03 May 2016
freedom remains under “serious and sustained assault” around the globe,
according to a new annual report from the U.S. Commission on International
in most of the countries we cover, religious freedom conditions have failed to
improve,” commission chairman Robert P. George said Monday (May 2). “At worst,
they have spiralled further downward.”
independent government advisory body recommended that the State Department add
the Central African Republic, Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria and Vietnam
to the U.S. government’s list of the world’s worst abusers of human rights and
religious freedom. Of the 17 countries USCIRF says are of “particular concern,”
only 10 have been recognized by the State Department.
official list remained unchanged for nearly a decade, until last month’s rare
addition of Tajikistan, a Sunni-majority country where a severely restrictive
2009 law allows the government to crack down on all independent religious
activity, particularly that of Muslims, Protestants and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Officials there use concerns of extremism to justify monitoring and suppressing
acts of worship: in the past year, police there have forced thousands of women
to remove their headscarves and detained hundreds of thousands of bearded men.
incarceration of prisoners of conscience, including religious prisoners,
remains astonishingly widespread,” George said. He pointed to China, which has
imprisoned some opposed to a state campaign to remove crosses from churches,
and Iran’s majority-Shiite regime, where Sunnis, Christians and Baha’is have
been persecuted, imprisoned and even sentenced to death on dubious unrelated
charges. And in Pakistan – which USCIRF recommended for recognition as a
country of particular concern but, for the 14th year in a row, has been not
been listed officially – more people are on death row or serving life sentences
for blasphemy charges than in any other nation in the world.
attention as was given to the refugee crisis in Iraq and Syria, for which the
USCIRF largely recycled its recommendations this year, it’s only the tip of the
think we can account for everything we’ve seen simply by reference to the
refugee crisis in the Middle East,” George said, noting oppressive conditions
for minorities in East Asia, where a Vietnamese religious freedom activist was
imprisoned the day after meeting with a USCIRF ambassador. “The American public
need to understand that this is truly is a battle for ideas. Protecting our
interests really does mean advancing our values, including our belief in
of focus included rising anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim bigotry throughout
Europe, the continuation of a “brutal legacy of persecution against Burma’s
Rohingya Muslims” and the “negative trajectory” for Christians, Muslims and
Sikhs living in India. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rhetoric has been
positive in the Hindu-majority country, a USCIRF delegation was effectively
denied visas in March.
was scarce, but there may be hope. Last year’s report commended Nigeria, Cyprus
and Sri Lanka’s new government for progress in promoting religious freedom and
harmony. While Nigeria remains on the USCIRF’s list of countries of particular
concern, Cyprus and Sri Lanka were let off the hook.
Aysha Khan is an RNS correspondent