Blinken promises that the US will “stand up” for religious freedom around the world
As US Secretary of State Antony Blinken promised Thursday, the US “will continue to stand out for religious freedom around the world” as the State Department released a 2,000-page report on religious tolerance around the world.
The “2021 Report on International Religious Freedom” is an annual study presented to Congress that examines religious liberty in nearly 200 countries throughout the world. Sections on individual countries can be found at https://www.state.gov/reports/2021-report-on-international-religious-freedom/.
Religious freedom groups criticized the report right away, saying that the Biden administration had given up on some important countries, like Nigeria, because of political or diplomatic reasons.
Mr. Blinken lauded Morocco, Taiwan, Timor Leste, and Iraq for various accommodations made to minority religions, ranging from the inclusion of Jewish history in the Moroccan school curriculum to Pope Francis’ visit to Iraq in 2021, which he said strengthened ecumenical dialogue.
“Religious freedom has gotten a lot worse in Afghanistan since the Taliban came to power,” he said. “This is especially true because the Taliban sometimes use religion to take away the basic rights of women and girls to get an education, work, and be a part of society.”
As the Biden administration works to rebalance its relationship with Saudi Arabia, the country’s top diplomat said that the oil-rich kingdom’s “significant recent initiatives to strengthen interfaith dialogue and religious tolerance” could be accepted, but only on certain terms.
“Publicly practicing any faith other than Islam is illegal in the Kingdom, and the government continues to discriminate against members of religious minority populations,” he added.
Later this week, Mr. Blinken will go to Saudi Arabia, and it is thought that President Biden will meet with de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during a trip to the Middle East in the coming weeks. This is because relations between Washington and Riyadh have been tense for a long time.
“China continues its genocide and harassment of mostly Muslim leaders and other religious minority groups,” the secretary said. He also said that the government “continues to harass members of other religions,” which is “not in line with Chinese Communist Party doctrine.”
Mr. Blinken also criticized “several state governments” in Nigeria for using “anti-defamation and blasphemy laws to punish people for expressing their beliefs.”
However, neither he nor Ambassador Rashad Hussein, the department’s newly confirmed envoy for international religious freedom issues, pushed for Nigeria to be named a “country of particular concern” by US standards.
“The horrible murder of a young Christian college student just weeks ago indicates it was a catastrophic error to remove Nigeria from the ‘Countries of Particular Concern’ list,” Ambassador Sam Brownback, Mr. Hussein’s predecessor in the job, stated.
We must encourage good behavior rather than punish bad. The removal of Nigeria from the CPC list without first demonstrating genuine improvement fosters hatred and violence. “
Because much of Nigeria’s Muslim-dominated north has become a “no-go zone for Christians,” David Curry, president of advocacy group Open Doors USA and a new appointee to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, said keeping Nigeria off the CPC list is “puzzling.”
Mr. Curry stated, “In Nigeria, more people are slaughtered for their faith than nearly anywhere in the world.”
A State Department spokesperson told The Washington Times via email that “The United States government regularly follows official trials of blasphemy and defamation, as well as claims via social media.” We meet with the Nigerian government on a regular basis to discuss these instances and the consequences of blasphemy claims. “
Mr. Hussein said the agency “will deliver the CPC and special watch list determinations before the end of the year” to reporters at the department’s daily press briefing, but he didn’t say who would be on the lists. Mr. Hussein, the IRF’s first Muslim ambassador, said religious persecution continues to be common around the world.
“No community has been exempt from these abuses, including Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, Jews in Europe, Bahais in Iran, Christians in North Korea, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia, Muslims in Burma and China, Catholics in Nicaragua, and atheists and humanists around the world.”
Despite the difficulties, Mr. Hussein was upbeat throughout the briefing, saying, “We remain hopeful about the future.” This report and our work would not be possible without the participation of civil society organizations and countries from all over the world. “
“Advocacy alters legislation,” the ambassador stated. “It raises the names of inmates, enables lawyers to fight false charges, and drives governments, including our own, to do the right thing.”
Mr. Curry of Open Door USA thinks that the State Department can do more to promote religious freedom around the world, “especially with our overseas allies like Nigeria, India, and Saudi Arabia, to make sure that everyone can freely practice their faith.”
When asked about the timing of Mr. Blinken’s visit to Saudi Arabia and the country’s designation as a “Country of Particular Concern” for religious freedom, Mr. Curry replied that “it is wise” for the ambassador “to sit down and talk with Saudi leaders and attempt to move toward personal freedom for individuals.”
At a later press conference, Ambassador Hussein said that he was encouraged by what he called the “unprecedented” participation of Christian, Jewish, Hindu, and Sikh leaders at a conference in Saudi Arabia.
“So we’re seeing some good things,” he continued, “but Saudi Arabia is still a CPC.”