According to the recently released 2020 Report on International Religious Freedom (IRF) from the U.S. Department of State, “four out of every five people in the world [are] living in environments with high or very high restrictions on religious freedom.”
Some of the worst offenders highlighted in this year’s report include Burma, China, Iran, Nigeria, Russia and Saudi Arabia.
“No one should be persecuted because of their faith,” said Kelsey Zorzi, director of advocacy for global religious freedom at Alliance Defending Freedom International. “This report details the grave challenges that religious minorities, including Christians, continue to face worldwide. Across the world, we see both authoritarian regimes and militant groups severely restricting the practice of faith in private and public, as well as committing atrocities against religious minorities, including even genocide. We urge governments to take all necessary measures to ensure that religious freedom is fully protected for everyone.”
While the Trump administration often referred to religious liberty as one’s “first freedom,” stemming from the Constitution’s First Amendment, Secretary of State Antony Blinken describes religious freedom in terms of Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“Religious freedom is co-equal with other human rights because human rights are indivisible,” he said. “Religious freedom is not more or less important than the freedom to speak and assemble, to participate in the political life of one’s country, to live free from torture or slavery, or any other human right. Indeed, they’re all interdependent. Religious freedom can’t be fully realized unless other human rights are respected, and when governments violate their people’s right to believe and worship freely, it jeopardizes all the others. “
The State Department’s 2020 Report on International Religious Freedom follows the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom’s (USCIRF) 2021 Annual Report, which was released in April. Twenty-six of the nearly 200 countries covered in the IRF report were also analyzed in the USCIRF’s report.
In the April report, the USCIRF recommended that the State Department designate 14 countries as “Countries of Particular Concern” (Burma, China, Eritrea, India, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Vietnam); place 12 countries on its Special Watch List (Afghanistan, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Cuba, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Nicaragua, Turkey and Uzbekistan); and designate seven violent nonstate groups as “Entities of Particular Concern” (al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, the Houthis, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin and the Taliban).
The International Religious Freedom Act mandates that within 180 days from the release of the IRF report, the State Department must officially announce the countries that will be designated as Countries of Particular Concern or placed on its Special Watch List.
“We look forward to the timely designations of the world’s worst violators later this year,” said Tony Perkins, vice chair of the USCIRF.