The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) wants six more countries to be added to the US State Department’s religious-freedom watch list.

USCIRF’s annual report

The Central African Republic, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Syria, and Vietnam should become ‘Countries of Particular Concern’ (CPCs) – a designation the US government uses to describe countries that have “engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom” – according to the 2018 USCIRF Annual Report, published yesterday (25 April).

The latest CPC list, published on 4 January, includes 10 countries: Myanmar, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Pakistan was placed on a ‘Special Watch List’ for “severe violations of religious freedom”, but the US secretary of state held off giving it full CPC status.

Fifteen of the 16 states USCIRF wants to be CPC designated are also on the 2018 Open Doors World Watch List of countries where it is most difficult to live as a Christian. Russia is the exception, although it features on Open Doors’ list of countries to “watch” beyond the top 50.

Daniel Mark, USCIRF Chairman said: “Sadly, religious-freedom conditions deteriorated in many countries in 2017, often due to increasing authoritarianism or under the guise of countering terrorism.”

The report by USCIRF also recommends an “entities of particular concern” list for non-state actors such as the Islamic State group, Taliban and Al-Shabaab.

The report said the Trump administration “has an opportunity to build on recent progress” made by the office of the international religious freedom ambassador, a post recently filled by Sam Brownback. “In its second year, the Trump Administration should build on stated commitments to elevate religious freedom as a priority in our foreign policy and national security strategy by vigorously implementing the International Religious Freedom Act,” Mark said at yesterday’s launch of the report.

It also encouraged the government to increase funding to media outlets Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, so they can continue publishing and broadcasting “uncensored information about events” inside Russia and Ukraine, “including those related to religious freedom”.