For a record 14th year in a row, the State Department has overruled the advice of an independent statutory watchdog and decided not to blacklist Pakistan for religious freedom abuses.
The decision not to designate Pakistan a “country of particular concern” under the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) comes despite its government’s continuing rejection of calls to amend or rescind the world’s most notorious blasphemy laws – which carry the death penalty and are frequently used to target Christians and other minorities.
It also comes just days after a new U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) report highlighted dozens of instances of intolerance of religious minorities being promoted in public school textbooks in the Islamic country.
The U.S. potentially wields significant leverage over Pakistan. It is the fifth-largest recipient of U.S. foreign assistance, with the administration requesting $742 million in aid for the country in fiscal year 2017.
On its 2016 watch list of the world’s 50 worst persecutors of Christians, the religious freedom advocacy group Open Doors has Pakistan at number six this year – the highest ranking it has reached in the 13 years the annual list has been compiled.
(Other countries on the Open Doors’ top 10 that are not designated CPCs by the State Department are Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia and Libya.)
Ever since that designation in 2004, both the Bush and Obama administrations have waived CPC-related action against Saudi Arabia, despite appeals by the USCIRF.
Kirby confirmed on Friday that Saudi Arabia will once again be subject to a waiver, along with the three Central Asian republics on the blacklist.