U.S. Commission Says Russia Is One of World's Worst Violators of Religious Freedom
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A U.S. government commission says the State Department should add Russia to a list of countries that includes the worst violators of religious freedom in the world; a list that also includes North Korea, China, and Iran.
In its 2017 report released today, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom called on the Secretary of State to designate Russia as a religious freedom violator "partly due to its continued use of its 'anti-extremism' law as a tool to repeatedly curtail religious freedoms for various faiths, most recently the Jehovah's Witnesses."
Last week, Russia's Supreme Court banned Jehovah's Witnesses from operating in the country. In 2016, the country passed a law against religious extremism that can be used to prosecute those who preach a religious message in public and even those who hold prayer services in their homes.
Countries on the USCIRF list can face pressure from the U.S. government in the form of a range of sanctions. It's the first time the commission has suggested Russia be included.
The USCIRF has also recommended for the first time that terrorist groups and other non-state actors be labled "Entities of Parcticular Concern." EPC's are groups that do not fall under any government authority, but exercise significant political power and territorial control and use violence in pursuit of their goals.
The commission recommended ISIS, the Taliban in Afghanistan and al-Shabaab in Somalia be added to the list.
USCIRF Chair Rev. Thomas J. Reese said his Commission "calls for Congress and the administration to stress consistently the importance of religious freedom abroad, for everyone, everywhere, in public statements and public and private meetings."
The report also called on the State Department to again designate 10 nations as CPS: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
It also recommended that the following nations be added to that list: Central African Republic, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Syria, and Vietnam.
Lesser violators who do not fully meet the standard of "countries of particular concern" are Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Cuba, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Laos, Malaysia, and Turkey.
Most of the nations on the list are Muslim.
Senator James Lankford (R-OK) responded to the report by calling on the Trump administration and international community to protect religious freedom.
"The international community must do more to stand up for people around the world that cannot live out their conscience. In order to help protect and preserve this right for all, our American government should do more, and as a first step, nominate and confirm an Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom," Rep. Lankford said.
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