Bob Menendez and Marco Rubio - two of the US senators pushing for Pakistan to be designated a "country of particular concern"
Bob Menendez and Marco Rubio – two of the US senators pushing for Pakistan to be designated a “country of particular concern”

Pakistan should be designated a “country of particular concern” because of its violations of religious freedom, according to a group of influential US senators.

Senators Bob Menendez, Marco Rubio, Chris Coons, Todd Young, Jeff Merkley and James Lankford wrote to US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson ahead of the 13 November deadline by which the State Department needs to notify Congress on its country of particular concern (CPC) designations.

Their joint letter said: “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.

“At least 40 people are currently sentenced to death or are serving life sentences for blasphemy. Religious minority communities, including Christians, Hindus, Ahmadis, and Shi’a Muslims, also experience religiously motivated and sectarian violence perpetrated by terrorist organisations and societal elements with relative impunity. Additionally, provincial textbooks with discriminatory content against minorities remain a significant concern.”

The senators urged Tillerson to take into consideration the recommendations of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which, in its most recent annual report, found that 16 countries met the CPC standard, including Pakistan. USCIRF said in its report that “designating Pakistan as a CPC would enable the United States to more effectively press Islamabad to undertake needed reforms”.

The senators said they “expect to receive CPC designations by 13 November … and actions taken by 11 February 2018”.

China, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are the ten countries currently designated as CPCs because, according to the US State Department, they are “guilty of particularly severe violations of religious freedom under the International Religious Freedom Act”.

For a country to be given the CPC status, its violations must be “systematic, ongoing and egregious”, including violations such as torture, degrading treatment or punishment, prolonged detention without charge, and abduction.