The 2022 annual report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) identifies 15 countries where religious violations have raised “particular concern” and 12 countries that ought to be placed on the “Special Watch List” of the U.S. State Department.
The 100-page report, released April 25, added Afghanistan to its list of “Countries of Particular Concern” (CPCs) where governments engage in or tolerate “particularly severe” and systematic violations of religious freedom. This was the first time since 2001, shortly before the previous Taliban regime was ousted from power, that Afghanistan was added to the list of CPCs.
“We are disheartened by the deterioration of freedom of religion or belief in some countries—especially Afghanistan under the Taliban’s de facto government since August,” USCIRF Chair Nadine Maenza said in a news statement. “Religious minorities have faced harassment, detention, and even death due to their faith or beliefs, and years of progress toward more equitable access to education and representation of women and girls have disappeared.”
The 14 other countries that have remained on the USCIRF’s list of CPCs at least since the religious freedom panel issued its 2021 report are Burma (Myanmar), China, Eritrea, India, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Vietnam.
Ten of those countries were designated in November 2021 as CPCs by the U.S. State Department, under which the USCIRF serves as a bipartisan, independent federal government body created by the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act.
The USCIRF describes its documentation of events in Afghanistan as “particularly difficult.”
“USCIRF has long raised concern that the Taliban’s brutal application of its extremist interpretation of Sunni Islam violates the freedom of religion or belief of all Afghans who do not adhere to that interpretation, including Muslims and adherents of other faiths or beliefs,” the report states.
The report notes that the Taliban regime has reinstated the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (MPVPV), notorious for its harsh policing methods based on radical Islamic ideologies. Since September 2021, the MPVPV has banned a range of practices it regards as un-Islamic, such as Western-style haircuts and listening to music. It has also imposed a new dress code on women as well as restrictions on their education, employment and travel.
“By year’s end, the one known Jew and most Hindus and Sikhs had fled the country,” the report says, adding: “Christian converts, Baha’is, and Ahmadiyya Muslims practiced their faith in hiding due to fear of reprisal and threats from the Taliban and separately from the Islamic State-Khorasan Province (ISIS-K).”
The report recommends that the U.S. government “incorporate protections for freedom of religion or belief into dialogue between the U.S. government and the Taliban,” while continuing the public condemnation of the atrocities committed by the Taliban and ISIS-K.
The report also recommends that the U.S. government expand its Refugee Admissions Program Priority 2 Designation for Afghan Nationals, which, since August 2021, has offered access to certain Afghan citizens and their relatives who belong to “religious minorities at extreme risk of religious persecution.”
Other highlights of the USCIRF report include the listing of 12 countries under a “Special Watch List” (SWL) meant for the State Department to closely monitor for their severe violations of religious freedoms.
The countries include Algeria, Azerbaijan, Central African Republic, Cuba, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Nicaragua, Turkey and Uzbekistan. (Afghanistan was on the SWL last year but has moved to the higher-tier CPC list.) In November 2021, the State Department placed Algeria, Cuba and Nicaragua on its Special Watch List.
Almost five years after the radical Islamist group ISIS was defeated in Iraq, nearly 1 million Sunni Muslim Arabs, more than 200,000 members of the largely Christian Yazidi community, and tens of thousands of Christians remained in camps for refugees and internally displaced persons, the report said. It also noted the continuing captivity of some 2,200 political prisoners related to their religious activities “or real or alleged religious affiliations” in Uzbekistan.
In its 2021 annual report, the USCIRF had removed the Central African Republic (CAR) from its Special Watch List following improved conditions for religious freedom after having consistently monitored the country since 2015.
Last year, however, CAR authorities and their partners committed “egregious and ongoing violations of religious freedom … including targeted abductions, torture, and killings of Muslims,” the 2022 report says.
Besides the destruction of a mosque and the killings of several Muslims, the atrocities include the kidnapping of an imam in Koui, a CAR sub-prefecture, and his harassment for weeks to stop giving Quranic instruction to children.
According to their website, the USCIRF:
- Advises Congress by working with Congressional offices, convening and testifying at hearings, and holding briefings on countries and thematic issues.
- Engages the Executive Branch by regularly meeting with Executive Branch officials to share information, highlight situations of concern, and discuss USCIRF's policy recommendations.
- Monitors Religious Freedom Conditions Abroad through research, travel, and meetings with foreign officials and international partners, representatives of independent human rights groups and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs), religious leaders, victims of persecution, and others.
- Raises Public Awareness by holding public events, hosting podcast episodes, releasing public statements, and publishing op-eds. USCIRF also advocates for victims of FoRB violations and calls for the release of prisoners through its Religious Prisoners of Conscience (RPOC) Project, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission's Defending Freedom's Project, and USCIRF's FoRB Victims List.
- Issues an Annual Report & Other Publications that asses foreign countries that violate religious freedom in a systematic, ongoing, and/or egregious manner; highlight thematic issues affecting religious freedom abroad; evaluate U.S. policy, and make recommendations to the U.S. government.
From its beginnings, the Church of Scientology has recognized that freedom of religion is a fundamental human right. In a world where conflicts are often traceable to intolerance of others’ religious beliefs and practices, the Church has, for more than 50 years, made the preservation of religious liberty an overriding concern.
The Church publishes this blog to help create a better understanding of the freedom of religion and belief and provide news on religious freedom and issues affecting this freedom around the world.