The United States on Wednesday designated 10 countries, including China, Pakistan and Myanmar, as countries of particular concern in terms of violations of religious freedom.
The other such countries are Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.
United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that these countries have engaged in or tolerated “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom”.
This year’s list of designated countries of particular concern is mostly the same as last year, except that Russia has been added to it while Nigeria has been removed.
Blinken also announced that he has placed Algeria, Comoros, Cuba and Nicaragua on a Special Watch List, and said that their governments engaged in or tolerated “severe violations of religious freedom”. Last year, Russia was also on the Special Watch List.
The United States government has also designated al-Shabab, Boko Haram, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the Houthis, Islamic State, ISIS-Greater Sahara, ISIS-West Africa, Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal-Muslimin and the Taliban as entities of particular concern.
“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,” an official press release noted.
Blinken said that challenges to religious freedom need the international community’s urgent attention. “They demand sustained global commitment from all who are unwilling to accept hatred, intolerance, and persecution as the status quo,” he said.
The United States’ secretary of state identifies countries and entities of particular concern every year under the International Religious Freedom Act.
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent bipartisan panel, said it was appalled to see that Nigeria has been removed from the list of countries of particular concern, Reuters reported.
“We urge the State Department to reconsider its designations based on facts presented in its own reporting,” the panel’s chairperson Nadine Maenza said.
In April, the commission had recommended for the second year in a row that India should be placed on the list of countries of particular concern, according to The Hindu. The recommendation was not accepted.
The panel had also urged the United States government to impose targeted sanctions on individuals and entities in India for “severe violations of religious freedom”.