WASHINGTON: The United States on Friday placed Pakistan on a list of countries that “engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom” during 2022.

“Around the world, governments and non-state actors harass, threaten, jail, and even kill individuals on account of their beliefs,” said Secretary of State Antony Blinken while announcing the designations.

“In some instances, they stifle individuals’ freedom of religion or belief to exploit opportunities for political gain.”

Noting that such actions sow division, undermine economic security, and threaten political stability and peace, the top US diplomat said his country “will not stand by in the face of these abuses”.

Therefore, “today, I am announcing designations against Burma (Myanmar), the People’s Republic of China, Cuba, Eritrea, Iran, Nicaragua, the DPRK (North Korea), Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan as Countries of Particular Concern …for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom”.

He said he was also placing Algeria, the Central African Republic, Comoros, and Vietnam on the Special Watch List for engaging in, or tolerating, severe violations of religious freedom.

Pakistan stayed on this several years before it was moved to the list of violators.

The Trump administration first placed Pakistan on this list in Dec 2018 and retained it in 2020 as well. The Biden administration, which came to office in January last year, retained the old list with some changes, but kept Pakistan on it. 

Countries are listed in this category for allegedly engaging in or tolerating “systematic, ongoing, (and) egregious violations of religious freedom”.

Agencies add: Cuba, Nicaragua and Russia’s Wagner mercenary group were added to the blacklist on international religious freedom, opening the path to potential sanctions.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Wagner Group was being designated due to involvement in abuses in the Central African Republic, where nearly a decade of fighting has pitted Christians against Muslims.

Cuba and Nicaragua were both newly designated as “Countries of Particular Concern” under the annual determinations, meaning that the two leftist Latin American states _ already under US sanctions _ could face further measures.

Nicaragua’s increasingly authoritarian president, Daniel Ortega, has clamped down on the Catholic Church since accusing it of supporting 2018 protests against his government, which were crushed at the cost of hundreds of lives.

A bishop critical of the government, Rolando Alvarez, was put under house arrest in August with other priests and seminarians arrested on unspecified charges.

Published in Dawn, December 3rd, 2022

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