File photo of US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo
File photo of US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo

US blacklists Pakistan for violating religious freedom

ANI | Updated: Dec 11, 2018 22:51 IST

Washington D.C. [USA], Dec 11 (ANI): The United States has designated Pakistan as one of the Countries of Particular Concern under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 for having engaged in or tolerated "systematic, ongoing, (and) egregious violations of religious freedom".
The US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo made the announcement on December 11, where he stated that Myanmar, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan, along with Pakistan have been designated under the Act.
The report mentioned that Pakistan, despite being asked to take corrective steps and change their behaviour to ensure respecting religious freedom, yet the government failed to "hold accountable perpetrators of killings and violence against members of religious minorities targeted on account of their religious beliefs or affiliations."
"Pakistan has been a country people have watched for some period of time.  Most recently, the prior Secretary of State, Secretary Tillerson, put them on the special Watch List to warn Pakistan really at the time that if they didn’t change their behavior, they were likely to be a Country of Particular Concern.  And the current Secretary, Pompeo, made that determination and then made them a Country of Particular Concern. It includes a number of things, unfortunately, that have happened in Pakistan – laws that criminalize blasphemy.  And they’ve got – in the world’s population of people that are in prison for blasphemy, half of them are in Pakistani prisons, including Asia Bibi recently, who was recently released and is now awaiting a re-hearing of sorts by the supreme court of Pakistan," said the report.
"Also, the Pakistani Government criminalizes the identification of Ahmadis as Muslims, and then also – and this one has really been difficult and troubling for a lot of people – the government often fails to hold accountable perpetrators of killings and violence against members of religious minorities targeted on account of their religious beliefs or affiliations," it added.
The report went on to say that the new Pakistani government would work to improve the current situation, while the US would continue to keep a watch on the Asia Bibi case.
"So for all these reasons, that’s why they were placed as a Country of Particular Concern.  It’s our hope that they will – the new leadership in Pakistan will work to improve the situation.  There was some encouraging signs seen recently on how they’ve handled some of the recent protesting against the blasphemy laws, and we continue to watch very carefully what’s happening to Asia Bibi," it said.

In Myanmar, the report also condemned the use of violence by the military forces against Rohingyas. "We recently sanctioned five Burmese generals and two military units. Prior, (former) Secretary (of State Rex) Tillerson designated it ethnic cleansing, and so it continues to be a highly watched and very keen area of interest, what’s taking place to the Rohingya and to other religious communities. The Kachin and Karen are also ones that are being persecuted in that nation, and all those together are reasons we obviously put them as a Country of Particular Concern on the list," the report elaborated.

In China, the report also outlined the blatant violation of religious freedom of minority communities, including Uighurs, Buddhists, Muslims and Christian communities in Tibet by the Chinese government.
"Regarding China, this is one of the just really worst human rights situations in the world, what’s happening to the Uighurs. The treatments of Muslims, of Christians, of the Buddhists, over a long period of time in Tibet – have been persecuted to the point where a number of Tibetan Buddhists have self-immolated.  And Falun Gong practitioners have been persecuted systemically for a long period of time.  So for all those reasons – this is one of the obvious ones – we’ve kept China on a Country of Particular Concern," it said.
"They’ve increased these actions of persecution against faith community.  Reports of 800,000, up to two million detentions in the western part of China of Uighurs, but also ethnic Kazakhs and other ethnic groups in the region that have generally a Muslim-based population.  China isn’t backing away from the religious persecution; it seems to be expanding. This is obviously very troubling to the administration, the report added.
Pompeo remarked that safeguarding religious freedom is vital to ensuring peace, stability, and prosperity, and said: "These designations are aimed at improving the lives of individuals and the broader success of their societies. I recognise that several designated countries are working to improve their respect for religious freedom; I welcome such initiatives and look forward to continuing the dialogue."
"In far too many places across the globe, individuals continue to face harassment, arrests, or even death for simply living their lives in accordance with their beliefs. The United States will not stand by as spectators in the face of such oppression," the US Secretary of State remarked.
"Protecting and promoting international religious freedom is a top foreign policy priority of the Trump Administration," he further stated.
Pompeo also mentioned that he had placed Comoros, Russia, and Uzbekistan on a Special Watch List for governments that have engaged in or tolerated “severe violations of religious freedom.”
"Finally, I designated al-Nusra Front, al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Qa'ida, al-Shabab, Boko Haram, the Houthis, ISIS, ISIS-Khorasan, and the Taliban as Entities of Particular Concern," Pompeo announced.
He reaffirmed the United States' commitment to working with governments, civil society organisations, and religious leaders in advancing religious freedom around the world in his concluding remarks. (ANI)