Secretary of State Antony Blinken says Islamabad has ‘engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom’
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday once again designated Pakistan a “country of particular concern” over violations to religious freedom.
“I am designating Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, the DPRK [North Korea], Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan as Countries of Particular Concern for having engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom,” he said in a statement issued by the State Department.
“I am also placing Algeria, Comoros, Cuba, and Nicaragua on a Special Watch List for governments that have engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom,” he said, adding that Al Shabab, Boko Haram, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the Houthis, ISIS, ISIS-Greater Sahara, ISIS-West Africa, Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal-Muslimin, and the Taliban were being designated “Entities of Particular Concern.”
Blinken stressed that the U.S. would not waiver in its commitment to advocate freedom of religion in every country, noting that prevailing challenges were structural, systemic and deeply entrenched. “They exist in every country. They demand sustained global commitment from all who are willing to accept hatred, intolerance and persecution as the status quo. They require the international community’s urgent attention,” he added.
“We will continue to press all governments to remedy shortcomings in their laws and practices and to promote accountability for those responsible for abuses,” he said.
Pakistan was designated a “country of particular concern” over violations to religious freedom by the Trump administration in December 2018. It retained Islamabad’s designation in 2020. The Biden administration, which came to power in January, has retained the existing list, making just two changes by adding Russia and removing Sudan.
Under America’s International Religious Freedom Act, any country designated a “country of particular concern” is placed under economic sanctions. However, the State Department can exempt states from such penalties if there are “important national interests of the United States” requiring waivers.