US blacklists Pakistan over religious freedom

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to members of the media at the Capitol in Washington, November 28 2018. (PHOTO: Associated Press)

Originally published in Faith Wire

Earlier this week, Pakistan was added to the list of Countries of Particular Concern under the International Religious Freedom Act in light of the landmark blasphemy case against Christian mother Asia Bibi.

“In far too many places across the globe, individuals continue to face harassment, arrests, or even death for simply living their lives in accordance with their beliefs,” Pompeo said Tuesday. “The United States will not stand by as spectators in the face of such oppression. Protecting and promoting international religious freedom is a top foreign policy priority of the Trump administration.”

He added: “Safeguarding religious freedom is vital to ensuring peace, stability, and prosperity. These designations are aimed at improving the lives of individuals and the broader success of their societies.”

Latest religious freedom designations
In a press briefing at the State Department December 11, Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, Sam Brownback, addressed the press on the latest religious freedom designations made by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

In terms of those individuals across the world who are imprisoned for blasphemy, Brownback noted that “half of them are in Pakistani prisons.” He cited the disturbing case of Asia Bibi, who he said “was recently released and is now awaiting a re-hearing of sorts by the Supreme Court of Pakistan.”

Brownback continued: “The government often fails to hold accountable perpetrators of killings and violence against members of religious minorities targeted on account of their religious beliefs or affiliations.”

“For all these reasons,” he said, Pakistan was “placed as a Country of Particular Concern.”

“It’s our hope that they will — the new leadership in Pakistan will work to improve the situation. There was some encouraging signs seen recently on how they’ve handled some of the recent protesting against the blasphemy laws, and we continue to watch very carefully what’s happening to Asia Bibi.”

Asia Bibi current location
Following her acquittal on October 31 on bogus blasphemy charges, Asia Bibi was transferred from her squalid jail cell in Punjab province to an undisclosed location in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad. She is being held under armed guard as a precaution, due to the threats made on her life by Islamist radicals.

Bibi’s ability to fly abroad remains a key issue in this case, as the stricken mother attempts to seek asylum in the West.

The government has issued mixed messages about her freedom of movement, initially saying that it had struck a deal with radical clerics and ordered that the embattled woman be placed on a no-fly list. More recently, however, a spokesman for the Pakistani Foreign Office suggested that Bibi was free to leave.

The Supreme Court is currently reviewing an appeal lodged against its acquittal ruling. The outcome of this appeal is likely to have significant implications regarding Bibi’s capacity to achieve safe passage away from Pakistan.

So far, Bibi’s husband Ashiq Masih has appealed for help from several nations including the UK, US, Canada, with no success.

Mohammad Faisal, Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry spokesman addresses the press. (PHOTO: World Bulletin)

Pakistan’s response to being placed on the watchlist
Safe to say, the Pakistani government was not at all happy about being demoted to such a condemning list.

The Foreign ministry claimed it was a “politically motivated” move from the US, and argued that Pakistan was a “multi-religious and pluralistic society where people of diverse faiths and denominations live together,” directly refuting the State Department’s remarks.

“Pakistan does not need counsel by any individual country how to protect the rights of its minorities,” the ministry snapped, before adding that “there are serious questions on the credentials and impartiality of the self-proclaimed jury involved in this unwarranted exercise.”

China, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan were also included in the list of countries accused by the United States of engaging in severe oppression of religious freedoms.

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