Afghanistan and four other countries should be added to the ten countries already recognized by the US State Department to have particular problems with religious freedom, the US Commission on Interreligious Freedom said in its annual report released Monday.
“We are discouraged by the deterioration of freedom of religion or belief in some countries, particularly Afghanistan under the de facto Taliban government since August,” USCIRF President Nadine Maenzea said April 25. even death due to their faith or beliefs, and years of progress towards more equitable access to education and representation for women and girls are gone.
“In the meantime, USCIRF is encouraged by the Biden administration’s continued focus on international religious freedom in its first year. To continue this progress, we urge the administration to implement USCIRF’s recommendations,” Maenzea continued.
In particular, she called on the Biden administration to designate Nigeria as a “country of particular concern” and to expand its priority safe haven designation “to grant access to at-risk religious groups in Afghanistan.”
USCIRF is a bipartisan federal commission that advises Congress and the U.S. government and investigates violations of religious freedom around the world. Based on its findings, the commission asks the US State Department to designate countries as “countries of particular concern,” or CPCs. The label identifies foreign governments that commit or condone “systemic, continuous and gross” violations of religious freedom. Designation opens the door to consequences, including trade and financial penalties.
The USCIRF request includes 10 countries that the US State Department previously designated as countries of particular concern in November 2021: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.
In addition to these, the commission recommends that Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, Syria and Vietnam also be designated as countries of particular concern. The commission regretted that the State Department removed Nigeria from its designation list after only one year. In Nigeria, “religious freedom conditions remain dire,” the report says.
The situation of religious freedom in Afghanistan has worsened since the return to power of the Taliban. Followers of other faiths, including Muslims whose beliefs and practices differ from those of the Taliban, are “at grave risk”, the report said. Most Hindus and Sikhs have fled the country, while converts to Christianity, Baha’is and Ahmadi Muslims practice their religion in secret.
Although the USCIRF requested that Russia receive the CPC designation as early as 2017, the State Department only put Russia on its list last year.
The latest USCIRF report, which relates to the year 2021, cites Russia’s persecution of religious minorities. Jehovah’s Witnesses have been banned since 2017 and prosecuted for alleged extremism. Last year, 105 adherents were sentenced to prison terms, some of them in Russian-occupied Crimea. Muslims, Protestants, members of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, members of Falun Gong, and practitioners of indigenous religious groups also face persecution.
In Vietnam, authorities continue to persecute independent religious groups, including Protestant Christians and Buddhists. Christians from the Hmong and Montagnard ethnic groups are effectively stateless because local authorities refuse to issue them identity documents and there are persistent land disputes between Catholic communities and local governments.
China continues to implement its “Sinicization of Religion” policy and demands that religious groups conform to communist ideology and policies. Adherents and groups perceived to have foreign influence are particularly vulnerable to prosecution, including underground Catholics, house church Protestants, Uyghurs and other Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists and Falun Gong.
In India, the government’s strong Hindu nationalist agenda tends to negatively affect religious minorities, including Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and Dalits. National, state and local anti-conversion laws can be enforced against non-Hindu groups and former Hindus.
Religious minorities in Pakistan have suffered targeted killings, lynchings, mob violence, forced conversions and desecrations in places of worship and cemeteries. Anti-blasphemy laws, as well as unofficial accusations of blasphemy, can lead to violence or the prosecution of minorities.
In Iran, dozens of Christians have been arrested on various charges, including propaganda against the government.
As far as Nigeria is concerned, state and non-state actors are committing “widespread and gross violations of religious freedom”, says USCIRF. Criminal and armed groups have attacked mosques, churches, while priests, pastors and imams have been kidnapped and held for ransom. Boko Haram still controls certain territories and carries out attacks.
Nury Turkel, vice president of USCIRF, said that in 2021 “the U.S. government continued to condemn abuses of religious freedom and hold perpetrators accountable through targeted sanctions and other tools at its disposal. provision”.
“Moving forward, the United States should take additional steps to support freedom of religion or belief around the world,” Turkel said.
Another aspect of the report concerns recommendations that countries should place on the US State Department’s Special Watch List for “the commission or condoning of serious violations” by their governments. Algeria, Cuba and Nicaragua were placed on this list last year. USCIRF recommendations now include Azerbaijan, Central African Republic, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Turkey and Uzbekistan. The Central African Republic was dropped from last year’s list of recommendations, but the past year has seen a reversal in trends in religious targeting and violence.
Some responses to the Covid-19 pandemic have had a negative impact on religious freedom. Some minority religious communities, such as Christians in Algeria, were not allowed to reopen even though mosques were allowed to do so while adhering to mitigation measures. Some religious prisoners of conscience in Iran and India, among other countries, have seen their health “seriously threatened” by the government’s failure to provide protection from disease in prison.
Some 84 countries criminalize blasphemy. Allegations of blasphemy can result in state violence, mob violence or persecution against religious minorities as well as censorship.
In Belarus, the government has pressured Christian clergy who support the political opposition. Polish Catholic priests often face problems renewing their official residence permit in the country. In Sudan, political upheaval has raised concerns that the new military government could erode the gains of the former civilian leadership.
The USCIRF report blames Poland for legal action against three LGBT activists who displayed religious posters depicting the Virgin Mary in a rainbow halo. The posters were placed near a church which made statements which the activists opposed. The report also criticizes Finland for prosecuting a member of parliament and a Lutheran bishop for statements expressing religious views on homosexuality, saying that “vague and overbroad hate speech laws” that criminalize hate speech non-violent acts can provoke human rights conflicts.
Religious intolerance in Europe severely affects Muslims and Jews, who in some countries face bans on religious dress or the slaughter of halal or kosher animals in addition to exclusion or social pressure. In parts of Europe, Jews are victims of physical attacks and anti-Semitic vandalism. Muslims face similar pressures, as well as legal and political targeting from leaders who claim to defend secularism.
“European Christians have also faced intolerance and hate crime, representative of a growing problem in recent years,” the report said. “Christians have suffered physical and verbal assaults and in some cases their community property has been subject to vandalism, desecration, theft and arson.
In particular, the USCIRF report notes a December 2021 Marian procession in Paris in which Catholic participants were threatened and doused with water.
Bangladesh saw a wave of communal violence against Hindus in October. In Sri Lanka, since the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings, the government has exploited counter-terrorism and other laws to target religious minorities, especially Muslims. In Nepal, converts to Christianity from Hinduism can be persecuted under anti-proselytism laws.
The report also includes USCIRF’s Freedom of Religion or Belief Victims List and its Religious Prisoners of Conscience Project. It recommends that seven non-state actors be named “entities of particular concern”. These include Boko Haram and several Islamic State groups.