The United States Department of State has designated nine nations as “Countries of Particular Concern” for engaging in or tolerating “systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedoms.”
In a news statement issued December 20, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the State Department’s decision two days earlier, under the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act, to retain this designation for Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan for their violations of religion freedoms.
At the same time, Sudan was moved down a tier to the State Department’s “Special Watch List” for governments that have engaged in or tolerated “severe violations of religious freedoms,” Pompeo said. A day earlier, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom Sam Brownback said in a news conference that one reason for the change in Sudan’s designation was the result of its new government’s halt on raids on churches in people’s homes. Pompeo confirmed this, citing “significant steps taken by the civilian-led transitional government to address the previous regime’s ‘systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedoms.’”
The list already included Russia, Comoros and Uzbekistan. Three other countries added to this Special Watch List were Cuba, Nicaragua and Nigeria.
“Our actions have been, and will continue to be, consistent with our position on religious freedom. No country, entity, or individual should be able to persecute people of faith without accountability. We have acted, and we will continue to do so.”
The State Department also designated a number of militant organizations as “entities of particular concern.” The groups include Nusra Front, an Islamist group fighting the Syrian regime; al-Qaida; al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula; al-Shabab, an Islamist insurgent group in Somalia; Boko Haram, a militant Islamic group in Nigeria that opposes the nation’s westernization; Houthis, an Islamic political and armed movement in Yemen; Islamic State (or ISIS); ISIS-Khorasan, an ISIS branch active in Afghanistan and Pakistan; and the Taliban.
Also in December, Pompeo said, the State Department announced economic sanctions under the 2016 Global Magnitsky Act against 68 individuals and entities in nine countries for corruption and human rights abuses. Among those targeted are “four Burmese military leaders responsible for serious human rights abuses against the Rohingya Muslims and other religious and ethnic minorities,” he said. “In October, we placed visa restrictions on Chinese government and Communist Party officials who are believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, the detention or abuse of Uighurs, Kazakhs, or other members of Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang, China.”
The Secretary of State added: “Our actions have been, and will continue to be, consistent with our position on religious freedom. No country, entity, or individual should be able to persecute people of faith without accountability. We have acted, and we will continue to do so.”
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a bipartisan, independent federal government body, welcomed the State Department’s decisions. “By calling out the governments that perpetrated or tolerated the most severe religious freedom violations globally in the past year, these designations send a strong signal that the U.S. government will not stand for these abuses,” USCIRF Chair Tony Perkins said.
From its beginnings, the Church of Scientology has recognized that freedom of religion is a fundamental human right. In a world where conflicts are often traceable to intolerance of others’ religious beliefs and practices, the Church has, for more than 50 years, made the preservation of religious liberty an overriding concern.
The Church publishes this blog to help create a better understanding of the freedom of religion and belief and provide news on religious freedom and issues affecting this freedom around the world.