08:38 GMT18 January 2021
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    Last year, the US placed Pakistan on a special watch list regarding religious freedom. It is thought that this strategy by Washington was a way into pressuring Islamabad into carrying out reforms.

    A day after the US designated seven countries including Pakistan as "Countries of Particular Concern under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998", Pakistan rejected the report saying that it is politically motivated and completely ignores the steps that have been taken in the recent past.

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    "Pakistan rejects the US State Department's unilateral and pronouncement released today in the context of its annual religious freedom report. Besides the clear biases reflected from these designations, there are serious questions on the credentials and impartiality of the self-proclaimed jury involved in this unwarranted exercise", Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Wednesday morning.

    US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo designated Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan, as Countries of Particular Concern under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 for having engaged in or tolerated "systematic, ongoing, [and] egregious violations of religious freedom". The US also placed Comoros, Russia, and Uzbekistan on a Special Watch List for governments.

    Around four percent of Pakistan's total population comprises citizens belonging to minority faiths like Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sikhism. Pakistan recently resolved its high-profile case pending with Supreme Court in October with the release of Asia Bibi — a Christian woman facing the death penalty on charges of blasphemy. 

    "The higher judiciary of the country has made several landmark decisions to protect the properties and places of worships of minorities", Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs emphasised.

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    Imran Khan's government has taken several steps in the recent past against hardliners in Pakistan and clearly warned them of the consequences if they break the law related to religious freedom. The government recently charged a hardline cleric, Khadim Hussain Rizvi, with terrorism and sedition after he led violent protests against Asia Bibi's acquittal.

    The US, in its report released on Tuesday, emphasised that it will not stand as a spectator in the face of oppression against individuals who continue to face harassment, arrests or even death for simply living their lives in accordance with their religious beliefs.




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