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Persecution of Pakistan's religious minorities intensifies, says report

NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Violence and discrimination against Pakistan’s religious minorities such as Ahmadis, Christians and Hindus have intensified to a level where many live in daily fear of violence or harassment, a report by rights groups said on Tuesday.

Members of Pakistan's Hindu community pray inside a temple in Rahim Yar Khan March 27, 2014. REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood/Files

It said the government’s failure to protect these communities was encouraging perpetrators to act with impunity.

“Despite some recent signs of progress in Pakistan, there continues to be high levels of religious discrimination in the country,” said the report by London-based Minority Rights Group and Islamabad-based International and Sustainable Development Policy Institute.

“Violent attacks against religious minorities occur against a backdrop of legal and social discrimination in almost every aspect of their lives, including political participation, marriage and freedom of belief.”

Minister for Information Pervaiz Rashid, who also holds the portfolio for human rights, and officials at the Prime Minister’s office were not immediately available to comment.

Religious minorities, which also include Shi’ite Muslims, make up to 20 percent of 180 million mainly Sunni Muslim population, said the report’s researchers, but there are no official estimates available.

The report said there was a surge in violent attacks against the Ahmadi - a sect that consider themselves Muslim but believe in a prophet after Mohammad - and Hindu communities in 2014, including multiple incidents targeting places of worship.

Hundreds of Hindus are believed to have fled Pakistan during the past year as a result of religious persecution, it said, while doctors, lawyers and human rights activists have been murdered for supporting the cause of minority rights.

In November, a mob beat a Christian married couple to death and burned their bodies in a brick kiln for allegedly desecrating a Koran.

Days later, a policeman in Punjab Province hacked a man to death for allegedly making derogatory remarks about the companions of the Prophet Mohammad.

The previous month a Pakistani court upheld the death penalty against a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, who was accused of blasphemy, in a case that drew global headlines after two prominent politicians who tried to help her were assassinated.

Blasphemy charges are hard to fight because the law does not define clearly what is blasphemous. Even presenting evidence in court can sometimes itself be considered a fresh infringement, say activists.

The report’s authors called on the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to take immediate steps to stop violence against minorities and ensure justice for victims as well as provide adequate access and security to places of worship.

“This oppressive environment has made it increasingly difficult for many religious communities to live securely and free from danger in places where they have often spent the majority of their lives,” said the report.

“The government’s ability to ensure the security of all its citizens irrespective of their faith is not only a test of its willingness to preserve its rich social diversity, but will also be a major determinant of Pakistan’s future stability.”