The United States on Wednesday sharply condemned terrorist and violent attacks against minority Hindus in Pakistan and communist China’s ‘hostility’ towards its people of all faiths.
Launching an International Religious Freedom Alliance of 27 countries, which US officials have said will be something like an ‘activist club’ of nations that will aggressively push globally on religious freedom issues, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took aim at persecution of and violent attacks on religious minorities in several countries.
‘We condemn terrorists and violent extremists who target religious minorities, whether they are Yezidis in Iraq, Hindus in Pakistan, Christians in northeast Nigeria, or Muslims in Burma,’ he said at a dinner he hosted for members of the alliance here on Wednesday.
The top US diplomat also condemned ‘blasphemy and apostasy laws that criminalize matters of the soul’, he did not name any country, but Pakistan is among a handful of countries that aggressively enforce blasphemy laws, which carry sentences ranging from life in jail to execution. Victims have been mostly Muslims and Ahmedi Muslims (who are not considered muslims by Pakistan) and minority Christians and Hindus.
There are an estimated 1.4 million Hindus in Pakistan and they have been targeted by terrorists and violent extremists, and discriminated against societally. The state offers them little protection, along with other minorities. A state department report on the state of religious freedom in Pakistan said in 2019 that bonded labour in the brick-making industry and in agriculture were ‘predominantly’Hindus and Christians.
A growing number of these persecuted Hindus head to India. The Modi government enacted a law in 2019, the Citizenship Amendment Act, that makes it easier for persecuted Hindus from any of the neighboring countries to seek refuge in India, and settle down as citizens.
Pakistan has been on US radar for religious freedom violations for a long time, as well as for human rights and, with the most expansive implications for the rest of the world, its continued support for terrorism. The US re-designated Pakistan as one of ‘countries of particular concern’ last December for ‘systematic, ongoing, [and] egregious violations of religious freedom’.
on the list of the list of -re-designated countries was China, who persecution of religious minorities has received much more attention from the Trump administration than before. A US official compared China’s detention camps for Muslim Uighurs to the ‘concentration camps’ run by the Nazis for Jews. And the House of Representatives passed a legislation last December recommending sanctions against China for the mistreatment of Uighurs.
Addressing alliance partners at the Wednesday dinner, Secretary Pompeo said, ‘We condemn the Chinese Communist Party’s hostility to all faiths.’ He went on to commend the partners for ‘courageously’ pushing back against Chinese pressure to participate in the alliance.
There has been response from Beijing to these remarks.
The 27 members of the alliance are the United States, Albania, Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Colombia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, The Gambia, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Kosovo, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Senegal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Togo, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom.
US officials have said the number could grow or go down. It could not be immediately ascertained if India was invited to join, and didn’t. Or that it was not invited at all.
A senior state department official told reporters, at a briefing on the launch of the alliance, that the United States is ‘concerned about what’s taking place in India’. The official said the US has ‘expressed desire first to try to help and work through some of these issues’.
‘That’s the first step, is just saying can we work with you on this,’ the official added, but did not specify next steps.