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US adds Wagner to religious freedom blacklist, downgrades Cuba, Nicaragua

US adds Wagner to religious freedom blacklist, downgrades Cuba, Nicaragua
'The United States will not stand by in the face of these abuses,' says Secretary of State Antony Blinken

By Michael Hernandez

WASHINGTON (AA) - The US on Friday added Russia's mercenary Wagner Group to its religious freedoms blacklist, and downgraded the status of Latin American nations Cuba and Nicaragua.

"Around the world, governments and non-state actors harass, threaten, jail, and even kill individuals on account of their beliefs. In some instances, they stifle individuals’ freedom of religion or belief to exploit opportunities for political gain," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement announcing the designations.

"These actions sow division, undermine economic security, and threaten political stability and peace. The United States will not stand by in the face of these abuses," he added.

The Wagner Group's addition as an entity of particular concern is being made for its actions in the Central African Republic, according to the top diplomat. He did not elaborate, but Human Rights Watch said in May that the Russian government-affiliated mercenary group has "summarily executed, tortured, and beaten civilians since 2019."

Hostilities in the country have been going on for a decade, and have largely pitted religious communities against one another.

Other entities of concern include al-Shabab, Boko Haram, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the Houthis, ISIS-Greater Sahara, ISIS-West Africa, Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin, the Taliban, the State Department said.

The decision to add Wagner to the religious freedoms blacklist comes amid speculation that the US could designate it as a foreign terrorist organization, in part, because of brutalities in which it has been implicated in the Ukraine war. No official decision has been announced.

Cuba and Nicaragua were placed last year on a special watch list, but were added to the US's list of countries of particular concern alongside China, Eritrea, Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia and others "for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom."

Vietnam was added to the watch list.

source: News Feed
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