For the first time, Russia has been included in a list of countries noted for the most severe persecution against religious minorities compiled by a religious freedom commission in the U.S.
The annual report published by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) includes a list of “countries of particular concern,” a Tier 1 category which notes countries “whose government engages in or tolerates particularly severe religious freedom violations that are systematic, ongoing, and egregious.”
This report is given to the State Department, and the list of countries mentioned in the report are the USCIRF’s recommendations to the State Department to add to its own list of worst violators of religious freedom.
Regarding the first-time addition of Russia into the Tier 1 list, the USCIRF stated that the country’s “continued use of its ‘anti-extremism’ law as a tool to curtail religious freedoms is one of the reasons USCIRF has recommended for the first time that Russia be designated as a ‘country of particular concern.’”
In 2016, Russia passed what is also known as the ‘Yarovaya law,’ which was aimed at prohibiting extremism in the country, but has been used to prevent religious groups outside of the Orthodox Church from evangelizing.
Thomas Reese, the USCIRF’s chair, said that the Russian Supreme Court’s recent ruling banning Jehovah’s Witnesses in the country also “sadly reconfirms the disregard of the government for religious freedom in present-day Russia.”
“Individual and community expressions of faith, and even private religious beliefs, are not safe from state-sponsored repression and coercion in Russia today,” Reese was quoted as saying by the Baptist Press.
The report recommended 15 other countries in the CPC list, including Burma, Central African Republic, China, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tajikstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam.
The report also had two other major changes, including having a first-ever list of “entities of particular concern” — non-state actors that exercise “significant political power and territorial control; is outside the control of a sovereign government; and often employs violence in pursuit of its objectives.”
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the Taliban in Afghanistan, and Al-Shabaab in Somalia were three entities that the USCIRF noted as EPCs.
Another noted change was that Egypt and Iraq, two countries which had previously been Tier 1, were noted as Tier 2 countries in this year’s report. The USCIRF said that “improvements on religious freedom conditions” in the two countries had accounted for such a decision.