(New York) – The Pakistani government should urgently act to prevent deadly sectarian attacks on Pakistan’s Shia Muslims that escalate during the Muslim holy month of Moharram.
In recent years, Sunni extremist groups affiliated with the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Pakistan have claimed responsibility for attacks that have killed dozens of Shia during Moharram, particularly on Shia processions marking Ashura, the 10th day of Moharram, which in 2013 is on November 15.
“Pakistan’s besieged Shia citizens should be able to participate in Ashura processions without fear of predictable attack while the government just looks on,” said Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistan director at Human Rights Watch. “The Pakistani authorities need to put all necessary security measures in place to protect the Shia population. Arresting extremist group members responsible for past attacks would be an important first step.”
Sunni extremist groups have attacked Ashura processions in Pakistan for the last several years, Human Rights Watch said. In the days before Ashura in 2012, some 30 people were killed and at least 100 were wounded in five attacks. This deadly campaign culminated in a suicide bombing in the northwestern city of Dera Ismail Khan that targeted the Ashura procession, killing at least five people and wounding more than 90 others. Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for all of these attacks.
Attacks on religious minorities escalate
The Pakistani Taliban and its affiliates such as the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi have conducted unprecedented attacks in 2013 on the country’s Muslim and non-Muslim religious minorities, claiming responsibility for most major bombings and vowing further violence.
Human Rights Watch has recorded dozens of attacks on Shia in 2013, including some of the worst attacks on the community in Pakistan’s history. More than 800 Shia have been killed in targeted attacks in Pakistan since 2012, including about 400 so far this year.
In the first days of November alone, at least 15 Shia have been killed in several targeted attacks across Pakistan:
· On November 2, six coal miners belonging to the Shia Hazara community were killed and one wounded in a gun attack as they headed to work in the Machh area of Bolan district in Balochistan province;
· Five Shia were killed in the port city of Karachi in Sindh province on November 5 in four separate incidents: Dr. Naseem Abbas, a doctor, was shot dead while standing near his home. Sher Ali, a medical technician, was shot dead in a targeted killing as he was taking his children to school. Nadeem Raza, a tailor, and his friend Shoaib were shot dead and three others were wounded when assailants opened fire on Raza’s shop. And Muhammad Shanwas shot dead on the street as he was preparing for the upcoming Ashura procession;
· On November 9, three Shia were killed in two attacks on Shia mosques in the city of Gujranwala in Punjab province: Javed Talat, a Shia cleric, was shot dead when two assailants forced entry into the Zainabia mosque. And Muazzam Yousef and Amanat were shot dead by men who forcibly entered the Qasr-i-Abu Talib mosque. Both attacks took place during the dawn prayers.
Sunni militant groups such as the banned Lashkar-e Jhangvi have historically had links to the Pakistani military and its intelligence agencies. While the military denies any ongoing links to such groups, Lashkar-e Jhangvi continues to operate with impunity even in areas where state authority is well established, such as Punjab province and Karachi.
Pakistani and international human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, have made numerous calls to Pakistan’s authorities to bring to justice those implicated in attacks on minority populations. Specifically, Pakistan’s federal government and the respective provincial governments should promptly apprehend and appropriately prosecute those responsible for the attacks in November and other crimes targeting the Shia population, Human Rights Watch said.
“Pakistan’s leaders need to step up to their basic responsibility of protecting all Pakistanis instead of allowing killers to remain free,” said Hasan. “The Shia minority has been subject to a bloodbath that must end.”