US designates Pak, China as countries of particular concern for violation of religious freedom


PTI, Dec 8, 2020, 8:37 AM IST

Washington: The US has designated Pakistan and China among eight other countries that are of particular concern for violation of religious freedom, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said.

Pakistan and China along with Myanmar, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan were placed in the list for engaging in or tolerating “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom”, Pompeo said in a statement on Monday.

The State Department placed the Comoros, Cuba, Nicaragua and Russia on a Special Watch List (SWL) for governments that have engaged in or tolerated “severe violations of religious freedom”.

“Religious freedom is an unalienable right, and the bedrock upon which free societies are built and flourish. Today, the United States — a nation founded by those fleeing religious persecution, as the recent Commission on Unalienable Rights report noted — once again took action to defend those who simply want to exercise this essential freedom,” Pompeo said.

The US also designated al-Shabaab, al-Qaida, Boko Haram, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the Houthis, ISIS, ISIS-Greater Sahara, ISIS-West Africa, Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin and the Taliban as ”Entities of Particular Concern”.

Pompeo said the US did not renew the prior ”Entity of Particular Concern” designations for al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS-Khorasan due to the total loss of territory formerly controlled by these terrorist organisations.

“While these two groups no longer meet the statutory criteria for designation, we will not rest until we have fully eliminated the threat of religious freedom abuses by any violent extremist and terrorist groups,” he said.

Pompeo said Sudan and Uzbekistan have been removed from the Special Watch List based on significant, concrete progress undertaken by their respective governments over the past year.

“Their courageous reforms of their laws and practices stand as models for other nations to follow,” he said.

However, our work is far from complete. Pompeo said, adding that the US will continue to work tirelessly to end religiously motivated abuses and persecution around the world, and to help ensure that each person, everywhere, at all times, has the right to live according to the dictates of conscience.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) praised the State Department”s move to put 10 nations in the list of Countries of Particular Concern (CPCs), including Nigeria for the first time, and four countries on the SWL for severe violations, pursuant to the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA).

“We are gratified that the State Department has named 10 countries as CPCs. We particularly welcome Nigeria’s designation for the first time as a CPC for tolerating egregious violations of religious freedom, which USCIRF had been recommending since 2009. Nigeria is the first secular democracy that has been named a CPC, which demonstrates that we must be vigilant that all forms of governments respect religious freedom,” said USCIRF Chair Gayle Manchin.

“We are encouraged to see that the designation this year also reflects significant advancements in religious freedom in Uzbekistan and Sudan, which were both removed from the SWL. While USCIRF recommended earlier in 2020 that these two countries stay on the SWL, it is undeniable the historic progress that has been made in these two countries. We hope that their progress encourages positive change in other places around the world,” said Vice Chair Tony Perkins.

Notably, the State Department did not accept the USCIRF recommendation that India, Russia, Syria and Vietnam be also designated as CPCs.

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