Last week, the U.S. Commission on International Freedom (USCIRF) added eight countries—Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam—to the list of countries with the worst religious liberty violations in the world.
Christian groups agreed with the new designations, noting the recent rise of persecution in Syria and Pakistan. The new countries join China, North Korea, Iran, Burma, Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan as countries of particular concern (CPC). USCIRF monitors international abuses of religious freedom and puts violators into two categories: Tier 1 means the government of the country perpetrates or tolerates abuses of religious freedom that are systemic, ongoing, and egregious. Tier 2 means one of those three apply, but the countries do not yet meet the level required to designate them as CPCs.
Although the commission monitors abuse against people of all religions, even atheists, Todd Nettleton, media director for Voice of the Martyrs, said all the nations USCIRF recommended as CPCs have “very significant Christian persecution.”
For instance, the Chinese government recently demolished Sanjiang Church after agreeing to tear down only parts of it. North Korea’s communist regime is the worst persecutor of Christians, with Saudi Arabia as a close second, Nettleton said.
“As we’ve watched the situation in Syria over the past year or so, we know that persecution has increased there particularly in areas controlled by Sunni rebels so it was good to see USCIRF notice that,” Nettleton said. The conflict in Syria drove hundreds of thousands out of the country. Recently, unknown assailants assassinated a priest in Homs, Syria.
International Christian Concern agreed that Pakistan, where anti-blasphemy laws are used as a weapon, should be listed as one of the worst abusers of religious freedom. ICC noted that Pakistani Christians face both government discrimination and “open hostility from radical elements” of the Sunni majority.
The report, which also examined the agency’s 15 years of work on religious freedom, recommended several actions, including filling vacancies and allowing the State Department to name non-state actors as violators of religious freedom. The position of ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom has been empty since October 2013, according to USCIRF’s Kalinda Stephenson. The ambassador heads the State Department Office of International Religious Freedom.
Nettleton said the call to include non-state actors to the list of religious freedom violators was “very significant.” He pointed to the more than 250 Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram in early April. The al-Qaeda affiliate would be a good candidate for a non-state actor list, Nettleton said.