On Friday, the State Department drew the ire of religious liberty advocates for leaving Nigeria off its list of “Countries of Particular Concern list,” a government watch list for countries that endorse or allow religious violence.
“Secretary Blinken’s continued refusal to place Nigeria on the list of Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) when the Biden administration should be confronting President Buhari is appalling,” said Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), according to the Washington Times.
Smith, the ranking member of the Africa subcommittee for the House Foreign Affairs Committee, added that there would be oversight over the decision with the new Congress in January.
“The deterioration of human rights in Nigeria — the topic of congressional hearings I have chaired — and the Biden administration’s totally unjustified retreat from the fight to protect victims of religious persecution means there will be an oversight item in the new Congress,” he said.
A spokesperson for the State Department told the Times that Secretary of State Antony Blinken “determined that the status of religious freedom in Nigeria did not meet the legal threshold” to be included on the list.” The spokesperson added that Nigeria was still a “concern” and that the State Department would “press” the country’s government to address religious liberty concerns.
United State Commissioner on International Religious Freedom Chair Nury Turkel disagreed with Blinken’s decision, saying that conditions in Nigeria “clearly” merited its inclusion on the list.
The decision to keep Nigeria off the list came following reports that thousands of Christians have been killed or abducted this year in the West African nation. According to a report put out last month by the International Society for Civil Liberty and Rule of Law, over 4,000 Christians have been killed and 2,000 kidnapped by Islamic jihadist groups.
The group accused Nigeria’s government of being being “friendly” to some of the terrorist groups, while others have demanded the government take more action to crack down on Christian persecution.
Before the State Department’s decision, the Alliance Defending Freedom and Established By Revelation Media put out a petition urging the Biden administration to put Nigeria back on the CPC list.
“We cannot remain silent while our brothers and sisters are being persecuted and martyred for their faith. The killings must stop. The torture must stop. The least we can do as Americans is take a stand by acknowledging the very real evil taking place in Nigeria at this time,” the petition said.
Nigeria is ranked as the seventh most difficult country in the world to be a Christian, according to Open Doors, a group that monitors Christian persecution around the world.