Its continued nationwide crackdowns on minority religious groups and its invasion of Ukraine have cemented Russia’s status as one of the world’s leading violators of religious freedom, U.S. officials said this month.

“After its designation as a Country of Special Concern last year, Russia has doubled down on its religious freedom violations rather than backtracking,” said Rashad Hussain, U.S. Goodwill Ambassador for International Religious Freedom. He spoke at a news event for the release of the US State Department’s 2021 Report on International Religious Freedom.

While the report focuses on violations that occurred in 2021, it also cites the Anti-Defamation League’s condemnation of the 2022 invasion of Ukraine and claims by President Vladimir Putin “exaggerating the prevalence of anti-Semitism in this country”.

“Russia steadily hits new milestones for excessive prison sentences against individuals exercising their religious freedom.”

“Russia regularly crosses new thresholds for excessive prison sentences against persons exercising their religious freedom. And Russian authorities conduct hundreds of house searches of suspected extremists, which often include violence,” Hussain said.

Rashad Hussein

The report, which was submitted to Congress, presents more than 2,000 pages of data on the successes or failures of religious freedom from nearly 200 nations and territories.

The benefits of granting religious freedoms to all are clearly highlighted in the analysis, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during the presentation.

“We know that when the fundamental right of each person to practice their faith, or to choose not to observe a faith, is respected, people can make their full contribution to the successes of the community. Entire societies are better off. On the other hand, when governments deny this right, it ignites tensions, it sows division. This often leads to instability and conflict.

Blinken praised Morocco for renovating Jewish heritage sites, Taiwan for making it easier for workers to attend religious services, and Iraq for hosting Pope Francis in March 2021.

But at the same time, laws against blasphemy and apostasy are on the rise, as well as discriminatory rhetoric against religious minorities, he added. “All societies, including ours and across Europe, must do more to counter growing forms of hatred, including anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment.”

University students take a moment of silence as they gather to clean the Pillar of Shame sculpture by Danish artist Jens Galschiot, in remembrance of the victims of Beijing’s Tiananmen crackdown, at the University of Hong Kong on June 4, 2021, in Hong Kong, China. (Photo by Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)

China, as it has been since the late 1990s, was cited in the report as a major oppressor of religious freedoms.

Although the constitution of this country grants freedom of belief, it adds that these practices should be considered “normal” but does not define “normal”. It also requires members of the Communist Party and the military to be atheists and prohibits religious education for anyone under the age of 18.

In 2021, according to the report, “officials across the country closed religious venues, including some that were affiliated with authorized patriotic religious associations, in some cases, but not all, citing COVID-19 restrictions. The government has intensified its campaign against religious groups which it has labeled “sects”.

Religious apps have been removed apps stores and faith-based content has been removed from messaging services in China, the report explains. “Authorities censored online posts that referenced Jesus or the Bible, and there were ongoing reports that authorities destroyed public displays of religious symbols across the country. The government continued to remove architectural features that identified some churches and mosques as religious sites and removed crosses from private properties.

Tibetan Buddhists, Christians, Muslims and Falun Gong members reported social and employment discrimination as the People’s Republic of China continued its genocidal oppression of Uyghurs in 2021, according to the report: “On January 19 , the then-Secretary of State determined that since at least March 2017, the PRC has committed genocide and crimes against humanity against Uighurs, who are predominantly Muslim, and members of other ethnic groups and religious minorities in Xinjiang.

Since its February 1, 2021 coup, Myanmar’s military regime has committed “an alarming escalation of serious human rights violations”.

Since its February 1, 2021 coup, Myanmar’s military regime has committed “an alarming escalation of serious human rights violations” targeting both Christian and Muslim minorities, the State Department reported.

“During the year there have been reports threats, detentions and violence against minority religious and ethno-religious groups. …According to local and international NGOs, there has always been near total impunity for regime security forces who have committed or continued to commit abuses, including what NGOs have called genocide and crimes against humanity. humanity against the Rohingyas, most of whom are Muslims.

Equally predictable, Afghanistan is another of the top offenders identified in the report, particularly after the Taliban took over the country in August 2021.

Baha’is, Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and other non-Muslim minorities reported continued harassment from Muslims there, the report said. “According to sources, converts to Christianity and people studying Christianity have reported receiving threats, including death threats, from family members opposed to their interest in Christianity. They said fears of violent social repression had increased further since the Taliban took power.

Other nations under surveillance closely Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and Vietnam. And there are others, which is why the United States and other countries must remain vigilant in defending religious freedom, Hussain said. “Growing social intolerance and hatred fuel violence and conflict around the world. Governments must not remain silent or stand idly by in the face of such oppression,” he said.

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