The constitution designates Islam as the state religion but upholds the principle of secularism. It prohibits religious discrimination and provides for equality for all religions. Family law, enforced in secular courts, contains separate provisions for different religious groups. In response to widespread anti-Hindu communal violence from October 13-24 that left several persons dead, including Muslims and Hindus, the government condemned the attacks, provided aid and additional security to Hindu communities, and brought criminal charges against more than 20,000 individuals. There were three high-profile convictions tied to religious issues during the year, with tribunals sentencing to death eight Islamic militants for killing a publisher in 2015, five men for the 2015 killing of an atheist blogger, and 14 members of a banned Islamist group for a conspiracy in 2000 to assassinate the Prime Minister. In its stated effort to prevent militancy and to monitor mosques for “provocative” messaging, the government continued to provide guidance to imams throughout the country on the content of their sermons. Members of religious minorities, including Hindus, Buddhists, and Christians, who were sometimes also members of ethnic minorities, continued to say the government was ineffective in preventing forced evictions and land seizures stemming from land disputes. The government continued to deploy law enforcement personnel at religious sites, festivals, and events considered possible targets for violence.
In response to a Facebook post on October 13 showing a copy of the Quran on the lap of a Hindu god inside a temple, crowds of Muslims attacked Hindu adherents, saying the Quran had been desecrated, and killed between four and 14 individuals, according to media, activists, and official estimates. Crowds also attacked Hindu temples and property across the country, with violence continuing until October 24. National Hindu leaders said Hindus, afraid of further violence, refrained from public celebrations of Diwali on November 4 in favor of private ceremonies in their temples and homes. Worshipers covered their faces with black cloth to protest the lack of security for Hindus. In June, according to Al-Jazeera, activists from an indigenous (non-Bengali ethnicity) minority group killed a member of their ethnic group for converting to Islam. In May, media sources said Muslim students gravely injured four Christian students over an online video game dispute; one student later died from his injuries. That same month, local news sources reported two Bengali men attacked and seriously injured a Buddhist indigenous monk in Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT). In February, media sources reported a group of Muslims destroyed and stole property from a Christian church in Lalmonirhat District. In March, local news outlets reported dozens of Muslims attacked Hindu residences in Sunamanj District regarding a Facebook post critical of an Islamic cleric. In May, actor Chanchal Chowdhury received abusive comments online after his Mother’s Day Facebook post showing his mother with Hindu markings on her forehead. In September, news sources said Rohingya Muslims denied the burial of a Rohingya Christian refugee inside the Kutapalong refugee camp. Human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued to report harassment, communal threats of physical violence, and the social isolation of Christian converts from Hinduism or Islam. The Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council (BHBCUC) said communal violence against minorities continued throughout the year.
In meetings with government officials, civil society members, religious leaders, and in public statements, the U.S. Ambassador, other embassy representatives, and a senior Department of State official spoke out against acts of violence in the name of religion and urged the government to uphold the rights of minority religious groups and foster a climate of tolerance. During the year, the Ambassador visited Christian, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist places of worship to reinforce the U.S. commitment to religious diversity and interfaith tolerance. In fiscal year 2021, the United States provided $302 million in humanitarian assistance funding for programs in the country to assist Rohingya refugees (who are overwhelmingly Muslim) from Burma and also to assist host communities. Embassy public outreach programs encouraging interfaith tolerance among religious groups continued during the year. Embassy social media messaging in support of religious tolerance reached more than 2.5 million persons.
The constitution establishes the country as a “secular state” but defines secular as “protection of religion and culture handed down from the time immemorial.” It provides for the right to profess and practice one’s own religion. The constitution prohibits converting persons from one religion to another and prohibits religious behavior disturbing public order or contrary to public health, decency, and morality. The law prohibits both proselytism and “harming the religious sentiment” of any caste, ethnic community, or class. In September, police arrested four Christians, including two Catholic nuns, for religious conversion. They were held in detention until November 18, when they were released on bail; their case continued at year’s end. Proselytizing cases from 2020 against six of seven Jehovah’s Witnesses, including two U.S. citizens, remained pending at year’s end, but none were in custody. Civil society representatives reported that the government deported one Ukrainian and two South Korean families for proselytizing. Multiple religious groups stated that the constitutional and criminal code provisions governing religious conversion and proselytism were vague and contradictory, and opened the door for prosecution for actions carried out in the normal course of practicing one’s religion. In January, a group of international and Nepalese Christian organizations submitted a stakeholder’s report to the UN Human Rights Committee, detailing allegations of persecution of Christians in the country, documenting cases of arrests over several years, and criticizing sections of the law they said unfairly favored Hindus or discriminated against non-Hindus. As in prior years, human rights groups reported that police arrested individuals for slaughtering cows or oxen in several districts. Tibetan community leaders again said government authorities generally permitted them to celebrate most Buddhist holidays in private ceremonies but prohibited the public celebration of the Dalai Lama’s birthday and continued to curtail their ability to hold other public celebrations. During the year, police surveillance of Tibetans remained high and, in some cases, the number of security personnel monitoring Tibetans and the scrutiny of Tibetan cultural and religious celebrations, particularly those involving the Dalai Lama, increased. Religious organizations said the government did not enforce COVID-19 restrictions equitably, allowing Hindu groups more leeway. Christian religious leaders continued to express concern about the anti-Christian sentiment of the Hindu nationalist Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP), which seeks to reestablish the country as a Hindu state. Christian groups continued to report difficulties operating as NGOs and multiple religiously affiliated organizations reported increased challenges renewing or registering their organizations during the first half of the year. Christian groups said they continued to face difficulties in buying or using land for burials, especially within the Kathmandu Valley.
According to NGOs, Hindu priests and other “high-caste” individuals continued to discriminate against persons of “lower” castes, particularly Dalits. While Nepali law prohibits caste-based discrimination, on October 14, a Dalit man was beaten to death for trying to enter a temple during the Dashain religious holiday. According to media reports, Bhim Bahadur Bishwakarma was beaten with a pipe after he questioned neighbors about Dalits not being allowed to enter the temple. On September 25, Hindu nationalist groups demonstrated against a draft provincial bill regulating madrassahs in Province Two along the India border. The groups said the Muslim community was trying to make the country like Afghanistan. Muslim leaders said they interpreted the rally as an attempt to incite violence and a continuation of efforts to reestablish the country as Hindu state. Some Muslim leaders continued not to accept converts to Islam, saying it would violate the law according to their interpretation. Instead, they recommended that individuals who sought to convert travel to India to do so. Catholic and Protestant sources stated discrimination against Christians, including on social media, continued. Local media again published reports of alleged harmful practices by religious minorities that were disputed by local authorities, witnesses, and other media.
The Ambassador and visiting U.S. government representatives met with government officials to express concern regarding restrictions on the country’s Tibetan community. Embassy officials met with civil society groups and government officials to discuss challenges registering and reregistering religiously affiliated NGOs and other NGOs. Embassy officials also met with religious leaders and representatives from civil society groups to discuss concerns about the prohibition against “forced or induced” conversion, discrimination, attacks on social media, inflammatory rhetoric by Hindu nationalist groups, COVID-19’s impact on the ability to worship, and access to burial grounds. The embassy used social and traditional media platforms to promote respect and tolerance, communicate religious freedom messages, and highlight the country’s religious diversity. Embassy outreach and assistance programs continued to promote religious diversity and tolerance.
The constitution establishes Islam as the state religion and requires all provisions of the law to be consistent with Islam. The constitution states, “Subject to law, public order, and morality, every citizen shall have the right to profess, practice, and propagate his religion.” It also states, “A person of the Qadiani group or the Lahori group (who call themselves Ahmadis) is a non-Muslim.” According to NGOs, police failed to protect religious minorities and those accused of blasphemy. The courts continued to enforce blasphemy laws, punishment for which ranged up to the death penalty, although the government has never executed anyone for blasphemy. According to the Center for Social Justice (CSJ), a national nongovernmental organization (NGO), 84 persons were accused of blasphemy in 2021, a significant decrease from the 199 individuals accused in 2020. Other NGOs also assessed 2021 had seen a decrease in blasphemy cases compared with the previous year, but they could not verify actual case numbers. According to civil society reports, at least 16 of those charged with blasphemy during the year received death sentences. The Ahmadiyya community reported that two of the blasphemy cases registered against Ahmadis during the year could result in the death penalty. They reported that the cumulative number of Ahmadis charged under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws since 2019 was 61. Ahmadiyya community leaders continued to report they were affected by discriminatory and ambiguous legislation and court judgments that denied them basic rights, including issuance of national identification cards, driver’s licenses, and passports. Ahmadi Muslims also remained barred from representation on the National Commission for Minorities within the Ministry of Religious Affairs. The Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial governments passed a series of laws targeting Ahmadi Muslim beliefs. The Ahmadiyya community reported that police registered 49 cases against Ahmadi Muslims under these laws during the year. Throughout the year, some government officials and politicians around the country engaged in anti-Ahmadi rhetoric and attended events that Ahmadi Muslims said incited violence against members of their community. NGOs expressed concern that authorities often failed to intervene in instances of societal violence against religious minorities due to fear of retaliation, inadequate staff, or apathy. NGOs reported perpetrators of societal violence and abuses against religious minorities often faced no legal consequences due to a lack of follow-through by law enforcement, bribes offered by the accused, and pressure on victims to drop cases. The government took some measures to protect religious minorities, including establishing a special police unit in all provinces to protect religious minorities and their places of worship. Police and security forces enhanced security measures during religious holidays in consultation with religious leaders.
Throughout the year, unidentified individuals and mobs targeted and killed Christians, Hindus, Ahmadi Muslims, Sunni Muslims, and Shia Muslims in attacks believed to be motivated by religion or accusations of blasphemy. On December 3, several hundred Muslim workers from a factory in Sialkot, Punjab, attacked Priantha Kumara, a Sri Lankan Christian manager of the factory, for allegedly committing blasphemy by removing far-right extremist Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) political party posters that included Islamic prayers. Attackers beat, kicked, and stoned him to death and set his corpse on fire, according to media reports. Prime Minister Imran Khan said the attack was “horrific” and ordered a high-level inquiry. Media reported that authorities arrested more than 100 individuals after the attack. On March 25, six Sunni Muslims died and seven were injured in a Shia-majority area when assailants opened fire on a passenger van traveling from Gilgit to Naltar. On February 11, a teenager shot and killed an Ahmadi homeopathic doctor, Abdul Qadir, in Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. On September 2, unidentified assailants shot and killed Maqsood Ahmad, a dual British-Pakistani citizen and Ahmadi Muslim in Nankana Sahib, Punjab. On August 19, three persons died, and 59 others were injured in a grenade attack on a Shia procession in Bahawalnagar, Punjab. It was the third sectarian attack in the area in two months. Armed sectarian groups, including factions of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), and ISIS-Khorasan (ISIS-K), continued to stage attacks targeting Shia Muslims, including the predominantly Shia ethnic Hazara community. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), the number of sectarian attacks and killings by armed groups increased compared with 2020, reversing the overall decline in terrorist attacks reported in previous years. Human rights activists reported numerous instances of societal violence related to allegations of blasphemy; of efforts by individuals to coerce religious minorities to convert to Islam; and of societal harassment, discrimination, and threats of violence directed at members of religious minority communities. Sunni groups held large sectarian rallies in Peshawar and Karachi in September and October, with speakers warning religious minorities, including Shia and Ahmadi Muslims, of dire consequences if anything they said was deemed blasphemous against the Prophet Mohammed’s companions. NGOs expressed concern about what they stated was the increasing frequency of attempts to kidnap, forcibly convert, and forcibly marry young women and girls from religious minority communities, especially Hindus and Christians. The Center for Social Justice recorded 41 cases of forced conversions through October 31. There continued to be reports of attacks on Ahmadi, Hindu, and Christian holy places, cemeteries, and religious symbols. The government continued to implement its National Action Plan against terrorism, by countering sectarian hate speech and extremism and by conducting military and law enforcement operations against violent groups. According to Ahmadi civil society organizations, however, the government failed to restrict advertisements or speeches inciting anti-Ahmadi violence, as provided for in the National Action Plan. Civil society groups continued to express concerns about the safety of religious minorities. Multiple civil society groups and faith community leaders stated the government had increased efforts to provide enhanced security at religious minority places of worship.
Senior Department of State officials, including the Deputy Secretary of State, the Charge d’Affaires, and Consuls General, as well as other embassy officers, met with government officials and senior advisors to the Prime Minister, and officials from the Ministry of Law and Justice, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training, and Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony to discuss religious freedom issues. These included blasphemy law reform; laws concerning Ahmadi Muslims; the need to better protect all religious minorities; sectarian relations; and religious respect. Embassy officers continued to engage civil society leaders, local religious leaders, religious minority group representatives, and legal experts to discuss ways to combat intolerance and promote interfaith cooperation to increase religious freedom. Visiting U.S. government officials met with religious minority community representatives, parliamentarians, human rights activists, and members of the federal cabinet to highlight concerns regarding the treatment of religious minority communities, the application of blasphemy laws, and other forms of discrimination on the basis of religion. The embassy and consulates highlighted the principles of religious freedom and examples of interfaith dialogue in the United States on their social media platforms and organized several outreach events throughout the year.
On November 15, the Secretary of State redesignated Pakistan as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, as amended, for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom and announced a waiver of the sanctions that accompany designation in the national interests of the United States. Pakistan was first designated as a CPC in 2018.
The constitution provides for freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, including the freedom to change religion. The law recognizes four religions: Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, and Christianity. The constitution and other laws accord Buddhism the “foremost place” among the country’s religious faiths and commit the government to protecting it while respecting the rights of religious minorities. A government investigation continued into the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks that targeted Christian churches and luxury hotels. As of the end of the year, more than 300 suspects remained in detention, most being held without charge. The Attorney General’s Department indicted 25 suspects for direct involvement in the attacks, including three facing U.S. terrorism charges. Civil society organizations and diplomatic missions called upon the government to grant due process to all of those arrested and detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), including five prominent Muslims. Local nongovernmental organization (NGO) reports stated that local officials and police responded minimally or not at all to numerous incidents of religiously motivated discrimination and violence against minorities. In 10 cases of intimidation or attacks by Buddhist groups on Christian churches, police said the pastors were to blame for holding worship services and in three additional cases, police accused a pastor of breaching the peace. The National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL) reported few arrests and none of Buddhist monks. Religious rights groups reported instances in which police continued to prohibit, impede, and attempt to close Christian and Muslim places of worship, citing government regulations, which legal scholars said did not apply. On March 12, the government announced regulations on “de-radicalization from holding violent extremist religious ideology” and created a system for referring individuals detained under the PTA to a mandatory rehabilitation program as an alternative to prosecution. International and domestic human rights activists criticized the new regulations as a form of extrajudicial detention. Civil society groups challenged the regulations in the Supreme Court, which issued an interim order on August 5 suspending the regulations until it issued a final ruling, which remained pending at year’s end. On February 25, the government reversed the mandatory cremation policy for COVID-19 victims, which denied Muslims the right to bury their dead. On March 5, the government chose a location in the Eastern Province as the sole burial ground for COVID-19 victims. Throughout the year, Muslims complained of the hardships in traveling to this location and in adhering to strict and cumbersome government burial procedures. On October 26, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed a 13-member Presidential Task Force to implement his “One Country, One Law” campaign pledge and named General Secretary of the Buddhist nationalist group Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thero, as chairman. Following criticism that the task force and Gnanasara, a Buddhist monk known for anti-Muslim rhetoric, would “eventually turn towards targeting minorities,” the President narrowed the task force’s mandate. In media appearances in September, Gnanasara said the Muslim community was complicit in the Easter Sunday attacks and any future attacks, and also admonished the Catholic Archbishop of Colombo for his criticism of the government on the Easter Sunday investigations. Muslim leaders lodged a complaint with police against Gnanasara for inciting hate speech, and Christian clergy and Buddhist monks warned the public of what they said were planned attempts by Gnanasara to create communal tension in the country.
According to civil society groups, highly visible social media campaigns by Buddhist nationalist groups such as BBS targeted and incited violence against religious minorities, in particular the Muslim community. BBS continued to use social media to promote what it called the supremacy of the ethnic Sinhalese Buddhist majority and vilify religious and ethnic minorities. During the year NCEASL documented 77 incidents of attacks on churches, intimidation of and violence against pastors and their congregations, and obstruction of worship services, compared with 50 incidents in 2020. In 11 instances, NCEASL said crowds assaulted or threatened pastors, their family members, and congregants.
U.S. embassy officials repeatedly urged senior government officials and political leaders, including the President and Prime Minister, to defend religious minorities and protect religious freedom for all, emphasizing the importance of religious minorities in the national reconciliation process, and calling for due process for those in prolonged detentions under the PTA, including Muslims detained in connection with the Easter Sunday attacks. The Ambassador affirmed in a public statement in January that the rights and dignity of families of COVID-19 victims should be respected by permitting the observance of their faith in accordance with international public health guidelines. Embassy personnel met often with religious and civic leaders to understand the views of the communities they represent, the challenges they faced, including government and societal discrimination and the COVID-19 cremation policy, and to identify ways their communities could help diffuse ethnic tensions. The U.S. government funded multiple assistance programs designed to build on global best practices in interfaith and interreligious cooperation, dialogue, and confidence building.