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U.S. commission names religious persecution hot spots

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s annual report, released Monday, calls on the State Department to add Afghanistan to its list of top religious persecutors. The independent commission, created in 1998 under the International Religious Freedom Act, issues nonbinding recommendations to the administration and Congress. Its “countries of particular concern” designation is reserved for nations where governments permit or engage in severe persecution of religious believers.

The commission has not recommended Afghanistan for the CPC list since 2001 when the Taliban last ruled the country. This year’s report said the group’s strict interpretation of Sunni Islam has left religious minorities at risk of harassment, detention, and death.

The commission said the State Department should retain the 10 countries already on its list, including Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. It recommended adding four additional countries: India, Nigeria, Syria, and Vietnam.

India implemented more Hindu nationalist policies in the past year and restricted international funding for religious groups like Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. Muslims across several states have faced hate speech and attacks on their properties in recent weeks.

Nigeria became the first secular democracy to join the CPC list in 2020, but the Biden administration withdrew its designation last year. The commissioners noted ongoing terror attacks and assaults against churches and mosques in north and central states. A court in Kano state sentenced Mubarak Bala, president of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, to 24 years in prison on blasphemy charges this month. Commissioner Tony Perkins said the commission would continue to engage the State Department over the situation in Nigeria.

The annual report also highlights terror groups that target and attack people because of their religion. It documented growing religious intolerance in Europe in the past year, including more cases of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. Perkins cautioned that religious freedom may be overlooked during the war in Ukraine.

The commission welcomed the January appointment of Rashad Hussain as the U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. Hussain previously served in the Obama administration as special envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

Read more at World Magazine

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