US Congressional panel targets Pak for violating religious freedom

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Washington, May 3 (UNI) A US Congressional panel has urged Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to include Pakistan, along with ten other nations, in her department's list of ''countries of particular concern'' (CPCs) for violation of religious freedom.

The plea is contained in the recommendations for 2008 of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). Its report was released here yesterday.

The 1998 International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) requires that the US designate as CPCs those countries whose governments have 'engaged in or tolerated systematic and egregious violations of the universal right to freedom of religion or belief.' Besides Pakistan, the other countries recommended for CPC include Burma, North Korea, Iran, China and Saudi Arabia.

The Commission has also established a Watch List of countries where conditions do not rise to the statutory level requiring CPC designation but which require close monitoring due to the nature and extent of violations of religious freedom engaged in or tolerated by the governments.

Countries on the Commission's Watch List for 2008 are Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, Indonesia, and Nigeria.

About the situation in Pakistan, the Commission said, ''Sectarian and religiously motivated violence continues in Pakistan, particularly against Shi'a Muslims, Ahmadis, Christians, and Hindus, and the government's response remains inadequate.'' It said a number of the country's laws, including legislation restricting the Ahmadi community and laws against blasphemy, have been used to silence members of religious minorities and dissenters, and they frequently result in imprisonment on account of religion or belief and/or vigilante violence against the accused.

The Commission also said there was also mounting evidence from multiple sources that Pakistan's government has been complicit in providing sanctuary to the Taliban.

UNI XC PD HS1238

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