US adds Russia to religious freedom blacklist

Russia alleged to have engaged in or tolerated 'systemic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom'

The US on Monday added Russia to a list of countries blacklisted for “egregious violations of religious freedom”, the State Department said.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement that he was designating Russia and others as countries of concern for having engaged in or tolerated “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom".

In the statement, Mr Blinken affirmed the US commitment to supporting religious rights.

Nigeria, which was on the list last year, was removed. Mr Blinken is due to visit the African country this week.

Myanmar, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan are still on the US list for “religious freedom violations".

Algeria, Comoros, Cuba and Nicaragua were placed on a watch list.

“The United States will not waiver in its commitment to advocate for freedom of religion or belief for all and in every country,” Mr Blinken said.

“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.”

Mr Blinken added that the challenges to religious freedom require global commitment and urgent intention from the international community.

“The challenges to religious freedom in the world today are structural, systemic and deeply entrenched. They exist in every country,” he said.

This week, the US and France discussed “concerning military Russian activity” in Ukraine. Nato had issued a warning to Russia over its military build-up on the border with its neighbour.

The US secretary of state on Wednesday began a three-nation tour of Africa, warning of rising threats to democracy on the continent.

His visit began in Kenya and will also include Senegal, as he stresses a new US commitment to Africa.

AFP contributed to this report

Updated: November 17th 2021, 6:00 PM