Metro

December 3, 2022

US designates Iran, China, Russia as countries of concern over religious freedom

By Biodun Busari

The United States on Friday listed China, Iran and Russia, among others, as countries of particular concern under the Religious Freedom Act over severe violations.

Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State made this known in a statement which also had North Korea and Myanmar as nations engaged in brutal breaches of religious freedom, according to Reuters.

Blinken, according to the statement, said Algeria, the Central African Republic, Comoros and Vietnam were placed on the watch list.

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Several groups, including the Kremlin-aligned Wagner Group, a private paramilitary organisation that is active in Syria, Africa and Ukraine, were also designated as entities of particular concern.

The Wagner group was designated over its activities in the Central African Republic, Blinken said.

“Around the world, governments and non-state actors harass, threaten, jail, and even kill individuals on account of their beliefs,” Blinken said in the statement.

He added that President Joe Biden administration would welcome the opportunity to meet with all governments to outline concrete steps for removal from the lists.

The US has increased pressure on Iran over the brutal crackdown on protesters over the death of a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini.

Amini died in the custody of the police in September after being detained by morality police for flouting women’s hijab dress code.

Women have waved and burned headscarves – mandatory under Iran’s conservative dress codes – during the demonstrations that mark one of the boldest challenges to the Islamic Republic since the 1979 revolution.

The United Nations reported over 300 people have been killed so far and 14,000 arrested in protests that began on September 17.

The US has expressed grave concerns about human rights in the western Chinese region of Xinjiang, which is home to 10 million Uyghurs.

Rights groups and Western governments have long accused Beijing of abuses against the mainly Muslim ethnic minority, including forced labour in internment camps.

In many reports, the US has accused China of genocide, but Chinese President Xi Jinping has denied any abuses.

The other countries designated as countries of particular concern were Cuba, Eritrea, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

The US Religious Freedom Act of 1998 requires the president – who assigns the function to the secretary of State – to designate as countries of particular concern states that are deemed to violate religious freedom on a systematic and ongoing basis.

The act gives Blinken a range of policy responses, including sanctions or waivers, but they are not automatic.