The U.S. State Department published in mid-November its list of nations it considers among the world’s most egregious violators of religious freedom.
Countries of Particular Concern this year are Burma (Myanmar), People’s Republic of China, Eritrea, Iran, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.
Countries designated as of “particular concern” have engaged in or tolerated “particularly severe violations of religious freedom,” according to the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. Particularly severe violations are defined as “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom,” including violations such as torture, prolonged detention without charges, forced disappearance or other flagrant denial of life, liberty or security of persons.
Special Watch List countries this year are Algeria, Comoros, Cuba and Nicaragua. To qualify as a country on the “special watch list,” countries must have engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom during the previous year, but do not meet “all the criteria for being designated as a country of particular concerns,” according to the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act of 2016.
Nigeria, which was designated a country of particular concern last year, is not on the new list. Russia was on the special watch list in 2020 but is listed as a country of particular concern in 2021.
Many of the countries that appear on the State Department’s lists also appear on Open Doors’ designation of the top 50 countries where religious persecution is severe. According to Open Doors’ 2021 World Watch List, more than 340 million Christians live in places where they experience high levels of persecution and discrimination.
“In far too many places around the world, we continue to see governments harass, arrest, threaten, jail, and kill individuals simply for seeking to live their lives in accordance with their beliefs,” Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said in a Nov. 17 announcement.