Pakistan's human rights record in 2019 was "greatly worrisome" with systematic curbs on political dissent and chokehold on press freedom, the country's human rights commission said in its annual report, warning that the ongoing coronavirus pandemic will worsen the condition of the most vulnerable, including the religious minorities.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) in the report released on Thursday also pointed that the religious minorities remained unable to enjoy the freedom of religion or belief guaranteed to them under the Constitution.
"For many communities, this has meant the desecration of their sites of worship, the forced conversion of young women, and constant discrimination in access to employment," said the report 'State of Human Rights in 2019'.
The HRCP said that widespread social and economic marginalisation have left the weakest segments of society invisible and unheard. HRCP's honourary spokesperson I A Rehman during the release of the report termed Pakistan's human rights record in 2019 "greatly worrisome", adding that the ongoing global pandemic "is likely to cast a long shadow on prospects for human rights."
"Last year will be remembered for systematic curbs on political dissent, the chokehold on press freedom, and the grievous neglect of economic and social rights," HRCP's secretary-general Harris Khalique said.
Lamenting that Pakistan has failed to protect its most vulnerable, the HRCP said "reports of child labourers being sexually abused in mines surfaced in Balochistan, while news of young children being raped, murdered and dumped has become frighteningly common."
Listing the human rights failings, the report pointed unabated honour killings, forced conversions of minority under-age girls and continued use of a blasphemy law that carries the death penalty to intimidate and settle scores.
A number of cases of forced marriages involving Sikh and Hindu girls have been reported in recent times, prompting India to take up the issue with the Pakistan government.
Prime Minister Imran Khan during his election campaign had said his party's agenda was to uplift the various religious groups across Pakistan and said they would take effective measures to prevent forced marriages of Hindu girls.
However, there has been several incidents of forced conversions and marriages of girls from Hindu, Sikh and Christian communities.
"Women continued to bear the brunt of society's fixation with 'honour', with Punjab accounting for the highest proportion of 'honour' crimes," it said.
On freedom of press in the country, the report said several journalists reported that it had become even more difficult to criticise state policy.
"This coupled with the erosion of social media spaces and a deliberate financial squeeze on the media, 'led to Pakistan's position slipping on the World Press Freedom Index.' former HRCP chairperson Zohra Yusuf said.
It also said that while Pakistan witnessed the first-ever conviction of a former military ruler for high treason, constitutional compliance remains a major cause for concern.
The report noted that Pakistan did not protect those to whom it had a duty of care: prisoners in the country's sorely overpopulated jails remained relegated to subhuman level.
According to the report, prisons in Pakistan remained appallingly overcrowded, with an occupancy rate of 133.8 per cent.
Overcrowding, unhygienic conditions and poor medical facilities for prisoners remained constant concerns, increasing their vulnerability to tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and hepatitis, among other diseases, it said.