US puts Pakistan on Special Watch List for severe violations of religious freedom
The United States has placed Pakistan on ‘Special Watch List’ for “severe violations” of religious freedom. It is only country to be put under the newly-formed list.
Moreover, US also re-designated about 10 countries as ‘Countries of Particular Concern’ under its International Religious Freedom (IRF) Act. They are Burma (Myanmar), China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
As per US, Pakistan was placed in this list because it continues to harass its religious minorities, tolerates extra-judicial violence in the guise of opposing blasphemy. Moreover it has state-sanctioned discrimination against groups such as Ahmadis. According to research, Pakistan is one of countries with most restrictions on religion.
Special Watch List
The Special Watch List is for countries that engage in or tolerate severe violations of religious freedom but may not rise to level of ‘Countries of Particular Concern’ (CPC). It is new category created by Frank R Wolf International Religious Freedom Act of 2016. The designations are aimed at improving respect for religious freedom in these countries.
The Special Watch List designation to countries is step below designating it as CPC, which automatically imposes economic and political sanctions. The Frank R Wolf International Religious Freedom Act amended International Religious Freedom (IRF) Act to require President to designate ‘Special Watch List’ of countries deemed not to meet all of CPC criteria but who engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom.
Under the IRF Act of 1998, US Secretary of State annually designates governments that have engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom as CPC. These designations are aimed at improving the respect for religious freedom in these countries.