US adds Pakistan to blacklist for religious freedom violations

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WASHINGTON: The United States said on Tuesday it has added Pakistan to its blacklist of countries that violate religious freedom, ramping up pressure over the treatment of minorities in the country. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he had designated Pakistan among “countries of particular concern” in a congressionally mandated annual report, meaning the US government is obliged to exert pressure to end freedom violations.

Pompeo a year earlier had placed Pakistan on a special watch list — a step short of the designation — in what had been seen as a US tactic to press Islamabad into reforms.“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 in a statement adding; “The United States will not stand by as spectators in the face of such oppression.”

Nine countries remained for another year on the list of Countries of Particular Concern — China, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. They are accused of having engaged in or tolerated ”systematic, ongoing, [and] egregious violations of religious freedom”.

The US removed one country from the list — Uzbekistan — but kept it on the watch list. Pompeo also put on the watch list Russia, adding another item of contention to the relationship between the two powers.

Russia has increasingly drawn concern in the US over its treatment of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the heterodox Christian group known for proselytization. Also on the watch list was the Comoros, the Indian Ocean archipelago that is almost exclusively Sunni Muslim.

Nikki Haley

Meanwhile, in an interview to The Atlantic, outgoing US ambassador to United Nations Nikki Haley reiterated the stand of Trump administration over Pakistan and said that it does not deserve even a dollar from the US unless it stops harbouring and sponsoring terrorism.

Talking about relations between foreign assistance that the United States gives to countries with those countries’ voting patterns at the United Nations, Nikki said, “President Trump does not want to continue aid to countries, who don’t serve USA’s interests. Look at Pakistan,” Nikki said. “Giving them over a billion dollars, and they continue to harbour terrorists that turn around and kill our soldiers. That’s never okay”.

“We shouldn’t even give them a dollar until they correct it. We shouldn’t even give them a dollar until they correct it. Use the billion dollars. That’s not a small amount of change,” she added.