From Aidoghie Paulinus, Abuja
The United States Government has placed Nigeria on its religious freedom blacklist.
Also listed as countries of particular concern by the United States under its International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, as amended, for engaging in or tolerating ‘systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom’ alongside Nigeria are Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, the DPRK, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.
The United States Secretary of State, Michael Pompeo, in a statement released in Washington, DC, said religious freedom was an inalienable right and the bedrock upon which free societies are built and flourish.
Pompeo also said the United States, a nation founded by those fleeing religious persecution, as the recent Commission on Unalienable Rights report noted, had once again taken action to defend those who simply want to exercise the essential freedom.
‘The United States is designating Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, the DPRK, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan as Countries of Particular Concern under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, as amended, for engaging in or tolerating “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom,’ Pompeo said.
‘We are also placing the Comoros, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Russia on a Special Watch List for governments that have engaged in or tolerated “severe violations of religious freedom.” Additionally, we are designating al-Shabaab, al-Qa’ida, Boko Haram, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the Houthis, ISIS, ISIS-Greater Sahara, ISIS-West Africa, Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin, and the Taliban as Entities of Particular Concern under the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act of 2016.’
Pompeo further said the United States has not renewed the prior Entity of Particular Concern designations for al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS-Khorasan, due to the total loss of territory formerly controlled by the terrorist organisations.
‘While these two groups no longer meet the statutory criteria for designation, we will not rest until we have fully eliminated the threat of religious freedom abuses by any violent extremist and terrorist groups.
‘There are also positive developments to share. I am pleased to announce that Sudan and Uzbekistan have been removed from the Special Watch List based on significant, concrete progress undertaken by their respective governments over the past year. The courageous reforms of their laws and practices stand as models for other nations to follow.
‘And yet our work is far from complete. The United States will continue to work tirelessly to end religiously motivated abuses and persecution around the world, and to help ensure that each person, everywhere, at all times, has the right to live according to the dictates of conscience,’ the statement read.
Reacting to the development, the Federal Government said there was no religious freedom violation in the country.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, in a statement made available to Daily Sun in Abuja by the Special Assistant to the President (Media), Office of the Minister of Information and Culture, Segun Adeyemi, said the allegation by the United States of engaging in systematic and egregious religious freedom violations was false.
Mohammed described the allegation as a case of an honest disagreement between the two nations on the causes of violence in Nigeria.
‘Nigeria does not engage in religious freedom violation, neither does it have a policy of religious persecution. Victims of insecurity and terrorism in the country are adherents of Christianity, Islam and other religions,’ Mohammed said.
Mohammed added that Nigeria jealously protected religious freedom as enshrined in the country’s constitution and took seriously any infringements in that regard.