US report names ‘worst’ violators of religious freedom

An arm of the US government named 15 nations as the “worst violators of religious freedom”.

The Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent advisory body created by the International Religious Freedom Act to monitor religious freedom abuses internationally, released its 2013 report, which idenitifes “governments that are the most egregious violators.”

The 15 countries are Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Uzbekistan, Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Vietnam, all of which severely restrict independent religious activity and harass individuals and groups for religious activity or beliefs. These nations are classified as Tier 1 “countries of particular concern” (CPCs) in the report.

Despite its recent opening and political reforms, change in Burma have “yet to significantly improve the situation for freedom of religion and belief.” The report states that most violations occurred against minority Christian and Muslim adherents. China’s government is also cited for its ongoing severe abuses against its citizens’ freedom of thought.

The report said that Egypt’s transitional and elected governments have made progress toward religious freedom, it further highlighted the attacks that Coptic Christians have sustained in the period after the Arab Spring that brought down the Mubarak regime. “In many cases, the government failed or was slow to protect religious minorities from violence.”

The former Soviet states of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan were included for pursuing state control over religion, targeting Muslims and minorities alike. Iraq was cited for, among other things, tolerating “violent religiously motivated attacks” and Iran for “prolonged detention, torture, and executions based primarily or entirely on the religion of the accused.”

Saudi Arabia continues to suppress religious practices outside of the officially-sanctioned Wahhabi interpretation of Islam, interferes with the faith of guest workers and prosecutes individuals for “apostasy, blasphemy and sorcery”, according to the report. Pakistan has a strict blasphemy law and failure to prosecute acts of religious violence, the report said.

The situation in Sudan has deteriorated since South Sudan gained its independence. Criminalization of apostasy, the imposition of the government’s strict interpretation of Shari’ah on both Muslims and non-Muslims and attacks against Christians, were cited in the report for the decline.

The report also identified Nigeria for continuing religious violence between Muslims and Christians compounded by the government’s toleration of the sectarian attacks. North Korea’s totalitarian regime was also included for its ongoing harassment and torture of citizens based on religious beliefs.

A second tier includes Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Laos and Russia, where abuses of religious freedom are tolerated by the government and meet the threshold for CPC designation by the US Department of State, but don’t meet all of the standards for “systemic, ongoing, egregious” measurements.

Other countries regions being monitored included Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Ethiopia, Turkey, Venezuela and Western Europe.