RNS

The US State Department has added Russia to its list of nations it considers among the world’s most egregious violators of religious freedom.

Russia joins Myanmar (referred to as Burma on the list), China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan on the list of “countries of particular concern.”

Nigeria, which was on the list last year, is not included, as of Monday.

Russia Moscow Red Square

Red Square in Moscow. PICTURE: Vlad Vasnetsov/Pixabay/Creative Commons

Russia had been on the second-tier “special watch list” in the 2020 designation. Algeria is now listed on the second-tier list, joining Comoros, Cuba and Nicaragua, which were also listed in 2020.

“In far too many places around the world, we continue to see governments harass, arrest, threaten, jail, and kill individuals simply for seeking to live their lives in accordance with their beliefs,” Secretary of State Antony J Blinken said Wednesday in an announcement. “This Administration is committed to supporting every individual’s right to freedom of religion or belief, including by confronting and combating violators and abusers of this human right.”

Blinken also redesignated these militant groups as “entities of particular concern”: al-Shabaab; Boko Haram; Hayat Tahrir al-Sham; the Houthis; the Islamic State group, or ISIS; ISIS-Greater Sahara; ISIS-West Africa; Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin; and the Taliban.

Earlier in November, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom reiterated its recommendations for the State Department’s designations. Russia, along with Syria, India and Vietnam, was among its suggestions for the CPC list.

“For years, the Russian government has conducted a purge of ‘non-traditional’ religions, frequently labelling as ‘extremists’ and imprisoning peaceful Jehovah’s Witnesses, and readers of the moderate Islamic theologian Said Nursi,” USCIRF stated in a November fact sheet. “Russian courts continue to deliver harsher and more numerous prison sentences for Jehovah’s Witnesses seeking to practice their faith.”

Meanwhile, Nigeria was named the worst country for the oppression of Christians, the Taliban the worst entity, and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un the worst individual in International Christian Concern's 'Persecutor of the Year Awards' announced this week.

Other countries named in the report detailing the awards included China, India, Iran, Myanmar, Pakistan and Turkey while other entities named included Islamist terror groups al-Shabaab and Boko Haram, Turkish group the "Grey Wolves", and Sangh Parivar in India, an umbrella term for Hindu nationalist organisations. Other national leaders named include Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi and Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

The awards, which was unveiled in Washington, DC, on Tuesday, are awarded based on what the report said were "insights and analysis compiled from countless victim interviews, 50 indigenous international ICC staff, and their massive network of contacts in numerous countries throughout the world".

In a statement in the report, Jeff King, president of the ICC, said Christians in many places face a daily torrent of threats; everything from job discrimination to systematic imprisonment, rape, torture, and assassination".

"Unfortunately, the challenges of the more than 200 million Christians who live under persecution often go unnoticed. They are hidden by dictators, fundamentalist actors, and entities as well as drowned out by more popular news, geopolitical issues, sports, and the latest celebrity gossip."

- With DAVID ADAMS/Sight.