US religion panel puts Dhaka on ‘watch list’
Wants Pakistan blacklisted
A US Congress-mandated commission yesterday sought the inclusion of Pakistan on a blacklist of alleged religious freedom violating nations and challenged the government to impose sanctions on Saudi Arabia for religious intolerance.
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom said it had written to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice seeking the inclusion of Pakistan as well as Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan in the government’s list of “countries of particular concern.”
The commission also sought the removal of India from the blacklist following “significant” religious freedom improvements in that country since the defeat of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2004 polls.
Also this year, the commission included Bangladesh on a “watch list” of countries where conditions do not rise to the statutory level that requires blacklisting but are of enough concern to warrant “close monitoring.”
Those already on the watch list are Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, Indonesia and Nigeria. The commission said it was closely monitoring the situation in Afghanistan, India, Iraq and Russia.
The State Department annually blacklists countries for alleged religious freedom violations based on recommendations from the commission, whose 10 members are jointly appointed by President George W Bush and Congress.
In September last year, the department added Eritrea, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam to the blacklist, which already included China, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea and Sudan.
Countries face government sanctions on various fronts 180 days after being included in the blacklist but no decision has been made on what action would be taken against Eritrea, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam.
Commission chairman Preeta Bansal told a news conference Wednesday that she had written a letter to Rice recently saying, “There was no evidence of genuine progress with regard to freedom of religion or belief in any of these countries.”
Saudi Arabia, for example, continued to be involved in financing activities that “support extreme religious intolerance, hatred and, in some cases, violence,” she said.
In its 2005 recommendations to Rice, the commission said it found the governments of Pakistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan “engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom.”
The Pakistan government was accused of “not providing an adequate response” to vigilante violence frequently perpetrated by Sunni Muslim militants against the Shiite and Ahmadi Muslims as well as Hindus and Christians, and of formulating “discriminatory legislation.”
Belated efforts to curb extremism through reform of Pakistan’s thousands of Islamic religious schools appear to have had little effect so far, the commission said.
Many of these schools, it said, provided “ideological training and motivation” to take part in violence targeting religious minorities in Pakistan and abroad.