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U.S. Adds Pakistan To Blacklist Of Countries Violating Religious Freedoms

The remains of an Ahmadi mosque that was demolished by an angry mob on May 24 in the eastern Pakistani city of Sialkot

The United States says it has placed Pakistan on its blacklist of countries that violate religious freedom over Islamabad's treatment of minorities.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on December 11 said he mentioned Pakistan among "countries of particular concern" in a congressionally mandated annual report.

The move comes after Pompeo last year placed Islamabad on a special watch list.

The downgrade means that Islamabad could face U.S. sanctions, although such penalties have generally been waived in the past.

Human rights groups have long expressed concern about the treatment of minorities in Pakistan, including Shi'ites, Ahmadis, and Christians.

Other countries on the blacklist, which singles out "systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom," are China, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.

Several Islamic militant groups have also been designated as "entities of particular concern" since they do not meet the definition of countries. They include the Al-Nusra front in Syria, Al-Qaeda, the Yemen-based Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Somalia's Al-Shabab, Boko Haram in West Africa, Yemen's Houthi rebels, the Islamic State and the Taliban.

"In far too many places across the globe, individuals continue to face harassment, arrests, or even death for simply living their lives in accordance with their beliefs," Pompeo said.

"The United States will not stand by as spectators in the face of such oppression."

Based on reporting by AFP and AP