Around the world, governments and non-state actors harass, threaten, jail, and even kill individuals on account of their beliefs. “The United States will not stand by in the face of these abuses,” declared Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a statement. Under the U.S. Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the President, who assigns the function to the secretary of State, must designate as Countries of Particular Concern states that are deemed to violate religious freedom on a systematic and ongoing basis.
Consistent with last year’s designations, both Iran and the Peoples’ Republic of China were among those designated by Secretary Blinken as Countries of Particular Concern.
In Iran, authorities have killed hundreds of people in the course of a violent crackdown on peaceful protestors. And the United Nations says 14,000 people have been arrested for protesting following the September 16 arrest and death-in-custody of a young Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, for wearing her hijab “incorrectly.” The UN also noted the regime has stepped up its targeting of religious minorities including Baha’is, Sunni Muslims, Christian converts, and atheists.
In the People’s Republic of China, Secretary Blinken reaffirmed the United States’ “grave concern regarding the ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity” that PRC authorities are perpetrating against predominantly Muslim Uighurs and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang.
The remaining countries designated as countries of particular concern include Burma, Cuba, Eritrea, Nicaragua, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.
Secretary Blinken also placed Algeria, the Central African Republic, Comoros, and Vietnam on the Special Watch List for engaging in or tolerating severe violations of religious freedom.
In addition, numerous groups were designated as Entities of Particular Concern, including al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the Houthis, ISIS-Greater Sahara, ISIS-West Africa, Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin, the Taliban, and the Wagner Group based on its actions in the Central African Republic.
“We will continue to carefully monitor the status of freedom of religion or belief in every country around the world and advocate for those facing religious persecution or discrimination,” declared Secretary Blinken. The United States welcomes the opportunity to meet with all governments to address laws and practices that do not meet international standards and commitments, and to outline concrete steps in a pathway to removal from these lists.