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US adds Pakistan to 'special watch list' for religious freedom violations

The Hill logo The Hill 1/4/2018 Julia Manchester
a close up of an umbrella © Provided by The Hill The State Department on Thursday announced Pakistan had been added to a "special watch list" due to its treatment of religious minorities within the country's borders.

Pakistan was added to the list under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 last month, with the announcement citing the country's "severe violations of religious freedom."

The department also announced that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson moved to redesignate Myanmar, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan as countries of "particular concern."

The law was passed during the Clinton administration as part of an effort to make religious freedom a key objective of U.S. foreign policy.

Pakistan, which is an Islamic republic, has been under scrutiny for its treatment of religious minorities in the country.

The State Department raised the issue of religious intolerance in Pakistan in a 2016 report, and said U.S. officials have met with various Pakistani officials to discuss ways to combat violence and intolerance against religious minorities.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom said in a 2017 report "the Pakistani government continued to perpetrate and tolerate systematic, ongoing, and egregious religious freedom violations."

The commission cited Hindus, Christians and Shiia Muslims as being the victims of sectarian violence in the country, as well as the government's failure to work to prevent and prosecute those responsible.

The addition of Pakistan to the list follows increased tensions between the two countries in recent days.

President Trump tore into Pakistan in his first tweet of 2018, accusing the country of providing the U.S. with "nothing but lies & deceit."

The New Year's Day tweet resulted in the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan being summoned to Pakistan's foreign ministry.

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