U.S. Reprimands Pakistan for ‘Severe Violations of Religious Freedom’

State Dept. adds Islamabad to 'special watch list' amid heightened tensions

Pakistani demonstrators burn the US flag at a protest in Quetta on January 4
Pakistani demonstrators burn the US flag at a protest in Quetta on January 4 / Getty Images
January 4, 2018

The United States has added Pakistan to a special watch list for "severe violations of religious freedom," the State Department said Thursday.

The announcement comes amid heightened tensions between the United States and Pakistan after heavy criticism by the Trump administration over Islamabad’s support for terrorist groups.

President Donald Trump on Monday accused Pakistan of harboring militants, saying the South Asian nation has treated U.S. leaders as "fools." Trump’s envoy to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said the administration will withhold $225 million in U.S. aid to the country until it ramps up counterterrorism efforts against extremists operating against American-backed troops in Afghanistan.

Pakistan rejected the "incomprehensible" accusations and called on U.S. ambassador David Hale to explain Trump's comments.

The State Department did not offer details regarding Pakistan's encroachments on religious rights.

In a press release, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also re-designated 10 nations as "countries of particular concern" under the International Religious Freedom Act for engaging in or tolerating "systemic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom."

Those countries include Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

"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," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

"The protection of religious freedom is vital to peace, stability, and prosperity. These designations are aimed at improving the respect for religious freedom in these countries. We recognize that several designated countries are working to improve their respect for religious freedom; we welcome these initiatives and look forward to continued dialogue," she added.