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Annual list of worst nations for religious freedom released

In a new report, over a dozen countries are accused of violently trampling over religious freedoms.
Annual list of worst nations for religious freedom released
Posted at 5:15 PM, May 01, 2023

The list of the worst countries for religious freedom is out — and Iran, China and North Korea are among the worst offenders. This comes from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent bipartisan panel. Historically, the list has been key in helping to shape U.S. foreign policy. 

Based on the report, the Secretary of State creates an official list of "countries of particular concern (or CPC's)."

These are countries where the government is involved in or tolerates severe violations of religious freedoms, from inhumane punishment to false imprisonment. The president then takes action against countries on that official list, mostly involving sanctions. 

Last year, the State Department designated a dozen countries as "CPC," including Cuba and Nicaragua for the first time. Now, the UCIRF wants the government to add five new countries to that list including Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, Syria and Vietnam. 

The repression of religious minorities by the Taliban is the reason the committee recommends Afghanistan be added to the list by Secretary of State Antony Blinken. 

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The UCIRF was also outraged after Blinken failed to include India and Nigeria on the CPC list last year despite the panel’s recommendation. In its report Monday, the panel says India's religious freedoms are worsening as leaders banned hijabs in public schools, criminalized interfaith marriage and enforced anti-conversion laws. 

The policies have led to intensified, even violent attacks against non-Hindus, particularly Muslims and Christians. It's unclear though, whether the U.S. will add India to the list considering trade between the two nations reached $120 billion in 2022. 

The panel also wants Nigeria named a CPC, as churches and worshipers faced unrelenting, targeted attacks, including one at a Catholic church last June that left 40 people dead. A mob also stoned and burned a Christian student because they believe she insulted Islam in a WhatsApp thread.  

Beyond countries, the panel suggests the government blacklist so-called "entities of concern." These include terror groups like Boko Haram, the Houthis and several factions of ISIS. 

The commission also proposes the State Department add several countries to a "special watch" list. Those are countries at risk of being blacklisted if they don’t improve religious protections. 

But there’s no guarantee Secretary Blinken will add all of these groups and countries to these designations. And while U.S. presidents are required to take action against countries of particular concern, one government study last year found administrations typically issue waivers or refer to pre-existing sanctions instead of creating new punishments. 

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