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Religious liberty watchers decry State Department decision to delist Nigeria

Christian groups and religious liberty watchdogs are criticizing the U.S. State Department’s decision to exclude Nigeria from a list of countries which engage in or tolerate severe violations of religious freedom.

The most recent Countries of Particular Concern designations were made by the Secretary of State on Nov. 15, 2021. Those countries were: Burma, People’s Republic of China, Eritrea, Iran, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

Countries listed on the Special Watch List were: Algeria, Comoros, Cuba and Nicaragua.

Nigeria was left off the 2021 list, despite being designated a country of particular concern in 2020 and a special watch list country in 2019.

“Removing this largely symbolic sign of concern is a brazen denial of reality and indicates that the U.S. intends to pursue its interests in Western Africa through an alliance with Nigeria’s security elite, at the expense of Christians and other victims of widespread sectarian violence, especially in the country’s predominantly Christian Middle Belt region,” said John Eibner, president of Christian Solidarity International.

Persecution watchdog groups say thousands of Christians have been killed in Nigeria in the past few years. According to the rights group Intersociety Rule of Law, 1,470 Christians were murdered and over 2,200 were abducted by jihadists in the first four months of 2021.

‘Deliberate’ cover-up

The CSI report states that despite the Nigerian government’s insistence that violence in the country is due to “herder-farmer clashes” and has no real religious motives, an extensive investigation concludes the government has made “several deliberate attempts to cover the egregious and grisly massacre of Christians in Nigeria by falsely labeling them as ‘herders-farmers clashes’, or attacks by ‘bandits,’ or ‘killings that cut across Muslims and Christians.’”

International Christian Concern President Jeff King on Nov. 16 named Nigeria the worst country in the world in ICC’s announcement of its 2021 Persecutor of the Year Awards. King estimated 50,000 to 70,000 Christians have been killed in Nigeria since 2000.

In recent weeks, Fulani herdsmen killed 10 Christians, including three children, in an attack in Plateau state on Nov. 26, according to Morning Star News. An attack in the same area a week earlier left at least 690 people displaced from the predominantly Christian area in Miango District, the report said.

From November 2019 through October 2020, the highest number of Christians killed for their faith was in Nigeria, according to Open Doors, another group that supports persecuted believers around the globe. Nigeria is No. 9 on Open Doors’ 2021 World Watch List of places most difficult to be a Christian.

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