10/29/13: ...On Iraq

Against the backdrop of the worst sectarian violence in Iraq since 2008, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is in Washington for meetings this week. According to United Nations figures, more than 5,000 people have been violently killed in Iraq since April, including almost 1,000 in September alone.

To read about the religious freedom situation in Iraq, see USCIRF’s 2013 Annual Report Iraq chapter here .

As world leaders gather in New York this week for the new General Assembly session,they should be challenged to repealblasphemy laws, which violate international standards and UN resolutions.

View USCIRF's op-ed here.

9/16/13: ...On Egypt

View USCIRF's September 12 letter to President Obama urging him to "speak out clearly and forcefully about the unprecedented sectarian attacks committed against Christians in Egypt that proliferated at a frenetic pace on August 14 and the immediate days thereafter."

View full letter here.

...that since August 2011 Turkey has returned more than 300 previously-expropriated properties to the country’s religious minority communities? However, many more properties have not been returned.

Starting in 1936, the Turkish government expropriated properties from religious minority communities, including churches, schools, businesses, hospitals, orphanages, and cemeteries. These property expropriations, especially of churches and schools, seriously limited religious minority communities’ ability to enjoy religious freedom.

In August 2011, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced a revised process for the restitution of expropriated properties to minority religious communities. In comparison to previous attempts to return property, religious minority communities initially viewed the government’s latest attempt more positively. The government no longer requires the religious minority community to present a title or deed, which many did... Read More

... that a Taliban leader says he wants an inclusive Afghan government, but one based on Taliban ideology?

Secret peace talks reportedly are underway between the Taliban and Afghan government. Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar recently said that he will not attempt to monopolize power in Afghanistan after U.S. and international military forces withdraw, but that the Taliban seeks “an inclusive government based on Islamic principles.”

The consequences of Mullah Omar’s aspirations, if achieved, need to be fully considered, as a restrictive interpretation of Islamic law is already enshrined in Afghanistan’s constitution. Under the current legal system, Afghans lack protection if they dissent from state-imposed orthodoxy, debate... Read More

....that Boko Haram has attacked more than 40 churches since 2012?

Boko Haram, a Hausa-language name meaning “western education is a sin,” is an Islamic sect that sees the federal and northern state governments, as well as political and religious elites, as morally corrupt. Boko Haram rejects the west and the secular state and seeks the universal implementation of “pure” sharia law to resolve the ills facing northern Nigerian Muslims. While sharia already is applied in the 12 northern Nigeria states, the organization believes that politicians have corrupted it for their own gain.

Boko Haram targets include churches, individual Christians, persons engaged in “unIslamic” activities, Muslim critics, northern elders, schools, police stations, government buildings, newspapers, and banks. International Criminal Court prosecutor Fatou Bensouda stated in November 2012 that there is a “reasonable basis” to believe that Boko Haram has committed crimes against... Read More

...that since the June 30 large-scale protests in Egypt that led to the ousting of President Mohamed Morsi on July 3, there has been an upsurge of attacks against Coptic Christians and that these attacks have resulted in several deaths and injuries?

According to a recent report published by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), at least 9 Copts, including a priest, have been killed since June 30, and dozens of Coptic churches, private homes, and businesses have been either looted or destroyed. Recent attacks have occurred in various parts of the country, including in Luxor, Minya, Marsa Matrouh, Port Said, and Sinai. Extremist clerics have inflamed much of the recent violence, using incendiary rhetoric inciting violence against and vilifying Copts. Egyptians human rights groups have found that extremists and some Morsi supporters have channeled vengeful anger at Copts because of... Read More

…that Iraq is experiencing an alarming wave of sectarian violence?

According to the UN, more than 2,500 people have been killed in Iraq in Sunni-Shi’a sectarian violence between April 2013 and July 9, 2013: about 550 people in April; more than 1,000 in May, making it the deadliest month in Iraq since the height of violence in 2006-07; an estimated 761 in June, and in the first days of July, about 190 people have been killed.

Political and social discontent with the Shi’a-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and sectarian divisions spilling over from the war in Syria, fuel the Sunni-Shi’a sectarian violence. Prime Minister al-Maliki has taken steps in the last two years to increase, rather than reduce, Sunni- Shi’a and ethnic Arab-Kurdish tensions, including defying a 2010 power-sharing agreement and taking legal actions against political rivals. For instance, the criminal conviction and death sentence of the highest level Sunni political... Read More

...that approximately 500,000 South Sudanese in Sudan are stateless?

The status of South Sudanese in Sudan became precarious after South Sudan achieved independence on July 9, 2011. While South Sudan has offered citizenship to Sudanese residents, the Government of Sudan (GoS) has not reciprocated. Rather, on April 1, 2012 the GoS stripped Sudanese citizenship from those who could access South Sudanese citizenship, calling on them to return to South Sudan.

Sudan and South Sudan since January 2011 have engaged in a series of negotiations over the status of nationals in the other’s territory. The two countries in September 2012 each agreed to establish a Joint High Level Committee that would negotiate the status and treatment of their nationals. Future negotiations were to focus on providing freedom of residence, movement, economic activity, and property rights.

However, no progress has been made. Failure to finalize negotiations has left... Read More

...that Uighur Muslims experience some of the most severe religious freedom restrictions in China. In response to July 5, 2009 demonstrations that broke out after Uighur and Han Chinese men clashed in a factory dispute, the Chinese government expanded its efforts to curtail "religious extremism, separatism, and terrorism." Religious freedom conditions in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR), where the majority of Uighur’s live, are worse now than any time in the past decade.

Chinese officials view independent Uighur religious activities as evidence of “extremism” and prohibit outward manifestations of Islamic piety among students and government employees. Women are penalized for wearing veils as are parents who allow their minor children to attend mosques. Uighur Muslims continued to serve prison sentences for engaging in independent religious activity. In the last year, at least 36 Uighurs were sentenced to prison terms on charges related to their... Read More