U.S. State Department publishes ‘Countries of Particular Concern,’ adding Russia, removing Nigeria, from list of most egregious religious freedom violators
As required by the International Religious Freedom Act, the U.S. Department of State has issued its annual list of Countries of Particular Concern on religious freedom matters. Via Religion Clause, the announcement, which also designates a second tier “Watch List,” is largely unchanged from last year, with two notable exceptions.
First, Russia has been moved from the Watch List to the Countries of Particular Concern (CPC). In its recommendation that Russia be added to those countries engaged in “particularly severe violations of religious freedom,” the U.S. Committee on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) emphasized that the Russian government uses vague laws to prosecute nonviolent religious activity:
The anti-extremism law, for example, lacks a clear definition of extremism and includes no prerequisite for the use or advocacy of violence. The law is a powerful way to intimidate religious communities as it allows for the prosecution of virtually any speech; suspects can be financially blacklisted or liquidated, and they can face criminal prosecutions.
In addition, the State Department made the controversial decision to remove Nigeria from the CPC list. The move, which ran counter to the recommendation of the USCIRF, has been criticized due to the plight of Christians in many parts of the country. Baptist News Global reports:
“Christians had faced and are still facing persecution from (Islamic State West Africa Province) and the Boko Haram Islamic group till today as before,” [Christian Association of Nigeria President Samson Ayokunle] said. “These are the people who said their agenda was to wipe away Christianity from Nigeria and to plant Islam as the only religion from the north down to the Atlantic Ocean in the south. That agenda with the killing of Christians has not stopped till today, and Nigerians are living witnesses.”
Ayokunle added: “The bandits have joined other militant Islamic groups to be ferociously attacking churches, killing worshipers and kidnapping for ransom. The herdsmen are equally doing their havoc. We have lost many people and places of worship to their assault, especially in the north central and the northeast part of the country.”
The State Department did designate Boko Haram as a non-governmental “entity of particular concern,” alongside ISIS, the Houthis, and the Taliban.
You can read Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s announcement here. See all the CPC and Watch List countries here. For a more comprehensive country-by-country discussion of the state of religious freedom around the world, see the State Department’s annual Report on International Religious Freedom, released in May.