US puts Pakistan among ‘countries of concern’

Iran, China and Russia in the list on religious freedom


Reuters December 03, 2022
A file photo of US State Secretary Antony Blinken. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON:

The United States on Friday designated Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, China, Iran, Russia and many others, as countries of particular concern under the Religious Freedom Act over severe violations, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement on Friday.

Blinken said those designated as countries of particular concern – which also include North Korea, Myanmar, Cuba, Eritrea, Nicaragua, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan – were engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom.

Several groups, including the Kremlin-aligned Wagner Group, a private paramilitary organisation that is active in Syria, Africa and Ukraine, were also designated as entities of particular concern. The Wagner group was designated over its activities in the Central African Republic, Blinken said.

Algeria, the Central African Republic, Comoros and Vietnam had been placed on the watch list. “Around the world, governments and non-state actors harass, threaten, jail, and even kill individuals on account of their beliefs,” Blinken said in the statement. “The United States will not stand by in the face of these abuses.”

Blinken added that Washington would welcome the opportunity to meet with all governments to outline concrete steps for removal from the lists. The US Religious Freedom Act of 1998 gives Blinken a range of policy responses, including sanctions or waivers, but they are not automatic.

The US Religious Freedom Act requires the president – who assigns the function to the secretary of State – to designate as countries of particular concern states that are deemed to violate religious freedom on a systematic and ongoing basis.

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