The United States on Friday issued a warning to Nigeria and two other countries over what it perceives as lack of religious freedom and persecution of minority groups. The Donald Trump administration states that Nigeria remains a ‘country of particular concern,’ even as Sudan was removed from the blacklist of countries lacking religious freedom.
The State Department said in its latest report on religious freedom that minorities in Nigeria had reported discrimination, including limits on free expression and in obtaining government employment. The State Department pointed to the lack of accountability in violent crackdowns on the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, a pro-Iran Shiite group, and the arrest of a Christian man for attempting to convert a Muslim girl.
The State Department added Cuba, Nicaragua, and Nigeria to a watchlist of countries that could face a full designation if they do not improve their records. The United States had lifted “fast-changing Sudan” from a blacklist for religious freedom violations, even as it issued warnings to Nigeria, Cuba, and Nicaragua.
Sudan was the only nation removed from the State Department’s annual list of “countries of particular concern,” which are subject to sanctions if they do not better protect religious liberty.
Civilian economist Abdalla Hamdok became Sudan’s prime minister in September, pledging national reconciliation after decades of military rule and conflict. But Hamdok’s government is still waiting for a bigger prize from the United States — removal from a list of state sponsors of terrorism, a designation that has severely impeded investment.
Nine countries remained on the blacklist, including Pakistan, which was designated in 2018 after years of US hesitation over concerns on the treatment of minorities, including through abuse of a blasphemy law, which can carry the death penalty. Also on the list was China, which, according to rights groups and US officials, has incarcerated at least one million Uighurs and other Muslims; and US ally Saudi Arabia, which imposes the rigid Wahabi school of Islam.
The other countries on the list were Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. “No country, entity or individual should be able to persecute people of faith without accountability,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement. “We have acted, and we will continue to do so,” he said, calling religious freedom a priority for President Donald Trump’s administration.
The State Department said that religious groups faced restrictions and harassment in both Cuba and Nicaragua, leftist-led nations that have come under growing pressure from Trump. Russia and Comoros remained on the watchlist. Sudan as well as Uzbekistan, which was removed from the blacklist in 2018, were also on the watchlist.
The latest designations, notably, did not target India despite mounting concern from US lawmakers over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist agenda, including a citizenship law that has prompted widespread protests over charges it marginalises Muslims.
Chibuike John Nebeokike
For: Radio Biafra Media