The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released its 2015 Annual Report on April 30, 2015. In the report, USCIRF recommends that the State Department add these eight countries to its list of “countries of particular concern,” defined under law as countries where particularly severe violations of religious freedom are tolerated or perpetrated: Central African Republic, Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, Tajikistan, and Vietnam.
USCIRF also recommends that the following eight countries be re-designated as “countries of particular concern,” or CPCs: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
In addition, USCIRF also recommends ten countries as Tier 2 Countries, those countries whose... Read More
Nigeria will hold presidential, federal parliamentary, and state parliamentary elections on March 28, 2015. The election previously was scheduled for February 14, 2015, but was pushed back due to security concerns in the north-east region of the country. Reports of pre-election violence, combined with rising societal and political tensions, increase the likelihood of religiously-motivated violence around the elections.
In February 2015, USCIRF issued a press release, USCIRF Warns of Potential Religiously-Motivated Violence Around Nigeria’s Upcoming Elections. From the press release:
“Every effort needs to be undertaken to ensure peaceful elections and prevent the use of religion to stir up more violence. The events leading up to and immediately following February 14 are crucial to Nigeria’s long-term stability and status as... Read More
Many countries around the world have laws that punish expression deemed blasphemous, defamatory of religion, or contemptuous or insulting to religion or religious symbols, figures, or feelings. The application of these laws has resulted in individuals being jailed for merely expressing a different religious belief or being falsely accused.
In January 2015, USCIRF issued a press release, USCIRF Statement on flogging of Saudi blogger, Raif Badawi. From the press release:
“Raif Badawi was the victim of a cruel and barbaric act carried out by the Saudi justice system – unfortunately, business as usual in the Kingdom. And for nothing more than creating an online forum for diverse views to be expressed freely.”
In July 2013, Mr. Badawi had been sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes and his website was shut... Read More
The Chinese government continues to perpetrate particularly severe violations of religious freedom. In May 2014, USCIRF released its 2014 Annual Report and again recommended that China be designated as a “country of particular concern,” or CPC, in 2014. The State Department has designated China as a CPC since 1999. From the report:
“A China committed to protecting and advancing its citizens’ fundamental rights and religious freedoms is in the interests of the United States.”
In September 2014, USCIRF released a press release entitled China: USCIRF Condemns Harsh Sentence for Ilham Tohti. From the press release:
“The Chinese government’s targeting of Uighur Muslim’s peaceful private gatherings... Read More
USCIRF’s report, “Burma: Religious Freedom and Related Human Rights Violations are Hindering Broader Reforms,” reflects findings from a Commissioner-level visit in August 2014. In the report released in November, USCIRF urges the U.S. government to press Burma to permit humanitarian access to Rohingya Muslims and revise the Rakhine State Action Plan to ensure that Rohingya will not be denied citizenship. USCIRF also urges the U.S. to press for the rights of all minority religious communities and for U.S. officials to use the term “Rohingya” in recognition of that community’s right to self-identify. Additional recommendations can be found in the report.
Despite the June 2013 election of a new and purportedly moderate president, the already-poor religious freedom conditions in Iran have continued to deteriorate, particularly for religious minorities, especially Baha’is and Christian converts. Sufi and Sunni Muslims and dissenting Shi’a Muslims also faced harassment, arrests, and imprisonment. For more information, view the following:
In June 2014, USCIRF’s then Chair Dr. Robert P. George testified before the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations and the Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, of the House Foreign Affairs Committee at a hearing entitled “One Year Under Rouhani: Iran’s Abysmal Human Rights Record.” From the testimony:
“President Rouhani... Read More
Pakistan represents the worst situation in the world for religious freedom for countries not currently designated by the U.S. government as “countries of particular concern.” In the past year, conditions hit an all-time low due to chronic sectarian violence targeting mostly Shi’a Muslims but also Christians, Ahmadis, and Hindus. For more information, view the following:
"Pakistan's blasphemy... Read More
USCIRF Vice Chair Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett testified on Friday, April 4 before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission during a hearing entitled, "The Plight of Religious Minorities in India."
From the testimony: “India and the United States have a long and proud partnership. We share uncommon commonalities given our robust commitment to democracy and multiethnic, multi-religious societies. India also is an important ally that holds key strategic economic, political and regional value to the United States, since it is the second most populous country in the world, situated between the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region, and a neighbor to a troubled Pakistan... Despite positive attributes as a democracy with a deeply diverse religious demographic and a robust civil society, India has serious religious freedom issues.”
USCIRF Commissioner Eric P. Schwartz testified on Wednesday, March 26 before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission during a hearing entitled, The Persecution of Religious and Indigenous Communities in Vietnam.
From the testimony: “The Vietnamese government exerts control over religious activities through law and administrative oversight, severely restricts independent religious practice, and represses individuals and religious groups it views as challenging its authority. The government also continues to imprison individuals for religious activity or advocacy on behalf of religious freedom.”
Click here to find out more information about the hearing.
The Russian government’s actions reflect a policy of “state favored religions” that favors the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church (MPROC) over other religious communities, including the other traditional faiths. For example, the MPROC has made agreements with some government ministries, such as the Ministry of Education, to only offer the Orthodox culture module in their schools. Outside of MPROC schools, Russian school students may select one of six modules on Secular Ethics, Foundations of World Religious Cultures, and Foundations of Orthodox, Islamic, Jewish or Buddhist Culture. Secular Ethics is the most popular selection throughout Russia.
The MPROC receives the bulk of the state’s support for religious communities including subsidies for construction of churches, although other so-called “traditional” religious communities also sometimes benefit. Yet, government officials have obstructed the construction or rental of buildings for worship of other... Read More