An independent U.S. watchdog named 16 nations Monday as "countries of particular concern" for engaging in "systematic, ongoing, egregious violations" of religious freedom.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which advises President Donald Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Congress, named the 16 countries in its annual survey, saying they were identified because of "particularly severe" violations of religious freedom.
The commission's chair, Tenzin Dorjee, said that in the last year "we have seen severe violations of religious freedom mount around the globe, from the imprisonment of individuals charged with blasphemy in several countries to the internment of over one million Uighur Muslims in China. We and others laboring in the realm of religious freedom must persevere in our efforts to make this right a reality for everyone, everywhere."
He said, "The freedom to believe as one's conscience dictates is a fundamental human right and vital to the security, stability and economic vitality of any state or region."
The release of the report came two days after a gunman shot to death a Jewish worshipper inside a California synagogue near San Diego and injured three others, six months after another incident in which 11 people were killed inside a Pittsburgh synagogue.
The 16 countries the commission cited as the worst religious freedom violators were Myanmar, Central African Republic, China, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.
In Myanmar, the report said, "Victims of severe human rights and religious freedom violations have little hope for justice; this includes Rohingya and other Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, and Hindus, as well as ethnic Kachin, Shan, Karen, Rakhine, and Chin."
It said "the Chinese government continued to persecute all faiths" in an effort to make them conform to a Chinese characterization, "a campaign that attempts not only to diminish and erase the independent practice of religion, but also the cultural and linguistic heritage of religious and ethnic communities, particularly Tibetan Buddhists and Uighur Muslims."
In Russia, the report said, "The government continued to target 'nontraditional' religious minorities with fines, detentions, and criminal charges under the pretext of combating extremism. Russian legislation targets 'extremism' without adequately defining the term, enabling the state to prosecute a vast range of nonviolent, nonpolitical religious activity."
In addition, the commission cited five "entities of particular concern" for severe violations of religious freedom: Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the Taliban in Afghanistan, al-Shabab in Somalia, and new on the list this year, the Houthis in Yemen and Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham in Syria.