Report names world's worst religious freedom violators

Report paints a 'grim picture' for religious freedom globally, says expert

April 15, 2012 .... A United States agency last month added two new countries—Turkey and Tajikistan—to its list of the world’s major religious freedom violators. Fourteen other countries, from Asia, the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa, were also cited as nations that engage in “particularly severe” violations of religious liberty.

 The list is part of an annual report issued by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (known as USCIRF), which makes recommendations to the United States State Department regarding which countries should be rated as “countries of particular concern” when it comes to protecting the rights of its citizens to worship freely. If the State Department does, in fact, adopt this label for a particular country, it opens up the possibility for the United States to impose economic sanctions.

“Overall, this year’s report paints a grim picture for religious freedom globally,” says Attorney Dwayne Leslie, deputy secretary general of the International Religious Liberty Association. “It suggests, in line with other recent studies, that religious repression and persecution is in fact increasing in many parts of the world.”   

It remains to be seen how far the State Department will actually implement the report’s recommendations. “But at the very least,” says Leslie, “this report is an important means of keeping religious persecution in the public eye and on the public agenda.”

The 16 nations named as “countries of particular concern” in the report are  Burma, China, Egypt, Eritrea, Iraq, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam.

Leslie explains that the report also tracks different types of religious persecution. “For instance, there’s repression at the hands of a government, such as what’s happening in Burma, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. Or there’s persecution that's carried out by religious extremists—like the current violence against religious minorities in places such as Nigeria and Iraq.”

The USCIRF report also points to countries such as Pakistan and Egypt, where there's elements of both types of persecution--religious repression by the authorities, as well as violence carried out by extremists. The full report can be seen online at http://www.uscirf.gov/reports-and-briefs/annual-report/3706-2012-annual-report.html.

USCIRF was created by Congress 13 years ago to promote religious freedom overseas and it operates as an independent, bi-partisan organization that investigates and reports on global religious freedom violations. [Bettina Krause/IRLA]