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World News

Nigeria: International religious freedom campaigners urge US gov't to take rising violent Christian persecution seriously

by Tola Mbakwe

Religious freedom campaigners from across the world have called on the US State Department to redesignate Nigeria as a "Country of Particular Concern" (CPC), after removing it last year.

On Monday, 33 organisations and 35 individuals sent a letter to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also asking for the appointment of a special envoy to assess Christian persecution in the West African country. 

Persecution facing Christians in Nigeria is extreme and often brutally violent, as Islamic militants and armed bandits attack predominantly Christian farming communities in the country's Middle Belt.

The letter reads: "After the still unexplained removal of Nigeria's CPC designation in November 2021, both the general level of violence and specific targeting of Christians increased. Open Doors found more Christians killed in Nigeria in 2021 - 4,650 - than in all other countries in the world combined. 

"The International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law views the trend for 2022 as on-track to surpass that number, with no fewer than 2,543 Christians killed in jihadist-related violence in the first half of 2022. The violence has also begun spreading outside of the North in high-profile attacks on churches and pastors, along with increased kidnappings. On Pentecost Sunday 2022, terrorists attacked St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Owo, Ondo State, killing at least 40 worshippers. 

"The Nigerian government's ability and willingness to control militancy remains extremely questionable after ISWAP's attack on the Kuje prison in Abuja that freed hundreds of militants, only half of whom were recaptured, and that coincided with a failed attack on President Muhammadu Buhari's convoy in Katsina."

The letter also addresses the impact of blasphemy laws in Nigeria's northern states which "are clear violations of both the Nigerian constitution and international law" and contribute to a mob of violence. 

It highlights the case of  Deborah Emmanuel Yakubu, a Christian college student in Sokoto, who was stoned and beaten to death by her classmates, and her body burnt, because she thanked Jesus for helping her pass an exam. 

The signatories, organised by ADF International, and which included many UK MPs say the removal of the CPC designation was "appalling". 

They said the designation and a Special Envoy assignment "are vital to recognising the gravity of the religious freedom violations occurring in the country and the government's unwillingness to control the problems, as well as its contributions to the problems."

The letter came two days before Nigeria's military urged people in three northwestern states to leave forested areas ahead of a bombing campaign targeting bandits and terrorists.

According to local broadcast stations and a military official, an advertisement running on local television and radio stations on Wednesday warned people in Zamfara, Katsina and the Birnin Gwari area of Kaduna state to leave the forests in advance of a "heavy bombardment."

It's due to armed gangs of men killing and kidnapping hundreds across northwest Nigeria over the past two years, typically operating from remote forests. The country's thinly stretched armed forces have struggled to secure the large, remote regions.

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