US again designates China, Pakistan as countries of concern over violation of religious freedom

Updated on Dec 08, 2020 01:33 PM IST

The other countries on the list are Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, Myanmar, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.(File photo)
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.(File photo)
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | ByHT Correspondent | Edited by Smriti Sinha

The US has again designated Pakistan and China as “countries of particular concern” for systematic and egregious violations of religious freedom, a move that could lead to the imposition of certain sanctions against them.

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo announced on Monday that the US had designated China, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, Myanmar, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan as “countries of particular concern under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998”.

The action was taken as these countries were “engaging in or tolerating systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom”, he said.

China, Pakistan, Myanmar and Saudi Arabia have figured in the list of countries of particular concern in recent years, though the state department has granted waivers to these countries from any meaningful action related to the designation because of US security interests.

In 2019 alone, the state department issued three such waivers for Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Tajikistan.

Pompeo also said the US had placed the Comoros, Cuba, Nicaragua and Russia on a “special watch list” for governments that have engaged in or tolerated “severe violations of religious freedom”.

The US also designated terror groups al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, Islamic State and its affiliates in Greater Sahara and West Africa, Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin and the Afghan Taliban as “entities of particular concern” under the Frank R Wolf International Religious Freedom Act of 2016.

The US didn’t renew the “entity of particular concern” designations for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Islamic State-Khorasan, which operates in Afghanistan, due to “total loss of territory formerly controlled by these terrorist organisations”, Pompeo said.

“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,” he said.

Also read | China sends warplanes, troops for drill in Pakistan

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent, bipartisan federal government entity, has recommended that Pakistan be designated a country of particular concern every year since 2002, and the state department finally made the designation for the first time in 2018, and again in 2019.

USCIRF also recommended in its 2020 report that Pakistan be designated a country of particular concern for its systematic violations of religious freedom.

Though Pakistan took some positive steps during 2019-20, including its Supreme Court upholding the acquittal of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death for alleged blasphemy, and the government reopening Shawala Teja Singh temple in Punjab to Hindus and opening the Kartarpur Corridor with India for Sikh pilgrims, USCIRF said the country’s “particularly severe religious freedom violations persisted, largely due to the ongoing enforcement of blasphemy and anti-Ahmadiyya laws and the culture of impunity for violence against religious minorities”.

USCIRF also said in its 2020 report that religious freedoms in China had continued to deteriorate. It said an estimated 900,000 to 1.8 million Uighur, Kazakh, Kyrgyz and other Muslims had been detained in more than 1,300 concentration camps in Xinjiang, and former detainees had reported suffering torture, rape, sterilisation and other abuses.

The Chinese government also continued to pursue a strategy of “forced assimilation and suppression of Tibetan Buddhism”, as reflected by laws designed to control the next reincarnation of the Dalai Lama and other eminent lamas. Some 6,000 monks and nuns were displaced when authorities demolished thousands of residences at Yachen Gar Tibetan Buddhist centre in Sichuan province in 2019, while authorities also raided or closed down hundreds of Protestant house churches and continued to harass and detain bishops who refused to join the state-affiliated Catholic association.

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