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US State Department puts Pakistan on special watch list of 'countries of particular concern'

(Pixabay/tnc123)The flag of Pakistan is featured in this image.

Pakistan has been placed on the U.S. State Department's special watch list of "countries of particular concern" (CPC) for "severe" violations of religious freedom.

On Thursday, the State Department announced its annual CPC list based on observance of ongoing violations of religious freedom in countries across the globe.

"In far too many places around the globe, people continue to be persecuted, unjustly prosecuted, or imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief," department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said, as reported by Catholic Herald.

"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," she added.

Pakistan has drawn criticism for the treatment of religious minorities, such as Christians, Ahmadi Muslims and Hindus. Many have faced death and imprisonment under Pakistan's blasphemy law as sectarian violence continues to rise in the country.

A report published by U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in 2017 noted that many Hindu and Christian girls are vulnerable to forced conversions into Islam and marriage due to the lack of legal protections for religious minorities.

Pakistan's designation came as the U.S. had suspended security assistance to the country for its failure to take "decisive action" against extremist groups.

President Donald Trump said last week that the U.S. had "foolishly" provided $33 billion in aid to Pakistan in the last 15 years, but had received nothing in return but "lies and deceit."

Last April, USCIRF had recommended that Central African Republic, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Syria and Vietnam be added to the State Department's list of CPCs.

USCIRF applauded the State Department for adding Pakistan to a watch list, but it expressed disappointment that the other recommended countries were not mentioned at all.

Last year, the countries of Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan have been designated by the department as CPCs. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had decided to re-designate the 10 countries as CPCs this year.

Nauert said that the purpose of designating certain countries of concern was to focus on the work needed to advance religious freedom in those nations.

"The protection of religious freedom is vital to peace, stability, and prosperity. These designations are aimed at improving the respect for religious freedom in these countries. We recognize that several designated countries are working to improve their respect for religious freedom; we welcome these initiatives and look forward to continued dialogue," she said.

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