Currently China, Burma, Eritrea, North Korea, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan occupy the CPC list.
In Burma, a whole class of persons, the Rohingya Muslims, are not recognized as citizens, thus remaining stateless and vulnerable to displacement and violations of their human rights. Christian minorities "are restricted from public worship and subjected to coerced conversion to Buddhism," the report said.
North Korea features "one of the world's most repressive regimes" where religious freedom is "profoundly repressed," with people imprisoned, tortured, and killed because of their religious belief.
However, USCIRF also recommends that Russia, the Central African Republic, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, and Vietnam be on the CPC list.
Vietnam was previously designated a CPC by the State Department, but was removed from the list in 2006 despite USCIRF's insistence that it remain.
"For the first time, we call out Russia as a CPC," Fr. Reese stated on Wednesday at a teleconference introducing the report. "Vladimir Putin and the Russian government have shown themselves to be some of the worst and most serious violators of religious freedom in the world."
He cited the recent ban on Jehovah's Witnesses from operating in the country by Russia's supreme court as only the latest example of a troubling trend of violations, especially those related to the country's use of an anti-extremism law. That law is used to crack down on religious minorities in the name of national security, USCIRF explained.
"The Russian government's premeditated attack [on Jehovah's Witnesses] demonstrates that it does not consider itself bound by internationally-recognized norms or conventions," Fr. Reese said. "A Russian justice minister official reportedly described Jehovah's Witnesses as a threat to public order and public security. Given that the witnesses are known globally for their pacifism and avoidance of politics, that statement is as absurd on its face as it seems."
In the Caucasus region, the country's anti-extremism law has been abused for years, Fr. Reese noted. "Anyone with a beard is considered an extremist and can be arrested," he said.
He also noted that in Crimea, a Ukrainian region annexed by Russia in 2014, the nation is "imposing its very tough registration laws on the religions in the Crimea," as well as the arrest of Muslim Tatar leaders and persecution of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.
In December 2016 another law passed the United States Congress to make major upgrades to the existing International Religious Freedom Act. Among other things, it called for the designation of "EPCs," or "entities of particular concern" for non-state actors which perpetrate serious abuses of religious freedom, such as the Islamic State, which "can at times be the most egregious violators of religious freedom," Fr. Reese noted.
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USCIRF recommended that the State Department use the EPC label for three groups: the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, the Taliban in Afghanistan, and al-Shabaab in Somalia.
The reason why groups like al-Qaeda and Boko Haram were not recommended for EPCs is because they lost territory and "political power" that other groups like the Islamic State had, Fr. Reese explained.
Additionally, the commission had previously recommended a CPC status for Egypt and Iraq, but decided not to do so in 2017.
In Egypt "we see positive steps," Fr. Reese said, pointing to the government's "engagement with minority religious communities" like the embattled Coptic Christians. However, these minorities are still subject to serious attacks by Islamic State affiliates, he maintained, and the country has "a dismal overall human rights situation."
In Iraq, Islamic State "continues to commit genocide and ruthlessly targets anyone who does not adhere to its barbaric worldview," Fr. Reese said, yet "the central government has tried to decrease sectarian tensions."
"Tier 2" countries are not the worst violators of religious freedom, but serious abuses still took place in these areas. USCIRF listed Afghanistan, Azerbajan, Bahrain, Cuba, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Pakistan, Laos, Malaysia, and Turkey as Tier 2 countries.