United States places Pakistan on religious-freedom watch list

US senators call for Pakistan to be designated a 'country of particular concern'

In all, the U.S. State Department said it had re-designated 10 countries over violations of religious freedoms.

State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert announced Pakistan's placement on the list as well as the re-designation of 10 other countries as Countries of Particular Concern, via a press release Thursday. "Today, the Department of State announces that the Secretary of State re-designated Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan as Countries of Particular Concern on December 22, 2017", the US State Department said, in a statement.

After President Trump's lashed out at Pakistan in his first tweet of the year for the country's failure to act decisively to counter-terrorism and accused it of playing a double game, the USA state department formally announced a halt in aid and security assistance to Pakistan.

The State Department did not elaborate on reasons for Pakistan's inclusion on the watch list.

USCIRF Chairman Daniel Mark emphasized that "Pakistan continues to harass its religious minorities, has state-sanctioned discrimination against groups such as the Ahmadis, and tolerates extra-judicial violence in the guise of opposing blasphemy".

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"The protection of religious freedom is vital to peace, stability, and prosperity", the department said in a statement.

"This placement on special watch list is a new categorisation and we would be seeking clarification from the USA regarding its rationale and implications", a statement from Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.

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

Late last month, Pakistan's military warned the US against the possibility of taking unilateral action against armed groups on its soil, after Rex Tillerson, US secretary of state, urged Pakistan to do more to "defeat terrorist organisations". Around ten other nations have been listed as "Countries of Particular Concern" by the US. Royce, did, however, say he wanted Vietnam to be on the list.

"However, I am troubled that Vietnam was again not designated this year", he said. "The U.S. should never shrink from calling out countries for such abuses".

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