US Worried Over Rising Extremism, Intolerance in Pakistan

Washington, Sep 14 (IANS): The US has designated eight nations as Countries of Particular Concern for "particularly severe violations of religious freedom", but spared ally Pakistan even as it expressed concern about increasing extremism and intolerance there.

"In Pakistan, the government has not reformed a blasphemy law that has been used to prosecute religious minorities and, in some cases, Muslims who promote tolerance or to settle personal vendettas," a US official acknowledged Tuesday, briefing reporters on a new report on International Religious Freedom.

"This year, there have also been several assassinations of those who called for reform of the blasphemy laws, including the Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, the minister for minorities," noted Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labour Michael Posner.

But Islamabad has taken steps to address these rising concerns, he said, and "we will continue to engage with the government of Pakistan to address these issues, to promote tolerance, and to improve religious freedom".

"The increasing extremism in that society, I think, is worrying to everybody," Posner said. "I think the message here is we have great concern about the overall situation of extremism and intolerance in Pakistan, and we stand ready to work with the government to try to address that."

On the basis of the Congressionally mandated report, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has designated Myanmar, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan as "all of these countries have been long-term, chronic, and egregious violators of religious freedom", Posner said.

In China, the government's overall level of respect for religious freedom declined in 2010 and has worsened this year. The repression of Tibetan Buddhists and Uighur Muslims continues, he said.


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