Will US List Nigeria Again After Latest Religious Freedom…… | News and reports
Nigeria – and a few other nations – are on high alert.
The US State Department released its 2021 annual International Religious Freedom (IRF) report last week, outlining conditions in nearly 200 countries. Delivering remarks from the Benjamin Franklin Room – where US ambassadors are sworn in – Secretary of State Antony Blinken presented a litany of well-known offenders.
China, he said, continues its genocide against Uyghur Muslims.
Saudi Arabia makes it illegal to practice any religion other than Islam.
Pakistan sentences people to death for blasphemy.
And Eritrea demands renunciation of faith to release arrested members of religious minorities.
“Respect for religious freedom is not only one of the most deeply held values and a fundamental right,” Blinken said. “It is also, from my point of view, a vital foreign policy priority.”
Last November, these four nations were among the 10 Blinken designated as countries of particular concern (CPC). A separate Special Watch List (SWL) lists four others: Algeria, Comoros, Cuba and Nicaragua.
But three days after the publication of the IRF report, a terrorist attack in Nigeria highlighted its omission. Dozens of Christians were gunned down in a Catholic church on Pentecost Sunday. And a month earlier, a Christian student was murdered by a mob for her alleged blasphemy against Islam.
Last April, the US Independent Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released its own list of non-binding CPC recommendations, reminding Blinken that he was “appalled” by Nigeria’s omission.
After listing Africa’s most populous nation as a CPC for the first time in 2020, the State Department removed the stigma from Nigeria entirely in 2021, without even downgrading the nation to SWL status.
Recently appointed USCIRF Commissioner David Curry expressed his disappointment.
“The Nigerian government is in clear violation of international law in that it has gravely allowed the entire northern region of its country to be a no-go zone for Christians,” Open Doors USA CEO says, urging President Joe Biden Act. .
“Governments must know that they will not do business as usual with the United States as long as they perpetrate or permit the brutal persecution of Christians and other people of faith.”
Nigeria is ranked No. 7 on Open Doors’ annual World Watch List (WWL) of countries where it is hardest to be a Christian.
In the June 2 post, Blinken called one of the five USCIRF CPC recommendations among the pariahs above. In Afghanistan, conditions for religious freedom have rapidly deteriorated under the Taliban, he said, as the local Islamic State branch increasingly targets religious minorities, particularly Shia Hazara.
Perhaps mindful of the USCIRF CCP’s other recommendations, he cited three other nations where religious freedom is “threatened”:
- India is witnessing an increase in attacks on places of worship.
- Vietnam harasses unregistered religious communities.
- Nigeria has several state governments where blasphemy laws are used to punish people for expressing their beliefs.
Blinken had no comment on Syria, the remaining USCIRF recommendation.
Rashad Hussain, the first Muslim to serve as the United States’ Goodwill Ambassador for International Religious Freedom, clarified that “Christians” were the ones under threat in Nigeria.
He also cited North Korea and Saudi Arabia for abuse, with Nicaragua guilty of oppressing Catholics. Appointed last December, Hussain identified other religious groups at risk of persecution: Jews in Europe, Baha’is in Iran and Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia.
Russia was added as a CPC last year; USCIRF had been recommending it since 2017.
Hussain hailed the IRF’s 2,000-page report as consistent with the founding of America as a nation by individuals fleeing religious persecution. He “gives a voice” to those who today are “killed, beaten, threatened, harassed or imprisoned”, simply for having exercised their beliefs according to their conscience.
“The United States will continue to stand up for those who are oppressed everywhere,” he pledged. “Religion can be such a powerful force for good, and it should never be used to harm people.”
Hussain identified three themes in this year’s IRF report. First, too many governments abuse their own people, he said. Second, social intolerance, often fueled by social media, leads to an increase in anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim hatred and xenophobia.
Yet, third, there are powerful signs of collaboration on religious freedom – between governments, civil society and religious leaders. He mentioned his own work with the 2016 Marrakesh Declaration, affirming the rights of Christians in Muslim-majority countries, and the 2011 Istanbul Process, which rejects the criminalization of blasphemy.
“We have more partners in this effort than ever before,” Hussain said.
In 1998, the US Congress was the first country to mandate the publication of an annual report on religious freedom, Blinken said. Today, it has 35 governmental and multilateral organizations dedicated to the same goal.
He also highlighted successes:
- Morocco now includes Jewish history in its school curriculum.
- Taiwan facilitates accountability when day of worship requests are denied.
- The new president of Timor-Leste is committed to defending the rights of religious minorities.
- Iraq has made progress in welcoming Pope Francis in the first-ever papal visit to the country, where he led Christian and interreligious ceremonies.
Could Nigeria and Afghanistan be hailed next year or listed as CPCs by the end of the year?
“America will continue to champion religious freedom around the world,” Blinken said. “Our job is fundamentally to ensure that all people have the freedom to pursue the spiritual tradition that adds the most meaning to their time on Earth.”