Pakistan has always been a dangerous place for journalists, but threats to their safety have never been as multifaceted as they are today. Some of these threats arise from the state itself, or its institutions, which try to monopolize the rhetoric and narrative on certain “sensitive issues.” But the most dangerous of them come from extremist groups. These groups have the same interest as the military in controlling the national narrative on certain issues. Unlike the military, these groups have a far more expansive list of journalist no-no’s, which, if breached, warrant an immediate green-light for murder.
The Pakistani government responded to the attack on Hamid Mir by setting up a judicial probe commission. Often, these commissions can keep their findings confidential and inaccessible to the public at large. Other times, if a victim survives an attempt on their life, they can be provided ad hoc and provisional police protection at the discretion of the provincial police service. However, there are no institutionalized mechanisms journalists rely upon to guarantee their long-term safety.
“A strong U.S.-Pakistan relationship is vital to the interests of both of our countries. We had frank and productive discussions with Pakistan’s civilian and military leaders. While the relationship between our two countries has seen its challenges, we discussed the importance of working through these issues and renewing our partnership based on mutual interests and mutual respect.
“We recognize that the Pakistani military and the Pakistani people have made great sacrifices in recent years in the struggle against extremism and terrorism. Al Qaeda and its extremist allies have made Pakistan a target, and the Pakistani nation has suffered deeply as a result. We appreciate the efforts of the Pakistani military and the sacrifices of those troops and the Pakistani people. We also appreciated the hospitality of Prime Minister Gillani and pledge to continue working together on behalf of our countries.”
The US Commission for International Religious Freedom roundly condemned the brutal attack on members of the Ahmadi sect during the Friday prayers in Lahore. The organization released the following statement on Friday:
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, reports indicate that gunmen attacked two mosques belonging to the Ahmadi community in Lahore, Pakistan, during Friday prayers. The attackers seized worshipers and battled security forces, with scores killed.
“USCIRF condemns this monstrous act of violence against a peaceful religious community and extends its condolences to the families of the victims,” said USCIRF Chair Leonard Leo. “This is just one more example of the results of ongoing intimidation, thuggish threats and violence against the Ahmadi community in Pakistan. The Taliban-associated extremists find cover in the anti-Ahmadi laws in the Constitution, Pakistan’s egregious blasphemy law, and the government’s unwillingness to protect the religious freedoms of this community. The government of Pakistan must take responsibility for changing this situation.”
“The United States must vigorously press Islamabad to address these religious freedom violations or more violence is sure to follow,” added Leo. “For starters, the U.S. government must urge for the repeal of the blasphemy law.”
USCIRF has documented systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of freedom of religion in Pakistan for several years. Sectarian and religiously-motivated violence is chronic, and the government has failed to protect members of religious minorities from such violence and to bring perpetrators to justice. Religiously discriminatory legislation, such as anti-Ahmadi laws and the blasphemy law, foster an atmosphere of intolerance in the country and embolden extremists. Growing religious extremism threatens the freedoms of expression and religion or belief, as well as other human rights, for everyone in Pakistan, particularly Ahmadis, women, members of other religious minorities, and those in the majority Muslim community who hold views deemed un-Islamic by extremists. Since 2002, USCIRF has recommended Pakistan be named a “Country of Particular Concern” by the State Department, but the U.S. State Department has not followed that recommendation.
Ahmadis, who may number between three and four million in Pakistan, are prevented by law from engaging in the full practice of their faith and may face criminal charges for a range of religious practices, including the use of religious terminology Pakistan’s Constitution declares members of the Ahmadi religious community to be “non-Muslims,” despite their insistence to the contrary.