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N. Korea Re-designated by U.S. for Violating Religious Freedom

N. Korea Re-designated by U.S. for Violating Religious Freedom

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson placed Pakistan on a watch list for "severe violations of religious freedom", the State Department announced Thursday.

Pakistan rejecting the United States designation of Pakistan in the "Special Watch List for Severe Violations of Religious Freedom", has termed the report not based on objective criteria, a Foreign Office statement said here Friday.

Annually, the secretary of state designates governments that have engaged in or tolerated ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom.

On Monday, Trump reiterated USA concerns that Pakistan provides safe havens for militants, saying it had played US leaders for "fools".

These designations are aimed at improving the respect for religious freedom in these countries, the statement said.

The commission had recommended that Russia, Vietnam, Syria, Nigeria, and the Central African Republic be added, and that Pakistan should have been included on the list of CPCs, rather than the lower designation of "Special Watch List".

It also explained that the action against Pakistan and the other countries, including Myanmar - which the statement called Burma - had been taken as part of the US' International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.

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Trump has criticized Pakistan for not doing more to combat terrorism, and his administration has informed members of Congress that it will announce plans to end "security assistance" payments to the country.

"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", the statement said.

Moeed Yusuf, associate vice president of the United States Institute of Peace, said there is a consensus within the Trump administration that it would increase pressure on Pakistan.

A bipartisan group of six senators, including Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR), asked Tillerson in October to make Pakistan a CPC, citing systematic religious oppression. Punishment ranges from life in prison to the death sentence for a range of charges, including "defiling the Prophet Muhammad".

Sudan has also been severally accused of repressing religious freedoms especially of non-Muslims. "Additionally, provincial textbooks with discriminatory content against minorities remain a significant concern".

Vietnam was previously designated as a CPC, but was taken off the list about a decade ago, in opposition to USCIRF's recommendation.

"It is our responsibility, as Americans, to speak for those with no voice", he commented Thursday. "The U.S. should never shrink from calling out countries for such abuses", Royce said.


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