The US has designated Pakistan and China among eight other countries that are of “particular concern for violation of religious freedom”, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said.
Pakistan and China along with Myanmar, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan were placed in the list for engaging in or tolerating “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom”, Mr Pompeo said in a statement on Monday.
The State Department placed the Comoros, Cuba, Nicaragua and Russia on a Special Watch List (SWL) for governments that have engaged in or tolerated “severe violations of religious freedom”.
“Religious freedom is an unalienable right, and the bedrock upon which free societies are built and flourish. Today, the United States — a nation founded by those fleeing religious persecution, as the recent Commission on Unalienable Rights report noted — once again took action to defend those who simply want to exercise this essential freedom,” Mr Pompeo said.
The US also designated al-Shabaab, al-Qaida, Boko Haram, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the Houthis, ISIS, ISIS-Greater Sahara, ISIS-West Africa, Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin and the Taliban as ”Entities of Particular Concern”.
Mr Pompeo said the US did not renew the prior ”Entity of Particular Concern” designations for al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS-Khorasan due to the total loss of territory formerly controlled by these terrorist organisations.
“While these two groups no longer meet the statutory criteria for designation, we will not rest until we have fully eliminated the threat of religious freedom abuses by any violent extremist and terrorist groups,” he said.
Mr Pompeo said Sudan and Uzbekistan have been removed from the Special Watch List based on significant, concrete progress undertaken by their respective governments over the past year.
“Their courageous reforms of their laws and practices stand as models for other nations to follow,” he said.
Notably, the State Department did not accept the USCIRF recommendation that India, Russia, Syria and Vietnam be also designated as CPCs.