The United States has placed Nigeria for the first time on a religious freedom blacklist, paving the way for potential sanctions if it does not improve its record.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo designated the US ally as a “Country of Particular Concern” for religious freedom, alongside nations that include China, Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
Pompeo did not elaborate on the reasons for including Nigeria, which has a delicate balance between Muslims and Christians.
But US law requires such designations for nations that either engage in or tolerate “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom.”
Pompeo notably did not include India, which has a growing relationship with Washington, and was infuriated by a recommendation from the US Commission on International Religious Freedom to include the secular but Hindu-majority nation over what it called a sharp downward turn under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Other nations on the blacklist are Eritrea, Myanmar, North Korea, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.
– Improve or face sanctions –
Pompeo removed from a second-tier watchlist both Uzbekistan and Sudan, whose relations with the United States have rapidly warmed after the ousting of dictator Omar al-Bashir and its recent agreement to recognize Israel.
On Nigeria, an annual State Department report published earlier this year took note of concerns both at the federal and state levels.