ISLAMABAD ( Associated Press) – Pakistan on Thursday criticized the US State Department’s listing of the country last week as one of “particular concern” with regard to religious freedom.
Washington included Pakistan in a list of 12 countries, including China, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and North Korea, that it believes have “participated in or tolerated particularly serious violations of religious freedom.” Foreign Minister Antony Blinken made this announcement.
Pakistan’s foreign ministry on Thursday described the rating as “distant from ground realities”.
A ministry spokesman also expressed concern that India, which Islamabad says is “notorious for violating the religious freedom of minorities”, has not been included in the list.
In her weekly briefing, spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch expressed her dismay at the US move, calling it a “unilateral and arbitrary appointment”.
Baloch said, “Pakistan is a multi-religious and pluralistic society, with a rich tradition of inter-religious harmony.”
The spokesperson noted that Islamabad has conveyed its concerns to Washington about the appointment.
Although it had previously been included in the same list, Pakistan was not designated a “country of particular concern” with respect to religious issues for the first time last year.
Islamabad often appears on the list because it has not reformed its controversial blasphemy law. In Pakistan, mere rumors of insulting Islam can incite mobs and lead to lynchings.
The United States defines “systematic, progressive and large-scale violations of religious freedom” as including torture, prolonged detention without charge, enforced disappearances, and other violations, especially severe ones. The list is reviewed annually.
In recent years, Islamic extremists have repeatedly attacked religious minorities in Pakistan, including Shia Muslims and Christians. Members of the Ahmadi sect face severe discrimination and are subject to restrictions based on a 1984 law that prohibits them from “presenting themselves as Muslims”.