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World’s worst religious freedom violators evaluated by Tom Strode

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WASHINGTON (BP) — The Trump administration’s first designation of the world’s worst violators of religious freedom received the same evaluation as the last list under President Obama — good but not good enough.

The State Department announced Thursday (Jan. 4) the re-designation of the same “countries of particular concern” (CPCs) announced in April 2016 by the Obama administration. In a Dec. 22 action, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson kept Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan on the list, according to a department spokesperson.

Religious liberty advocates had hoped the State Department would add other countries to the CPC list, which is required by federal law. The measure calls for the designation of countries that commit or tolerate “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.”

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) — a bipartisan panel that monitors religious liberty overseas — had urged the State Department in April to re-designate the 10 CPC members of 2016 but recommended it add six governments to the list: Central African Republic, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Syria and Vietnam.

“Although USCIRF agrees with the 10 countries on the State Department’s list, it does not go far enough,” said USCIRF Chairman Daniel Mark in a written statement.

Mark and Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., pointed to the CPC list’s shortcomings on specific countries.

The refusal to include Vietnam, a communist country in Southeast Asia, is “a significant omission,” Smith said in a written release.

Vietnam “is a place where a prioritization of religious freedom could produce results as it did in the past when the Bush Administration designated Vietnam as a CPC [from 2004 to 2006],” Smith said. “The Communist Party of Vietnam has reached out to the [Trump] Administration, seeking economic and security incentives. The Administration should condition assistance on improvements in religious freedom and related human rights in Vietnam.”

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