The Taliban’s extension of control across Afghanistan following the U.S. troop withdrawal has resulted in a serious deterioration in religious freedom, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom emphasized in a report published April 25.

“Afghanistan’s overall instability has led to the near extinction of religious minorities,” the report said. “Christians, Ahmadiyya Muslims, Baha’is, and nonbelievers are unable to express their faiths or beliefs openly because they face dire con- sequences, including death, if discovered by the Taliban or ISIS-K.”

USCIRF urged the State Department to expand the current Priority 2 designation for Afghan refugees by “explicitly including Afghan religious minorities at extreme risk of religious persecution.”

Afghanistan is one of 15 nations USCIRF is recommending this year for a “Countries of Particular Concern” designation.

The report uses three categories found in the State Department’s international religious freedom reports — typically released in June — to indicate the degree to which religious freedom is restricted or hindered in the view of the USCIRF commissioners. These conclusions are offered as recommendations to the State Department.

1. Countries of Particular Concern recommendations are for nations “whose government engages in or tolerates particularly severe religious freedom violations, meaning those that are systematic, ongoing and egregious.”

Fifteen nations received a CPC recommendation: Afghanistan, Burma, China, Eritrea, India, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Vietnam.

Afghanistan is the only new addition, appearing on the Special Watch List in the 2021 USCIRF report. The State Department’s 2021 CPC list did not include Afghanistan, Nigeria or Syria.

2. Special Watch List recommendations describes countries “in which the violations engaged in or tolerated by the government … are serious and characterized by at least one of the elements of the ‘systematic, ongoing and egregious’ CPC standard.”

Twelve were set forth: Algeria, Azerbaijan, Central African Republic, Cuba, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Nicaragua, Turkey and Uzbekistan. New to the 2021 SWL list is the Central African Republic, returning to the list only one year after being removed.

Three countries — Algeria, Comoros, Cuba and Nicaragua — appeared on the State Department’s 2021 SWL, so USCIRF is recommending nine additional countries be added to the list for 2022.

3. Entities of particular concern described “a non-state group [engaging] in particularly severe violations of religious freedom, as defined above, and must also be ‘a non-sovereign entity that exercises significant political power and territorial control; is outside the control of a sovereign government; and often employs violence in pursuit of its objectives.’”

Seven entities were recommended as EPC in the USCIRF report: al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, the Houthis, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) (also referred to as ISIS-West Africa), and Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM).

The Taliban no longer appeared in the 2022 EPC list because it took control of Afghanistan after the U.S. withdrawal and announced the formation of a government in September 2021.

The full report is available here.

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