The United States is committed to promoting religious freedom around the world, including in South Asia. Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom David Saperstein said that while there have been positive developments from both governments and civil society in South Asia, serious challenges remain.
In Pakistan, the government has made significant efforts under its National Action Plan to combat sectarianism and violent extremism, however violence against religious minorities at the hands of extremists continues. In addition, blasphemy laws are still on the books and convictions still occur, with over 20 people currently sentenced to death or serving life sentences for blasphemy convictions. The United States opposes blasphemy laws, apostasy laws, and punishment of conversion laws everywhere. Such legislation is too frequently used to oppress those whose religious beliefs differ from the majority.
In India, faith communities are mobilizing to challenge violent extremism. At the same time, India has seen its share of communal violence. One non-governmental organization reported that there was an attack on a Christian almost every day in 2015 in India.
Sri Lanka is in the process of drafting a new constitution and is one of the few situations where "there has been notable change in a positive direction," said Ambassador Saperstein. January brought the arrest of the leader of Bodu Bala Sena, a violent group that victimized Sri Lanka's religious minorities.
In Nepal, ethnic and religious tensions remain and the constitution includes a provision against conversions. In Bangladesh, extremists have targeted secular bloggers, brutally murdering them. The U.S. is also concerned about an increase in violence against religious minorities and their places of worship by militants claiming affiliation with ISIL.
"No nation," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has said, "can fulfill its potential if its people are denied the right to practice, to hold, to modify, to openly profess their innermost beliefs."