Pakistani persecution continues to target Christians

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom wants the State Department to focus more on Pakistan and its treatment of religious minorities -- including Christians.

In the past year there has been "a real and significant decline in the status for religious freedom in Pakistan," according to Commission spokesman Knox Thames, who adds that it started in November 2010 when a court sentenced Christian Asia Bibi to death on a charge of blaspheming Islam.

“Then in January,” says Thames, “the governor of Punjab Province, who was a Muslim and had been a very outspoken critic of this decision and the blasphemy law, he was assassinated by one of his bodyguards. Then about two months later to the day, the federal minister for minority affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti, the first and only Christian in Pakistan's cabinet, was killed by members of the Pakistani Taliban.”

He says actions by the government have been spotty and disappointing.

“In the case of the murder of the governor of Punjab Province, they actually have the murderer in custody; but the prosecution is moving at a snail's pace and there's a general sense of concern that whoever prosecutes it on behalf of the government, that he may also be targeted for assassination,” Thames says.

There have been no arrests in the murder of Bhatti. Meanwhile, the government has apparently closed the door on any discussion of reforming the law.

The Commission wants the State Department to designate Pakistan as a "country of particular concern," which would add it to the list of the worst abusers of religious freedom. Once added, Thames says the State Department should engage in high-level discussions to encourage the Pakistanis to move off dead-center on the issue of reform.