USCIRF Report Identifies Top 17 Nations with Worst Religious Persecution: Afghanistan, China, India Among Key Offenders

Feature and Cover USCIRF Report Identifies Top 17 Nations with Worst Religious Persecution Afghanistan China India Among Key Offenders

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) published its latest report on Wednesday, spotlighting the countries with the most severe religious persecution globally.

This annual report serves as a guide for the State Department to advocate for religious freedom, often leading to sanctions against countries that violate these rights, with the aim of pressuring them to enhance their religious tolerance.

The report identifies Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Burma, China, Cuba, Eritrea, India, Iran, Nicaragua, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam as the worst offenders this year. USCIRF recommends that these nations be labeled as “countries of particular concern” (CPCs), a designation considered the U.S.’s “most powerful tool” for promoting religious freedom.


Under Taliban rule, religious freedom in Afghanistan has deteriorated significantly. The report indicates that the Taliban enforces a strict apostasy law prohibiting conversions from Islam and has imposed numerous restrictions on women’s dress, movement, education, and employment. Despite these concerns, Afghanistan is not currently a CPC, although the Taliban is classified as an “entity of particular concern” (EPC).


Azerbaijan, a predominantly Muslim country, appears on USCIRF’s CPC list for the first time this year due to increasing violations of religious rights affecting both Azerbaijani Muslims and ethnic minorities, particularly Armenian Christians. The report states that Azerbaijani citizens are “routinely” harassed, fined, and imprisoned for their religious activities. In 2023, 183 “peaceful believers” were unjustly imprisoned. Following Azerbaijan’s violent takeover of Nagorno-Karabakh and the resulting mass exodus of Armenian Christians, several historic Christian sites were damaged. Concerns also remain about further threats to ancient religious sites, and Armenian Apostolic priests were evicted from the Dadivank Monastery.


China remains a regular feature on USCIRF’s CPC list due to its continued “sinicization” program, which enforces the Chinese Communist Party’s ideology on all citizens and religions. The Chinese government strictly controls all religious activities and punishes unauthorized religious practices severely. In 2023, Chinese authorities “forcibly disappeared” and convicted underground Catholic priests, including two bishops. The government continues its persecution of Muslim Uyghurs through forced labor and indoctrination camps, and thousands of Falun Gong practitioners are also imprisoned.


India, the world’s second-most populous country, is led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu Nationalist government, under which religious freedom has worsened. Despite constitutional protections, many regions enforce anti-conversion laws. In 2023, thousands of Christians and Muslims faced attacks and intimidation, and hundreds of churches and mosques were destroyed.


In Iran, religious freedom remains “extremely poor.” In 2023, the government systematically harassed, arrested, raped, tortured, and executed protesters against mandatory hijab laws and other religious restrictions. Religious minorities, including Sunni Muslims, faced severe punishments, sometimes execution, for violating strict Islamic laws.


In Nicaragua, dictators Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo intensified their persecution of the Catholic Church and other religious groups in 2023. The government seized assets and properties of Catholic institutions and imprisoned and exiled hundreds of Catholics and political dissidents. Bishop Rolando Alvarez, a vocal critic of the regime, was sentenced to 26 years in prison and spent all of 2023 with little to no contact with the outside world before being exiled to the Vatican.


Nigeria saw over 8,000 Christians killed in 2023, with attacks peaking during Christmas weekend, resulting in 190 deaths in Plateau state. Nigerian Christians, who constitute 46% of the population, suffered widespread violence, kidnappings, and intimidation largely ignored by the government. Despite recommendations from USCIRF, Nigeria has not been designated a CPC by the State Department since 2021.


Pakistan experienced a significant increase in terrorist attacks against religious minorities and places of worship in 2023. The government further strengthened prohibitions against “blasphemy,” often used to target religious minorities. In August, a mob attacked a Christian community in Jaranwala over a blasphemy accusation, resulting in the destruction of homes and damage to at least 24 churches.

Other Concerning Trends

Transnational Persecution: USCIRF reported an increase in transnational repression by governments like China and India, which targeted religious minorities abroad. Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan were also noted for such activities.

Blasphemy Laws: Blasphemy laws, active in 96 countries, pose a significant challenge to global religious freedom by punishing actions deemed offensive to the prevailing religion or ideology. These laws often incite violence against religious minorities.

Europe:The report mentioned concerning trends in Europe, citing the arrest of U.K. citizen Isabel Vaughan-Spruce for silently praying outside an abortion clinic in Birmingham, and Finnish MP Päivi Räsänen facing human rights violation charges for expressing her religious views on sexuality and marriage.

The USCIRF report underscores the persistent and worsening state of religious persecution worldwide, urging the U.S. to use its influence to advocate for greater religious tolerance and freedom through diplomatic and economic pressure.

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