United States places Pakistan on watch list for 'severe' violations of religious freedom


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Under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the USA annually designates countries of particular concern, and Thursday's statement re-designated Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

"Today, a number of governments infringe upon individuals' ability to adopt, change, or renounce their religion or belief, worship in accordance with their religion or beliefs, or be free from coercion to practice a particular religion or belief".

The re-designated countries are China, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

The law was passed during the Clinton administration as part of an effort to make religious freedom a key objective of us foreign policy.

The State Department on Thursday announced Pakistan had been added to a "special watch list" due to its treatment of religious minorities within the country's borders.

"I think this is a reflection of the overall frustration of the United States with Pakistan", the Atlantic Council's South Asia Center director, Bharath Gopalaswamy, told VOA Thursday.

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The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom said in a 2017 report "the Pakistani government continued to perpetrate and tolerate systematic, ongoing, and egregious religious freedom violations". Pakistan was the only country in the new category.

The United States and Pakistan have had increased tensions recently.

Supporters of banned Islamic charity Jamat ud Dawa hold banners reading in Urdu "We strongly condemn Donald Trump's statements" as they shout anti-US slogans during a protest against the Pakistani govt. decision to ban the organization for collecting donations, in Karachi, Pakistan, 02 January 2018.

Trump has criticized Pakistan for not doing more to combat terrorism, and his administration has informed members of Congress that it will announce plans to end "security assistance" payments to the country.

The White House warned Islamabad it would have to do more on the anti-terrorism front to receive USA aid.

"We are determined to continue to do all it takes to secure the lives of our citizens and broader stability in the region".

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