WASHINGTON: A US commission mandated to monitor international religious freedom has expressed concern over reports of a provincial government in Pakistan targeting and "scapegoating" the already vulnerable and marginalised Shiite Hazara ethnic minority community for the spread of the deadly novel coronavirus in the country.
In Quetta, capital of Balochistan, the government has completely sealed off two areas of the Hazara community- Hazara Town and Marriabad- as part of lockdown in the city, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said in a press statement on Tuesday.
The government also forbade government employees from travelling into Hazara neighborhoods, and reportedly forced Hazara policemen to go on leave under suspicion they are infected by relatives, the statement said.
"We are troubled that government officials in Balochistan are scapegoating the already vulnerable and marginalized Hazara Shi'a community for this public health crisis," said USCIRF Commissioner Anurima Bhargava.
"This virus does not recognise religion, ethnicity, or border and should not be used as an excuse to discriminate against a single community," Bhargava said.
This isolation and further stigmatization of the Hazara minority could limit their ability to receive proper medical care as the coronavirus continues to spread within Pakistan and stretch its public health infrastructure, it said.
"We are gravely concerned about Pakistan's Hazara Shi'a community, 'said USCIRF Commissioner Johnnie Moore.
Noting that there are many challenges faced by the Pakistan government, and many other governments around the world to contain the virus, Moore said, "yet, we urge the Pakistani leadership to work to protect all its citizens, regardless of religion or belief, and ensure that everyone has equal access to the necessary medical treatment.
"In fact, governments have a greater obligation to protect the most vulnerable in an emergency like this one," he said.
The coronavirus cases in Pakistan crossed 2,000 on Wednesday. So far, 26 people have died of the disease.