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Pakistan Rebukes US on Religious Freedom Designation

By Ayaz Gul December 09, 2020

Pakistan has criticized the United States for designating the South Asian nation as a violator of religious freedom, saying the move was "arbitrary" and the outcome of a "selective assessment."

While announcing the annual designations Monday, the U.S. State Department said it also was placing countries such as China, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Nigeria on the list for engaging in or tolerating "systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom."

Islamabad Wednesday rejected Pakistan's inclusion in the U.S. list of "countries of particular concern," saying "such subjective" moves do not help promote the cause of religious freedom worldwide.

"The designation of Pakistan as a 'country of particular concern' is completely against the realities on the ground and raises serious doubts about the credibility of the exercise," said a Foreign Ministry statement.

"Pakistan and the U.S. have been constructively engaging on the subject at the bilateral level, a fact regrettably overlooked by the U.S," the ministry lamented.

In its statement, the Foreign Ministry called for tackling the rising trend of intolerance, discrimination, xenophobia and Islamophobia" through global efforts based on the principles of cooperation and mutual understanding.

While announcing the annual designations this week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo vowed the U.S. will act when religious freedom is attacked.

"The U.S. is unwavering in its commitment to religious freedom. No country or entity should be allowed to persecute people with impunity because of their beliefs," Pompeo underscored.

Pakistan, a Muslim-majority country of about 220 million, is often under fire for crimes against members of its religious minorities, including Christians, Ahmadi and Shi'ite Muslims, and Hindus.

Last month, three international human rights groups jointly expressed concern over a surge in the targeted killings of members of the Ahmadi community in Pakistan and urged the government to take immediate action.

"Pakistani authorities have long downplayed, and at times even encouraged, violence against Ahmadis, whose rights to freedom of religion and belief are not respected under Pakistani law," said the statement from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the International Commission of Jurists.

The U.S. annual designations are based on recommendations by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent federal government entity that monitors, analyses, and reports on threats to religious freedom.

The USCIRF has routinely criticized Pakistan for failing to do enough to protect its minorities and ensure religious freedom for all. It also has mentioned with concern the country's strict blasphemy laws, which criminalize insulting Islam and its Prophet Muhammad. Violators can get the death sentence, though no one has been executed to date. Several people who have been accused of blasphemy have been killed.

Pakistan's foreign ministry Wednesday also questioned the exclusion of rival India from the U.S. list of countries violating religious freedoms. It noted the USCIRF's findings and recommendations about the mistreatment of minorities in India, including in the Muslim-majority Indian-administered part of disputed Kashmir, saying these were ignored by the U.S. State Department.

Late last year, the Hindu-majority India introduced a new citizenship law, triggering street protests against the move amid fears the legislation will marginalize the Muslim minority. New Delhi also revoked the semi-autonomous status of Kashmir in August 2019 and placed millions of residents of the Muslim-majority region under tight security and clampdown to counter violent protests against the action.

In its 2020 report, the USCIRF downgraded India to its lowest ranking of "countries of particular concern" and recommended the country be added to the State Department's list.

"The glaring omission of India ... is unfortunate and puts the credibility of the U.S. report into question," Pakistan said.

"State complicity in organized violence against the Muslim minority in India is a matter of record. It is no secret that attacks by cow vigilantes and mob lynchings of Indian Muslims regularly take place, with complete impunity for the perpetrators," the statement added.

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