U.S. adds Russia to religious freedom blacklist: Blinken


US Secretary of State Antony Blinken

The United States has added Russia to a blacklist of countries singled out for “egregious violations of religious freedom,” the State Department said Monday. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement that he was designating Russia, as well as China and eight other countries “as Countries of Particular Concern for having engaged in or tolerated ‘systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.’”

An independent, bipartisan advisory body reiterated last April its call for the U.S. State Department to add Russia to its register of the world’s “worst violators” of religious freedom, a blacklist that already includes China , Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and six other countries.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), created by Congress to make recommendations about global religious freedom, proposed in its annual report released on April 21 that Russia, India, Syria, and Vietnam be put on the “countries of particular concern” list, a category reserved for those that carry out “systematic, ongoing, and egregious” violations of religious freedoms.

The USCIRF report says that “religious freedom conditions in Russia deteriorated” last year, with the government targeting religious minorities deemed to be “nontraditional” with fines, detentions, and criminal charges.

The blacklisting paves the way for sanctions if the countries included do not improve their records.

A total of 188 criminal cases alone were brought against the banned Jehovah’s Witnesses, while there were 477 searches of members’ homes, with raids and interrogations including “instances of torture that continue to go uninvestigated and unpunished.”

For decades, the Jehovah’s Witnesses have been viewed with suspicion in Russia, where the dominant Orthodox Church is championed by President Vladimir Putin.

In 2017, Russia outlawed the religious group and labeled it “extremist,” a designation the State Department has called “wrongful.”

‘Muslims too being prosecuted in Russia

Russia’s anti-extremism law was also used to “persecute religious minorities, particularly Muslims,” the report added.

In Russia’s region of the North Caucasus, “security forces acted with impunity, arresting or kidnapping persons suspected of even tangential links to Islamist militancy as well as for secular political opposition,” it said.

In occupied Crimea, the enforcement of Russia’s “repressive” laws and policies on religion resulted in the prosecution of peaceful religious activity and bans on groups that were legal in the peninsula under Ukrainian law. At least 16 Crimean Muslims were sentenced to prison terms on “made-up charges of extremism and terrorism,” the report said.