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Thursday, 22 February, 2001, 22:03 GMT
Religious extremism in Pakistan 'growing'
Women in Pakistan
Intolerance is blamed for the violence against women
By Lipika Pelham

An independent human rights group in Pakistan has accused the government of being a "silent spectator" to the rise in religious extremism.

In its annual report, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan blamed Islamic extremists for an upsurge in violence against religious minorities and women.

The reports says women in rural Pakistan are often killed by relatives for tarnishing the family name.

General Pervez Musharraf
Rights groups are urging General Musharraf to do more to tackle extremism
Family members can carry out what's become known as "honour killings" against women for just talking to or sitting next to men who are not relatives.

But often the killers escape justice as the crime is regarded as a private matter between two families.

Pakistani newspapers have reported cases of more than 300 honour killings in eastern Punjab province in just a year.

Human rights activists in Pakistan say that around 700 such women were killed in 1999.

Blasphemy

The report also criticises Pakistan's blasphemy law, which allows the death penalty for insulting Islam.

It says an increasing number of cases of blasphemy filed against individuals last year shows growing religious intolerance.

In January, the authorities shut down an English-language daily newspaper in North West Frontier Province for printing a blasphemous letter against the Prophet Mohammad.

Pakistan's military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, last year offered some changes to the blasphemy law, but backed down after Islamic groups threatened to launch street demonstrations.

'Cold-blooded murder'

The report says the government has in fact been implicitly backing radical Islamists by not taking action.

It has accused clerics of propagating vicious hatred which it says has often resulted in harassment and cold-blooded murder.

According to the report, members of an offshoot Islamic sect, the Ahmadis, who have been declared as non-Muslim by the authorities, are often targeted by radical Muslim leaders.

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See also:

14 Jun 00 | South Asia
South Asian women 'vulnerable'
22 Sep 99 | South Asia
Pakistan honour killings condemned
25 Jan 01 | South Asia
Pakistani women hail landmark ruling
02 Sep 00 | South Asia
Boost for Pakistan's women
31 Jan 01 | South Asia
Riots over Pakistan 'blasphemy' letter
10 Oct 00 | South Asia
Pakistani leader defends record
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