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Pak omission from religious freedom list glaring: US panel

Pak omission from religious freedom list glaring: US panel

Author: Press Trust of India
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: September 15, 2011
URL: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/pak-omission-from-religious-freedom-list-glaring-us-panel/846857/0

A US commission on religious freedom on Wednesday expressed disappointment on the omission of countries like Pakistan and Vietnam from the list of nations designated as of particular concern on religious freedom by the State Department.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton designated eight countries of particular concern - Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan - for having been long-term, chronic and egregious violators of religious freedom.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said six other countries - Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam - too had been included in the list which it recommended to the State Department early this year.

"The Commission welcomes the first CPC designations of the Obama administration, but is concerned that no new countries were added to the list," said Leonard Leo, USCIRF Chair. "Repeating the current list continues glaring omissions, such as Pakistan and Vietnam. Since CPC designations can be made at any time, we respectfully urge Secretary Clinton to consider the six additional countries we recommended for designation," Leo said.

Earlier in the day, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labour, Michael Posner said the Pakistan government had not reformed a blasphemy law that has been used to prosecute religious minorities and, in some cases, Muslims who promote tolerance or to settle personal vendettas.

"This year, there have also been several assassinations of those who called for reform of the blasphemy laws, including Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, the minister for minorities," Posner said. "The Government of Pakistan has taken steps to address these rising concerns. For example, in March, Shahbaz Bhatti's brother, Paul, was appointed a special adviser on religious minorities to the prime minister," he said. "In July, the government also created a ministry of national harmony, which will have oversight for protecting religious minorities at a national level," Posner added.

In its report, the State Department said, despite some government steps to protect religious minorities, the Pakistani government largely failed to take measures that could prevent societal intolerance and violence against religious minorities and Muslims promoting tolerance.

"The government of Pakistan rarely prosecuted perpetrators of extremist attacks, deepening climate of impunity. The public discourse on the blasphemy laws intensified, which increased the government's reluctance to address them, and it distanced itself from a bill introduced by a member of the ruling party to amend the blasphemy laws," it said.

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