Spotlight

...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

… that since the beginning of the Egyptian revolution, two years ago, nearly 100 Coptic Orthodox Christians have been killed in Egypt due to sectarian violence, surpassing the death toll of the previous 10 years combined?

The situation for Copts in Egypt remains precarious, as extremist elements continue to randomly target Coptic Christians.Aclimate of impunity continues to exist asmost of the alleged perpetrators of violent incidents over the last two yearshave not been brought to justice, despite the fact that the number of incidents of sectarian violence decreased in2012, along with a significant decrease in the number of injuries and deaths. Notably, there still have been no convictions for the October 2011 Maspero violence in which 26 people, mostly Copts, were killed, and hundreds injuredduring protests.

In addition, since the January 25, 2011 revolution, there has been an increase in the number of blasphemy and defamation of religion cases that... Read More

...that the Eritrean government, one of the most repressive governments in the world where a recent coup attempt just failed, has placed Eritrean Orthodox Church Patriarch Abune Antonios under house arrest since January 2006?

Eritrea has been called the North Korea of Africa for, among other reasons, torturing and imprisoning thousands and committing systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom. On January 13, 2006, the Eritrea government placed Patriarch Antonios under house arrest, and on January 20, 2006, stripped him of his executive authority over the Eritrean Orthodox Church. Although Patriarch Antonios was permitted to officiate church services, the government removed his administrative role over church affairs. One year later, on May 27, 2007, the Eritrean government appointed a new Patriarch and forcibly moved Patriarch Antonios to an undisclosed house where he continues to be detained. Patriarch Antonios, who suffers from... Read More

...that France’s military intervention follows almost a year in which three religious extremist groups controlled northern Mali.

A March 2012 coup d’état in Mali’s capital Bamako left northern Mali vulnerable to militias already rebelling against the central government and religious extremist groups operating in the region. After taking over the north, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Ansar al-Din, and the Movement for the Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) forcibly imposed their strict interpretation of Islamic law and have committed numerous religious freedom violations, including applying hudood punishments, and enforcing what they deem appropriate dress and behavior. In late 2012, the UN Security Council passed resolution 2085 on December 20 authorizing an African Union peacekeeping mission and political negotiations between the Malian central government and rebel groups. As the international community trained the peacekeeping force, the... Read More

... that in 2012 Vladimir Putin signed into force five new Russian laws that restrict the civil and political rights of Russian civil society, including those of religious communities?

Protests erupted across the Russian Federation, but particularly in Moscow, after Vladimir Putin returned to the Russian presidency in March 2012 in an election widely viewed as rigged. In response to these major demonstrations, Putin signed a raft of new legislation into force that created harsh new penalties for independent political activity, which also impacts religious freedom. USCIRF Chair Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett and USCIRF Senior Policy Analyst Catherine Cosman visited Moscow in September 2012. The policy brief, “ Russia: Unruly State of Law ,” details findings from this trip.

In June, Putin signed the first bill into law that imposes new administrative fines,... Read More

…that in South Korea, around 800 Jehovah’s Witness men are currently imprisoned for refusing compulsory military service and an estimated 500 new conscientious objectors are jailed each year.

Since 1960, more than 12,000 Jehovah’s Witness members and other conscientious objectors have served eighteen month sentences for violating South Korea’s Military Service Act (MSA), which requires all 19 to 35 year old Korean men to serve a two year military commitment. Because of their criminal record, conscientious objectors are not allowed to enter a government office and apply for any type of national certification exam. South Korea's Supreme Court, Constitutional Court and the National Human Rights Committee have recommended an alternative service system. However, given rising military tensions with its neighbor North Korea, the Administration of current President Lee Myung-bak has not provided MSA exemptions for either clergy or conscientious objectors.

The... Read More

…that Boko Haram attacked Nigerian churches over the past two consecutive Christmas holidays?

Boko Haram, a violent religious extremist group, has been responsible for a series of deadly attacks around the 2010 and 2011 Christmas holidays. On Christmas day 2011, bombings occurred in or around churches in Jos, Kano, Madalla, Gadaka, and Damaturu; 40 died in Madalla alone. On Christmas Eve 2010, a policeman was killed while guarding a church and a number of churches were attacked in Maiduguri, killing six and injuring 25.

Boko Haram is an Islamic sect from northern Nigeria that views as morally corrupt the federal and northern state governments, as well as political and religious leaders. The group rejects the west and the secular state and seeks the universal implementation of “pure” sharia law to resolve the ills facing northern Nigerian Muslims. Boko Haram targets anyone or any institution opposing its world view, including Muslim clerics,... Read More

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