Global Human Rights Defence

COVID-19 intensifies religious discrimination in Pakistan

Volunteers distribute free food rations to daily wage workers and others amid COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: The Diplomat 

In Pakistan, the climate of terror and violence that ethnic and religious minorities face has remained relatively unaltered in recent years. However, COVID-19 has exacerbated the detrimental situation of religious minorities in Pakistan, even if one would think that a global pandemic would bring society together (Mirza, 2020a). Indeed, in Pakistan, there are numerous pieces of evidence of COVID-19 having the effect of compromising the rights of religious minorities, ultimately leading to abuses of the latter (Kelly, 2020). 

Religious minorities in Pakistan have been facing rampant discrimination amid the COVID-19 pandemic, from referring to the virus as “the Shia virus” to requiring Christians to recite the kalima to receive free food rations (Mirza, 2020a). The COVID-19 pandemic, which has resulted in over 950.000 total cases and over 22.000 deaths in Pakistan (Worldometers, n.d.), has shown that the country’s need to provide equal treatment to minorities is more pressing than ever (Joshi R. & Joshi E, 2020).

Accordingly, this article highlights several incidents that portray how the situation of Pakistan’s minority groups has deteriorated dramatically. 

Referring to COVID-19 as “the Shia virus.”

On the 1st and 2nd of April 2020, a conversation went viral across Whatsapp groups in Quetta, Pakistan. The participants blamed Hazara Shias for “going to Iran and bringing viruses to Pakistan” (Mirza, 2020b). This was plausible across Pakistani society because many Pakistanis regularly move in-between Iran and Pakistani, especially Shia pilgrims, traders and tourists (Mirza, 2020b). 

In the conversation, one of the speakers claimed that Hazara Shias were infecting other people, telling all his friends that if a Shia came into their office, they should inform that “the office is closed” (Mirza, 2020b). Also, a coordinated campaign on Twitter in which people referred to COVID-19 as the “Shia virus” spread rapidly (Mirza, 2020a). 

Shia community specifically targeted by quarantine measures 

Before any formal nationwide lockdown, the public authorities in Balochistan began to declare measures explicitly targeting and restricting the movements of Hazara Shias (2020b). Because the province of Balochistan shares a border with Iran, its provincial government established quarantine camps for Shia pilgrims returning from Iran (Mirza, 2020b). However, the conditions in the camp were not liveable: there was no real housing, no bathrooms, towels or blankets (Ellis-Petersen & Baloch, 2020). Mohammed Bakir, who was held in this camp for two weeks, described the camp as “no more than a prison, the dirtiest place I have ever stayed in my life” (Ellis-Petersen & Baloch, 2020). 

Nonetheless, this is not the only instance of the Shia community being targeted explicitly by quarantine measures. On the 12th of March 2020, the Inspector General of Police in Balochistan explicitly stated that “staff belonging to the Hazara tribe” should be immediately sent home to prevent the outbreak of COVID-19, implying that they were the carriers of the virus (Changezi, 2020). Many other incidents of targeted discrimination go unnoticed because they are not reported. According to Aman (2020), a prominent activist from the Hazara community, Shia Hazaras are clearly experiencing discriminatory treatment when they are sent on leave, impeding them from attending to their jobs while other colleagues practice their duty regularly. 

Denial of food rations to Hindus and Christians 

On the 28th of March 2020, members of the Hindu community were denied food ration bags in Karachi by one of the leading welfare organisations in the area, Saylani Welfare Trust (Digital Desk, 2020). The NGO, established in Karachi to aid homeless and seasonal workers, refused to provide food aid to Hindus because “the aid was reserved for Muslims alone” (Hindustan Times, 2020). Vishal Anand, founder and chairman of the Hindu Youth Council, stated that “when they saw our CNIC [identity cards], they refused to give the ration bags, saying it’s not for Hindus” (Mirza, 2020a). 

By the same token, Christians confirmed that the same organisation denied them food unless they recited the kalima, a declaration of Islamic faith (Mirza, 2020a). 

Against this background, Mirza (2020a), a news writer in The Diplomat, correctly links such discriminatory practices to the fact that even though these philanthropic organisations are operationally diverse and usually offer food to thousands of people regardless of their faith, the presence of local religious clerics has an unavoidable influence on the volunteers that are on the ground, who can eventually act in complete opposition to the organisation’s vision and ideology.

Women in Pakistan face more domestic violence during the COVID-19 outbreak

COVID-19 has further exacerbated Pakistan’s appalling situation for women and girls (Bano & Waqar, 2020). According to news reports released by the Punjab Safe City Authority (PSCA), domestic abuse and gender-based violence increased during the lockdown (Warraich, 2020). Hostility and violent behaviour towards women inside Pakistani households have escalated as a result of enforced immobility and the worsening of economic activity (Mahar, 2020). 

Moreover, women are remarkably more exposed to COVID-19, given that, according to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, 80% of the employees in the health sector in Pakistan are women (Bano & Wagar, 2020). This has led women to work even when they are sick in many circumstances (Bano & Wagar, 2020). 


Coronavirus: Confirmed cases in Pakistan cross 1500, some blame Shias as pilgrims returning from Iran were among first cases (2020, March 29). OpIndia. Available at rn-from-iran-taftan-border/

USCIRF says “troubled” by denial of food to Pakistani Hindus, Christians amid Covid-19 crisis (2020, April 14). Hindustan Times. Available at pakistani-hindus-christians/story-E4XHUc6GOs2TfURkTelnFK.html 

Aman, M. (2020, July 9). “Go in Disguise to Receive Medical Treatment” – Religious Discrimination in Pakistan. Institute of Development Studies. Available at -religious-discrimination-in-pakistan/ 

Bano, K. & Waqar, K. (2020, October 1). Covid-19 and Gender Inequality in Pakistan. ICIMOD. 

Changezi, S.H. (2020, March 29). Social boycott? Dawn. Available at WRPUYOLX__YROkEPnbYlXkZ24oeqNfKJbTup_T2Ts98

Digital Desk (2020, March 30). Pakistan Denying Hindus Food Amid Coronavirus Outbreak? Sirsa Slams “Human Rights” Abuse. Republic World. Available at -amid-coronavirus-outbreak-sirsa-slams.html 

Ellis-Petersen, H. & Baloch, S.M. (2020, March 19). Pakistan coronavirus camp: “No facilities, no humanity”. The Guardian. Available at es-no-humanity 

Joshi, R. & Joshi E. (2020, July 8). COVID-19: A Catalyst for Minority Exploitation in Pakistan. Columbia University Journal of International Affairs istan 

Kelly, L. (2020, November 6). Covid 19 and the rights of members of belief minorities. Knowledge, evidence and learning for development. Available at nd_religious_minorities.pdf?sequence=3&isAllowed=y 

Khokhar, S. (2020, March 30). Coronavirus: Karachi NGO denies food to poor Hindus and Christians. Asia News. Available at -Christians-49699.html 

Mahar, M. (2020, April 13). Increased Domestic Violence After COVID-19 Lockdown. Daily Times n/ 

Mirza, J.A. (2020a, April 28). COVID-19 Fans Religious Discrimination in Pakistan. The Diplomat. Available at 

Mirza, J. A. (2020b, April 17). Pakistan’s Hazara Shia minority blamed for spread of Covid-19. Institute of Development Studies. Available at vid-19/ 

Newman, A.J. (2020, January 28). Shi’i. Encyclopedia Britannica. Available at 

Warraich, S. (2020, June 28). Locked Down and Vulnerable. The News on Sunday. 

Worldometers (n.d.). Reported Cases and Deaths by Country or Territory. Covid-19 Coronavirus Pandemic. Available at

6 thoughts on “COVID-19 intensifies religious discrimination in Pakistan”

  1. There are so many entertaining and informative news. News 360 is under its umbrella brings you different genres of programming including General Entertainment, Infotainment, News, Current Affairs, Fashion, Beauty, Food, Health, and Music.

  2. Its like you read my mind! You seem to know a lot about this, like you wrote the book in it or something.

    I think that you can do with some pics to drive the message home a bit, but other than that, this is wonderful blog.
    A great read. I will definitely be back.

  3. Excellent goods from you, man. I have understand your stuff previous to and you’re just too magnificent.

    I actually like what you have acquired here, certainly like
    what you’re stating and the way in which you say it. You make
    it entertaining and you still care for to keep it wise.
    I can’t wait to read much more from you. This is actually a great website.

  4. We are a group of volunteers and starting a new scheme in our community.
    Your site offered us with useful info to work on. You’ve
    performed an impressive process and our entire community will likely be thankful to you.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.


Coordinator - Tibet Team

Mandakini graduated with honours from the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights. Her team analyses the human rights violations faced by Tibetans through a legal lens.

Kenza Mena
Team Coordinator -China

Kenza Mena has expertise in international criminal law since she is currently pursuing a last-year Master’s degree in International Criminal Justice at Paris II Panthéon-Assas and obtained with honors cum laude an LLM in International and Transnational Criminal Law from the University of Amsterdam. She also holds a Bachelor’s degree in French and Anglo-American law. 

Since September 2021, she has been the coordinator of Team China at GHRD, a country where violations of human rights, even international crimes, are frequently perpetrated by representatives of the State. Within Team China, awareness is also raised on discrimination that Chinese women and minorities in the country and, more generally, Chinese people around the world are facing.

Kenza believes that the primary key step to tackle atrocities perpetrated around the world is advocacy and promotion of human rights.

Aimilina Sarafi
Pakistan Coordinator

Aimilina Sarafi holds a Bachelor’s degree cum laude in International Relations and Organisations from Leiden University and is currently pursuing a Double Legal Master’s degree (LLM) in Public International Law and International Criminal Law at the University of Amsterdam.
She is an active advocate for the human rights of all peoples in her community and is passionate about creating a better world for future generations. Aimilina is the coordinator for the GHRD team of Pakistan, in which human rights violations of minority communities in Pakistan are investigated and legally evaluated based on international human rights legal standards.
Her team is working on raising awareness on the plight of minority communities such as women, children, religious and ethnic minorities within Pakistan.

Lukas Mitidieri
Coordinator & Head Researcher- Bangladesh

Lucas Mitidieri is currently pursuing his bachelor’s degree in International Relations at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). As the GHRD Bangladesh Team Coordinator, he advocates for human rights and monitors violations across all minorities and marginalized groups in Bangladesh. Lucas believes that the fight for International Human Rights is the key to a world with better social justice and greater equality.

Nicole Hutchinson
Editorial Team Lead

Nicole has an MSc in International Development Studies with a focus on migration. She is passionate about promoting human rights and fighting poverty through advocacy and empowering human choice. Nicole believes that even the simplest social justice efforts, when properly nurtured, can bring about radical and positive change worldwide.

Gabriela Johannen
Coordinator & Head Researcher – India

Gabriela Johannen is a lawyer admitted to the German bar and holds extensive knowledge in the fields of human rights, refugee law, and international law. After working for various courts and law firms in her home country, she decided to obtain an LL.M. degree from Utrecht University where she studied Public International Law with a special focus on Human Rights. Additionally, while working as a pro-bono legal advisor for refugees, she expanded her knowledge in the fields of refugee law and migration.

Gabriela is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD India, a country, she has had a personal connection with since childhood. Her primary focus is to raise awareness for the severe human rights violations against minorities and marginalized groups that continue to occur on a daily basis in India. By emphasizing the happenings and educating the general public, she hopes to create a better world for future generations.

João Victor
Coordinator & Head Researcher – International Justice

João Victor is a young Brazilian lawyer who leads our team of International Justice and Human Rights. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Law from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and possesses over 5 years of experience in dealing with Human Rights and International Law issues both in Brazil and internationally, including the protection of refugees’ rights and the strengthening of accountability measures against torture crimes.

João has an extensive research engagement with subjects related to International Justice in general, and more specifically with the study of the jurisprudence of Human Rights Courts regarding the rise of populist and anti-terrorist measures taken by national governments. He is also interested in the different impacts that new technologies may provoke on the maintenance of Human Rights online, and how enforcing the due diligence rules among private technology companies might secure these rights against gross Human Rights violations.

Célinne Bodinger
Environment and Human Rights Coordinator

As the Environment and Human Rights Coordinator, Célinne is passionate about the health of our planet and every life on it.

Angela Roncetti
Team Coordinator and Head Researcher- South America

Angela holds a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) from Vitória Law School (FDV) in Brazil. Her research combines more than five years of experience conducting debates and studies on the rights of homeless people, the elderly, children, and refugees. Besides that, she also volunteers in a social project called Sou Diferente (I am Different in English), where she coordinates and takes part in actions aimed at the assistance and the emancipation of vulnerable groups in the cities of the metropolitan area of Espírito Santo state (Brazil).

Lina Borchardt
Team Head (Promotions)

She is currently heading the Promotions Team and University Chapter of Global Human Rights Defence. Her background is the one of European and International Law, which I am studying in The Hague. She has previously gained experience at Women´s Rights organizations in Germany, the Netherlands and Turkey over the past years.
She has been working for Global Human Rights Defence in the Netherlands since 2020. Her focus now is concentrated on the Human Rights and Minorities Film Festival and the cooperation of GHRD with students across the country.

Pedro Ivo Oliveira
Team Coordinator and Researcher

Pedro holds an extensive background in Human Rights, especially in Global Health, LGBTQ+ issues, and HIV and AIDS. He is currently finishing his Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations and Affairs at the Pontifical Catholic University of Minas Gerais, Brazil. Moreover, he successfully attended the Bilingual Summer School in Human Rights Education promoted by the Federal University of Minas Gerais and the Association of Universities of the Montevideo Group. Besides, Pedro Ivo has a diversified professional background, collecting experiences in many NGOs and projects.

With outstanding leadership abilities, in 2021, Pedro Ivo was the Secretary-General of the 22nd edition of the biggest UN Model in Latin America: the MINIONU. Fluent in Portuguese, English, and Spanish, Pedro Ivo is the Team Coordinator and Head Researcher of the Team Africa at Global Human Rights Defence. Hence, his focus is to empower his team from many parts of the world about the Human Rights Situation in the African continent, meanwhile having a humanized approach.

Alessandro Cosmo
GHRD Youth Ambassador
(European Union)

Alessandro Cosmo obtained his B.A. with Honors from Leiden University College where he studied International Law with a minor in Social and Business Entrepreneurship. He is currently pursuing an LL.M. in Public International Law at Utrecht University with a specialization in Conflict and Security. 
As GHRD’s E.U. Youth Ambassador, Alessandro’s two main focuses are to broaden the Defence’s reach within E.U. institutions and political parties, as well as mediate relations between human rights organizations abroad seeking European funding. 
Alessandro believes that human rights advocacy requires grass-roots initiatives where victims’ voices are amplified and not paraphrased or spoken for. He will therefore act on this agenda when representing Global Human Rights Defence domestically and abroad

Veronica Delgado
Team Coordinator and Researcher- Japan, Sri Lanka & Tibet

Veronica is a Colombian lawyer who leads our team of Japan, Sri Lanka and Tibet. She holds a master’s degree in Public International Law from Utrecht University. She has experience in Colombian law firms. Here she represented clients before constitutional courts. She also outlined legal concepts to state entities such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ombudsman’s Office on international law issues.

Veronica has an extensive research background with subjects related to public international law. She worked as an assistant researcher for more than two years for the Externado University of Colombia. Here she undertook in-depth research on constitutional, business, and human rights law issues. She was involved with consultancy services with the Colombian Army regarding transitional justice. 

Wiktoria Walczyk
Coordinator & Head Researcher (Nepal & Indonesia)

Wiktoria Walczyk has joined GHRD in June 2020 as a legal intern. She is currently coordinator and head researcher of Team Nepal and Indonesia. She has an extensive legal knowledge concerning international human rights and is passionate about children’s and minorities’ rights. Wiktoria has obtained her LL.B. in International & European Law and she specialised in Public International Law & Human Rights at The Hague University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands. Moreover, she is pursuing her LL.M. in International & European Law and focusing on Modern Human Rights Law specialisation at the University of Wroclaw in Poland. In order to gain an essential legal experience, Wiktoria has also joined Credit Suisse’s 2021 General Counsel Graduate First Program where she is conducting her legal training and discovering the banking world. She would like to make a significant impact when it comes to the protection of fundamental human rights around the world, especially with regard to child labour. 

Fairuz Sewbaks
Coordinator and Head Researcher

Fairuz Sewbaks holds extensive legal knowledge regarding international human rights, with a specific focus on human rights dealings taking place in continental Africa. She holds a bachelor’s degree from The Hague University in public international law and international human rights and successfully followed advanced human rights courses at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria. She furthermore participated in the Istanbul Summer School where she was educated about the role of epidemics and pandemics in light of human rights.


Fairuz is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD Africa. Her primary focus is to establish and coordinate long-term research projects regarding the differentiating human rights dealings of vulnerable and marginalized groups in continental Africa, as well as conducting individual research projects.

Priya Lachmansingh
Coordinator and Head Researcher, Political Advisor
(Asia & America)

Priya Lachmansingh is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in International & European
Law at the Hague University of Applied Science.
As GHRD’s Asia & America human rights coordinator and GHRD Political Advisor, Priya’s
prominent focus is to highlight human rights violations targeted against minority and
marginalized groups in Asia and America and to broaden GHRD reach within Dutch political
parties and as well seek domestic funding.

Jasmann Chatwal
Team Coordinator & Head Coordinator: North America

Jasmann is a political science student at Leiden University who joined GHRD in May 2021 as an intern in team Pakistan. Now, she is the team coordinator for North America and is responsible for coordinating the documentation of human rights violations in USA, Canada, and America.