(Washington, D.C.—Jan. 2, 2018) Pakistan and Russia joined China in the spotlight recently as the U.S. State Department added them to lists that track religious freedom abuses.
On Dec. 11, the United States proclaimed its decision to mark 10 nations as “countries of particular concern.” The label, which is given to nations notorious for abusing religious freedom, consists of nine nations featured in previous iterations of the list, including Burma, Eritrea, Iran, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, China, Tajikistan, North Korea, and Turkmenistan. The newest addition is Pakistan.
A report from the Christian Post quoted U.S. Representative Chris Smith’s statement, in which he applauded the government for having “the courage to hold Pakistan accountable for Pakistan’s persistent and systemic failures to protect the civil and human rights of religious minorities.”
Among the countries added to the State Department’s “Special Watch List”—which documents nations not considered “countries of particular concern” but which still exhibit serious religious freedom violations—was Russia. The declaration comes shortly after the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released a statement claiming that a St. Petersburg Scientology leader, Ivan Matsitsky, had been arrested on account of his religion and that the court set to hear his case was preparing to consider falsified information.
Russia has wrongly imprisoned a total of five Scientologists in St. Petersburg. Two of the incarcerated have been in prison for more than a year and a half and just had their detention sentences extended by two months.
Another Russian citizen, Dennis Christensen, has been held since May 25, 2017, on account of being a Jehovah’s Witness and has already appeared at least 38 times in court. Both men have been adopted by USCIRF’s vice chair, Kristina Arriaga, who is advocating for their release.
“Russia has been criticized for banning Jehovah’s Witnesses and abusing its anti-extremism law to prosecute peaceful worshippers and nontraditional groups including Scientologists,” the Christian Post said.
“They have 145 currently jailed prisoners for religious beliefs, 106 of which are Muslims. And those are the reasons that we’ve put them on the special watch list,” U.S. Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback said during a hearing titled “Religious Freedom in Eurasia.”
Brownback also said Russia targeted religious groups 156 times in 2017 alone, a year after they passed a law punishing missionary activity.
China remains on the list for their recurrent targeting of religious practitioners in 2018, including Muslims in China’s northwestern Xinjiang and several large Christian churches.
ChinaAid stands for the religious freedom of all and urges the countries on these lists to respect their citizens’ peaceful religious expression.
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