I share the concerns raised about the situation in Pakistan and know that my ministerial colleagues at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) do too, given that Pakistan is one of 31 human rights priority countries for the UK.
That said, the change in Government in-country is a domestic matter for Pakistan. HM Government respects Pakistan's democratic system and does not interfere in its internal political affairs. I have been assured by my ministerial colleagues, however, that the UK will continue to work with the Government of Pakistan to advance our shared priorities and interests, including the promotion of regional stability. The UK is also clear that the right to peaceful protest should be protected. More broadly, the UK regularly raises concerns about reports of human rights abuses and violations in Pakistan, including in the province of Balochistan, at a senior level with the Pakistani Government. Lord Ahmad did so most recently on 30 January 2023, when he met with Pakistan's Minister for Human Rights, and 14 December 2022, when he met with Pakistan's Foreign Minister. Where there are allegations of human rights violations, the UK expects these to be fully investigated in line with due process.
I appreciate the concern for religious minorities in Pakistan, particularly the Ahmaddiya Muslim community, and like you, I am concerned by the general limitations on freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) in-country. I can assure you that the UK Government strongly condemns the persecution of all minorities.
In line with this, defending FoRB in Pakistan, including for Ahmadi Muslims, is an integral part of the FCDO's engagement on human rights. This involves raising individual cases, such as when the British High Commissioner in Islamabad, recently raised the targeted killings of Ahmadi Muslims with Pakistan's Human Rights Minister, highlighting discriminatory legislation, such as blasphemy laws, and funding targeted programme work
The UK also regularly raises concerns regarding the protection of minorities at a senior level with the Government of Pakistan. In addition, the Coalition for Religious Equality and Inclusive Development, a UK Government-funded multi-country programme, has implemented a project in Pakistan to protect minorities who work as sewage and sanitation workers. I am confident that the Ministers will continue to urge the Government of Pakistan to guarantee the rights of all its citizens, regardless of their religion or belief.
Lord Ahmad has publicly condemned the targeted killings of Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan. I share in his condemnation and would like to assure you that my thoughts are with the victims' families.
I know HMG is deeply concerned at the misuse of blasphemy laws in Pakistan. UK officials continue to press for speedy and fair trials for those accused of blasphemy, including cases such as Qaiser and Amoon Ayub, and urge the authorities to ensure the safety of those charged with blasphemy. The British High Commissioner in Islamabad raised the misuse of the blasphemy laws in his meeting in June with Pakistan's Human Rights Minister, Mian Riaz Hussain Pirzada.
I can assure you that the UK is firmly opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances and every country, as a matter of principle, and makes this clear to the Pakistani authorities on a regular basis.
I appreciate the concern following the arrest of the former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan by the military, which the Supreme Court of Pakistan has now ruled as unlawful. I join Ministers in strongly condemning acts of political violence, and support the UK Government in its endeavour to protect basic human rights and an open civic society in Pakistan. I know that the British High Commission in Islamabad is closely monitoring the situation regarding Mr Khan, and that the Minister of State for South Asia has spoken to the High Commissioner for Pakistan to the UK and to Pakistan’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs.
I understand that Shahid Hussain was released on 27 March. More broadly, be assured that HMG is aware of reports of arrests and continues to monitor the situation on the ground. As always, where there are credible allegations of human rights violations, HMG will hold Pakistan to account to investigate in line with due process.
I join Ministers in strongly condemning the abduction, rape, forced conversion or marriage of women and girls from religious minorities in Pakistan. Indeed, the International Development Strategy emphasises the importance of taking account of intersectionality and those facing multiple exclusions including on the basis of their ethnicity, religion or belief. Building on this, I am encouraged that the FCDO remains committed to targeting future aid to Pakistan's marginalised groups and has developed a Pakistan Network Gender Strategy (2022-27) to increase its focus on women and girls.
FCDO Ministers also regularly highlight their concern over gender equality and the need to address persecution, promote respect for all religions, and increase tolerance for religious minorities with senior officials in Pakistan. During his visit in 2021, Lord Ahmad met with interfaith leaders to understand the situation of minorities in Pakistan, particularly the issues of forced conversion and marriages of young girls.
In line with this, I welcome that the UK has announced £18 million of new funding to prevent child marriage. UK Aid is also working with UN agencies and civil society to counter and respond to violence against children, including but not limited to child marriage, and to raise awareness of the harms of early and forced marriages with communities and improve the relevant legislation.
I hope this has reassured you that Ministers in London, and officials based in the UK High Commission in Islamabad and at the UN, will continue to monitor the situation in Pakistan and urge the Government of Pakistan to guarantee the rights of all, as laid down in their Constitution and in accordance with international standards.