Spotlight

...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

…that in the case of imprisoned Indonesian atheist Alexander Aan, the freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief also protects the right not to believe?

Both the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 18) support the freedom of an individual or community to publically manifest a religion or belief, to change religions or not to follow any religion. As atheism is a form of belief, atheists enjoy protection under international law. Indonesia ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 2006, though the world’s most populous Islamic country officially recognizes only six religions (Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Catholicism, and Protestantism) and has a 1965 law that outlaws blasphemy and the dissemination of atheism.

In recent years, Indonesian human organizations have criticized the government for supporting restrictions... Read More

...that five states in India have adopted anti-conversion laws?

India’s anti-conversion laws have created a climate of intimidation against minority faiths, are difficult to enforce, and run afoul of international human rights standards and protections. They also contradict Article 25 of the Indian constitution which grants to Indian citizens the right to profess, practice and propagate their faith in a way that neither disrupts public order nor adversely affects public health and morality.

Five states in India (Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat , Chhatitsgarh, and Himachal Pradesh) each have adopted a “Freedom of Religion Act ” (FORA), commonly referred to as anti-conversion laws. According to India’s 2011 provisional census, these states have a combined population of 207,325,256. Two other states have adopted FORAs, but they are considered unenforceable; Arunanchal Pradesh’s FORA has not been fully promulgated, and Rajasthan’s state assembly passed a... Read More

. . . in Pakistan at least 16 people are on death row for blasphemy and at least 20 others are serving life sentences.

The severe penalties for Pakistan’s blasphemy law make it one of the most repressive laws in the world. During the regime of dictator General Zia ul-Haq, the Criminal Code was amended to make defiling the Qur’an punishable by life imprisonment and remarks found to be “derogatory” against the Prophet Mohammed carried the death penalty.

Blasphemy allegations, which often are false, have lead to lengthy detentions of, and some times violence against, Christians, Ahmadis, Hindus, other religious minorities, and members of the Muslim majority community. More cases reportedly are brought under these provisions against Muslims than any other faith group, although the law has a greater impact per capita on people of minority religious faiths. While no one in Pakistan has been executed under the blasphemy law, the law has created a climate of... Read More

...that half of majority-Muslim countries make Islam the state religion?

Of the 46 countries in the world with majority Muslim populations, 23 declare Islam to be the state religion in their constitutions. The rest either proclaim the state to be secular or make no pronouncement concerning an official religion. The 23 countries where Islam is declared the state religion are: Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Brunei, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.

Under international standards, a state may declare an official religion, provided that basic rights -- including the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief -- are respected for all without discrimination. This means that the existence of a state religion cannot be a basis for discriminating against or impairing any rights of adherents... Read More

...that since the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran, Iranian government authorities have killed more than 200 Baha’i leaders solely because of their religious beliefs?

Last month, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran, Ahmad Shaheed, stated that the Baha’i community is “the most persecuted religious minority in Iran.” Baha’is in Iran long have been subject to particularly severe religious freedom violations. With a population of at least 300,000, the Iranian authorities consider them to be “heretics” and may face repression on the grounds of apostasy. Thousands have been arrested and imprisoned since 1979, and more than 10,000 have been dismissed from government and university jobs. At present, about 120 Baha’is remain in prison in Iran.

Baha’is may not establish places of worship, schools, or any independent religious associations in Iran. Baha’is also are barred from the military and denied government jobs and pensions as well as the right to... Read More

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