U.S. places Pakistan on watch list for religious freedom violations

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department has placed Pakistan on a special watch list for “severe violations of religious freedom,” it said on Thursday, days after the White House said Islamabad would have to do more to combat terrorism to receive U.S. aid.

The State Department also said it had re-designated 10 other nations as “countries of particular concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act for having engaged in or tolerated egregious violations of religious freedom.

The re-designated countries were China, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. They were re-designated on Dec. 22.

“The protection of religious freedom is vital to peace, stability, and prosperity,” the department said in a statement. “These designations are aimed at improving the respect for religious freedom in these countries.”

U.S. President Donald Trump has criticized Pakistan for not doing more to combat terrorism, and his administration has informed members of Congress that it will announce plans to end “security assistance” payments to the country.

Pakistan has said it is already doing a lot to fight militants, and summoned the U.S. ambassador to explain a tweet by Trump that said the United States had been foolish in dispensing aid to Islamabad.

(Reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Susan Thomas)

Turkmenistan’s president must renounce torture:

President of Turkmenistan Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov walks past an honour guard before a ceremony to welcome Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in the capital Ashgabat, Turkmenistan,

GENEVA (Reuters) – Turkmenistan must renounce torture, a U.N. body said on Wednesday, accusing the country of systematic abuse, including rape and beating in jail, and political disappearances.

“The Committee (against Torture) is seriously concerned at consistent allegations of widespread torture and ill-treatment, including severe beatings, of persons deprived of their liberty, especially at the moment of apprehension and during pretrial detention, mainly in order to extract confessions,” it said.

The body called on President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov to make “a public statement affirming unambiguously that torture will not be tolerated”, adding that nobody had been prosecuted for torture, despite widely publicized cases.

Turkmenistan’s Foreign Ministry and its diplomats in Geneva could not be reached for comment.

Earlier on Wednesday, the ministry said the government was working closely with international human rights bodies and was improving its legal framework, including the prison system.

Turkmenistan reportedly holds 90 people in long-term detention, amounting to enforced disappearance, the panel of 10 independent rights experts said. They were particularly concerned about the whereabouts of people convicted in relation to an assassination attempt on a former president in 2002.

A former foreign minister, Boris Shikhmuradov, and a former ambassador, Batyr Berdiev, disappeared in 2002, committee member Felice Gaer told a news conference and there had been no information about what happened to them.

Turkmenistan has failed to investigate the abduction of Atymurad Annamuradov, who was beaten to death in retaliation for the work of his brother, Chary Annamuradov, a journalist. Three other brothers also died in suspicious circumstances, the committee said.

Many prisoners had reportedly died because of conditions at Ovadan-Depe jail, and inmates with infectious diseases were held with healthy prisoners, only getting hospitalized “when they are close to death or through bribing the relevant officials”, the committee said.

Political prisoners were detained in psychiatric hospitals, and there were reports of abuse including sexual violence and rape by prison staff, resulting in several suicides, it said.

Turkmenistan does not allow independent organizations such as the Red Cross to monitor detention facilities, nor does it allow U.N. rights experts to investigate in the country.

The Foreign Ministry said diplomats from Europe, the United States, the OSCE and the United Nations visited a juvenile correctional facility on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Tom Miles, Stephanie Nebehay and Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)