USA places Pakistan on watch list for violations of religious freedom

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Federal Minister for Religious Affairs Sardar Muhammad Yousaf told RFE/RL on January 5 - a day after the United States designated Pakistan as a "country of particular concern" for having "engaged in or tolerated violations of religious freedom" - that the move was another blow to bilateral relations.

The department re-designated the countries under the International Religious Freedom Act and placed Pakistan on a special watch list for "severe violations of religious freedom". Pakistan was also placed on a special watch list, the State Department added.

The U.S. State Department has singled out Pakistan, Iran, and three Central Asian countries for policies violating religious freedom.

The FO said Pakistan will continue to work with the worldwide community to ensure that internationally agreed standards on religious freedom are observed in Pakistan and the broader region.

The State Department did not break down alleged violations of religious freedoms for each country on the lists.

President Trump has recently criticized Pakistan for giving "safe haven to terrorists".

The Special Watch List designation is recognition by the US government that Pakistan meets the CPC threshold. All 10 countries were re-designated on December 22.

Pakistan, which is an Islamic republic, has been under scrutiny for its treatment of religious minorities in the country.

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Vietnam was previously designated as a CPC, but was taken off the list about a decade ago, in opposition to USCIRF's recommendation.

A bipartisan group of six senators, including Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR), asked Tillerson in October to make Pakistan a CPC, citing systematic religious oppression.

According to Under Caesar's Sword, a religious freedom project by the University of Notre Dame, Christians suffer tremendously both at the hands of these discriminatory laws and at the hands of violent mobs, which regularly congregate to attack and kill Christians accused of blasphemy.

"At least 40 people are now sentenced to death or are serving life sentences for blasphemy", they wrote. "Additionally, provincial textbooks with discriminatory content against minorities remain a significant concern".

"However, I am troubled that Vietnam was again not designated this year", he said.

He pledged they would be "standing in solidarity with the people who are advocating for religious freedom and other human rights".

It is interesting and welcome to note that in spite of the USA decision to permanently lift certain sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Sudan that were lifted conditionally by President Obama, Sudan remains (rightfully so) a Country of Particular Concern.