Religious liberty panel ‘appalled’ as State Department drops Nigeria from violator list

Religious liberty panel ‘appalled’ as State Department drops Nigeria from violator list

The federal panel that monitors global religious freedom said it was “appalled” by the State Department’s Wednesday move dropping Nigeria as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) on religious freedom violations.

In a statement released as Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken prepared to visit Nigeria on his Africa trip this week, the nation’s top diplomat labeled Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan as CPCs.

He said he also placed Algeria, the Comoros, Cuba and Nicaragua on a “special watch list” of those who either tolerate or engage in “severe violations” of religious freedom among their citizens.

Mr. Blinken also designated as “Entities of Particular Concern” several Islamist groups: al-Shabab, Boko Haram, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the Houthis, ISIS, ISIS-Greater Sahara, ISIS-West Africa, Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal-Muslimin, and the Taliban, which now governs Afghanistan.

“The United States will not waver in its commitment to advocate for freedom of religion or belief for all and in every country,” Mr. Blinken said in a statement. “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 U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom was not so sure about that.

Nadine Maenza, the panel’s chair, released a statement chastising the agency, which is required by statute to annually list violators as CPCs, for the omission of Nigeria this year.

“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.”

She said the panel had other issues with the list, specifically citing “the omission of India, Syria, and Vietnam.

“We urge the State Department to reconsider its designations based on facts presented in its own reporting,” Ms. Maenza concluded.

Nury Turkel, a Uyghur-American attorney and human-rights advocate who is vice chair of the panel, lauded the designation of Russia as a CPC, although he said Mr. Blinken’s agency can do more.

“Russia’s designation for the first time as a CPC for engaging in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom is welcomed,” Mr. Turkel said in a statement.

“For years, USCIRF has raised the alarm regarding the Russian government’s purge of ‘non-traditional’ religions and religious freedom repression,” he added.

Mr. Turkel said the commission “also applauds” Algeria’s placement on State’s “special watch list” given the North African nation’s “continued enforcement of blasphemy laws and restrictions on houses of worship for minority religious communities.”