Afghanistan among the ‘worst of the worst’ in violating religious freedom: US panel

Afghanistan should join a list of the “worst of the worst” violators of religious freedom, a U.S. advisory body is recommending to the State Department.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, said in its annual report issued Monday, that religious minorities have “faced harassment, detention and even death due to their faith or beliefs” since the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) came into power in August last year.

It also cited attacks on religious minorities by ISIS in Afghanistan, which is an enemy of the IEA.

Afghanistan is among 15 nations that the commission says should be on the State Department’s list of “countries of particular concern.” The commission, in its report summary, defined these as governments as the “worst of the worst” in tolerating or engaging in “systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom.”

The commission, created in 1998 under the International Religious Freedom Act, makes nonbinding policy recommendations to the administration and Congress. The State Department has adopted some but not all of its recommendations in the past.

In the new report, the commission recommends maintaining 10 countries currently on the State Department list, including China, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

It also recommends adding four more in addition to Afghanistan — India, Nigeria, Syria and Vietnam. The commission criticized the Biden administration for removing Nigeria from the list last year.

The report said that in Afghanistan, many minority Jewish, Hindu and Sikh residents have fled the country after the IEA returned to power. It said many members of other religious minorities, such as Ahmadiyya Muslims, Baha’is and Christian converts are worshipping in secret for fear of persecution.

Several deadly attacks on Hazaras, Shiite minority, have been attributed to the ISIS-K (Daesh) which is hostile to the IEA and proven to be a security challenge.

The report said non-Muslim Afghans comprised a tiny fraction of the population. It said 99.7% of Afghans are Muslim, most of them Sunni Muslims, with about 10% to 15% Shiite Muslims.

“The Taliban (IEA), while they promised they would form an inclusive government, promising they would be a different kind of government, their actions have proven otherwise,” commission Chair Nadine Maenza said in an interview. She said that even members of the Sunni majority who don’t share the IEA interpretation of Islamic law are being required to conform to strict dress codes and other measures.