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The State Department made the decision in December but has only just issued an official statement. The move comes as the Trump administration seeks to ban citizens from majority-Muslim nations from entering the US.
The US State Department announced that it had re-designated 10 nations as "countries of particular concern" (CPCs) under the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA).
The 10 countries: China, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are accused of having "engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom." The State Department says that the designation is annually made as a way to encourage other countries to join the US in "upholding high but universal standards."
'People continue to be persecuted'
Pakistan, to which US President Donald Trump recently threatened to cut foreign aid for allegedly giving safe haven to terrorists from Afghanistan, has been singled out on a special watch list for "severe violations of religious freedom." The State Department pointed out that several of the countries on the CPC list were in fact working to improve the state of religious freedom, and that their initiatives were welcome. But a statement issued by State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert added: "In far too many places around the globe, people continue to be persecuted, unjustly prosecuted, or imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief."
'Politically correct' travel ban
The Trump administration has been in the courts since early last year trying to implement a travel ban (Executive Order 13780) barring people from a number of majority-Muslim countries entering the country. A revised version of the order, which Trump has called a "watered down, politically correct version," went into full effect in December. The US Supreme Court ruled that the ban should be fully enforced while legal challenges at lower courts continue. Critics see the ban as a religious litmus test, whereas the Trump administration claims it is necessary in order to protect the country from terrorists.
js/rc (dpa, Reuters)