The US State Department has added Russia to its list of nations it considers among the world’s most egregious violators of religious freedom.
Russia joins Myanmar (referred to as Burma on the list), China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan on the 2021 list of “Countries of Particular Concern” (CPC).
The most controversial change: Nigeria, which was finally added to the top-tier CPC list last year, is no longer included.
Nor is the troubled West African nation listed on the second-tier “Special Watch List” (SWL), where Russia had been listed in the 2020 designations. Meanwhile, Algeria was added to the watchlist, joining Comoros, Cuba, and Nicaragua, which were also listed in 2020.
“In far too many places around the world, we continue to see governments harass, arrest, threaten, jail, and kill individuals simply for seeking to live their lives in accordance with their beliefs,” Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said Wednesday in an announcement. “This Administration is committed to supporting every individual’s right to freedom of religion or belief, including by confronting and combating violators and abusers of this human right.”
“The challenges to religious freedom in the world today are structural, systemic, and deeply entrenched. They exist in every country,” stated Blinken. “They demand sustained global commitment from all who are unwilling to accept hatred, intolerance, and persecution as the status quo. … We will continue to press all governments to remedy shortcomings in their laws and practices, and to promote accountability for those responsible for abuses.”
Blinken also redesignated nine militant groups as “Entities of Particular Concern” (EPC): al-Shabab; Boko Haram; Hayat Tahrir al-Sham; the Houthis; the Islamic State group, or ISIS; ISIS-Greater Sahara; ISIS-West Africa (ISWAP); Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin; and the Taliban.
Reactions to Nigeria leaving the list
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said it was “appalled” at Nigeria’s “unexplainable” removal.
“While the State Department took steps forward on some designations, USCIRF is especially displeased with the removal of Nigeria from its CPC designation, where it was rightfully placed last year, as well as the omission of India, Syria, and Vietnam,” stated chair Nadine Maenza. “We urge the State Department to reconsider its designations based on facts presented in its own reporting.”