Pakistan will host the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Heads of Governments meeting in October this year.

This was stated by Spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Mumtaz Zahra Baloch at her weekly media briefing in Islamabad today.

The Spokesperson said Pakistan currently holds the rotating Chairmanship of the SCO Council of Heads of Government, which is SCO’s second-highest decision-making forum.

She said the October Summit will be preceded by a Ministerial meeting and several rounds of senior officials’ meetings, focusing on the financial, economic, socio-cultural and humanitarian cooperation among the SCO member states.

Replying to a question, Mumtaz Zahra Baloch said as the Chairmanship of the SCO belongs to Pakistan, so in this capacity, Pakistan will be extending invitations to all heads of government of SCO members states in the summit which will be held in person. She expressed the hope that all members of SCO will be represented at the Summit.

Turning to recent report on religious freedom released by the US States Department, the Spokesperson said Pakistan categorically rejects the baseless assertions made about Pakistan in the report. She said as a matter of principle, Pakistan opposes such unilateral reports that make observations on the internal affairs of sovereign states.

She said Pakistan believes that International Religious Freedom cannot be viewed from the lens of any single country’s social and legal perspective. She further said unilateral reports assessing other countries’ human rights situations are not free from political bias and present an incomplete and distorted picture.

The Spokesperson said the methodology adopted in preparing these reports and the mandate and expertise of its authors are not transparent.

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She said Pakistan strongly believes that each State itself has the primary responsibility to promote and protect the religious rights and freedoms of its nationals.

She categorically stated that Pakistani citizens are entitled to the freedom of religion and belief under the law and as enshrined in Pakistan’s constitution. These rights and constitutional guarantees are protected, upheld and reinforced by an independent judiciary. Such unilateral reports, therefore, do not contribute to the promotion of human rights.

About arrest of a prominent Kashmiri lawyer and former President of the High Court Bar Association, Mian Abdul Qayoom under fabricated charges in Indian illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir, the Spokesperson said his arrest is a clear act of political vendetta.

She said Pakistan urges the Indian authorities to release Mian Abdul Qayoom and thousands of other Kashmiri political prisoners, dissenters and human rights’ defenders.

Mumtaz Zahra Baloch reiterated Pakistan will continue to extend political, diplomatic and moral support to our Kashmiri brothers and sisters for the just and peaceful settlement of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute in accordance with the UN Security Council resolutions.

Talking about prevailing situation in Palestine, she said the government has decided to allow medical students from Gaza to complete their medical education in Pakistan. The decision has been made on the directions of Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Mohammad Ishaq Dar by the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council.

She said the step will enable Gaza students to continue their medical education in Pakistan on humanitarian grounds.

The Spokesperson said the decision will also enable students from Gaza to complete their medical education in Pakistan in the fields of cardiology, orthopedics, oncology, pediatrics and surgery to address the critical needs in Gaza’s health care system.

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