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AgapePress – An organization dedicated to aiding the persecuted Church says it is interesting that the U.S. government is applying a double standard in dealing with countries tagged by the U.S. State Department for their religious persecution.

The State Department recently released its annual list of nations designated “Countries of Particular Concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act. Nations included on the list are those that have engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of its people’s religious liberty.

Todd Nettleton is Director of Media Services for Voice of the Martyrs (VOM), a ministry to persecuted Christians worldwide. He notes that the U.S. government is coming down hard on countries that have little economic value to America — nations such as the State of Eritrea, where he says government officials closed down the unregistered Christian churches in 2002. The U.S. leveled sanctions against this small, desperately poor country in September.

Since May 2002, Eritrea ‘s government only officially recognizes the Muslim, Catholic, Orthodox, and Evangelical Lutheran churches. The government’s church registration system compels religious groups to submit personal information in order to obtain permission to hold worship. Members of unregistered religious groups are not allowed to worship freely.

But while Eritrea has been “persecuting Christians now for three or four years,” Nettleton asserts, “on the other side of the coin you have Saudi Arabia and you have China , who have been doing it for generations, and there’s no sanctions on them. They’re still in the discussion stage where [ U.S. officials] talk to them and try to get them to be nice.”

So, the VOM media liaison points out, even though Saudi Arabia and the People’s Republic of China have been “of particular concern” far longer than Eritrea, with those major U.S. trade partners it is business as usual. “The reality is, money talks,” he says, “and these nations like China are exporting goods to America every day, and a nation like Saudi Arabia provides us with the bulk of our oil.”

Even though those nations continue to make the State Department’s annual list of the world’s most severe religious freedom violators year after year, Nettleton feels the U.S. is unwilling to risk its economic interests over religious freedom issues. “Our government is very hesitant to put sanctions on one of these countries that we do business with on a daily basis,” he asserts.

Meanwhile, the VOM spokesman observes, it is interesting that the U.S. has not hesitated to level sanctions against Eritrea , a northeast African country bordered by Sudan in the west, Ethiopia in the south, and Djibouti in the southeast. Of all the countries that could be sanctioned for religious liberty violations, he notes, Eritrea is “probably the country that has the least economic value to America , to our government.”

Eritrea , with a population of 4,561,599 and an economy based mostly on subsistence agriculture — with 80 percent of the population involved in farming or herding — has a gross domestic product (GDP) of 4,250. According to International Monetary Fund GDP rankings for individual countries, while China is seventh and Saudi Arabia is 24th in the world, the State of Eritrea ranks 163rd.

It is apparent, Nettleton contends, that the U.S. government is hesitant to take economic measures against countries that provide either a massive supply of consumer goods or a major portion of America ‘s oil supply. Of course, he acknowledges, it is difficult to say just how effective sanctions would be on a nation such as China or Saudi Arabia should the U.S. decide to play hardball.