A woman holds a placard during a protest to condemn the Taliban attack on the Army Public School, during a rally in Peshawar, Pakistan on December 17, 2014.

(New York) – Pakistan’s government should ensure the security of the country’s religious minorities from judicial injustice and attacks by militants, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2015. Violent attacks on religious minorities rose significantly in 2014 as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government’s failed to ensure protection for religious freedoms.

“Pakistan’s government did little in 2014 to stop the rising toll of killings and repression by extremists groups that target religious minorities,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The government is failing at the most basic duty of government – to protect the safety of its citizens and enforce rule of law.”

In the 656-page world report, its 25th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth urges governments to recognize that human rights offer an effective moral guide in turbulent times, and that violating rights can spark or aggravate serious security challenges. The short-term gains of undermining core values of freedom and non-discrimination are rarely worth the long-term price.

The government failed to amend or repeal the blasphemy law provisions that provide a pretext for violence against religious minorities. On May 7, unidentified gunmen killed Rashid Rehman, a prominent human rights lawyer, in apparent retaliation for representing people accused of blasphemy. On October 16, the Lahore High Court upheld the death penalty against Aasia Bibi, convicted of blasphemy for challenging the religious intolerance of a neighbor.

Opposition leaders Imran Khan and Dr. Tahir-ul-Qadri led often violent anti-government protests in August assailing the legitimacy of the May 2013 elections. Those protests climaxed on September 1, 2014, with protesters storming parliament and the state television headquarters. The government announced in September that it had arrested 10 suspects in the 2012 attack on 17-year-old women’s rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize co-winner Malala Yousafzai, but extremist Islamist groups continued to operate with near-impunity. On December 16, 2014, the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) mounted a horrific attack on a school in Peshawar in northwestern Pakistan that left at least 148 dead – almost all of them children. As a response to the brutal attack, the Prime Minister rescinded a four-year unofficial moratorium on capital punishment. The Pakistan government has already executed six convicted militants in Punjab province on December 19 and 21 as part of its announced policy to speed execution of death row inmates.

Journalists who cover counterterrorism issues or write critically of the military faced increasing threats, Human Rights Watch said. In April, unidentified gunmen in Karachi seriously wounded television presenter Hamid Mir, an attack that his employer, Jang/Geo, the country’s largest media conglomerate, blamed on the director general of the powerful Inter Service Intelligence (ISI).

Abuses against women and girls – including rape, murder through so-called honor killings, acid attacks, domestic violence, and forced marriage – remained common in 2014. In July, religious extremists committed a series of acid attacks on women in the Balochistan province.

On June 30, the military launched an offensive involving more than 30,000 troops against the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in North Waziristan. Civilian casualties remained hard to assess due to severe military restrictions on independent media access to the conflict zone. The conflict has displaced an estimated 1 million people in squalid displacement camps where the government has failed to provide adequate supplies of potable water, sanitation facilities, and health care. In July, the government passed the Protection of Pakistan Act, an overly broad counterterrorism law that violates international human rights standards and provides the security forces a legal pretext for abuses with impunity.