Nigeria refutes US claim on religious freedom violation

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Nigeria government on Tuesday denied allegations of engaging in systematic and egregious religious freedom violations by the United States.

“Nigeria does not engage in religious freedom violation, neither does it have a policy of religious persecution,” Nigeria’s information minister Lai Mohammed said in a statement.

Mohammed argued that Nigeria jealously protects religious freedom as enshrined in the country’s constitution and takes seriously any infringements in this regard.

The United States on Monday placed Nigeria for the first time on a religious freedom blacklist, pressing an ally as Christian groups voice growing insecurity.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo designated Nigeria as a “Country of Particular Concern” for religious freedom, the rare inclusion of a fellow democracy in the US effort to shame nations into action.

“The U.S. is unwavering in its commitment to religious freedom,” Pompeo said, “No country or entity should be allowed to persecute people with impunity because of their beliefs.”

The nations on the blacklist include Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, which both have historic albeit complicated alliances with the United States, as well as China and Iran, arch-rivals for President Donald Trump’s administration.

The other nations on the list are Eritrea, Myanmar, North Korea, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

Under US law, nations on the blacklist must make improvements or face sanctions including losses of US assistance, although the administration can waive measures.

Pompeo said religious freedom was attacked in those countries and “we will act”. The US did not state specific reasons for adding Nigeria to the list of religious freedom violators.

But the Nigerian spokesman said the blacklisting of Nigeria was a case of an “honest disagreement between the two nations on the causes of violence in Nigeria.”

Mohammed stated that “Victims of insecurity and terrorism in the country are adherents of Christianity, Islam and other religions.”

He said Nigeria “jealously protects religious freedom as enshrined in the country’s constitution” and takes any infringements in that regard seriously.

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