Some United States senators have written to Secretary of State Antony Blinken to re-designate Nigeria as a “country of particular concern” due to the alleged increase in cases of religious violence in the West African country. .
AF24news recalls that the United States had, on November 17, 2021, removed Nigeria from its list of religious offenders, even as it blacklisted Russia, China and eight other countries “as countries of particular concern for engaging in or condoning” systematic, ongoing and gross violations of religious freedom.
In 2020, the United States placed Nigeria and six other countries on its special watch list of states that had committed or condoned serious religious freedom violations.
But in a letter written by Senators Marco Rubio and Josh Hawley, and signed by three other senators; Mike Braun, Tom Cotton and Jim Inhofe, lawmakers said that given the state of religious freedom in Nigeria, the country should be immediately removed from the list.
In the letter dated June 30, 2022, addressed to Blinken, the senators urged the government to immediately re-designate Nigeria as a country of particular concern under international religious freedom law.
According to them, the letter follows recent acts of violence targeting Nigerian Christians which have highlighted the deteriorating state of religious freedom in the country.
Read the full text of the letter below:
Dear Secretary Blinken:
As you well know, horrific acts of murderous violence have been committed against Nigerian Christians in recent weeks, including the massacre of worshipers on Pentecost Sunday and the stoning of a Christian student. Sadly, such violence has become all too familiar to Christians in Africa’s most populous country. Last year, however, you inexplicably withdrew Nigeria’s Country of Special Concern (CPC) designation despite no demonstrable improvement in religious freedom conditions in the country. On the contrary, the situation in Nigeria has worsened. We have previously urged you to immediately reverse your mistaken decision, and we write to you today to renew our appeal.
The recent high-profile acts of violence underscore the intense religious persecution that Nigerian Christians regularly face. On Pentecost Sunday, gunmen attacked St. Francis Catholic Church in Nigeria’s Ondo State, killing at least 50 worshippers. Last month, a violent mob brutally stoned to death Deborah Emmanuel Yakubu, a student at Shehu Shagari College of Education in northwestern Nigeria. According to reports, some Islamist students were infuriated by a “blasphemous” message Deborah had posted in a WhatsApp group, in which she said that “Jesus Christ is the greatest. He helped me pass my exams. The simple act of expressing one’s Christian faith is apparently tantamount to a death sentence in many parts of Nigeria.
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Religious violence and intolerance towards Nigerian Christians has worsened in recent years. A report has documented more than 4,650 cases of Nigerian Christians who were killed for their faith in 2021. As a result, Nigeria earns the dubious honor – for the second consecutive year – of being the world’s deadliest country for the Christians.
We wrote last year that “[n]Not only has the Nigerian government failed to take meaningful steps to mitigate this violence, but Nigerian authorities restrict and repress religious minorities and indefinitely detain individuals charged with blasphemy. We remain concerned that the Nigerian government is failing to protect the religious freedom and basic security of its Christian citizens. Furthermore, as this year’s annual reports of the bipartisan US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) and your own ministry make clear, Nigerian government authorities are directly involved in the persecution of Christians, Muslims and even non-Christians. -theists, including through arrests. and convictions under blasphemy laws. Make no mistake: the continued enforcement of state-sanctioned blasphemy laws enables the kind of deadly violence that has killed Deborah Emmanuel Yakubu and so many others.
When we wrote to you previously, we received a response that did not answer our questions about why the Department of State considers that Nigeria has not committed or tolerated “systematic, continuous and gross violations freedom of religion” or even “serious violations of freedom of religion.” This is unacceptable, especially since federal law requires you to heed the recommendation of USCIRF which since 2009 has been to designate Nigeria as a CPC. In fact, the USCIRF reiterated in its 2022 annual report that it was “appalled” by the removal of Nigeria’s CPC designation. Despite public statements by you and other State Department officials condemning the recent bloodshed in Nigeria, the fact remains that the Department still does not officially consider Nigeria a serious violator of religious freedom.
The State Department released its 2021 International Religious Freedom Report on June 2, which begins the 90-day period for the Department to make its religious freedom designations. Given the abysmal state of religious freedom in Nigeria, it behooves you to reverse last year’s decision and rebrand the country as a CPC. The moment demands that you do so without delay.
We look forward to your prompt action on this important matter.