Washington Examiner

Religious freedom commission criticizes Blinken refusal to add Afghanistan to watchlist

USCIRF Criticizes State Department’s Refusal to Add Taliban-led Afghanistan to “Countries of Particular Concern” List

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has released its 2023 annual report, which details the repression of worship in countries worldwide. The report criticizes the State Department’s refusal to add Taliban-led Afghanistan to the U.S. government’s “countries of particular concern” list. The commission has called upon Secretary of State Antony Blinken to designate Afghanistan as a “country of particular concern” for engaging in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.

The commission made the same recommendation in its 2022 annual report, but to no avail. USCIRF Vice Chairman Abraham Cooper has expressed disappointment that the State Department did not include Afghanistan as a country of particular concern this year. He argues that the commission is “disappointed that the State Department did not include Afghanistan as a country of particular concern this year” and that “while it did re-designate the Taliban as an entity of particular concern, that does not reflect the reality that the group is the de facto government of Afghanistan.”

Religious Freedom Conditions in Afghanistan

The new report details the Taliban’s repression of Shi’a Muslim members of the ethnic Hazara community, Ahmadiyya Muslims, Baha’is, nonbelievers, Sikhs, Hindus, and Christians. Members of these groups are unable to express their faiths or beliefs openly because they face dire consequences, including death, if discovered by the Taliban or ISIS-K. The Taliban has been unable or unwilling to provide religious and ethnic minorities safety and security against radical Islamist violence, particularly in the form of attacks by ISIS-K and factions of the Taliban.

  • President Joe Biden’s April 2021 announcement of a full U.S. military withdrawal ended with the Taliban’s return to power, a chaotic evacuation, and hundreds of Americans and thousands of Afghan allies left behind in August 2021.
  • The Aug. 26 deadly ISIS-K suicide bombing killed 13 U.S. service members and nearly 200 Afghans at the Kabul airport.
  • Blinken named a dozen nations as “countries of particular concern” related to their attacks on religious liberty in November 2022, including prominent foreign adversaries such as China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea.

Religious Freedom Conditions in Other Countries

The report also warns that religious freedom conditions in China further deteriorated in 2022, including because Beijing continued to “vigorously implement” its “sinicization of religion” policies and its demand that “religious groups support the Chinese Communist Party’s rule and ideology.” In Russia, religious freedom conditions also “continued to decline,” and in Iran, religious freedom conditions “sharply deteriorated.” The commission found that religious freedom conditions “remained among the worst in the world” in North Korea.

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