Saturday Dec 21 2019
Web Desk

US 're-designates' Pakistan as 'country of particular concern' for religious freedoms

Web Desk
A woman leaves the US State Department building in Washington. Photo: Reuters

The United States Department of State on Wednesday re-designated Pakistan on a watch-list of countries deemed involved in persecution and discrimination on the basis of religion or belief. 

According to a press release issued by the state department, the US government identified Pakistan as a "Country of Particular Concern" for having engaged in or tolerated “systematic, ongoing, [and] egregious violations of religious freedom". 

Acting under the US International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the state department also listed Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan on the watch-list. 

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Pakistan has been re-designated on the watch-list despite taking measures aimed at improving the treatment of minorities in the country, and reducing discrimination based on religion or belief. 

In November this year, Prime Minister Imran Khan inaugurated the Kartarpur Corridor with India to facilitate pilgrims visiting Gurdwara Kartapur Sahib in Pakistan, one of the religion's holiest sites. 

Last year, the Supreme Court in Pakistan had acquitted Asia Bibi, a Christian woman wrongfully sentenced to death over blasphemy allegations, and ordered her immediate release from prison. 

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However, in the listing released earlier this week, the US said that it had listed a handful of countries, including Pakistan, on the watch-list of violators of religious freedom and belief.

"The protection of religious freedom is a top Trump Administration foreign policy priority. Persecution and discrimination on the basis of religion or belief exists in every region of the world," the US said.

"The United States continues to work diligently to promote religious freedom and combat abuses. These recent designations continue that important work," the statement of the state department added. 

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In the newly released listing, the US renewed the placement of Comoros, Russia, and Uzbekistan on a Special Watch List (SWL) of violators of religious freedoms, and added Cuba, Nicaragua, Nigeria, and Sudan to it.

According to the statement, the countries on the SWL "have engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom". Sudan was on the main watch-list last year, but has this year been placed on the special watch-list. 

"Sudan was moved to the SWL due to significant steps taken by the civilian-led transitional government to address the previous regime’s violations of religious freedom," the state department said. 

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In addition to the listing of countries, the US has also desingated the al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Qaea, al-Shabab, Boko Haram, the Houthis, Daesh, IS-Khorasan, and the Taliban as Entities of Particular Concern.

"Our actions have been, and will continue to be, consistent with our position on religious freedom. No country, entity, or individual should be able to persecute people of faith without accountability," the state department maintained.