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The U.S. State Department has added Nigeria to its list of countries deemed to have the most egregious violations of religious freedom.
Sam Brownback, the department’s ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, told reporters in a Dec. 8 telephone briefing that the African country was designated as a “country of particular concern” (CPC) because of an increasing number of organized terrorist groups and “a lot of religious-tinged violence.”
“You’ve got expanded terrorist activities, you’ve got a lot of it associated around religious affiliations, and the government’s response has been minimal to not happening at all,” Brownback said of Nigeria, according to a State Department transcript. “The terrorism continues to happen and grow, in some places unabated.”
Related: A pastor serving the Christian Reformed Church in Nigeria and his wife died this summer as a result of violence
Brownback spoke on the day after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the latest designations of countries cited for violating religious liberties, including the addition of nine other nations now designated as CPCs: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom welcomed the State Department’s decisions.
“We particularly welcome Nigeria’s designation for the first time as a CPC for tolerating egregious violations of religious freedom, which USCIRF had been recommending since 2009,” said commission Chair Gayle Manchin in a statement. “Nigeria is the first secular democracy that has been named a CPC, which demonstrates that we must be vigilant that all forms of governments respect religious freedom.”
USCIRF had also suggested the State Department give India, Russia, Syria, and Vietnam the CPC designation, but it did not.
The State Department listed again Comoros, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Russia on its second-tier “special watch list.”
It removed Sudan and Uzbekistan from that watch list. In July, Sudan repealed its apostasy law that previously called for the death penalty for persons convicted of renouncing Islam.
“Their courageous reforms of their laws and practices stand as models for other nations to follow,” Pompeo said in his announcement.
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