The United States has placed Pakistan on a special watch list for “severe violations” of religious freedom, the State Department said.
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 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.
In November, Congressmen Randy Hultgren and James P McGovern, Co-Chairs of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, in a letter to Tillerson had urged him to designate Pakistan as CPC alleging it has engaged in systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom.
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom has been advocating for designating Pakistan as a CPC since 2002.
It has argued that the government of Pakistan continues “to perpetrate and tolerate systematic, ongoing, and egregious religious freedom violations. Religiously discriminatory constitutional provisions and legislation, such as the country’s blasphemy and anti-Ahmadiyya laws, continue to result in prosecutions and imprisonments”.
In a report last year, the Pew Research Center determined that over an eight-year period Pakistan is one of a small group of countries that “stand out as having the most restrictions on religion … when both government restrictions and religious hostilities are taken into account”.