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U.S. places Pakistan on watch list for ‘severe’ violations of religious freedom

Pakistani Christians protest against the suicide bombing in All Saints church in the northwestern city of Peshawar on September 23, 2013 (Getty Images)

The United States has placed Pakistan on a special watch list for “severe violations” of religious freedom.

The US State Department said on Thursday that Pakistan had been placed on the list, while other nations had been re-designated as “Countries of Particular Concern” for freedom of belief.

Spokeswoman Heather Nauert said: “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.

“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.”

The United States annually designates countries of particular concern under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan have all been placed on the list for this year.

“The Secretary also placed Pakistan on a Special Watch List for severe violations of religious freedom,” the State Department said.

Pakistan has faced international condemnation over its treatment of religious minorities, especially Christians, Ahmadi Muslims and Hindus. Dozens of people have faced death or imprisonment under the country’s blasphemy law, while sectarian violence continues to grow.

The decision came at the same time the United States suspended security assistance to the country for failing to take “decisive action” against extremist groups.

President Donald Trump said on Monday the US had “foolishly” given Pakistan more than $33 billion in aid in the last 15 years and had received nothing in return but “lies and deceit”.

Pakistan’s National Security Committee said the remarks were “completely incomprehensible as they contradicted facts manifestly, struck with great insensitivity at the trust between two nations built over generations, and negated the decades of sacrifices made by the Pakistani nation.”