. . . 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

...that Turkmenistan is the most closed of the post-Soviet countries?

Since 2007, Turkmenistan has been led by President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov. The country’s first president who died in 2006, Saparmurat Niyazov, oversaw one of the world’s most repressive and isolated states. Virtually no independent public activity was allowed, and a 2003 religion law banned most religious activity. The 2003 religion law, which violates international standards on freedom of region or belief, continues to be enforced. It sets intrusive registration criteria; bans any activity by unregistered religious organizations; requires that the government be informed of all foreign financial support; forbids worship in private homes; and places severe and discriminatory restrictions on religious education.

Berdimuhamedov continues to maintain a state structure of control and repression. For instance, a system of categorical denials of international travel for many citizens... Read More

… that since 2009, Switzerland has banned the construction of minarets?

In November 2009, Swiss voters and cantons approved a popular initiative to amend the Swiss federal constitution to ban the future construction of minarets. The amendment added a new sub-article (3) to Article 72 (Church and State) stating that “The building of minarets is prohibited.” The four minarets that existed in the country at the time of the ban were not affected. The ban does not affect the future building of mosques, though they still are subject to existing local zoning requirements.

In Switzerland’s system of direct democracy, citizens have the power to propose and require a popular vote on initiatives to amend the Swiss federal constitution by collecting the signatures of 100,000 voters supporting a particular initiative within a period of 18 months. The minaret ban was proposed in 2007 by two far-right political parties that argued it was needed to stop the alleged “... Read More

...that Turkey’s strict adherence to secularism has lead to religious freedom violations for Muslims and non-Muslims alike?

Turkey imported and enshrined the French concept of secularism, or laïcité, into its constitution on February 5, 1937. Often described as freedom from religion, Turkey’s application of laïcité requires that religion be absent from all governmental affairs, while at the same time giving the government strict control over the practice of religion.

After the establishment of the Turkish Republic following the fall of the Ottoman Empire, solidifying secularism became a driving principal of the Republic. This principle led the government to seek to control or limit all religions in the public sphere, including in government offices, schools, and houses of worship. Eighty plus years later, Turkey’s longstanding application of laïcité has detrimentally impacted all religious communities, including the Sunni... Read More