...that USCIRF’s 2013 Annual Report recommends that 15 countries be designated as the worst violators of religious freedom?

USCIRF issued its 2013 Annual Report on April 30. The report highlights the state of religious freedom abroad during 2012 and identifies governments that are the most egregious violators of this fundamental freedom. USCIRF’s 2013 Annual Report includes more countries than ever before -- 29 specifically are addressed and at least 22 additional countries are discussed in thematic sections.

The International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) mandates that USCIRF issue the Annual Report to the President, Secretary of State, and Congress by May 1 of each year, In the report, which also is issued publicly, USCIRF recommends that the Secretary of State re-designate the following eight nations as “countries of particular concern,” or CPCs, for their... Read More

...that police detained over 900 people from Beijing’s Shouwang Church last year for trying to hold outdoor worship services?

For the past two years, Shouwang members have tried to hold weekly services in Beijing parks only to face repeated detentions, the loss of jobs and residency permits and, in the case of one young woman, sexual abuse during police detention. All ten of Shouwang church’s leaders remain in home detention to this day.

Shouwang was the largest of Beijing’s Protestant “house churches,” so-called because they often begin in people’s homes before seeking more permanent gathering space. Protestant ‘house churches’ in China are illegal because they refuse, for both theological and political reasons, to join the state-approved Three-Self Protestant Movement (TSPM) or the China Christian Council (CCC).

Shouwang Church at its height had over 1,000 members and was meeting in a Beijing restaurant before the landlord terminated its... Read More

...that two years later there still have been no prosecutions stemming from Nigeria’s presidential post-election violence that killed more than 800?

In April 2011, immediately following the re-election of President Goodluck Jonathan, more than 800 people were killed and 65,000 displaced in three days of rioting in Nigeria’s northern states. Protests by supporters of the main opposition candidate, Muhammadu Buhari -- a northern Muslim who lost the presidential election, quickly turned to violence against Christians who were thought to be sympathetic to President Jonathan, a Christian. While political issues sparked the violence, its consequences were severe violations of religious freedom, including individuals killed because of their religious identity and churches and mosques attacked. The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) reported that at least 187 people were killed, 243 people injured, and more than 430 churches burned or destroyed. Some of the... Read More

. . . that Uzbekistan pressures neighboring Central Asian countries to return asylum seekers who have fled Uzbek government repression of their religious freedoms?

Since Uzbekistan gained independence in 1991, its government has systematically and egregiously violated freedom of religion or belief, as well as other human rights. The Uzbek government harshly penalizes individuals for independent religious activity regardless of their religious affiliation. Thousands remain imprisoned as alleged extremists, including many who reportedly are denied due process and tortured. Since 2006, the State Department has designated Uzbekistan a “Country of Particular Concern” for these egregious violations, but since 2009 has placed a waiver on taking any action as a consequence of the CPC designation.

In June 2011, Uzbekistan successfully pressured Kazakhstan to forcibly return 28 Uzbek asylum seekers, who had sought refuge in Kazakhstan claiming persecution for... Read More

…that April 8 is Yom Ha Shoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, but acts of anti-Semitism still occur in Europe?

In Russia, xenophobia and intolerance, including anti-Semitism, fuel hate crimes by skinhead groups. In Belarus, the anti-Jewish utterances of President Lukashenko and the state media are coupled by a failure to identify or punish the vandals of Jewish cemeteries and other property. Echoing Hungary’s Nazi era, the leader of its third largest party recently urged the government to create a list of Jews posing “a national security threat.” Fortunately, Hungary’s government, including its Parliament, condemned this statement.

Elsewhere in Europe, since 2000, anti-Jewish graffiti increasingly has appeared in Paris and Berlin, Madrid and Amsterdam, London and Rome, and synagogues have been vandalized or set ablaze in France, Greece, and Sweden. In France, “unprecedented violence” took place last year, according to a recent report issued by the... Read More

...that in Japan over the past two decades families and “professional deprogrammers” have abducted thousands of individuals to force them to renounce their chosen beliefs?

Most of those abducted have been from the Unification Church, Jehovah’s Witness, and other new religious movements. Abductees describe being confined against their will, suffering psychological harassment and physical and, in some cases, sexual abuse. In some extreme cases, individuals were held for years, including the 12 year confinement of Unification Church member Toru Goto.

The Japanese Constitution guarantees the freedom of religion and protects citizens against false imprisonment, and Japan has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Nevertheless, Japanese authorities continue to see these cases as “family matters” and are reluctant to intervene. In most abduction cases, police and judicial authorities neither investigate nor indict those... Read More

…that Nowruz, the Persian or Iranian New Year, will be celebrated on March 21?

Nowruz marks the beginning of the year in the Iranian calendar during which families and friends in Iran and other countries in the Middle East, Central Asia, and other parts of the world celebrate both the New Year and the start of spring. Nowruz is also the New Year for the nearly six million Baha’is throughout the world, including in Iran where they constitute the largest non-Muslim religious minority population. Unfortunately, for Baha’is and so many others in Iran, the home of the majority of people celebrating Nowruz, there is little to celebrate.

Iran, a constitutional, theocratic republic, discriminates against its citizens on the basis of religion or belief. Since the 1979 Iranian revolution, many members of minority religious communities have fled Iran for fear of persecution, and those who remain face discrimination, arrest, imprisonment and even death. The late... Read More

...that since 1945 North Korea’s once-diverse and vibrant religious community has largely disappeared?

North Korea’s reactions to new sanctions, including its latest nuclear threats and declaration invalidating the 1953 Armistice ending the Korean War, have topped recent news. Equally noteworthy is that today, March 11, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is focusing on North Korea’s deplorable human rights and religious freedom record. The UNHCR will be reviewing that record as they consider an international inquiry into possible crimes against humanity committed by one of the world’s most repressive regimes. A vote on this resolution is expected later in March.

The North Korean government controls nearly every aspect of its citizens’ daily lives, including religious activity. North Korea seeks to guarantee that no religious group or belief can challenge the cult of personality surrounding the Kin family, often called Juche. All... Read More

...that the Ahmadi community will be excluded from upcoming elections in Pakistan?

Historic elections are scheduled to take place in Pakistan in Spring 2013. However, members of the Ahmadi religious community will be prevented from voting for the next civilian government. An executive order requires Ahmadis to register separately and vote as non-Muslims. Chief Executive’s Order No. 15 , which President Musharraf issued in 2002, mandates a separate electoral system for the Ahmadi religious community. Since Ahmadis consider themselves to be Muslim, the Executive Order discriminates against them on religious lines and disenfranchises them from the democratic process.

With elections on the horizon, an individual has challenged this discriminatory provision at the Supreme Court. Removing this provision would allow Ahmadis to participate as equal citizens in Pakistan’s democratic process and... Read More

...that Sudan repeatedly has used its apostasy law over the past two years against Christians and Muslims?

Apostasy is the formal abandonment, or renunciation, of a religious faith. Under Article 126 of Sudan’s 1991 Criminal Act, apostasy from Islam is legally punishable by death. While this punishment has not been carried out in almost two decades, there have been a number of apostasy cases in the past two years. In the past, suspected converts were subjected to intense scrutiny, intimidation, and sometimes torture by government security personnel.

All Sudanese, including Christians and followers of traditional African religions, are subject to the government’s interpretation of Shari’ah (Islamic law). Khartoum’s policies of Islamization and Arabization are root causes of Sudan’s many wars including the North-South civil war from 1983 to 2005, the genocide in Darfur, and the current fighting in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states.

During... Read More