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Pakistani rights stifled by intolerance and extremism, says damning watchdog report

Pashtuns gather in a rare protest against abuses by police and troops [Getty]

Date of publication: 16 April, 2018

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An independent rights watchdog has criticised Pakistan's human rights record, saying more must be done to progress.
A damning report released on Monday by an independent Pakistani rights group has criticised the country's human rights record over the past year, saying the nation has failed to make progress.

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan found in its report that people continue to be forcibly disappeared in the country, some after being critical of its powerful military or advocating better relations with neighbouring India.

The watchdog added the blasphemy law continues to be misused, especially against dissidents. Accusations of blasphemy are enough to trigger deadly mob violence

The report also found that while deaths directly linked to terrorism were on the decline in 2017, attacks against the country's minorities were increasing.

The report also highlighted the religious bigotry in the country and the government's refusal to push back against religious zealots, fearing a backlash.

"The people's right to socio-economic activities is curtailed by intolerance and extremism and authorities are lenient for fear of political backlash," said the report.

In a year when freedom of thought, conscience and religion continued to be stifled, incitement to hatred and bigotry increased, and tolerance receded even further

Extremists continue to target religious minorities with attacks recorded against Shias, Christians and Ahmedis, a sect rejected by mainstream Muslims. Under Pakistan's constitution, Ahmedis are not allowed to call themselves Muslims.

"In a year when freedom of thought, conscience and religion continued to be stifled, incitement to hatred and bigotry increased, and tolerance receded even further," said the report.

Laws that aim to protect women from violence, remove restrictions from social exchanges and give women greater rights are being opposed by conservative organisations.

The report did allude to positive progress however, describing the "landmark development" of a new law in Pakistan's largest province Punjab which accepts marriage licenses within the Sikh community.

Last year, a government-mandated commission on enforced disappearances received 868 new cases, more than in two previous years. The commission located 555 of the disappeared but the remaining 313 are still missing.

"Journalists and bloggers continue to sustain threats, attacks and abductions and blasphemy law serves to coerce people into silence," the report added.

The 296-page dossier was dedicated to Asma Jahangir, one of the commission's founders. Jahangir's death in February saw an outpouring of international grief and accolades for the 66-year old pro-democracy activist known for her commitment to human rights.

"We have lost a human rights giant," UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said following Jahangir's death. "She was a tireless advocate for inalienable rights of all people and for equality - whether in her capacity as a Pakistani lawyer in the domestic justice system, as a global civil society activist, or as a Special Rapporteur...Asma will not be forgotten."

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