The United States said Tuesday it had added Pakistan to its blacklist of countries that violate religious freedom, ramping up pressure over its treatment of minorities.Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he had designated Pakistan among “countries of particular concern” in a congressionally mandated annual report, meaning the US government is obliged to exert pressure to end freedom violations.Pompeo a year earlier had placed Pakistan on a special watch list – a step short of the designation – in what had been seen as a US tactic to press Islamabad into reforms. Nine countries remained for another year on the list of Countries of Particular Concern – China, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.The United States removed one country from the list – Uzbekistan – but kept it on the watch list. A statement from the US State Department said the countries were added to the list under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 for having engaged in or tolerated “systematic, ongoing, [and] egregious violations of religious freedom”.“In far too many places across the globe, individuals continue to face harassment, arrests, or even death for simply living their lives in accordance with their beliefs. The United States will not stand by as spectators in the face of such oppression,” the US Secretary of State said in the statement.“These designations are aimed at improving the lives of individuals and the broader success of their societies. I recognize that several designated countries are working to improve their respect for religious freedom; I welcome such initiatives and look forward to continuing the dialogue,” he added. Pompeo also put on the watch list Russia, adding another item of contention to the relationship between the two powers.Published in Daily Times, December 12th 2018.