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Thursday, 25 July 2013

Bipartisan Congressional Coalition Urges Secretary Kerry to Address Religious Persecution in Pakistan

Here is a press release from Jay Kansara of the Hindu American Forum.  I met with him last week at the USCIRF conference and believe there is a strong desire amongst religious minority humanitarian groups, working on issues pertaining to Pakistan, to have a more joined-up approach to their campaigns.  The BPCA for definite has always espoused a desire for togetherness and has striven to include key figures from wider faiths in all our campaigns.  We publish this article in solidarity:

Washington, D.C. (July 23, 2013) - Expressing "profound concern over the escalating violence and intolerance towards religious minorities in Pakistan, including Hindus, Christians, Ahmadis, and Shia Muslims," a bipartisan coalition of 27 Members of Congress wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry earlier this week, urging him to make religious freedom a top priority with the newly elected Pakistani government.  

Initiated by Representatives Mike Honda (D-CA) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), and spearheaded by the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), the letter was sent to Secretary Kerry ahead of his planned visit to Pakistan later this month.  

"I urge Secretary Kerry to make religious freedom a top priority in our nation's engagement with the new Pakistan government," said Congressman Honda. "As Chair Emeritus of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus - and as someone who was interned as a child because of my ethnicity - I know firsthand the pain caused by persecution and discrimination. Far too many Hindus and other religious minorities have fled, been oppressed, and seen their houses of worship destroyed in Pakistan. It is time to put an end to this violence and hatred."  

The letter noted that religious minorities in Pakistan face "systematic violence, attacks on their places of worship, constitutional and legal discrimination, and widespread restrictions on religious freedom." It further stated that non-Muslim women and girls are routinely abducted and subjected to forced conversions, and it provided several specific religious freedom recommendations to the Government of Pakistan.  

"I thank my colleague, Michael Honda, for working with me to spearhead this letter to Secretary Kerry ahead of his upcoming meeting with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif," said Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Middle East and North Africa. "Pakistan continues to be one of the world's least tolerant country's with regard to the religious freedom of its citizens, and the rights of women and minorities. The implementation of Pakistan's blasphemy laws and its propagation of hatred, intolerance and violence has fostered an environment of extremism where religious minorities such as Hindus, Ahmadis, and others, live in a constant state of vulnerability and abject fear. I urge Secretary Kerry to address these issues with the Prime Minister, and unequivocally stress that the deteriorating human rights and religious freedom situation in Pakistan is past due for reforms."  

Several senior Congressional leaders, including Congressmen Pete Roskam (R-IL), Chief Deputy Whip, and Michael McCaul (R-TX), Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, signed onto the letter. Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific; Reps. Frank Wolf (R-VA) and Jim McGovern (D-MA), co-chairs of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission; and the only Hindu member of Congress, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) supported the effort as well.  

"We appreciate the leadership of Congress on this issue, as the plight of Hindus and other religious minorities in Pakistan has never been more dire," said Jay Kansara, HAF's Associate Director of Government Relations. "It is now incumbent upon Secretary Kerry to work closely with the Government of Pakistan to protect minority rights in the country and make religious freedom a centerpiece of the U.S.- Pakistan relationship."  

In addition to Congress, the deteriorating conditions in Pakistan have also garnered considerable concern from other institutions, including the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). USCIRF hosted a briefing last week on The Future of Religious Freedom in Pakistan and featured HAF's Kansara, amongst other notable speakers. The briefing was part of the Commission's new Pakistan: A History of Violence project, which tracks attacks on religious minorities in Pakistan.

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