State Department Ignores Nigeria in Religious Freedom Watchlist

State Department Ignores Nigeria in Religious Freedom Watchlist

The U.S. government left Nigeria out of its annual religious freedom watchlist for the third consecutive year, raising the ire of many religious freedom experts and advocates.

On Jan. 4, the U.S. State Department released its annual Religious Freedom Designations list and failed to mention Nigeria, which has become one of the most dangerous countries for Christians in recent years. This came only days after nearly 200 Christians were murdered by terrorists in Plateau State, Nigeria, over Christmas.

Advocates of religious freedom are concerned that the Biden administration is turning a blind eye to what is happening in Nigeria. In fact, the nations designated as Countries of Particular Concern (CPCs) this year are the same countries given that designation in November of 2022, despite recommendations to add others, especially Nigeria.

Alliance Defending Freedom International (ADF International), along with other religious freedom advocates and groups, wrote a letter last month calling on Congress to designate Nigeria as a CPC under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). The letter cites that 90% of Christians killed for their faith in 2022 were killed in Nigeria, 17,000 churches have been burned since 2009, and numerous other examples and statistics that show the brutal persecution Christians and religious minorities face in Nigeria.

ADF is supporting the defense of several individuals who have faced prosecution up to death sentences for alleged violations of Nigeria’s laws against Islamic blasphemy and religious insults. A musician was sentenced to death by hanging for sharing lyrics that were deemed blasphemous on WhatsApp. The murderers who killed a female college student for sharing comments that were considered blasphemous are not being prosecuted, and those who have opposed the murder have faced prosecution, death threats and prison sentences.

The CPC designation “allows for greater diplomatic pressure and potential sanctions to encourage essential protections for religious freedom,” according to ADF. According to the letter, the U.S. is a “major partner of Nigeria,” having given it over $1 billion in foreign aid in 2022, which should make the designation particularly important. The Nigerian government has failed sufficiently to investigate the attacks and prosecute the attackers, the letter says.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released a statement back in 2021 calling it “unexplainable” and “appalling” that the State Department removed Nigeria as a CPC—a designation the country had received in 2020 under the previous State Department regime led by Trump appointee Mike Pompeo. USCIRF has now called for a congressional hearing after pushing year after year for both Nigeria and India to be designated as CPCs.

“USCIRF rejects the State Department’s decision to omit Nigeria and India as CPCs,” the Commission stated. “We met with the State Department on many occasions to sound the alarm about these countries, but not all of our recommendations have been followed. We will not be deterred and will continue our role as a congressionally mandated watchdog to ensure the U.S. government prioritizes religious freedom as a key component of U.S. foreign policy.”

Sean Nelson, legal counsel for ADF International, said, “Since it is clear that the State Department will not take significant action over the terrible religious freedom conditions in Nigeria, it is vital that Congress makes its voice heard.”


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