The Boris Johnson government has expressed concern over opposition in Pakistan to the construction of a new Hindu temple in Islamabad and has raised the issue of freedom of religion or belief with the country’s authorities at a senior level.
Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, speaker of the Punjab assembly, is among several elements who have opposed the proposed Shri Krishna temple after the Imran Khan government allocated Rs 100 million for its construction. They contend that it is against the spirit of Islam.
Tariq Ahmad, minister in the Foreign Office, told crossbench peer David Alton, who raised the issue in the House of Lords, that the government is in contact with Hindu community groups in Pakistan and is monitoring the situation closely.
Ahmad said: “We are concerned by any comments which suggest that there should be restrictions on Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB)… We engage at a senior level with the Pakistani Government on our concerns about FoRB and the mistreatment of religious and ethnic groups”.
“Our High Commission in Islamabad frequently engages with the Hindu community to understand their needs. I raised our concerns about FoRB and the protection of minority religious communities with Pakistan’s Human Rights Minister, Dr Shireen Mazari, on 5 June”.
“The UK High Commissioner to Pakistan raised our concerns about FoRB with Pakistan’s Human Rights Minister on 8 June. We will continue to urge the Government of Pakistan at senior levels to guarantee the fundamental rights of its citizens, regardless of their belief, in accordance with international standards”.
Alton, a former Liberal Democrats MP from Liverpool and now a member of the House of Lords, asked the government what assessment it had made of the statement by the Punjab assembly speaker opposing the temple.
“(What) representations they intend to make to the government of Pakistan about (1) the obligations under Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and (2) the freedom of religion or belief”, he asked.
Besides opposition from Elahi and religious groups, the row over temple construction has also reached Pakistan’s courts. A partially built boundary wall as part of the temple construction has reportedly been demolished.