The U.S. designated Pakistan as a country of particular concern for religious liberty. The Special Representative on Religious Harmony reacted by manipulating an old picture.
by Daniela Bovolenta
At last, the United States included Pakistan within their list of “countries of particular concern” for religious freedom. This has been recommended by experts and by the USCIRF, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, before, but political reasons had prevented the designation.
Now, the persecution of the Ahmadis and the systematic discrimination and violence against Hindu, Christian, and other minorities, including through the blasphemy law and the forced marriage and conversion to Islam of minor girls, made the gross violations of freedom of religion in Pakistan impossible to ignore.
One who was not happy with the designation was Hafiz Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi, a Muslim cleric who serves as Special Representative to the Prime Minister on Interfaith Harmony and Middle East. Ashrafi said that he is aware of only two fatal incidents of religious violence that happened in 2020, and called the report “biased.” He also insisted that religious minorities are not discriminated nor persecuted in Pakistan, something that even a cursory reading of the mainline Pakistani media would deny.
To support these declarations, Ashrafi posted on social media a picture depicting himself with leaders of other religions, including Catholic Archbishop of Lahore, Sebastian Francis Shaw.
The Archbishop, however, protested against the posts, claiming that the picture had been taken at an event held five months ago, while by posting it now Ashrafi implies that Archbishop Shaw and other leaders supports his position on the U.S. designation of Pakistan as a country of particular concern for religious liberty, which is not true.
In fact, Archbishop Shaw resigned this month from the National Commission for Minorities, claiming the commissions has been unable of protecting the rights of Christians and Hindus.
Catholics in Pakistan have criticized Ashrafi’s post as disrespectful and illegal, and evidence of what Ashrafi denies, i.e., that religious minorities are not respected in the country.