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Report identifies worst violators of religious freedom 

  • United States Commission on International Religious Freedom publishes annual report

  • Report finds “systematic, ongoing, and egregious” violations of religious freedom in 15 countries

WASHINGTON DC (25 April 2022) – Fifteen countries are engaging in “systematic, ongoing, and egregious” violations of religious freedom – as identified by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in its 2022 Annual Report published this week. USCIRF’s report highlights a number of threats that religious minorities face worldwide, including Christians. The report also recommends 12 countries as needing special monitoring for their severe violations of religious freedom.  

“No one should be persecuted for their faith. Religious minorities around the world continue to face significant restrictions to their right of freedom of religion or belief. USCIRF’s Annual Report serves as a key resource for advocates and governments to aid in the protection of religious minorities by identifying some of the gravest abusers of religious freedom. We urge the United States Government to follow the country designation recommendations outlined in the new report,” said Kelsey Zorzi, Director of Advocacy for Global Religious Freedom at ADF International.  

Countries of particular concern 

The 2022 Annual Report assesses religious freedom violations as well as progress made during calendar year 2021 in 27 countries and makes independent recommendations for U.S. policy. USCIRF recommends that the U.S. Department of State designate Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, Syria, and Vietnam as “countries of particular concern (CPC)” and that Algeria, Cuba, Nicaragua, Azerbaijan, CAR, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Turkey, and Uzbekistan be placed on the State Department’s “Special Watch List.”  

Additionally, USCIRF expressed its concern that religious freedom conditions may deteriorate in Sudan following the military coup in late 2021, although it did not add Sudan to its Special Watch List recommendations. USCIRF also highlighted Päivi Räsänen’s prosecution for “hate speech” in Finland: “Vague and overbroad hate speech laws criminalizing speech that does not amount to incitement of violence also present human rights concerns.” 

Russia designated as “country of particular concern” 

The report shows that countries like Eritrea, Egypt, and Iraq made positive, although tentative, steps towards religious freedom. Yet in other countries, religious freedom conditions worsened.  

For the first time ever, the State Department designated Russia as a CPC in 2021, which USCIRF had been recommending since 2017. According to the report, the Russian government continued to use an array of problematic legislation to persecute religious minorities, including Muslims, Protestants, members of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, Falun Gong, and adherents of indigenous religions.  

Situation in Afghanistan “disheartening” 

Religious freedom conditions in Afghanistan have also worsened since the Taliban took control in August 2021:  

 “We are disheartened by the deterioration of freedom of religion or belief in some countries— especially Afghanistan under the Taliban’s de facto government since August. Religious minorities have faced harassment, detention, and even death due to their faith or beliefs, and years of progress toward more equitable access to education and representation of women and girls have disappeared,” said USCIRF Chair Nadine Maenza. 

Religious freedom conditions remain dire in Nigeria  

USCIRF is the highest government advisory body for religious freedom in the United States and has been one of many voices calling on the State Department to re-designate Nigeria as a CPC. The U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken removed its status in November 2021 even though it had been added the previous year and religious freedom conditions remain dire 

USCIRF’s latest report found that “religious freedom conditions in Nigeria remained poor as both state and nonstate actors continued to commit widespread and egregious religious freedom violations in 2021. Despite Nigeria’s constitution protecting religious freedom, Nigerian citizens faced blasphemy charges and convictions, violence, and attacks during religious ceremonies.” And “although government efforts to hold perpetrators accountable appear to have increased compared with previous years, the Nigerian government has often failed to respond sufficiently to violence against religious leaders and congregations”.  

“The assault on Christians in Nigeria has reached genocidal levels – and these numbers are only increasing. We thank USCIRF for recognizing the severity of the situation and for its recommendation of Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern. The State Department must follow USCRIF’s recommendations and protect religious minorities living in Nigeria and around the world,” Zorzi continued.  

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