There's "a great darkness over parts of the world where people of faith are persecuted or denied the right to worship," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced yesterday at the launch of the State Department's annual report on international religious freedom.
Perhaps nowhere is this darkness more obvious than in Nigeria. Just this week, at least 81 people died when Boko Haram militants rolled into a small village in armored tanks and trucks in Nigeria's Borno state. Militants gathered villagers together before indiscriminately opening fire into the crowd of civilians, even killing children. One witness recounted to CNN, "We have buried 49 corpses here while another 32 corpses were taken away by families from the villages around us."
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident of violence. Reports surface on an almost weekly basis that more Nigerians have died at the hands of militants and radicals, the victims often being Christian.
This year's State Department report points to Nigeria as a country where religious freedom conditions are getting worse. In remarks to the press, Pompeo acknowledged the growing problems faced by Africa's largest country: "In Nigeria, ISIS and Boko Haram continue to attack Muslims and Christians alike. ISIS beheaded 10 Christians in that country just this past December."
But Nigeria isn't the only country where the State Department found religious freedom to be deteriorating. Religious oppression notably continues to intensify in China.
Just last week, reports surfaced that Uyghur Muslims in China who were forcefully detained in "re-education" camps in Xinjiang were made to choose the crime for which they were detained from a list of more than 70 options. The "crimes" included traveling abroad, leading prayers, or wearing a headscarf. After selecting a crime, detainees were guided through a sham trial without representation -- a pathetic attempt to imitate justice.
China is also continuing its campaign to remove crosses from state-approved church buildings. From January to April of this year, authorities dismantled approximately 250 crosses from the province of Anhui alone.
China is an increasingly dangerous place to be a person of faith. The Chinese government has arrested Christian pastors, restricted Bible sales, and closed unregistered churches. Even high-profile prisoners of conscience like Pastor Wang Yi are handed harsh long-term jail sentences.
U.S. officials have often decried China's "war on faith." The State Department report just lends more credibility to that accusation. Released on the heels of the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom's (USCIRF) annual report, the State Department's comprehensive overview confirms the troubling nature of USCIRF's findings, which calls out the world's worst violators of religious freedom.
The United States is the only country to dedicate a large-scale report to the status of religious freedom in countries around the world. The State Department is investing serious time and effort into tracking these issues. This is impressive, but identifying the problems is just one step in the process of addressing the dire religious freedom and human rights situations in far too many countries. For the countries that this report attempts to "name and shame," this should be a wake-up call. The United States will not be silent as you oppress your religious believers.