In statement, U.S. State Department says designation applies to nations that have tolerated ‘violations of religious freedom’
The U.S. Department of State on Friday announced that it was retaining Pakistan among ‘Countries of Particular Concern’ over its tolerance for ‘violations of religious freedom.’
The designation, announced in a statement by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, is in line with the United States’ desire to “work diligently to promote religious freedom and combat abuses.” It says that the designation, which comes the same week that a court in Pakistan sentenced university lecturer Junaid Hafeez to death on charges of blasphemy, was finalized on Dec. 18.
Countries in this category can face further actions, including economic sanctions, by the United States.
“On Dec. 18, 2019, the Department of State re-designated Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan as 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’,” says the statement.
It also notes that Comoros, Russia, Uzbekistan, Cuba, Nicaragua, Nigeria, and Sudan are on a “Special Watch List” for governments that have engaged in or tolerated “severe violations of religious freedom.”
The statement said that terror groups Al-Nusra Front, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Al Qaeda, Al-Shabab, Boko Haram, the Houthis, Islamic State, Islamic State in the Khorasan, and the Afghan Taliban had been designated “Entities of Particular Concern” for similar abuses of religious freedom.
According to Pompeo, these designations “underscore the United States’ commitment to protect those who seek to exercise their freedom of religion or belief.”
The statement concluded with Pompeo saying the U.S. would “continue to challenge state and non-state entities that seek to infringe upon those fundamental rights and to ensure they are held to account for their actions.” He added: “Our actions have been, and will continue to be, consistent with our position on religious freedom. No country, entity, or individual should be able to persecute people of faith without accountability. We have acted, and we will continue to do so.”