Washington: The United States has designated 12 countries, including China, Pakistan and Myanmar, as “countries of particular concern” for the current status of religious freedom in these nations.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said around the world, governments and non-state actors harass, threaten, jail, and even kill individuals on account of their beliefs.
In some instances, they stifle individuals’ freedom of religion or belief to exploit opportunities for political gain. These actions sow division, undermine economic security, and threaten political stability and peace. The US will not stand by in the face of these abuses.
“Today, I am announcing designations against Burma (Myanmar), the People’s Republic of China, Cuba, Eritrea, Iran, Nicaragua, the DPRK, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan as Countries of Particular Concern under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom,” he said.
Simultaneously, Blinken also placed Algeria, the Central African Republic, Comoros and Vietnam on the Special Watch List for engaging in or tolerating severe violations of religious freedom.
The US also designated al-Shabab, Boko Haram, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the Houthis, ISIS-Greater Sahara, ISIS-West Africa, Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin, the Taliban, and the Wagner Group based on its actions in the Central African Republic as “Entities of Particular Concern”.
“Our announcement of these designations is in keeping with our values and interests to protect national security and to advance human rights around the globe. Countries that effectively safeguard this and other human rights are more peaceful, stable, prosperous and more reliable partners of the United States than those that do not,” Blinken said.
Blinken said the US will continue to carefully monitor the status of freedom of religion or belief in every country around the world and advocate for those facing religious persecution or discrimination.
“We will also regularly engage countries about our concerns regarding limitations on freedom of religion or belief, regardless of whether those countries have been designated,” he said.
The US, he said, welcomes the opportunity to meet with all governments to address laws and practices that do not meet international standards and commitments, and to outline concrete steps in a pathway to removal from these lists.
Meanwhile, ahead of the announcement of such an annual designation by the State Department, there were massive lobbying efforts by groups like Indian American Muslim Council and pressures from organisations like the US Commission for International Religious Freedom to designate India as a Country of Concern.
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