State Department Adds Russia to ‘Special Watch List’ for Religious Freedom Violators, Lists Pakistan as ‘Country of Particular Concern’

The U.S. State Department has added Russia to its “special watch list” for religious freedom violators and added Pakistan to its list of “countries of particular” concern.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Tuesday decisions made on Nov. 28 to list 10 countries as “countries of particular concern,” a designation required under the International Religious Freedom Act to single out the countries where governments have “engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom.”

The CPC designation, the highest U.S. government designation for religious freedom violations committed by foreign governments, carries with it the potential for the U.S. government to enact sanctions and other diplomatic actions to pressure change in those countries.

After years of outrage from human rights and religious freedom activists over the ongoing abuses against Christians and other religious minorities, Muslim-majority Pakistan was designated as a CPC for the first time.

Pakistan ranks as the fifth worst country in the world for Christian persecution, according to Open Doors USA’s World Watch List.

“This Administration has had the courage to hold Pakistan accountable for Pakistan’s persistent and systemic failures to protect the civil and human rights of religious minorities,” Republican New Jersey Rep. Chris Smith, the author of the International Religious Freedom Act of 2016, said in a statement. “This designation gives hope and voice to suffering Shia, Christian, Hindu, Ahmadi, and other minority citizens whose very presence counters religious extremism in Pakistan.”

The other nine countries designated as CPCs — Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan — had already been listed by the State Department as CPCs.

Russia, Comoros and Uzbekistan were named to the State Department’s “Special Watch List,” a designation created by the IRFA of 2016 to single out countries that are “deemed not to meet all of the CPC criteria but who engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom.”

Although Russia has been put on the “Special Watch List,” some believe the U.S. should consider listing Russia as a CPC. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended a CPC designation for Russia earlier this year.

Russia has been criticized for banning Jehovah’s Witnesses and abusing its anti-extremism law to prosecute peaceful worshipers and nontraditional groups including Scientologists. Since the passing of Russia’s 2016 law criminalizing missionary activity, NGOs have reported 156 cases of religious groups being targeted that also include Christian groups from various denominations, according to U.S. Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Samuel Smith