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Nury Turkel speaks on the Protecting Religious Minorities panel at the 2022 Notre Dame Law School Religious Liberty Summit in Rome. (Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame via Crux)

U.S. criticized for leaving Nigeria, India off religious persecution list

A government watchdog group is disappointed that the U.S. State Department left Nigeria and India off its annual list of countries where religious freedom violations are most concerning, despite pleas from advocacy groups.

Nury Turkel, chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, said there is no justification for the decision.

The International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 first required the designations to prioritize “policy options designed to bring about a cessation of the particularly severe violations of religious freedom.” Countries subject to this designation may face negative consequences, including the possibility of crippling sanctions.

READ: Why Nigerian Christians wish Trump were still in office

What other countries are on the list?

Last week, the State Department designated China, Cuba, Eritrea, Iran, Nicaragua, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan as countries of concern, while naming Algeria, the Central African Republic, Comoros and Vietnam to the lower-tier special watchlist designation.

The State Department also designated nine groups, including the Nigerian terror group Boko Haram and Islamic State factions of ISIS-Greater Sahara and ISIS-West Africa, as “Entities of Particular Concern.” The others are the Russian paramilitary organization Wagner Group, Somalia’s al-Shabab, Afghanistan’s Taliban, Syria’s Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, Yemen’s Houthis and Mali’s Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin.

Turkel, who became the panel chairman this year, said Nigeria and India “clearly meet the legal standards for designation as CPCs.”

“USCIRF is tremendously disappointed that the secretary of state did not implement our recommendations and recognize the severity of the religious freedom violations that both USCIRF and the State Department have documented in those countries,” Turkel said. “The State Department’s own reporting includes numerous examples of particularly severe religious freedom violations in Nigeria and India.”

The Biden administration received criticism from USCIRF and human rights activists last November when it removed Nigeria’s designation amid concerns about the violence inflicted on Christian communities amid the presence of Boko Haram and other Islamic terrorist groups in the country’s northeast, as well as communal violence in agricultural rich Middle Belt states. Thousands have been killed and millions have been displaced across Nigeria in recent years.

–Dwight Widaman | MV

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