MARY REICHARD, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: World Tour. This week, a special report on religious freedom around the world.
NICK EICHER, HOST: On Monday, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom published its annual report on persecution. WORLD’s Onize Ohikere has our story.
ONIZE OHIKERE, REPORTER: Last month, the governor of Nigeria’s north central Benue state said armed Fulani herdsmen killed 134 people in Christian-majority communities, all in one week.
In the same week, insurgents with the Islamic State West Africa Province killed Pastor Yakubu Shuaibu Kwala at his home in northeast Borno state. They also shot and wounded his pregnant wife.
The commission says these attacks are systemic and ongoing… and recommended for the second consecutive year that the State Department designate Nigeria as a country of particular concern, or CPC.
Here’s Commissioner Eric Ueland.
UELAND: 00:39 - 1:08: We have seen a significant amount of violence against Christians in Nigeria over the past many years, which has accelerated in the past few months, especially since the election of a president a new set of House of Reps, and Senators, as well as state governors and state legislatures, state legislators, all in anticipation of a May 29 inauguration of the President.
The Commission also called for a special envoy in Nigeria and across the wider Lake Chad region…where Islamist insurgents operate. The Bush administration made a similar move in 2001 by appointing former Senator John Danforth as the special peace envoy to Sudan.
UELAND: 2:18 - 2:45 A highly respected figure is able to step forward, bring all the conflicting parties together, begin to bring the moral and economic force to bear to drive down these episodes of violence and try to restore amiability and peace in a country that is more and more beset by anti Christian violence extermination by Fulani militants.
The commission called for Afghanistan, India, Syria, and Vietnam to also be designated as CPCs. And they recommended the State Department renew the CPC designation for 12 other countries: Burma, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Iran, Nicaragua, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.
This year’s report cover features an Iranian protester holding a rosary. Iran faced weeks of deadly protests after the morality police killed 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after arresting her for violating rules on head coverings. The commission said Iranian authorities used religious conceptions of modesty and gender hierarchy to crack down on protests. It also accused Iranian security services of targeting Iranians abroad who opposed the head covering laws.
UELAND: 8:10 - 8:27 We are hopeful and indeed insistent that the Biden administration be much more aggressive, in terms of its engagement against Iran directly, indirectly, again, as well with multilateral partners.
For the first time, the commission recommends Cuba and Nicaragua also be re-designated as CPCs. The State Department gave both countries that designation for the first time last year.
In Nicaragua, Commissioner Ueland explained that President Daniel Ortega and his wife … who is the vice president … have further constrained religious freedom. He said Ortega followed a similar pattern during his rule in the 1980s to crack down on religious and ethnic minorities.
UELAND: 5:25 - 5:53 Churches have been closed, individuals have been imprisoned. Individuals have been exiled. Religious leaders have been arrested and put away without the ability to practice their faith. All these sorts of things are indicative of an accelerating trend by Nicaragua's leadership to crack down on Christians and Catholics in Nicaragua.
The commission also listed eleven additional countries under its special watch list. They are Algeria, Azerbaijan, Central African Republic, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Turkey, and Uzbekistan.
It’s the first time Sri Lanka has made it on the commission’s list. The commission said Muslims and Hindus in the Buddhist-majority nation faced persecution, discrimination, and land grabs.
The commissioners acknowledged some of the Biden administration’s efforts in the past year … including designating the Russian paramilitary Wagner Group as an entity of particular concern. But they called for more concrete action.
UELAND: 11:04 - 11:40 I’m hopeful that the Biden administration will take countenance of our report, sharpen its efforts on behalf of religious freedom internationally, and power, its ambassador at large for religious freedom as well as its ambassador for anti semitism to work even more aggressively in concert with like minded partners around the globe, to address challenges to religious freedom to call out anti semitic behavior and anti semitism, where it is seen and to push forward the boundaries of religious freedom around the world.
That’s it for this week’s WORLD Tour. Reporting for WORLD, I’m Onize Ohikere.
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