Washington, D.C. – The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) today marked the fourth anniversary of Leah Sharibu’s abduction at the hands of the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP). On February 19, 2018, 14-year-old Sharibu was kidnapped from her school in Northern Nigeria alongside 110 other girls. Despite ISWAP releasing most of the girls, Leah has remained in captivity for refusing to abandon her Christian faith and convert to Islam.
“Four years ago, Leah Sharibu was forcibly taken from her family and loved ones,” said USCIRF Commissioner Tony Perkins who advocates for Sharibu as part of USCIRF’s Religious Prisoner of Conscience Project. “ISWAP must free Leah Sharibu so she can reunite with her family, resume her education, and live a life of dignity of which she is most deserving. Her resolve in the face of the unimaginable should motivate us to do all that we can to help her and all other young women facing similar, dire circumstances.”
According to recent estimates, ISWAP is likely the largest militant Islamist group operating in northern Nigeria. It routinely violates Nigerian citizens’ rights to freedom of religion and belief, compels people to attend prayer, and implements harsh punishments justified on its singular interpretation of Islam. USCIRF has recommended that the U.S. Department of State redesignate ISWAP as an “entity of particular concern,” or EPC for engaging in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.
“The United States should pressure the Nigerian government to secure the release of Leah Sharibu and other kidnapped girls and take proactive measures to make sure that no other generation is subjected to the same fate,” USCIRF Commissioner Perkins added.
In its 2021 Annual Report, USCIRF recommended that the State Department redesignate Nigeria as a “country of particular concern,” or CPC. USCIRF was appalled when the State Department removed Nigeria from its designation as a CPC in November 2021 after doing so in December 2020. Additionally, USCIRF published a recent factsheet on religious freedom in Nigeria’s Kano State and an episode of the USCIRF Spotlight podcast on why redesignating Nigeria as a CPC is warranted.