by Lisa Curtis and Olivia Enos
The Heritage Foundation
...The miscarriage of justice against Bibi is just the latest example of declining religious freedom in Pakistan. The U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom’s 2015 calls on the State Department to designate Pakistan as a country of particularly concern (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA)—something it has called for since 2002. Ninety-five percent of Pakistan’s population is Muslim, including a 20 percent Shia minority, which increasingly faces brutal attacks by Sunni extremists. Ahmadis (about 2 percent of the Pakistani population), who consider themselves Muslim but are not recognized as such under Pakistani law, also face discriminatory legislation that prohibits them from calling themselves Muslims or their places of worship mosques, performing the Muslim call to prayer, using the traditional Islamic greeting in public, or publicly quoting from the Koran.
Bibi’s case is a particularly pernicious example of the negative effects of blasphemy laws. Bibi’s family has been forced to go into hiding, and Muslim clerics placed a $5,000 bounty on her head. Bibi also faces extreme health challenges, including intestinal bleeding, that could be life-threatening. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Bibi, the court would overturn the decision by the Lahore High Court to sentence Bibi to death. If Bibi were released from jail, her life would still be in grave danger from vigilantes who could decide to take the law into their own hands. In April 2012, a Pakistani man accused of blasphemy was shot dead by religious zealots after he was acquitted and released from prison.
The growing pattern of religious intolerance and persecution of religious minorities in Pakistan is threatening the very fabric of Pakistani society and undermining democracy, not to mention putting the lives of millions of members of religious minorities in danger. The U.S. must make the protection of Pakistan’s religious minorities a central plank of its dialogue with the country...