However, the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom urges that religious freedom violations in Pakistan, Russia, Syria, Nigeria, Vietnam, and the Central African Republic were so severe that these countries also merit CPC designation.
Of these six unrecognized countries, USCIRF Chair Daniel Mark is particularly concerned about the state of religious freedom in Pakistan.
“What we have said for many years is that Pakistan is the worst country in the world that's not designated for CPC. Pakistan is a world leader in imprisonment and convictions, prosecutions for blasphemy and apostasy, and those sorts of things,” Mark told CNA.
According to the report, approximately 40 people sentenced under blasphemy laws are awaiting the death penalty or serving life sentences, including Asia Bibi, a Christian mother and field laborer.
In December 2017, Islamic State affiliated suicide bombers attacked a church in Quetta, Pakistan killing nine people. The upcoming national elections in July 2018 have exacerbated religious tensions in the country.
“Conditions in Pakistan are not just bad at the level of law, where for example, Ahmadis are out in the constitution for second-class citizenship, but also at the level of civil society where a culture of impunity has grown,” continued Mark, who explained that vigante mobs have been attacking people on the basis of blasphemy accusations.
In lieu of CPC designation, Pakistan was placed on a “Special Watch List” by the State Department in December 2017. This list is a new category created by the 2016 amendments to the International Religious Freedom Act.
“Matters concerning Pakistan are very sensitive on account of the fact that they are a partner of ours in combating terrorism around the world in the war in Afghanistan and so on. But, given the rise of extremism in Pakistan...we really do think that pressure should be kept up, notwithstanding the cooperation that our two countries need,” said Mark.
The USCIRF chairman told CNA that he is concerned that both Russia and China intensified repression of religious freedom over the course of 2017.
“Russia, which we recommended for designation for the very first time last year, continued to deteriorate. The repression in some of the post-Soviet Central Asian states have followed Russia's model, sadly,” said Mark.
The report notes that Russia is the only country to have expanded its repressive policies to a neighboring territory by means of military invasion. Crimean Tatar Muslims are being kidnapped, tortured, and imprisoned in Russian-occupied Ukraine.
“Russia is such a big player on the world stage. It is really important that the message be sent clearly,” said Mark referring to religious freedom.
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The report also mentioned religious persecution in China, including persecution of Catholics, noting that 2017 marked 60 years since the creation of the state-run Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.
In 2017, China increased government control over its recognized religions as a part of President Xi Jinping’s campaign to “manipulate all aspects of faith into a socialist mold infused with ‘Chinese characteristics.’”
Two regions of China with significant ethnic and religious minority populations, Xinjiang and Tibet, “increasingly resemble police states,” the report said.
“Monks and nuns who refuse to denounce the Dalai Lama or pledge loyalty to Beijing have been expelled from their monasteries, imprisoned, and tortured.”
The report also cites mounting revelations of the Chinese authorities torturing other prisoners of conscience and human rights defenders to force confessions and compel individuals to renounce their faith.
In its 2018 report, USCIRF also recognized 12 additional countries with a Tier 2 status of less severe or systemic religious freedom violations: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Cuba, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Laos, Malaysia, and Turkey.