New US Religious Freedom Report Out

Afghanistan democracy “in peril”

Iraq law against Baha’is still on books

Commission says Department of State “has not yet acted on or responded” to recommendations on refugees

Li v. Gonzales slammed

It’s time for the new Annual Report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. Here’s the state of play this year:

It recommended that eight countries remain on the CPC [Countries of Particular Concern] list: Burma, China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), Eritrea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Vietnam. It also identified three countries not previously designated by the U.S. government: Pakistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan…In addition to CPC recommendations, the Commission wrote that it was adding Afghanistan to its Watch List. Bangladesh, Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, Indonesia, and Nigeria would remain on the Watch List.

The report also contains information about Georgia, Iraq, Laos, and Russia, as well as some assessment of how the USA has responded to the problems. It comes six months after the State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report, which was heavily criticized by various lobbies and individuals (including the committee’s chairman) that I discussed here.

The report is packed with information, and so resists a brief summary; however, I’ve cut and pasted what I found to be the most interesting points. So, a longer blog entry than usual:

Afghanistan

…The constitutional concerns are intensified by the fact that the task of interpreting many of these provisions has been left to the Supreme Court, currently headed by Chief Justice Fazl Hadi Shinwari, who has shown little tolerance for those who disagree with his hard-line interpretation of Islam. In August 2003, Chief Justice Shinwari told a visiting Commission delegation that he rejects three crucial freedoms—those of expression, religion, and equal rights for men and women—all of which are protected under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As a consequence of his actions, a sitting Minister in the interim Afghan government was forced to resign after she was charged with blasphemy for questioning the role of Islamic law in Afghanistan, journalists have been jailed on charges of offending Islam, and during the October 2004 presidential elections, a presidential candidate was threatened with disqualification for purported “anti-Islamic remarks” on women’s rights and family law. These incidents suggest that despite the gains since 2002 and the adoption of a new constitution, religious freedom and other human rights, along with democracy itself, remain under threat from extremism.

These constitutional pitfalls have been extended to other legislation also. In 2002, Afghanistan adopted a new press law that contains a sanction against publication of “matters contrary to the principles of Islam or offensive to other religions and sects.” According to the State Department, the vagueness in the definition of what constitutes offensive material allows for the potential abuse of this clause with the aim of limiting freedom of the press and intimidating journalists. Indeed, incidents of this sort of abuse have already occurred, as when Chief Justice Shinwari in November 2004 successfully appealed to the Afghan government to have cable television taken off the air because of its “immoral” programs that insult religion. Earlier in that year, the Chief Justice had also protested the presence of female singers on radio and television and attempted to have the practice halted, though in this effort he was ultimately not successful. In January 2006, the Afghan Minister of Information, Culture, and Tourism declared that though Afghan law allows citizens access to a free press, limitations exist that are “not imposed by the government but are in line with Islamic and national principles.” That same month, cable television was shut down in Balkh province for broadcasting films and music that were “against Islam and Afghan culture.” In February 2006, the Afghan government, through a special media commission, imposed a fine on Afghan TV, one of four private stations in Kabul, for broadcasting “un-Islamic materials.”

There is also mention of Abdul Rahman, a convert to Christianity from Islam who narrowly escaped the death penalty.

In her testimony, Commissioner [Felice] Gaer described the weak state of human rights protections in Afghanistan today, and cautioned that freedom and democracy are still in peril in that country.

Bangladesh

…In June 2005, there were arson or bombing attacks against Ahmadi mosques in three locations. In July 2005, two Bangladeshis working for a Christian NGO were murdered, allegedly because of showing a film on the life of Jesus. As of this writing, there have been no charges brought in this case or in the murder in September 2004 of a locally prominent Christian convert from Islam…Politically-motivated bombings, assassinations, and other terrorist acts, often ascribed to Islamic militants, have exacerbated partisan tensions and increased the vulnerability of minority communities.

…Anti-Ahmadi activists have been organized under the banner of a group known as the International Khatme Nabuwat Movement Bangladesh. (“Khatme Nabuwat” is an Arabic phrase meaning “finality of the Prophethood” of Mohammed.) There is reportedly a significant overlap of membership between this organization and Jamaat-e-Islami and other Islamic political parties. Anti-Ahmadi activists object to Ahmadi houses of worship being called “mosques” and on a number of occasions have organized mass demonstrations against Ahmadi mosques, have attempted to occupy the sites, and have forcibly replaced signs identifying Ahmadi places of worship as mosques, sometimes with the assistance of the police. In some instances, the anti-Ahmadi agitation has been accompanied by mob violence in which Ahmadi homes have been destroyed and Ahmadi converts held against their will and pressured to recant. Although the campaign against the Ahmadis has continued, the violence has diminished in recent months due to improved and more vigorous police protection for the Ahmadis.

Belarus

…Since coming to power in 1994, President Lukashenko has openly favored the Belarusian Orthodox Church (BOC), an Exarchate of the Moscow-based Russian Orthodox Church, resulting in a privileged position for the BOC in relation to other religious communities. This relationship was codified in June 2003, when the Belarus government and the BOC signed a concordat setting out the Church’s influence in government affairs and other facets of public life. Relations between the BOC and the Belarus government have created difficulties for many religious minorities, which have sometimes been denied registration or permission to rent or build a place of worship by regional authorities who have been influenced by local Orthodox leaders. Several “independent” Orthodox churches that do not accept the authority of the Orthodox Patriarch in Moscow have been denied registration, including the Autocephalous Orthodox Church and the True Orthodox Church, a branch of the Orthodox Church that rejected the compromise with the Soviet government made by the Russian Orthodox Church in the 1920s. In March 2004, the Belarusian government granted the BOC the exclusive right to use the word “Orthodox” in its title.

…In January 2006, President Lukashenko reportedly awarded a medal for “spiritual development” to the editor of his presidential administration’s newsletter, a person who has argued that the notorious anti-Semitic forgery “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” is a genuine document. Anti-Semitic literature continues to be sold in government buildings, in stores, and at events directly and indirectly connected with the BOC. In addition, because the 2002 religion law states that religious organizations do not have priority in reclaiming property if a former worship building is now used for culture or sport, only nine of 92 historic synagogues in Belarus have been returned to the Jewish community since the country’s independence in 1991. Reportedly, in January 2006, some 30 neo-Nazis held a march in the city of Grodno and several bystanders were beaten; city police deny any knowledge of the incident.

Belarus has also been of particular interest to this blog several times recently.

Burma

…Tensions between the Buddhist and Muslim communities has resulted in outbreaks of violence over the past several years, some of it instigated by Burmese security forces against ethnic minority Muslims…In addition to violence, overt discrimination against Muslims, particularly ethnic Rohingya Muslims, is widespread and severe. The government has denied citizenship to Rohingya Muslims on the grounds that their ancestors allegedly did not reside in the country prior to British colonial rule…In Rangoon in 2001-2002, authorities closed more than 80 Protestant house churches because they did not have proper authorization to hold religious meetings…Since the 1990s, some Buddhist monks have been active in the pro-democracy movement, resulting in the imprisonment of more than 100 Buddhist monks for advocating democracy and encouraging dialogue between the government and pro-democracy forces.

China

…There are numerous credible reports…of Christian leaders having to refrain from teachings involving the second coming of Jesus, divine healing, the practice of fasting, and the virgin birth because these doctrines or practices are considered by the government to be superstitious or contrary to the Chinese Communist Party’s social policies…The Commission was informed that Uighur Muslims have not received permission to build new mosques for the past six years. The Commission was also told that all imams are required to undergo yearly political training seminars in order to retain their licenses. Commissioners learned of the existence of an “Islamic Affairs Steering Committee,” which is reported to author and approve sermons and censor religious texts and any material with religious content. The purpose of such oversight by the government is to create Muslim religious leaders who will “ardently love their country.”… In addition, Commissioners learned that monks and nuns are required to renounce the Dalai Lama as the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists.

…The Commission also asked to meet with several prominent religious figures whose detention or disappearance has raised international concern, including the Dalai Lama’s chosen Panchen Lama, Gendum Choekyi Nyima; Catholic Bishops Su Zhimin and An Shuxin; Tibetan Buddhist monk Ngawang Phuljung; Protestant “house church” leader Cai Zhuohua; and Uighur historian Tonti Tunyaz. The Commission also asked to meet with former Tibetan nun Phuntsog Nyidron, in light of reports that her freedom of movement and association remain highly restricted, despite her release from prison a year earlier.

…The campaign against “evil cults” has, in recent years, expanded beyond the Falun Gong and similar groups to those religious communities that have refused to register and become part of the system of officially-sanctioned religious organizations. This campaign has targeted leaders and members of newer, as well as long-established, Protestant and Catholic groups which, for various reasons, have not registered with the government. Religious leaders have been imprisoned and followers detained and fined for “cultist activity.”… There are at least 40 Catholic bishops or priests under arrest, imprisoned, or detained, including 74-year old Bishop Su Zhimin, who has been in prison, in detention, under house arrest, or under strict surveillance since the 1970s.

The report also discusses the case of Li v. Gonzales in the USA:

…In this case, the Fifth Circuit, deferring to arguments advanced by the DOJ, misconstrued religious freedom conditions in China, as well as international human rights law. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled in August 2005 in Li v. Gonzales to uphold the order to remove a Chinese man who had been arrested, beaten, fired, and charged with the “crime” of organizing an unregistered house church in China. In so holding, the Fifth Circuit ruled that Mr. Li had been subject to prosecution for failing to register his church—not persecuted on the basis of his religious beliefs. The Fifth Circuit held, deferring to arguments advanced by the DOJ and adopted earlier in the case by the BIA, that China has the “sovereign right” to regulate unregistered religions, and that China’s treatment of unregistered churches is an issue for “oral judgment—not a legal one.” Subsequently, the Commission wrote to and met with officials at the DOJ to make clear that the Chinese government’s control over registered churches—and its prosecution of individuals for engaging in “unauthorized” religious activity—are clearly in violation of international law with regard to freedom of religion or belief.

Cuba

…Religious freedom conditions have been affected in part by the ongoing government crackdown on democracy and free speech activists, resulting in a generally deteriorating situation for human rights. In the past year, a new law on religion meant to “legalize” house churches has also affected religious freedom and reinforced the government’s efforts to increase its control over religious practice.

Currently, there are approximately 50 state-recognized religious groups, primarily Christian denominations, half of which are members of the government-recognized Cuban Council of Churches. Reportedly, the government in recent years has not granted recognition to any relatively new denominations, although it has tolerated the presence of some new groups, such as the Baha’is and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, though they are not officially registered. Conditions for Jehovah’s Witnesses have improved substantially since 2004; however, there were sporadic reports of harassment and discrimination by local Communist Party and government officials. For example, in 2005, a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses reported being denied employment in a government-run factory due to her religious beliefs. Nevertheless, such reports continued to decline in number.

…Protestant house churches continued to be harassed and evangelical denominations reported evictions from houses used for worship (most of which were unauthorized and thus illegal). In March 2006, an evangelical pastor was jailed, allegedly for aiding emigrants who sought to leave the country illegally.

Egypt

…Despite a recent positive court ruling, the government has also not taken steps to provide identity cards and other important documents to members of the Egyptian Baha’i community or to combat widespread and virulent anti-Semitism in the government-controlled media.

…Article 98(f) of the Penal Code, which prohibits citizens from “ridiculing or insulting heavenly religions or inciting sectarian strife,” continues to be applied to prosecute alleged acts by purportedly “unorthodox” Muslims. These include Muslims groups, such as the Koranites—a group that does not accept as authentic hadith, oral traditions of the life of the Prophet Muhammad, or Sunna, accounts of the way the Prophet Muhammad lived his life—who are accused of practicing beliefs deemed to deviate from Islamic law.

…Although Egyptian government officials claim that there is no law or policy that prevents Christians from holding senior positions, the Coptic Orthodox Christian community faces de facto discrimination in appointments to high-level government posts.

…All Baha’i institutions and community activities have been banned since 1960 by a presidential decree…Egyptian government officials have stated that the rights of Baha’is are not protected under the Constitution, since, in accordance with Islamic principles, protection applies only to adherents of the three “heavenly religions.” In a positive development, in April 2006, an Egyptian administrative court ruled that Egyptian Baha’is have the right to have their religion recognized in official documents.

Eritrea

…Jehovah’s Witnesses were the first religious group to experience official persecution…In accordance with a Presidential decree issued October 1994, Jehovah’s Witnesses have been barred from obtaining government jobs, business licenses, and government-issued identity and travel documents. Lack of Eritrean identity cards effectively denies Jehovah’s Witnesses a range of government services, including legal recognition of marriages and land purchases. Jehovah’s Witnesses who have refused to serve in the military have been imprisoned without trial, some for over a decade…government spokespersons have cited Pentecostals, along with Muslim extremists, as a threat to national security.

…Security forces acted against reformist elements in the Orthodox Church, arresting religious activists and preventing their meetings. The government of Eritrea has also reportedly moved to tighten its grip on the highest levels of the Church. In August 2005, the Church’s Synod, allegedly acting on the government’s behest, stripped the Orthodox Patriarch of much of his authority, with his administrative duties being assumed by a government-appointed layperson. In January 2006, the Synod moved to depose the Patriarch. In a letter dated January 15, 2006, the Patriarch denounced the Synod’s actions as illegal under canon law and announced the excommunication of the government-appointed administrator.

Georgia

…In the past year, President Saakashvili, the National Security Council Secretary, and the Government Ombudsman have all advocated religious freedom and spoken out in support of minority religious groups. In late 2004, Georgian officials permitted the Jehovah’s Witnesses Watchtower Bible and Tract Society to operate legally in the country for the first time. Under a new registration process established by parliament in April 2005, two religious communities were approved for registration as noncommercial organizations. While the Georgian Orthodox Church (GOC) remains the only religious group with formal legal status as a religious organization and other religious freedom issues remain unresolved in Georgia, significant improvement in religious freedom conditions led the Commission to remove Georgia from its Watch List in 2004.

…Despite improvements, some religious freedom concerns remain. Although the primary leaders of the violent attacks against members of religious minorities have been convicted, many other of the people accused of participating in this violence—including local police officials— have not been held to account by the Georgian authorities, reportedly due to fears of offending the GOC hierarchy. Moreover, Orthodox communities other than the GOC and some other minority Christian denominations periodically encounter difficulties from local officials and the GOC in building places of worship or displaying their literature in bookstores.

India

…In addition to the steps taken by the Supreme Court, the government continued its efforts to redress a number of aspects of the Hindu nationalist agenda of the previous government. After a government-appointed committee of historians was tasked in June 2004 with removing the “distortions and communally biased portions” of the new textbooks, the latter were replaced in 2005 with revised editions. In addition, the government has continued to act decisively to prevent communal violence in situations where it has erupted in the past. In July 2005, six Muslim militants attacked a religious site in Ayodhya, in the state of Uttar Pradesh, where in 1992 Hindu extremists destroyed the sixteenth century Babri mosque, resulting in nationwide riots that left up to 3,000 dead, mostly Muslims. There were protests organized by the BJP in response to the July attack, but police dispersed the crowds and no violence ensued. In February 2006, a mass rally of Hindu nationalists was held in the Dangs district of Gujarat calling on members of the indigenous “tribal” people to “reconvert” to Hinduism. In the weeks leading up to the event, the Hindu groups issued a number of highly inflammatory statements, particularly against Christians, and violence against local Christian communities was feared, as has happened in the past. However, the military was sent into the area to maintain peace; riot police were reportedly posted outside churches and temples and no violence occurred. In March 2006, after bombs exploded in the Hindu holy city of Varanasi killing 20 persons, allegedly instigated by Islamist groups, authorities reportedly acted swiftly to prevent retaliation against Muslims. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appealed for calm, and soldiers and police were deployed at holy sites across the country.

Despite the improved situation, concerns about religious freedom in India remain. Attacks on Christian churches and individuals, largely perpetrated by individuals associated with extremist Hindu nationalist groups, continue to occur, and perpetrators are rarely held to account by the state legal apparatus.

Indonesia

…In September 2005, the Islamic Defender Front (FPI) organized protests and intimidated lawyers and judges during the trial of three Christian women who were being tried for allegedly “proselytizing” to Muslim children. Through the intimidation of government officials and the instigation of mob violence, the FPI and another group, the “Alliance for Anti-Apostates,” effectively closed at least 50 Protestant churches in West Java during 2005, a significant increase from the previous year; churches were burned or destroyed by mobs or closed by government officials after intense community pressure…Attacks on Ahmadiyah religious communities followed the issuing of a fatwa in July 2005 by the Indonesian Ulemas Council (MUI) condemning Ahmadiyahs as “deviants” from Islam. In addition to the Ahmadiyah fatwa, the MUI issued religious edicts banning interfaith prayer, marriage, and inheritance, as well as the notions of pluralism, liberalism, and secularism.

Iran

In recent years, hundreds of prominent Muslim activists and dissidents from among the Shi’a majority advocating political reform have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms by the Revolutionary Court, ostensibly on charges of seeking to overthrow the Islamic system in Iran; others have been arrested and detained for alleged blasphemy and criticizing the nature of the Islamic regime.

…Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, head of the Guardian Council, has publicly attacked non-Muslims and referred to them as “sinful animals” and “corrupt.” In November 2005, after publicly criticizing Ayatollah Jannati’s remarks, the lone Zoroastrian member of the Iranian parliament was charged with the “dissemination of false information, slander and insult” by Iranian authorities, though as of this writing, the case has not gone to trial.

…As of this writing, there are more than 60 Baha’is awaiting trial on account of their religious beliefs. In December 2005, Zabihullah Mahrami, a Baha’i who had been jailed for more than 10 years on charges of apostasy, died in prison under mysterious circumstances…In the past 15 years, numerous Evangelical Christians reportedly have been killed at the hands of government authorities and more than a dozen are reported missing or “”isappeared.”…According to the State Department, despite minimal restriction on Jewish religious practice, education of Jewish children has become increasingly difficult in recent years, and distribution of Hebrew religious texts is strongly discouraged.

Iraq

…Human rights organizations have asserted that the Iraqi government has failed to establish an effective mechanism for monitoring abuses by law enforcement personnel or the armed forces, and for bringing those accused of such offenses to justice.

…Amid this growing cycle of sectarian violence, religious minorities in Iraq continued to suffer a disproportionate burden of violent attacks and other human rights abuses. Minority communities, including Christian Iraqis, are forced to fend for themselves in an atmosphere of impunity, and lack any tribal or militia structure to provide for their security.

…Reports also alleged that the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) engaged in discriminatory behavior against religious minorities.

…Sabean Mandaean organizations continue to report that extremist Islamic elements are targeting individual members of the Iraqi Sabean community, solely on the basis of their religious belief.

…A 1970 law still on the books in Iraq effectively outlaws the Baha’i religion in the country and criminalizes any Baha’i activities. Despite constitutional protection of the religious freedom for all Iraqis, to date no action has been taken by the Iraqi government to repeal this law.

A footnote adds some details about this law:

Official Gazette of Iraq No. 1880, May 18, 1970. Among other things, Law 105 outlawed the approval or promotion of the Baha’i faith, as well as association with any Baha’i organization; banned the sale, distribution, printing, and possession of Baha’i literature; ordered all Baha’i institutions shut down; and seized properties and assets associated with these institutions. Anyone found in violation of the law was originally subject to a minimum ten-year imprisonment. Law No. 141 of 1979 increased the penalty to life imprisonment and, in some cases, the death penalty. Official Gazette of Iraq No. 2741, Nov. 19, 1979 and Decree No. 1447 of 1979 of the Revolutionary Council.

Laos

The Commission removed Laos from its Watch List in 2005.

…Many religious activities can be conducted only with government approval, and the decree contains a prohibition on activities that create “social division,” or “chaos,” reiterating parts of the Lao’s criminal code, including Article 66, used in the past by government officials to arrest and detain arbitrarily ethnic minority Christians. Thus, Decree 92 and several provisions of the criminal code could be used to restrict and suppress religious activities, rather than protect and promote the freedom of religion or belief. However, there are credible reports that the government is using the Decree to facilitate religious practice in some areas and to promote cooperation among religious communities.

Nigeria

As well as detailing the general strife created by the advance of Shariah in the north – which I discussed here – some information about Saudi Arabian influence is provided.

…A UN press report stated that a Sudanese man was arrested for spearheading the insurrection and that the Islamic foundation he headed, which builds new mosques in Nigeria, was funded by Saudi nationals. The man who heads the militant group reportedly fled to Saudi Arabia.

…Several observers inside and outside Nigeria have reported that financial support from Libya, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan has been used to build mosques and Islamic religious schools in northern Nigeria. Some have suggested that the strict interpretation of Islam being preached in these mosques and religious schools is not a form of Islam that is traditional to Nigeria. Also, there are reports that an increasing number of Nigerian Islamic scholars and clerics are being trained in Saudi Arabia and have brought back with them a politico-religious ideology that explicitly promotes hatred of, and violence against, non-Muslims.

North Korea

This section kicks off with a nice quote from Kim Il Sung himself:

“…We learned later that those of religion can do away with their old habits only after they have been killed.”

However, despite perhaps the heaviest restrictions in the world, religion continues to manifest itself:

…Religious activity survives nonetheless, whether in government approved religious organizations operating a handful of places of worship in Pyongyang or in more clandestine venues. In recent years, the government has formed several “religious federations” to interface with co-religionists abroad. Three churches, two Protestant and one Catholic, were opened in Pyongyang between 1988 and 1992. Only a few interviewees were even aware of these churches, and even they believed that these churches operated as showcases for foreign visitors. However, according to South Korean religious leaders conducting exchanges with North Korea, these religious venues are open weekly and some genuine religious practice does take place among North Koreans at the churches. There are also reportedly three Buddhist temples and a Chondokyo shrine in Pyongyang. Although some of the interviewees had seen or were aware of Buddhist temples in North Korea, none had seen religious practice in these temples…

The interviews revealed the widespread re-emergence in North Korea of a remnant element of Shamanism, the ancient pan-Asiatic animistic belief system: “fortune telling,” or the belief that one’s destiny or fate is not under one’s own control (as in Juche), but lies in the stars or other natural phenomena. All the persons interviewed described fortune telling as an illegal activity. However, all said it was much too widespread for the authorities to eliminate it, and that even North Korean officials utilized the services of fortune tellers. Many interviewees associated the re-emergence of fortune telling with the onset of the famine and the severe deterioration in social conditions in the mid-1990s.

…A Russian Orthodox Church under construction since 2003 remains unfinished. Two North Koreans are reportedly receiving Orthodox theological training in Moscow. There are also reportedly three Buddhist temples and a Chondokyist shrine in Pyongyang. Government officials have claimed that Buddhist temples are cultural relics that need to be preserved. There is a department of religion at Kim Il Sung University; however, graduates and faculty are said to be involved in training security forces to identify repatriated refugees who may have become Christian adherents during their time in China.

The North Korean government reports that some 500 house churches operate in North Korea with government approval. Until recently, it was not possible to verify who attended these house services and whether they existed outside of Pyongyang. Reports, including the Commission’s study, are emerging that indicate that house church participants are largely made up of individuals whose families were Christians before the Korean War and that some do in fact operate outside of Pyongyang. It is impossible to ascertain the number of operating house churches or the extent of their activities and membership, as visiting religious leaders and scholars are repeatedly denied access to such gatherings in rural areas…According to press reports, an estimated 6,000 Christians are incarcerated in “Prison No. 15” located in the northern part of the country.

Pakistan

…In March 2006, it was reported that, in an attempt to persuade people in the regions bordering on Afghanistan not to support Islamist militants, the Pakistani military dropped leaflets claiming that those militants were fighting against Pakistan “in connivance with Jews and Hindus.”…Despite President Musharraf’s repeated calls for religious moderation and tolerance, religiously motivated violence, much of it committed against Shi’a Muslims by Sunni militants, remains chronic in Pakistan.

…Ahmadis, who number between 3 and 4 million in Pakistan, are prevented by law from engaging in the full practice of their faith. Pakistan’s constitution declares members of the Ahmadi religious community to be “non-Muslims,” despite their insistence to the contrary. Barred by law from “posing” as Muslims, Ahmadis may not call their places of worship “mosques,” worship in non-Ahmadi mosques or public prayer rooms which are otherwise open to all Muslims, perform the Muslim call to prayer, use the traditional Islamic greeting in public, publicly quote from the Quran, or display the basic affirmation of the Muslim faith. It is also illegal for Ahmadis to preach in public, to seek converts, or to produce, publish, and disseminate their religious materials. In August 2005, Pakistani authorities banned 16 Ahmadi-run publications in the Punjab province.

…Pakistan’s Hudood Ordinances, Islamic decrees introduced in 1979 and enforced alongside the country’s secular legal system, provide for harsh punishments, such as amputation and death by stoning, for violations of Islamic law. Rape victims run a high risk of being charged with adultery, for which death by stoning remains a possible sentence. In October 2003, the National Commission on the Status of Women in Pakistan issued a report on the Hudood Ordinances that stated that as many as 88 percent of women prisoners, many of them rape victims, are serving time in prison for violating these decrees, which make extramarital sex a crime and adultery a criminal offense.

Russia

The report notes the rise of anti-Semitism and persecution of groups such as Jehovah’s Witnesses – subjects which have been blogged by me on several occasions. Plus:

…ROC [Russian Orthodox Church] officials sometimes use their influence with regional authorities to restrict the activities of other religious groups. There are frequent reports, particularly on the local level, that minority religious communities must secure permission from the ROC before being allowed to build, buy, or rent a house of worship and that local authorities sometimes deny registration to minority groups at the behest of local ROC officials. In July 2005, reportedly in response to pressure from officials of the local ROC, the Sverdlovsk Regional Railway canceled a three-day congress of 5,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses, due to be held in a railway-administered stadium.

…In February 2003, the Russian Supreme Court reportedly met in secret and banned 15 Muslim groups because of their alleged ties to international terrorism. The evidence on which the Court made this decision has never been made public, but police, prosecutors, and courts reportedly have used the decision to arrest and imprison individuals from among Russia’s estimated 20 million Muslims.

…Casual anti-Semitic statements are reportedly so numerous in society that law enforcement bodies do not pay attention to them. While official investigations into anti-Semitic activity by individuals have increased, official efforts to combat chauvinist and anti-Semitic groups decreased in 2005…There continue to be official efforts to portray “foreign sects,” mostly Evangelical Protestants, as alien to Russian culture and society. Officials do little to counter libelous media attacks or discrimination.

Saudi Arabia

All that you would expect to read about is included. One particular detail caught my eye, though:

…Spurious charges of “sorcery” and “witchcraft” continue to be used by the Saudi authorities against non-conforming Muslims. Several individuals remain in prison on these charges.

Sri Lanka

…In the past two years, the Commission turned its attention to Sri Lanka in the face of two primary concerns: an increasing number of attacks targeting members of religious minorities and churches; and proposed legislation on religious conversion that, if enacted, would have violated international law norms and resulted in mandated abuses of freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief in Sri Lanka…There have been an increasing number of violent attacks on churches, ministers, and other Christian individuals in the past few years reportedly carried out by members of, or persons affiliated with, extremist groups espousing Buddhist nationalism.

…In September 2005, the JHU [Jathika Hela Urumaya] put forward a proposed amendment to the constitution that would make Buddhism the official religion of Sri Lanka…Article 9.4 required that the inhabitants of Sri Lanka “professing Buddhism are bound to bring up their children in the same”; Article 9.5 stated that it is prohibited to convert “a Buddhist into other forms of worship or to spread other forms of worship among the Buddhists.” Both of these proposed articles, if enacted, would be in clear violation of international standards with regard to freedom of religion or belief. The proposed amendment was later found by the Sri Lankan Supreme Court to be “inconsistent” with the national constitution.

Sudan

As expected, the horrors of Darfur and other sources of strife are enumerated; the effect of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) is also considered:

…In the South, the Nuba Mountains, and other transitional areas formerly contested by government and Southern rebel forces, religious freedom conditions have significantly improved since the signing of the CPA.

Plus there’s mention of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a particularly unpleasant outfit:

…Suspicions remain, however, that at least some elements in the Sudanese military or security services that remain in the South continue to aid the LRA.

I discussed this particular accusation here.

Turkmenistan

As ever, the megalomania of the Turkmenbashi verges on black comedy, were the effects not so horrible. In particular, the Turkmenbashi wants all his citizens reading his book, the Rukhnama:

…A July 2002 law enjoins parents and guardians “to bring [children] up in spirit of …the unshakeable spiritual values embodied in the holy Rukhnama.” Credible reports indicate that mullahs in Turkmenistan were told in late 2005 to stop reading the Quran in mosques and restrict themselves to the Rukhnama. In March 2006, Niyazov announced on Turkmen state television that anyone reading Rukhnama three times “would be assured a place in heaven.” According to reports, the study of the Rukhnama has even replaced some subjects in the school curricula. The president’s books must be displayed in mosques and churches alongside the Quran and the Bible. Rukhnama quotations have also been carved alongside Quran citations in the country’s largest mosque. Turkmenistan’s former chief mufti, Nazrullah ibn Ibadullah, who opposed this requirement, was sentenced in a closed trial in March 2004 to 22 years in prison, reportedly for treason due to his alleged link to the alleged assassination attempt. The former chief mufti remains in prison, where, reports indicate, he is maltreated by prison guards. During a December 2005 police raid of a registered Baptist church in the town of Deynau, ethnic Turkmen congregants were released from detention only after they signed a statement promising to read the Rukhnama rather than the New Testament…No religious literature is printed in Turkmenistan and the import of religious materials is essentially impossible.

Uzbekistan

Despite the constitutional separation of religion and state, the Uzbek government strictly regulates Islamic institutions and practice through the officially sanctioned Muslim Spiritual Board. The Uzbek government has also closed down approximately 3,000 of the 5,000 mosques that were open in 1998…”Wahhabi” is a term that generally is used to refer to followers of a highly restrictive interpretation of Sunni Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia. In Uzbekistan, “Wahhabi” is a catchphrase used to refer to genuine extremists, Muslim individuals and groups that oppose the Karimov regime, and those who wish to practice Islam independently of government strictures.

…As with Muslims, members of Protestant and other minority religious groups have been arrested, sometimes on spurious drug or other charges. Several Christian leaders have reportedly been detained in psychiatric hospitals, severely beaten, and/or sentenced to labor camps and continue to have their churches raided, services interrupted, Bibles confiscated, and the names of adherents recorded by Uzbek officials.

Vietnam

In the past two years, the Vietnamese government has released a number of prominent religious prisoners, re-opened some churches in the Central Highlands, officially outlawed forced renunciations of faith, and issued new guidelines to help speed the process of registration of religious congregations. Reports of forced renunciation of faith continue to emerge, particularly among ethnic minority Protestants and monks and nuns associated with UBCV, though there are fewer than in the past.

In February 2005, Prime Minister Phan Van Khai issued “Instructions on Protestantism,” which purport to allow Protestant “house churches” in the Central Highlands and northwest provinces to operate legally if they renounce connections to groups that Hanoi has accused of organizing anti-government protests.

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The report also includes recommendations for each country, and for appropriate action by the USA. There are also some criticisms of some US procedures and policies:

…As the Commission reported last year, the study found that expedited removal, a process implemented in 1997 to “expeditiously remove” certain improperly documented aliens without a hearing, was intended by Congress to protect the integrity of our borders while also protecting bona fide asylum seekers. The study, however, identified serious implementing flaws that place legitimate asylum seekers at risk of being returned to countries where they may face persecution.

…Since the release of its 2005 Annual Report, the Commission has called upon the Department of State to facilitate access for certain specific groups, including Afghan Hindus under threat of imminent deportation from Germany, ChaldoAssyrian Christians, Mandaeans, Yazidis and other religious minorities who fled targeted violence in Iraq, and Sudanese Christians who, due to the severity of past persecution or special vulnerabilities, will be unlikely candidates for voluntary repatriation. The Department of State has not yet acted on or responded to these recommendations, and the Commission renews its call that access to the U.S. Refugee Program be facilitated for members of these groups. Other groups that may warrant consideration include Jehovah’s Witnesses from Eritrea who have fled to Sudan, as well as ethnic and religious minorities from Burma—such as Chin and Karen Christians and Rohingya Muslims—who have no realistic hope of imminent integration into countries of first asylum or safe and voluntary repatriation to Burma.

…a legislative development in the U.S.A. PATRIOT Act (as amended in 2005 by the REAL ID Act) has inadvertently become a barrier for refugees and asylum seekers who have fled religious persecution at the hands of terrorists and terrorist regimes. Essentially, an alien is now held inadmissible if he or she provides any in-kind or monetary assistance (i.e., “material support”) to any group that advocates, conspires to commit, or commits an illegal act of violence, even if such support is provided under duress, or is directed toward a group supported by the U.S. government.

…Although section 604 of IRFA [the International Religious Freedom Act] holds any alien inadmissible who, as a foreign government official, was “responsible for or directly carried out…particularly severe violations of religious freedom,” the Commission has not seen any evidence that the Departments of State and Homeland Security have developed a lookout list of aliens who are inadmissible on this basis. This lifetime bar on admissions has only been invoked once to render an alien inadmissible. In March 2005, it was used to exclude Governor Nahendra Modi of Gujarat state in India for his complicity in the reportedly pre-planned riots in 2002 that resulted in the deaths of nearly 2,000 Muslims. The Commission had issued a statement urging such an action.

2 Responses

  1. Jehovah’s Witnesses denounce oppression,yet are intolerant of their own dissidents.–Danny Haszard

  2. That’s the funny thing with a lot of religion.

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