The US added Pakistan to a list of countries which have “engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing, (and) egregious violations of religious freedom”.

The Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, Sam Brownback, cited concern over “blasphemy” laws and the ongoing case of Aasia Bibi as the primary reason for the addition of Pakistan to the United States’ religious freedom watch list.

The list designating “Countries of Particular Concern” is compiled and presented annually to Congress. It informs diplomatic efforts and is used to justify the placement of sanctions. Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State, describes these designations as “aimed at improving the lives of individuals and the broader success of their societies”.

The majority of designated countries which currently include China, Iran, Myanmar and North Korea, are subject to US sanctions. 

The US has previously shied away from blacklisting Pakistan due to diplomatic sensitivities, despite the long-standing discrimination and sometimes violence Pakistani Christians face from the Muslim majority.

Christian communities have particularly been targeted over false “blasphemy” allegations. Asia Bibi, who had been on death row since 2010, was acquitted of “blasphemy” by the Supreme Court in Pakistan in November this year. The panel of judges described the accusation against her as a “concoction” and her accusers as “untrustworthy”.

Date published: 19/12/2018
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