Seven years after vowing to punish countries that restrict religious freedom, the U.S. government announced sanctions against the tiny African nation of Eritrea. The September 23 announcement represents the first such action the U.S. has taken under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA).

The Bush administration has postponed taking action against Saudi Arabia, although the U.S. State Department determined religious freedom does not exist there. In 2004, the U.S. designated the nation of 26.5 million, along with Vietnam and Eritrea, as "countries of particular concern" (CPCS). The State Department also redesignated Burma, China, Iran, North Korea, and Sudan as CPCS. White House officials opted to negotiate with leaders of Saudi Arabia and Vietnam before deciding on whether to impose sanctions.

"It seems the wheels of justice often grind very slowly," said Michael Cromartie, chairman of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. "There's a lot of interagency bickering about whether to continue diplomacy or cut it off and impose sanctions."

Eritrea, an East African coastal nation of 4.6 million, will be denied commercial export of defense articles and services, as well as technical data and services, under the terms of a 1976 federal law. A State Department spokesperson said the sanctions seek to prevent the Eritrean military from incarcerating, harassing, and repressing religious persons. The country allows its citizens to practice only Catholicism and Islam.

The U.S. government has also entered a binding agreement with Vietnam to stop its repression of religious dissenters in some regions of the country. State Department officials plan to continue to speak with Saudi leaders and issue a statement by late March.

Related Elsewhere:

The U.S. State Department's latest International Religious Freedom Report, issued November 8, has more on religious freedom in Eritrea.

Other CT articles on Persecution and the International Religious Freedom Act include:

The Daniel of Religious Rights | Nina Shea is not someone to tangle with. And the persecuted are mighty glad. (Aug. 26, 2005)
Religious Liberty: How Are We Doing? | The challenges of being an international cop for human rights—a report by the first U.S. ambassador at large for religious freedom.
Curbing Religious Persecution Difficult | The International Religious Freedom Act, introduced by Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.), lingered near extinction as lawmakers returned last month after their summer recess. (Oct. 5, 1998)

More articles on Eritrea include:

Dumped into Drums | Eritrea ramps up brutal crackdown on Christians. (July 18, 2005)
Jailed for Christ | Government harasses churches in Eritrea (May 20, 2004)

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