The report of more than 2,000 pages included this information on some of the worst violators of religious freedom:
- Afghanistan has experienced both oppressive governance by the Taliban and increasing attacks against religious minorities by the Islamic State-Khorasan Province (ISIS-K) since the full U.S. withdrawal in August 2021. Religious freedom conditions “have deteriorated dramatically under the Taliban, particularly as they crack down on the basic rights” of females, Blinken told reporters. ISIS-K conducted 152 attacks in 16 provinces between Aug. 19 and the end of 2021, compared to 20 attacks in five provinces during the same time in 2020, according to the United Nations. No known Jews remain in the country, and Afghans who convert to or are studying Christianity reported being threatened, including death threats. Christians and Ahmadiyya Muslims said they still worship only in private and in small groups to escape discrimination and persecution.
- Burma (Myanmar) saw “an alarming escalation of grave human rights abuses” by regime forces after a military coup in February 2021, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights reported. A bombing of a church and a shooting at another, both in May by military forces, resulted in six deaths. The regime had confined 144,000 Rohingya, who are predominantly Muslim, in camps in Rakhine State at the end of 2021, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. In March of this year, Blinken announced the designation of “genocide and crimes against humanity” for the Burmese military’s campaign against the Rohingya.
- China’s Communist government “continued to assert control over religion and to restrict the activities and personal freedom of religious adherents that it perceived” as threats to its interests or those of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), according to multiple reports. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and media again reported deaths in custody, torture, imprisonment and other government harassment of members of registered and unregistered religious groups. “[S]evere societal discrimination in employment, housing, and business opportunities” was reported by Christians, Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists and Falun Gong adherents. In 2021, first the Trump administration and then the Biden administration issued genocide designations against the CCP for its repressive campaign against the Uyghurs, a primarily Muslim group in western China.
- Russia’s government maintained its favoritism toward the Russian Orthodox Church while continuing to investigate, imprison, torture and/or seize the property of people for their beliefs or membership in some faith organizations, according to religious groups and NGOs. Targets included multiple evangelical Protestant groups, as well as Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Church of Scientology. Last year, Blinken placed Russia for the first time on the State Department’s list of “countries of particular concern” (CPCs), a category reserved for the world’s most severe violators of religious freedom.
In reiterating a pledge of continued U.S. leadership on global religious liberty, Blinken described respect for religious freedom as “a vital foreign policy priority.” He said, “[E]ntire societies are better off” when religious freedom is respected, adding, “On the other hand, when governments deny this right, it ignites tension; it sows division; it often leads to instability and conflict.”
The State Department report did not include its annual CPC list. Blinken announced the designation of 10 CPCs in November of last year – Burma (Myanmar), China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.
In its annual report in April, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) called for the State Department to place the same 10 countries on the CPC list this year and add five others: Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, Syria and Vietnam.
USCIRF, a bipartisan panel of nine members selected by the president and congressional leaders, tracks the status of religious liberty worldwide and issues reports to Congress, the president and the State Department.
This article originally appeared at Baptist Press.