Shi’a Muslims in Pakistan face ‘unprecedented’ violence, new report
Pakistan has witnessed a surge in attacks against its Shi’a and Hazara communities, making it one of the world’s most dangerous countries for religious minorities, according to a new report by Minority Rights Group International (MRG).
On Sunday, the country was thrust back into the headlines when the Pakistani Taliban launched a deadly raid on Karachi airport, claiming dozens of lives and resurrecting fears about regional stability. On the same day, at least 30 people were killed in an attack targeting Shi’a pilgrims in Baluchistan.
The pilgrims were staying at a local hotel in Taftan, near the Iranian border, when they came under attack by suicide bombers and gunmen belonging to a Sunni militant group. At least nine women were among the dead.
Based on interviews with minority rights activists, MRG’s nine-page briefing paper, ‘Everything has shattered’ – rising levels of violence against Shi’a in Pakistan, details the disturbing level and nature of violence against Shi’a Muslims, including the ethnically distinct Hazara, at the hands of Sunni militant groups in Pakistan. Last year was the bloodiest in living memory for the country’s Shi’a, with some 700 murdered in targeted attacks and over 1,000 injured. It represents a significant increase from the previous year.
The response from the Pakistani government has been woefully inadequate. It has routinely failed to investigate attacks on Shi’a Muslims – who are viewed as heretics and apostates by extremist groups – while hate speech against the minority is allowed to circulate freely. Members of state security forces have even been accused of colluding with militants.
‘The government must send a clear message that these kind of attacks are unacceptable and will not go unpunished,’ said Carl Soderbergh, MRG’s Director of Policy and Communications. ‘By turning a blind eye to atrocities, the government has legitimized a culture of impunity among militant groups while minority communities live in daily fear. If perpetrators are not swiftly brought to justice, we are likely to see further violence on a mass scale.’
Most attacks have been carried out by three militant groups – Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SPP), the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TPP) – all of which have openly called for the destruction of Shi’a Muslims. The banned Jaish-ul-Islam has stated that it is behind the Taftan bombing.
In the city of Quetta, near the Afghan border, the LeJ has waged a methodical campaign of terror against civilians, notably the Hazara community, resulting in some of the deadliest suicide and targeted bomb attacks in recent history. Many Hazara believe that the government tacitly supports militant groups because it distracts from the separatist conflict in Baluchistan.
The report also notes a worrying increase in attacks on Shi’a professionals and officials, with doctors, lawyers, politicians, businesspeople and human rights campaigners representing popular targets for threats and harassment. Activists interviewed by MRG believe these attacks are intended to demoralize them and undercut their professional success.
‘I feel I am on a hit list,’ one Shi’a activist told MRG. ‘Often I get mysterious calls asking me, “Why are you writing about these issues, correct yourself or a bullet will find you”.’
Shi’a have been subjected to various forms of abuse, including vitriolic hate speech campaigns in local mosques, schools, public spaces and increasingly on social media. The SPP and other extremist groups openly run Facebook pages calling for the execution of Shi’a Muslims.
The election of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in May last year appears to have brought little change for Shi’a, Hazara and other minorities.
‘There is no doubt that the proliferation of hate speech has played a key role in encouraging attacks on religious minorities,’ added Soderbergh. ‘The government needs to develop an effective mechanism to curb this kind of incitement. Shi’a and other religious minorities have the right to practice their faith in peace and without the threat of violence.’
Note to editors
• Interview opportunities with Carl Soderbergh, Director of Policy & Communications, Minority Rights Group International
• Download the briefing paper, ‘Everything has shattered’ – rising levels of violence against Shi’a in Pakistan.
• Minority Rights Group International is the leading international human rights organization working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples. We work with more than 150 partners in over 50 countries
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