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A major new report highlights what it describes as worsening religious freedom around the world.

The newly released 2023 report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), echoes the concerns of UK-based Release International, that Nigeria and India should be designated countries of particular concern.

Release International welcomes the report but urges USCIRF to further investigate the rising tide of violence in Nigeria by Fulani militia, often aimed at Christian communities.


The USCIRF report, ‘sounds the alarm regarding the deterioration of religious freedom conditions in a range of countries.’

It adds five countries to its list of the world’s worst offenders and presses the influential US State Department to declare them to be countries of particular concern (CPCs).

Those five additional countries are Nigeria, India, Afghanistan, Syria, and Vietnam.

Nations already on the US State Department’s list of CPCs are Burma, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Iran, Nicaragua, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.


Out of these ashes

Since 2009, USCIRF has been highlighting Nigeria as a country where religious freedom is deteriorating. And it has publicly criticised the US State Department for leaving Nigeria off its list.

USCIRF reports: ‘Criminal activity and violent armed group incidents impacting religious freedom [has] worsened. Rampant violence and atrocities across Nigeria have continued to impact freedom of religion or belief, including militant Islamist violence.’

The report cites the terror group Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP), which has attacked Christian communities, reportedly killing 40 in a single raid on a Catholic Church in Ondo State on Pentecost Sunday. USCIRF warns that ISWAP is expanding the territorial reach of its increasingly sophisticated attacks.

Release International, which supports persecuted Christians around the world, shares USCIRF’s concerns, and welcomes the report. However, Release International is dismayed that the report omits any reference to the growing attacks on Christian communities in the North and Middle belts by Fulani extremists.

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Release International’s latest reports highlight increasing concern that the Nigerian military appears to be turning a blind eye to these attacks. It’s failing to intervene even when the bloodshed takes place in plain sight of the Nigerian armed forces.

‘The world must wake up to the reality of the worsening violence in Nigeria,’ says Paul Robinson, the CEO of Release International, ‘not only from Boko Haram and ISWAP, but at the hands of Fulani militants.’

Release International and others have been reporting the growing attacks by heavily armed, well trained Fulani militia on largely Christian communities. These have been targeting pastors and churches and attempting to drive Christian communities off the land.

‘We urge USCIRF to investigate this further and to focus the attention of the international community onto this growing menace,’ adds Paul Robinson. ‘We welcome USCIRF’s continuing efforts to get Nigeria listed internationally as a country of particular concern.’


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Since 2020, USCIRF has been calling for India to be designated as a CPC for what it describes as, ‘systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.’

Its latest report again supports findings by Release International in its own annual Persecution Trends report. USCIRF state: ‘Religious freedom conditions in India continue to worsen.

Throughout the year, the Indian government at the national, state, and local levels promoted and enforced religiously discriminatory policies, including laws targeting religious conversion.

‘India’s state governments continued to pass and enforce anti-conversion laws, currently existing in 12 states, including legislation in multiple states aimed to prohibit and criminalize interfaith marriages.’

USCIRF say restrictions on freedom of religion and expression in India are creating, ‘an increasing climate of intimidation and fear.’

Other countries highlighted by both USCIRF and Release International this year are China and Eritrea.


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In Eritrea, the authorities continue to arbitrarily arrest Christians and detain them indefinitely, often for many years. The numbers of those arrested is now rising again.

Release International’s partner estimates there are now more than 500 Christian prisoners of faith in Eritrea.

According to USCIRF: ‘prisoners of conscience remained imprisoned in decrepit, unsanitary, and inhumane conditions…. detainees [are] living in squalor and subject to violence and intimidation.’

USCIRF calls on the United States to redesignate Eritrea as a country of particular concern.


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The report accuses China of attempting to control religion through ‘digital authoritarianism’, highlighting Release International’s concerns that China is using AI and surveillance technology to repress the Church.

USCIRF reports: ‘Religious freedom conditions in China further deteriorated. The government continued to vigorously implement its “Sinicization of religion” policy and demand that religious groups support the Chinese Communist Party’s rule and ideology.’

Sinicization is the process of attempting to make religious practices culturally more Chinese and more in line with the officially atheist Communist Party.

Along with the rounding up of the Uyghur people in what USCIRF describes as ‘concentration camps’, China has intensified its persecution of Protestant house church Christians.

Uyghurs brainwashing


USCIRF reports: ‘The government carried out a nationwide crackdown on house churches by harassing, detaining, physically abusing, and sentencing Protestants who refused to join the state-controlled Three-self Patriotic Movement.” It also reports that Protestant Uyghurs are facing additional persecution in the Xinjiang re-education camps.

According to USCIRF, Chinese Catholic priests and bishops have also been detained or forcibly disappeared for refusing to come under the state-controlled Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. USCIRF calls for China to be redesignated a country of particular concern.

Release International is active in some 30 countries. It works through partners to prayerfully, pastorally, and practically support the families of Christian martyrs. It supports prisoners of faith and their families; Christians suffering oppression and violence, and those forced to flee.

USCIRF 2023 Annual Report

Release International’s 2023 Persecution Trends report:

Watch this story on Release International’s latest Persecution Report below: