It’s hard to imagine that in present-day some will be denied the freedom to worship as they please or discuss differences with a particular faith without severe punishment and even death. Yet, according to findings by the United States Commission of International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) and documented in their current Annual Report, “some foreign governments enforce laws and policies that permit or condone violations of human rights of minority groups and other vulnerable communities on the basis of religion.” The extensive report profiles those regions and their governments that dictate the religious practices of their citizens, offering little to no freedom to practice their faith of choice.

Seal of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom Recommendations by USCIRF in 2022 are to keep a close eye on what they deem Countries of Particular Concern (CPC); the list includes fifteen countries, an alarming increase from the 2021 list of ten countries:

Afghanistan, Burma, China, Eritrea, India, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Vietnam.

In addition to those countries on the CPC list, additional countries are named on the commission’s Special Watch List (SWL) for 2022, with a total of twelve countries, up from just four in 2021—a startling 300% increase. They include:

Algeria, Azerbaijan, Central African Republic, Cuba, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Nicaragua, Turkey, Uzbekistan.

The dramatic expansion of both lists should heighten international concern against human rights violations in the name of religion and religious practices. In addition to the CPC and SWL lists, there are those organizations listed as Entities of Particular Concern (EPC) from 2021, which rolled over to 2022; they include:

Al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), Houthis, Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), ISIS Greater Sahara, ISIS West Africa, Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin, The Taliban

While many of the countries and entities listed as probable regions of religious oppression are primarily practitioners of various sects of Islam; it can’t be overstated that some countries that practice Communism, Hinduism, Juche (North Korea’s ruling ideology), Daoism, Catholicism, and Christianity are also guilty of extreme violations of abuse based on religious affiliation. An individual’s choice to explore other faith-based options or question the beliefs associated with a specific religion should not be met with abuse, imprisonment, or death. Women are particularly targeted for suppression in many regions, often denied the freedom to seek education and employment, exercise safe travel, and put at risk for sexual abuse and harassment.

In August 2021, Afghanistan was catapulted back to the dark ages with the Taliban’s return to power, resulting in the desecration of worship houses that strayed from the strict interpretation of Sunni Islam. Despite their promises of reform and an “inclusive” government, by September of 2021, the Taliban announced an all-male and religiously and ethnically homogenous government cabinet. They have since banned practices deemed un-Islamic, including Western-style haircuts, and listening to music. Even the freedom of expression in clothing and fashion for women and girls was snuffed out in the name of conservative Muslim beliefs.

If there is any good news to take away from these disturbing facts, it is that the USCIRF continues to produce its Annual Report shedding light on the threats to individuals and religious groups persecuted by governments unwilling to recognize fundamental human rights. In addition, their recommendations in establishing avenues to dialog with governments in violation are a hopeful step toward an end to religious oppression—a focus necessary to see these lists diminish in future reports.

Read the report here: https://www.uscirf.gov/countries/2022-recommendations