Pakistan

WASHINGTON – The United States has placed Pakistan on a special watch list “for severe violations of religious freedom”, a press release by the US State Department said on Thursday.

The announcement came as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson decided to re-designate about 10 countries as ‘Countries of Particular Concern’.

“The secretary also placed Pakistan on a Special Watch List for severe violations of religious freedom,” State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert said.

No other explanation on Pakistan was available immediately.

“Too many places around the globe, people continue to be persecuted, unjustly prosecuted, or imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief,” Nauert said in a statement.

“Today, a number of governments infringe upon individuals’ ability to adopt, change, or renounce their religion or belief, worship in accordance with their religion or beliefs, or be free from coercion to practice a particular religion or belief,” she said.

In accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, she said the secretary of state annually designates governments that have engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom as ‘Countries of Particular Concern’.

“Today, the Department of State announces that the Secretary of State re-designated Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan as Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) on December 22, 2017,” she said.

Noting that the protection of religious freedom is vital to peace, stability, and prosperity, Nauert said these designations are aimed at improving the respect for religious freedom in these countries.

“We recognise that several designated countries are working to improve their respect for religious freedom; we welcome these initiatives and look forward to continued dialogue,” Nauert said.

The US remains committed to working with governments, civil society organisations, and religious leaders to advance religious freedom around the world, she added.