by the US president and congressional party leaders.
Each year USCIRF offers recommendations to the US State Department to list countries where it sees particular concern on religious freedom, with the prospect of sanctions without improvement.
In its 2023 report, the USCIRF says that in 2022, Pakistan’s religious freedom conditions continued to deteriorate. Religious minorities were subject to frequent attacks and threats, including accusations of blasphemy, targeted killings, lynchings, mob violence, forced conversions, sexual violence against women and girls, and desecration of houses of worship and cemeteries.
Furthermore, the report noted that the blasphemy laws have enabled and encouraged radical Islamists to operate with impunity, openly targeting religious minorities or those with differing beliefs, including nonbelievers.
“The new government under Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, which took office in April, weaponized the country’s blasphemy laws against former Prime Minister Imran Khan and his cabinet members,” the report also said.
USCIRF today released its 2023 Annual Report documenting developments during 2022, including significant regression in countries such as Afghanistan, China, Cuba, Iran, Nicaragua, and Russia. https://t.co/Da7YnwZlHg
— USCIRF (@USCIRF) May 1, 2023
After giving a detailed overview of the cases of attacks on religious freedom in Pakistan, the USCIRF recommended to the US government to remove waivers that enable Pakistan to avoid consequences for religious violations.
The USCIRF also recommended that the US government enter into a binding agreement under the International Religious Freedom Act with the Pakistani government to encourage substantial steps to address religious freedom violations with benchmarks.
It further suggested that sanctions should be imposed on Pakistani government agencies and officials responsible for severe violations of religious freedom by freezing those individuals’ assets and/or barring their entry into the United States.