Eleven Democratic members of the House of Representatives penned a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, urging the Biden administration to cease providing aid to Pakistan. Their argument centers on the condition that assistance to Pakistan should be suspended until Islamabad takes corrective actions to enhance Human Rights standards, reverse stringent modifications to its Blasphemy laws, and ensure the conduct of free and fair elections.
Additionally, these lawmakers have called upon the U.S. administration to initiate an investigation into human rights violations within Pakistan. They support their plea to curtail aid to Pakistan by pointing to potential violations of the Leahy Act, which prohibits military assistance to governments involved in Human Rights abuses.
The group of eleven Congress members is advocating for the restoration of Constitutional order and the reversal of changes to blasphemy laws, among other corrective measures.
In their communication to Secretary Blinken, the U.S. legislators expressed deep concern over the enactment of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2023. This legislation is viewed as a reinforcement of the existing blasphemy law, historically employed to target religious minorities.
The letter was spearheaded by the controversial U.S. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar from Minnesota, known for her support of Imran Khan and her controversial statements against India and Israel. The additional signatories to the letter include Representatives Cori Bush, André Carson, Greg Casar, Joaquin Castro, Lloyd Doggett, Summer Lee, Ted Lieu, Jim McGovern, Frank Pallone, and Dina Titus.
According to Pakistan’s Dawn, most of these lawmakers are affiliated with the progressive wing of Congress, which has played a pivotal role in spotlighting the Palestinian cause in Washington. They are actively involved in participating in protests and rallies advocating for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.
The letter conveys “serious concerns regarding the ongoing human rights violations in Pakistan.” Within the correspondence, they highlighted that the proposed bill, still pending the president’s signature, was “rushed through despite repeated appeals from numerous lawmakers for a comprehensive parliamentary procedure,” as detailed by the Pakistani news outlet Dawn.
The letter further pointed out that a mere eight days after the bill’s passage, on August 16th, a mob vandalised churches and set fire to homes belonging to Christians in Jaranwala. Additionally, the letter made reference to documented protests against the bill, including those by the Shia community in Gilgit-Baltistan.
Expressing their apprehension, they asserted, “Religious persecution remains widespread in Pakistan, and we are troubled by potential future constraints on freedom of religion and belief should this Bill be enacted into law.”
The letter goes on to state, “We cannot overlook the consistent reports of human rights abuses, encompassing constraints on freedom of expression, speech, and religion, along with instances of enforced disappearances, military court proceedings, and the harassment and arrest of political opponents and human rights defenders. These transgressions not only infringe upon the fundamental rights of the Pakistani people but also erode the foundations of democracy, justice, and the rule of law.”
Initiated by Ilhan Omar, the letter also addresses the Pakistani administration’s actions against PTI Chief Imran Khan and its leadership. In reference to the ongoing developments and arrests, the U.S. lawmakers emphasised the potential threat of Khan facing the death penalty for purportedly violating the Official Secrets Act.