India, Nigeria should be included in US Countries of Particular Concern, says Christian group

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Christian religious freedom campaigners are "deeply disappointed" that the US State Department's latest list of Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) omits India, Nigeria and several other states "in which the situation of freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) remains under serious threat".

The list contains the countries where governments have engaged in or tolerated "systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom".

It was updated at the end of November and fails to include India and Nigeria despite serious concerns about the state of religious liberty there.

India was missing from the list even though its inclusion has been recommended by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) since 2020. 

"The failure to designate India a CPC ignores a notable increase in hostility towards religious minorities under the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which promotes a Hindu nationalist agenda, emboldening extremists while remaining largely silent on hate campaigns, threats, violence and attacks against religious minorities," said Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).

The United Christian Forum (UCF) reported a 75% rise in targeted violence against Christians in India from 292 in 2018 to 511 in 2022. 

A number of states already have anti-conversion laws that stop Hindus from converting to other faiths, and more states are considering them. 

Nigeria was added to the CPC list in 2020 but removed just a year later despite widespread attacks by Islamist extremists that have included the recent stoning to death of a Christian student and a terrorist attack on a church in June in which 50 people were killed.

"In the year since the country was removed CSW has continued to receive near daily reports of egregious religion-related violence by Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) and Boko Haram terrorists in the north-east, and assailants of Fulani origin, several of whom are now allied with terrorist groups and who the Nigerian government has since designated as terrorists, in central and north-western states.

"There are also ongoing historic violations targeting Christian communities in the country's Shari'a states," CSW said. 

CSW's founder president Mervyn Thomas said he was "deeply disappointed" by the State Department's decision and called for an urgent review. 

"The governments of both countries fail continually and manifestly to protect vulnerable religious or belief communities, and in both cases are responsible for emboldening perpetrators of religion-related violence, either through inaction or intolerant rhetoric," he said.

"The failure to designate India and Nigeria as CPCs is all the more perplexing given Secretary Blinken's assertion that 'countries that effectively safeguard [freedom of religion or belief] and other human rights are more peaceful, stable, prosperous and more reliable partners of the United States than those that do not'.

"We therefore appeal to the Secretary of State to review the situation of freedom of religion or belief in these countries as a matter of urgency, ensuring that economic and geopolitical gains are not prioritised over the rights, freedoms and lives of individuals and religious communities."

USCIRF Chair Nury Turkel has also condemned the omissions. 

He said: "There is no justification for the State Department's failure to recognize Nigeria or India as egregious violators of religious freedom, as they each clearly meet the legal standards for designation as CPCs."

He added, "The State Department's own reporting includes numerous examples of particularly severe religious freedom violations in Nigeria and India."