The United States on Tuesday said it has added 10 countries, including China and Pakistan, to its blacklist of nations that violate religious freedom. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the countries – China, Pakistan, Iran, North Korea, Eritrea, Mynamar, Saudi Arabi, Sudan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan – were designated as “Countries for Particular Concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.

“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,” Pompeo said in a statement. “The United States will not stand by as spectators in the face of such oppression. Protecting and promoting international religious freedom is a top foreign policy priority of the Trump Administration.”

In January 2018, the US had placed Pakistan on special watchlist for “severe violations of religious freedom”. On Tuesday, Pakistan was put on the blacklist.

The US has removed Uzbekistan from the list, but placed it on the watchlist. Comoros and Russia have also been added to the special watch list.

Among militant organisations, the Islamic State group, the Taliban, al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Shabab, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, the Houthis and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – Khorasan Province have been designated as “Entities of Particular Concern”.

Pompeo said safeguarding religious freedom is vital to ensuring peace, stability, and prosperity. “These designations are aimed at improving the lives of individuals and the broader success of their societies. I recognise that several designated countries are working to improve their respect for religious freedom...The United States remains committed to working with governments, civil society organisations, and religious leaders to advance religious freedom around the world,” Pompeo said.