Friday, February 3, 2023

US designates North Korea, Russia as countries of concern over religious freedom

US designates North Korea, Russia as countries of concern over religious freedom

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States designated China, Iran and Russia, among others, as countries of particular concern under the Religious Freedom Act over severe violations, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.

Blinken in a statement said those designated as countries of particular concern - which also include North Korea and Myanmar - engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom.

Algeria, the Central African Republic, Comoros and Vietnam were placed on the watch list.

Several groups, including the Kremlin-aligned Wagner Group, a private paramilitary organization that is active in Syria, Africa and Ukraine, were also designated as entities of particular concern. The Wagner group was designated over its activities in the Central African Republic, Blinken said.

"Around the world, governments and non-state actors harass, threaten, jail, and even kill individuals on account of their beliefs," Blinken said in the statement.

"The United States will not stand by in the face of these abuses."

He added that Washington would welcome the opportunity to meet with all governments to outline concrete steps for removal from the lists.

The United States has expressed grave concerns about human rights in the western Chinese region of Xinjiang, which is home to 10 million Uyghurs.

The other countries designated as countries of particular concern were Cuba, Eritrea, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

The US Religious Freedom Act of 1998 requires the president – who assigns the function to the secretary of State – to designate as countries of particular concern states that are deemed to violate religious freedom on a systematic and ongoing basis.

The act gives Blinken a range of policy responses, including sanctions or waivers, but they are not automatic.