The United States of America has designated Nigeria for the first time as a “Country of Particular Concern” for religious freedom.
The US designated Nigeria as a country engaging in and tolerating “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom.”
Other countries in the list according to the U.S Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, include China, Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
“Religious freedom is an unalienable right, and the bedrock upon which free societies are built and flourish. Today, the United States – a nation founded by those fleeing religious persecution, as the recent Commission on Unalienable Rights report noted – once again took action to defend those who simply want to exercise this essential freedom,” he said.
Pompeo said “The United States is designating Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, the DPRK, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan as Countries of Particular Concern under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, as amended, for engaging in or tolerating “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom.”
“We are also placing the Comoros, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Russia on a Special Watch List for governments that have engaged in or tolerated “severe violations of religious freedom.” Additionally, we are designating al-Shabaab, al-Qa’ida, Boko Haram, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the Houthis, ISIS, ISIS-Greater Sahara, ISIS-West Africa, Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin, and the Taliban as Entities of Particular Concern under the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act of 2016.
“We have not renewed the prior Entity of Particular Concern designations for al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS-Khorasan, due to the total loss of territory formerly controlled by these terrorist organizations. While these two groups no longer meet the statutory criteria for designation, we will not rest until we have fully eliminated the threat of religious freedom abuses by any violent extremist and terrorist groups.
“There are also positive developments to share. I am pleased to announce that Sudan and Uzbekistan have been removed from the Special Watch List based on significant, concrete progress undertaken by their respective governments over the past year. Their courageous reforms of their laws and practices stand as models for other nations to follow.
“And yet our work is far from complete. The United States will continue to work tirelessly to end religiously motivated abuses and persecution around the world, and to help ensure that each person, everywhere, at all times, has the right to live according to the dictates of conscience,”
Pompeo removed from a second tier watchlist both Uzbekistan and Sudan, whose relations with the United States have rapidly warmed after the ousting of dictator Omar al-Bashir and its recent agreement to recognize Israel.
On Nigeria, an annual State Department report published earlier this year took note of concerns both at the federal and state levels.
It pointed to the mass detention of members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, a Shi’ite Muslim group that has been at loggerheads with the government for decades and was banned by a court.
The group has taken inspiration from Iran, ordinarily a major target of President Donald Trump’s administration.
However, Nigeria has been widely criticized for its treatment of the movement, including in a 2015 clash in which hundreds were said to have died.
The State Department report highlighted the arrests of Muslims for eating in public in Kano state during Ramadan, when Muslims are supposed to fast during daylight hours.
It also took note of the approval of a bill in Kaduna state to regulate religious preaching.
While the designations relate to government actions, the State Department has already listed Nigeria’s Boko Haram as a terrorist group.
The militants began an insurgency in 2009 in northeastern Nigeria that has since spread to neighboring countries, killing more than 36,000 people and forcing 3 million to flee their homes, according to the United Nations.
Under U.S. law, nations on the blacklist must make improvements or face sanctions, including losses of U.S. government assistance, although the administration can waive actions.