The United States has placed China, Pakistan and a few other countries on a special watch list for ''severe violations of religious freedom,'' saying that the protection of religious freedom has been a top foreign policy priority of the Trump administration.
"On December 18, 2019, the Department of State re-designated Burma (Myanmar), China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan as countries of Particular Concern under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 for having engaged in or tolerated "systematic, ongoing, [and] egregious violations of religious freedom," the State Department said in a statement.
The Department stressed that these designations underscore the United States' commitment to protecting those who seek to exercise their freedom of religion or belief.
"We believe that everyone, everywhere, at all times, should have the right to live according to the dictates of their conscience. We will continue to challenge state and non-state entities that seek to infringe upon those fundamental rights and to ensure they are held to account for their actions," it added.
In June this year, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had urged Pakistan to release over 40 people from the religious minority community, who have been serving jail term or facing execution on blasphemy charges in the country.
Releasing the annual report on the International Religious Freedom of the State Department for the year 2018, on Friday, Mr Pompeo stressed that Pakistan should do more to stop the abuse of blasphemy laws, especially after the release of Asia Bibi, who escaped a death sentence in a case that drew international scrutiny.
The Criminal Code of Muslim-majority Pakistan, punishes blasphemy, including allegations of insulting Islam, providing penalties ranging from a fine to death. Thousands of Balochs, Sindhis, Ahmadiyyas and minorities belonging to various minority groups in the country regularly face the risk of persecution and enforced disappearances at the hands of the Pakistani establishment.
In addition, the State Department had then added a special section on what US officials said is the "staggering scope of religious freedom abuses in Xinjiang" to the report on China.
Pointing to Beijing's detention of some one million Muslims, the State Secretary further criticised the setting up of detention camps in Xinjiang, which the Chinese government describes as "education training centres" helping to stamp out "extremism" and give people new skills.
Many international human rights organisations have accused China of cracking down on the Uighurs by sending them to mass detention camps, interfering in their religious activities and sending the minority community to undergo some form of forceful re-education or indoctrination.
The ''China Cables''-- a set of classified documents--obtained last month by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), a global network of investigative journalists based in Washington, also shows how Uighurs are being locked up, indoctrinated and punished inside high-security detention camps far western region of Xinjiang.
US President Donald Trump, earlier this month, also signed a Uighur Act, a stronger version of a bill that calls on the US President to impose sanctions for the first time on members of China's powerful politburo.
This month, the US Government announced designations of 68 individuals and entities in nine countries for corruption and human rights abuses under the Global Magnitsky Act, among them four Burmese military leaders responsible for serious human rights abuses against the Rohingya Muslims and other religious and ethnic minorities.
In October, Washington had also placed visa restrictions on Chinese government and the Communist Party officials who are believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, the detention or abuse of Uighurs, Kazakhs, or other members of Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang, China.
"Our actions have been and will continue to be, consistent with our position on religious freedom. No country, entity, or individual should be able to persecute people of faith without accountability. We have acted, and we will continue to do so," the Department said.
The Department also renewed the placement of Comoros, Russia, and Uzbekistan on a Special Watch List (SWL) for governments that have engaged in or tolerated "severe violations of religious freedom," and added Cuba, Nicaragua, Nigeria, and Sudan to this list.
Sudan was moved to the SWL due to significant steps taken by the civilian-led transitional government to address the previous regime''s "systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom," the statement said.
"Finally, we have also designated al-Nusra Front, al-Qa''ida in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Qa''ida, al-Shabab, Boko Haram, the Houthis, ISIS, ISIS-Khorasan, and the Taliban as Entities of Particular Concern," it added.
The Department reaffirmed its commitment to work with governments, civil society organisations, and religious leaders in advancing religious freedom around the world in his concluding remarks.