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Hold Pakistan accountable for violations of religious freedom: US Commission

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Washington: An independent US commission has asked the State Department to designate Pakistan and seven others as “countries of particular concern,” where governments “engage in or tolerate systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.”

Welcoming the release of State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said the next step is to promptly designate the worst violators as CPCs and to press for much-needed reforms in those countries.

The International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA) provides a range of options for such action, from bilateral agreements to sanctions, it said noting the IRF Report is required by IRFA, the same law that established USCIRF.

“The just-released IRF Report leaves no doubt that the egregious nature of the violations in Pakistan warrant a CPC designation,” said USCIRF Chairman Robert P. George.

In July 2014, the State Department designated nine nations as CPCs under IRFA: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

USCIRF’s 2015 annual report, released in April, recommended that these countries be re-designated as CPCs, and also called for eight additional designations: Central African Republic, Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, Tajikistan, and Vietnam.

“USCIRF urges the State Department to continue the current nine CPC designations,” said George.

“We also urge the State Department to further expand its CPC list to reflect the severe violations occurring in other countries, such as Pakistan, which USCIRF has called the worst situation in the world for religious freedom for countries not currently designated by the US government as CPCs,” he said.

State Department’s 2014 IRF report said Pakistan “government’s general failure to investigate, arrest, or prosecute those responsible for religious freedom abuses promoted an environment of impunity that fostered intolerance and acts of violence, according to domestic and international human rights organizations.”

“Government policies did not afford equal protection to members of minority religious groups, and due to discriminatory legislation such as blasphemy laws and laws designed to marginalise the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, minorities often were afraid to profess freely their religious beliefs,” it said.

(Arun Kumar, IANS)

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U.S. President Donald Trump Administration Says There Is No Return For US-Born Jihadist

The U.S. decision on Muthana comes amid rising debate in Europe on the nationality of extremists. Britain recently revoked the citizenship of Shamina Begum, who similarly traveled to Syria and wants to return to her country of birth. 

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Two women, reportedly wives of IS fighters, wait with others in the internally displaced persons camp of al-Hol in al-Hasakeh governorate, Syria, Feb. 7, 2019. The United States is refusing to take back a U.S.-born IS propagandist, saying she is no longer a citizen. VOA

The United States said Wednesday that it would refuse to take back a U.S.-born Islamic State propagandist who wants to return from Syria, arguing that she is no longer a citizen.

The Trump administration’s refusal to admit Hoda Muthana, 24, could set precedent and face legal challenges, because it is generally extremely difficult to lose US citizenship.

“Ms. Hoda Muthana is not a U.S. citizen and will not be admitted into the United States,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement. “She does not have any legal basis, no valid U.S. passport, no right to a passport, nor any visa to travel to the United States.”

FILE - Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at a news conference at the State Department in Washington, Feb. 1, 2019.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at a news conference at the State Department in Washington, Feb. 1, 2019. VOA

“We continue to strongly advise all U.S. citizens not to travel to Syria,” he added.

Pompeo did not elaborate on the legal rationale for why the Alabama native, who is believed to have traveled to Syria on her U.S. passport, was not considered a citizen or where she should go instead.

Pompeo’s statement on Muthana — one of the comparatively few U.S.-born jihadists amid the hundreds of Europeans to have joined the ranks of the Islamic State group in Syria — is at odds with his calls on other countries to take back and prosecute their own jihadist nationals.

Just this weekend, President Donald Trump took to Twitter to chastise European allies who have not taken back IS prisoners caught in Syria.

US-born, then radicalized

Muthana was born in the United States to parents from Yemen who became naturalized American citizens, according to the Counter Extremism Project at George Washington University, which has identified 64 Americans who went to join IS in Syria or Iraq.

In late 2014, shortly after moving to Syria, Muthana posted on Twitter a picture of herself and three other women who appeared to torch their Western passports, including an American one.

She went on to write vivid calls over social media to kill Americans, glorifying the ruthless extremist group that for a time ruled vast swaths of Syria and Iraq.

But with IS down to its last stretch of land, Muthana has said she renounced extremism and wanted to return home.

Muthana, who has been detained by U.S.-allied Kurdish fighters, said that she had been brainwashed by reading social media as a closeted teenager in Hoover, Ala.

“To say that I regret my past words, any pain that I caused my family and any concerns I would cause my country would be hard for me to really express properly,” she said in a note to her lawyer reported by The New York Times.

Hassan Shibly, lawyer for 24-year-old Hoda Muthana, 24, is pictured in his office in Tampa, Fla., Feb. 20, 2019. The United States said Wednesday that it would refuse to take back Muthana, a U.S.-born Islamic State propagandist, who wants to return from Syria, saying that she is no longer a citizen.
Hassan Shibly, lawyer for 24-year-old Hoda Muthana, 24, is pictured in his office in Tampa, Fla., Feb. 20, 2019. The United States said Wednesday that it would refuse to take back Muthana, a U.S.-born Islamic State propagandist, who wants to return from Syria, saying that she is no longer a citizen. VOA

She was married three times to male jihadists and has a toddler son.

Hard to lose citizenship

The U.S. decision on Muthana comes amid rising debate in Europe on the nationality of extremists. Britain recently revoked the citizenship of Shamina Begum, who similarly traveled to Syria and wants to return to her country of birth.

Britain asserted that she was entitled to Bangladeshi citizenship because of her heritage, but the Dhaka government on Wednesday denied that she was eligible, leading her to become effectively stateless.

U.S. citizenship is significantly more difficult to lose. The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1868 after the Civil War as slavery was abolished, establishes that anyone born in the country is a citizen with full rights.

In recent years, it has been considered virtually impossible to strip Americans of citizenship, even if they hold dual nationality.

The U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark 1967 Afroyim decision rejected the government’s attempt to revoke the nationality of a Polish-born naturalized American after he voted in Israel.

And last year a federal judge rejected a government attempt to strip the nationality of a Pakistani-born naturalized American who was convicted in a plot to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge.

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But Trump has campaigned on a hard line over immigration and raised the prospect of ending birthright citizenship ahead of last year’s congressional elections.

In 2011, President Barack Obama ordered drone strikes that killed two Americans in Yemen — prominent al-Qaida preacher Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son — but did not believe it was possible to revoke citizenship. (VOA)