(RNS) — The U.S. State Department has added Russia to its list of nations it considers among the world’s most egregious violators of religious freedom.
Russia joins Myanmar (referred to as Burma on the list), China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan on the list of “countries of particular concern.” Nigeria, which was on the list last year, is not included, as of Monday (Nov. 15).
Russia had been on the second-tier “special watch list” in the 2020 designation. Algeria is now listed on the second-tier list, joining Comoros, Cuba, and Nicaragua, which were also listed in 2020.
“In far too many places around the world, we continue to see governments harass, arrest, threaten, jail, and kill individuals simply for seeking to live their lives in accordance with their beliefs,” Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said Wednesday in an announcement. “This Administration is committed to supporting every individual’s right to freedom of religion or belief, including by confronting and combating violators and abusers of this human right.”
Blinken also redesignated these militant groups as “entities of particular concern”: al-Shabab; Boko Haram; Hayat Tahrir al-Sham; the Houthis; the Islamic State group, or ISIS; ISIS-Greater Sahara; ISIS-West Africa; Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin; and the Taliban.
Earlier in November, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom reiterated its recommendations for the State Department’s designations. Russia, along with Syria, India and Vietnam, was among its suggestions for the CPC list.
“For years, the Russian government has conducted a purge of ‘non-traditional’ religions, frequently labeling as ‘extremists’ and imprisoning peaceful Jehovah’s Witnesses, and readers of the moderate Islamic theologian Said Nursi,” USCIRF stated in a November fact sheet. “Russian courts continue to deliver harsher and more numerous prison sentences for Jehovah’s Witnesses seeking to practice their faith.”