US labels Pakistan and China over religious freedom concerns

WASHINGTON: On Friday, the United States recognized Pakistan, China, Iran, and Russia as nations of particular concern under the Religious Freedom Act, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced.

Blinken stated that the nations classified as being of great concern, including North Korea and Myanmar, committed or condoned egregious breaches of religious freedom.

Algeria, the Central African Republic, Comoros, and Vietnam were added to the list of countries to monitor.

Several groups, such as the Kremlin-aligned Wagner Group, a private paramilitary organization engaged in Syria, Africa, and Ukraine, were also identified as entities of particular concern. Blinken stated that the Wagner group was named because of its activity in the Central African Republic.

“Governments and non-state entities across the world harass, threaten, imprison, and even kill individuals because of their views,” Blinken added in his statement.

The United States will not remain silent in the face of such violations.

He said the United States would welcome meeting with all nations to identify specific removal procedures.

The United States has escalated pressure on Iran in response to the deadly crackdown on protestors. During the protests, which represent one of the most serious threats to the Islamic Republic since the 1979 revolution, women waved and burnt headscarves, which are required by Iran’s traditional dress laws.

The United Nations reports that over 300 people have been murdered and 14,000 have been imprisoned in protests that began on September 16 following the death in jail of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini, who was held for “inappropriate dress.”

The United States has raised significant concerns about the human rights situation in Xinjiang, a province in western China home to 10 million Uyghurs.

Western nations and rights organizations have long accused Beijing of abusing the predominantly Muslim ethnic minority.

The U.S. has accused China of committing genocide. Beijing fiercely rejects any abuses.

Cuba, Eritrea, Nicaragua, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan were the other countries designated as countries of particular concern.

The U.S. Religious Freedom Act of 1998 mandates that the president, who delegates the responsibility to the secretary of state, must designate countries of particular concern nations that are deemed to violate religious freedom on a systematic and ongoing basis.

The act provides Blinken with various policy responses, such as sanctions and waivers, but they are not automatic.