USCIRF warns, religious freedom trend in Afghanistan and other nations are alarming,
The US Commission on Interreligious Freedom stated in its annual report released on Monday that Afghanistan and four other nations should be added to the 10 countries already identified by the US State Department as having significant religious freedom issues.
On April 25, USCIRF chair Nadine Maenzea said, “We are disheartened by the deterioration of freedom of religion or belief in some countries, particularly Afghanistan under the Taliban’s de facto government since August.” “Because of their faith or views, religious minorities have experienced harassment, arrest, and even death, and years of progress toward more equitable access to education and representation of women and girls have vanished.”
“In the meantime, the Biden administration’s ongoing focus of international religious freedom during its first year is encouraging to USCIRF.” We strongly urge the administration to implement USCIRF’s suggestions in order to maintain this success,” Maenzea added.
She specifically requested that the Biden administration declare Nigeria a “country of particular concern” and broaden its priority refuge status “to allow at-risk religious communities in Afghanistan access.”
The United States Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is a bipartisan federal commission that advises Congress and the US administration on religious freedom issues around the world. The commission may request that the US State Department designate countries as “countries of particular concern,” or CPCs, based on its findings. Foreign countries that participate in or allow “systemic, continuing, and serious” religious freedom breaches are given the title. The designation opens the door to trade and finance sanctions, among other things.
Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan are among the ten countries listed in the USCIRF proposal, which the US State Department identified as countries of particular concern in November 2021.
Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, Syria, and Vietnam should also be listed as nations of particular concern, according to the commission. The commission expressed disappointment that Nigeria was removed off the State Department’s designated list after only one year. According to the report, “religious freedom conditions in Nigeria remain terrible.”
Since the Taliban retook power in Afghanistan, the situation regarding religious freedom has deteriorated. Other believers, particularly Muslims whose beliefs and practices differ from those of the Taliban, are “in risk of extreme peril,” according to the report. The majority of Hindus and Sikhs have abandoned the country, while Christians, Bahais, and Ahmadiyya Muslims practice their faiths secretly.
Despite the fact that USCIRF had requested that Russia be designated as a CPC as early as 2017, the State Department did not add Russia to its list until last year.
Russia’s persecution of religious minorities is mentioned in the most recent USCIRF report, which covers the year 2021. Since 2017, Jehovah’s Witnesses have been outlawed and punished for alleged extremism. Last year, 105 adherents were sentenced to prison, with some of them serving their sentences in Russia-controlled Crimea. Muslims, Protestants, Orthodox Church of Ukraine members, Falun Gong practitioners, and indigenous religions practitioners are also persecuted.
Authorities in Vietnam continue to oppress religious minorities, especially Protestant Christians and Buddhists. Because local governments refuse to grant identity certificates to Christians from the Hmong and Montagnard ethnic groups, they are practically stateless, and there are ongoing property disputes between Catholic communities and local administrations.
China’s “sinicization of religion” strategy continues, requiring religious organizations to adhere to communist philosophy and policies. Adherents and groups thought to have foreign influence, such as underground Catholics, house church Protestants, Uyghurs and other Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, and Falun Gong, are particularly vulnerable to prosecution.
The government of India’s strong Hindu nationalist agenda has a severe impact on religious minorities such as Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, and Dalits. Non-Hindu groups and former Hindus can be prosecuted under anti-conversion laws enacted at the national, state, and local levels.
Targeted killings, lynchings, mob violence, forced conversion, and vandalism of places of worship and cemeteries have all occurred in Pakistan. Minorities may face violence or prosecution as a result of anti-blasphemy laws or unofficial charges of blasphemy.
Hundreds of Christians have been jailed in Iran on various allegations, including government propaganda.
According to USCIRF, both state and non-state actors in Nigeria engage in “widespread and flagrant religious freedom abuses.” Mosques and churches have been assaulted by criminal and armed gangs, and priests, pastors, and imams have been abducted and held for ransom. Boko Haram continues to hold territory and carry out attacks.
“The United States government continued to condemn abuses of religious freedom and hold violators accountable through targeted sanctions and other means at its disposal,” said Nury Turkel, vice-chair of USCIRF in 2021.
“Going forward, the US should take greater actions to encourage religious and belief freedom around the world,” Turkel said.
The study also includes suggestions for countries to be placed on the US State Department’s Special Watch List for “perpetration or toleration of egregious violations” by their governments. Last year, Algeria, Cuba, and Nicaragua were added to the list. Azerbaijan, the Central African Republic, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Turkey, and Uzbekistan are now among the USCIRF’s recommended countries. The Central African Republic was removed off the list of recommended countries last year, but there was a shift in religious targeting and violence last year.
Religious freedom was harmed as a result of some responses to the Covid-19 outbreak. Some religious minorities, such as Christians in Algeria, were denied the right to reopen, despite mosques being allowed to do so while adhering to mitigation measures. Government failure to offer protection from the disease in prison put the health of some religious prisoners of conscience in Iran and India, among other countries.
Blasphemy is illegal in 84 countries. Blasphemy accusations can lead to state violence, mob violence, persecution of religious minorities, and censorship.
The government of Belarus has put pressure on Christian clergy who support the opposition. Priests in Poland frequently have difficulty renewing their official authorisation to stay in the nation. Political turmoil in Sudan has raised fears that the new military government may erase advances made under the previous civilian government.
The USCIRF study criticizes Poland for prosecuting three LGBT activists for distributing religious posters picturing the Virgin Mary with a rainbow halo. The posters were displayed near a church that made anti-activist sentiments. The report also criticizes Finland for prosecuting a member of Parliament and a Lutheran bishop for religious views on homosexuality, claiming that “vague and overbroad hate speech rules” that punish non-violent expression might lead to human rights conflicts.
In Europe, religious intolerance has a significant impact on Muslims and Jews, who in some countries suffer restrictions on religious clothing or halal or kosher animal slaughter, as well as marginalization or societal pressures. Jews are subjected to anti-Semitic physical assaults and vandalism in several parts of Europe. Muslims are subjected to comparable pressures, as well as legal and political persecution by authorities claiming to be supporting secularism.
“European Christians have faced intolerance and hate crimes, which has been on the rise in recent years,” according to the research. “Christians were subjected to physical and verbal abuse, and their community property was subjected to vandalism, destruction, theft, and burning in certain cases.”
The USCIRF report specifically mentions a Marian procession in Paris in December 2021 during which Catholic participants were threatened and sprayed in water.
In October, a wave of sectarian violence against Hindus erupted in Bangladesh. Since the Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka in 2019, the government has used anti-terrorism and other laws to target religious minorities, particularly Muslims. Converts from Hinduism to Christianity in Nepal may experience persecution under anti-proselytization legislation.
The USCIRF’s Freedom of Religion or Belief Victims List and Religious Prisoners of Conscience Project are also included in the study. Seven non-state actors should be designated as “entities of particular concern,” according to the report. Boko Haram and many Islamic State factions are among them.
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