US downgrades Pakistan in religious freedom rankings

US downgrades Pakistan in religious freedom rankings

Men protest in Lahore, Pakistan, Oct. 31, after the Supreme Court acquitted Asia Bibi, a Christian accused of blasphemy. (Credit: Rahat Dar, EPA via CNS.)

The Trump administration on Tuesday placed Pakistan on its annual list of worst offenders for nations that infringe on religious freedom.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Trump administration on Tuesday placed Pakistan on its annual list of worst offenders for nations that infringe on religious freedom.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement he added Pakistan to the U.S. list of “countries of particular concern” regarding protection for people to worship according to their beliefs. Pakistan had previously been on a special watch list for religious freedom. The downgrade means that Pakistan could be hit with U.S. sanctions although such penalties have generally been waived in the past.

Other countries on the blacklist, which calls out nations for “systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom,” are China, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. All had been so designated in last year’s list. Uzbekistan had previously been named a “country of particular concern,” but Pompeo upgraded it to the special watch list. The watch list now also includes the Comoros Islands and Russia.

In addition, Pompeo designated several Islamic militant groups as “entities of particular concern” as they do not meet the definition of countries. Those are the al-Nusra front in Syria, the Yemen-based al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Qaida, Somalia’s al-Shabab, Boko Haram in West Africa, Yemen’s Houthi rebels, the Islamic State and the Taliban.

“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. “The United States will not stand by as spectators in the face of such oppression.”

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