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Pakistan added to US blacklist over religious freedom concerns
The United States has put more pressure on Pakistan by adding it to its blacklist of countries who violate religious freedoms.
Coming just weeks after the release of Asia Bibi, US secretary of state Mike Pompeo said his country will not just stand by and watch persecution carried out.
The move follows a warning issued by the US last year that further action would be taken if Pakistan didn't make changes.
Addressing the concern, Mr Pompeo said: "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."
"The United States will not stand by as spectators in the face of such oppression. Protecting and promoting international religious freedom is a top foreign policy priority of the Trump administration.
"Safeguarding religious freedom is vital to ensuring peace, stability, and prosperity."
Nine other countries remain on the list of Countries of Particular Concern -- China, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.
Addressing the reasons for Pakistan's inclusion, Samuel Brownback - the US ambassador at large for international religious freedom, said: "Of the world's population of people that are in prison for blasphemy, half of them are in Pakistani prisons, including Asia Bibi, who was recently released and is now awaiting a re-hearing of sorts by the supreme court of Pakistan.
"Also, the Pakistani Government criminalizes the identification of Ahmadis as Muslims, and then also - and this one has really been difficult and troubling for a lot of people - the government often fails to hold accountable perpetrators of killings and violence against members of religious minorities targeted on account of their religious beliefs or affiliations."
The US government says it is continuing to monitor the situation with Asia Bibi.
Pakistan has criticised the US for its inclusion on the blacklist.
In a statement, the foreign office said: "Besides the clear biases reflected from these designations, there are serious questions on the credentials and impartiality of the self-proclaimed jury involved in this unwarranted exercise."
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