The United States has added Pakistan to its blacklist of countries that violate religious freedom.
According to details, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he had designated Pakistan among “countries of particular concern” in a congressionally mandated annual report, meaning the US government is obliged to exert pressure to end freedom violations.
Pompeo a year earlier had placed Pakistan on a special watch.
“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,” Pompeo said in a statement.
“The United States will not stand by as spectators in the face of such oppression,” he said.
Nine countries remained for another year on the list of Countries of Particular Concern,which are China, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. They are accused of having engaged in or tolerated “systematic, ongoing, [and] egregious violations of religious freedom”.
The US removed Uzbekistan from the list but kept it on the watch list.
Pompeo also put on the watch list Russia, adding another item of contention to the relationship between the two powers.
Russia has increasingly drawn concern in the US over its treatment of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the heterodox Christian group known for proselytization.
Also on the watch list was the Comoros, the Indian Ocean archipelago that is almost exclusively Sunni Muslim.
In January, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recommended that Pakistan be designated as a “country of concern” because of its alleged “serious violations of religious freedom”.
The report for this year says that religious minorities in Pakistan continued to face attacks from extremist groups and society at large. It also noted that “abusive enforcement of the country’s strict blasphemy laws result in the suppression of rights for non-Muslims, Shia and Ahmedis”.