By Carl Moeller
Open Doors USA President/CEO
On May 1, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recommended to the Obama administration13 countries that it should designate as "countries of particular concern" (CPCs).
The annual list of countries that names the worst violators of religious freedom expanded to include two new countries - Iraq and Nigeria.
Both countries deserve to be on the "shame" list. Iraq is No. 16 and Nigeria No. 26 on the Open Doors World Watch List of 50 of the worst persecutors of Christians.
Christians in Iraq have been caught in the crossfire for years.
And the terror directed at Christians continued on April 26. Gunmen murdered three Assyrian Christians and wounded two in their Kirkuk homes. "It is shocking that this is still happening towards Christians in Iraq," stated one Iraqi Christian leader.
Violence has struck the nation's Christian community particularly hard since the Iraq war began in 2003. Left mostly defenseless in sectarian violence, Christians have been targeted for kidnapping - and death - under the assumption that they can garner a large ransom.
Chaldean Christians have been hardest hit in the northern city of Mosul, where thousands of families have fled since an increase in violence started last October. Some locals believe Kurdish groups are trying to intimidate them into leaving so they can incorporate the city into the semi-autonomous Kurdish region.
Nigeria was recommended to be a CPC because of evidence found by USCIRF during a recent trip to the country. It cited the government's toleration of "systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom and beliefs."
Thousands of people have been killed, displaced or somehow affected by ongoing sectarian violence in Nigeria, reported Commissioner Leonard Leo. The Nigerian government has also allowed destruction of churches and mosques to go with impunity.
Late last November rioting in Jos sparked by Muslim attacks on Christians and their property left six pastors dead, at least 500 other people killed and 40 churches destroyed. More than 25,000 persons were displaced in the two days of violence. What began as outrage over suspected vote fraud in local elections quickly hit the religious fault line that quakes from time to time in this city located between the Islamic north and Christian south, as angry Muslims took aim at Christian sites rather than at political targets. Police and troops reportedly killed about 400 rampaging Muslims in an effort to quell the unrest, and Islamists shot, slashed or stabbed to death most of more than 100 Christians killed.
Constitutionally Nigeria is a secular state with freedom of religion. For nearly 40 years the northern ruling elite gave preferential treatment to Muslims and discriminated against Christians. Little was done to stop persecution of Christians in the north with tragic results of many churches being burnt and hundreds of Christians killed. In 1999, Shariah Law was imposed in 12 northern states, adding to the chaos.
Other countries recommended as CPCs were: Burma (Myanmar), North Korea, Eritrea, Iran, Pakistan, China, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.
The Taliban's growth in strength coupled with continuous persecution of religious minorities caused the commission to renew its call for the State Department to designate Pakistan as a CPC.
Last month violence near the port city of Karachi - nearly 700 miles from the Swat valley where the government officially allowed the Taliban to establish Islamic law - heightened fears. As members of a congregation erased pro-Taliban graffiti on their church in Taiser, near Karachi, armed men intervened to stop them. Soon 30-40 others arrived as support and began to fire indiscriminately at the crowd; among those seriously injured were three Christians, including a child, according to a report by advocacy group Minorities Concern of Pakistan.
Since 2002, USCIRF has recommended to the State Department to designate Pakistan as a CPC. But the State Department has not followed the commission's recommendation.
Country reports of religious rights violations from organizations like USCIRF and Open Doors help us stay informed on the status of religious freedom - or lack of freedom - around the world. Pray for believers in these restrictive countries, learn what hostility Christians face in those places and join campaigns urging our members of Congress to keep religious freedom high on their list. For more information, go to www.OpenDoorsUSA.org.