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WASHINGTON: Six influential US Senators have urged secretary of state Rex Tillerson to designate Pakistan as a “country of particular concern” on the issue of religious freedom violation, saying its discriminatory laws continue to result in prosecution of individuals due to their faith.
Senators Bob Menendez, Marco Rubio, Chris Coons, Todd Young, Jeff Merkley and James Lankford wrote a letter to Tillerson ahead of the November 13 deadline before which the State Department needs to notify Congress on its country of particular concern (CPC) designations.
In the letter to Tillerson, who has just concluded a visit to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, the bipartisan group of Senators said that they believe “the State Department should designate Pakistan as a CPC as long recommended by US Commission on International Religious Freedom.
“The government of Pakistan continues to perpetrate and tolerate systematic, ongoing and egregious religious freedom violations. Discriminatory constitutional provisions and laws, including the country’s blasphemy and anti-Ahmadiyya measures continue to result in the unjust prosecution and imprisonment of individuals due to their faith,” the Senators said in their letter to Tillerson.
“At least 40 people are currently sentenced to death or are serving life sentences for blasphemy. Religious minority communities, including Christians, Hindus, Ahmadis, and Shia Muslims also experience religiously motivated and sectarian violence perpetrated by terrorist organisations and societal elements with relative impunity,” said the letter.
Additionally, provincial textbooks with discriminatory content against minorities remain a significant concern, the Senators said in the letter dated October 27.
The Frank R Wolf International Religious Freedom Act requires the president to make CPC designations no later than 90 days after the release of the annual report and that Congress be notified no later than 90 days after these designations about the parties responsible for the violations prompting the designations, the actions the US government has taken in response, and the effectiveness of these actions.
“We therefore expect to receive CPC designations by November 13, 2017, and the notification of the responsible parties, actions taken, and the effectiveness of these actions by February 11, 2018.
“We believe promoting freedom of religion and belief is a moral imperative and encourages peace, stability and economic vibrancy. We look forward to working with you to help ensure this precious freedom has a central role in US foreign policy,” the Senators added.
The Senators also sought the CPC designation of Myanmar over the issue of Rohingyas.
Tillerson has urged the Myanmar army to help the government end violence in the northern Rakhine state where unrest has forced over 600,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to Bangladesh.