A The Federal Religious Freedom Commission has urged the State Department to expand its list of religious freedom violators.
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom encouraged the State Department to mark India, Russia, Syria and Vietnam as “countries of particular concern” in a statement released earlier this month.
“The additional countries that the USCIRF recommends for CPC designation are India, Russia, Syria and Vietnam,” the commission said in a press release. “The additional countries that USCIRF recommends for [Special Watchlist] include Afghanistan, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Turkey and Uzbekistan.
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Several reports have indicated that the growing Hindu nationalist government has created tensions around local Muslim, Sikh and Christian communities in India.
As Russia has a strong Russian Orthodox community, Jehovah’s Witnesses are increasingly under scrutiny by the Russian government. Parts of Russia, like Chechnya, have also pushed for a strict form of Islam that encourages discrimination and violence against gays and lesbians and women.
Syria has also become a matter of concern as extremist groups such as the Islamic State continue to attack Christian communities, often forcing conversions and threatening local churches.
During the pandemic, Vietnamese authorities discriminated against Hmong and Mountain Christians. Some officials have allegedly assaulted, detained and confiscated property belonging to these religious communities. The authorities also regularly interfered with Buddhist activities.
Designated CPC countries have engaged in “systematic, continuous and flagrant violations of the internationally recognized right to freedom of religion”, such as prolonged detention without cause or violence against local communities. In these cases, Congress may pursue non-economic policy changes or pressure to encourage the country to end such conduct. Where appropriate, economic measures may also be imposed, such as sanctions.
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Countries on the Special Watch List have committed serious violations of religious freedom. However, they do not meet the strict criteria underlying the CPC designation.
As of December 2, 2020, the Secretary of State designated Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan as CPC . The secretary also placed Comoros, Cuba, Nicaragua and Russia on the list.