USCIRF: Add 7 more countries to list of world’s worst violators of religious freedom

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( — The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom(USCIRF) is recommending that the State Department add seven additional countries to its list of 10 nations that engage in the worst violations of religious rights.

USCIRF says the seven additional countries that should be designated as CPCs [Countries of Particular Concern] are: Central African Republic, Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, and Vietnam.

However, “non-state actors such as Da’esh [also known as ISIS or the Islamic State] and Boko Haram continued to rank amongst the most egregious abusers of religious freedom in the world,” according to the International Religious Freedom Report for 2015 released by the State Department on Wednesday.

“Da’esh continued to pursue a brutal strategy of what Secretary [John] Kerryjudged to constitute genocide against Yezidis, Christians, Shia, and other vulnerable groups in the territory it controlled, and was responsible for barbarous acts, including killings, torture, enslavement and trafficking, rape and other sexual abuse against religious and ethnic minorities and Sunnis in areas under its control,” according to the report.

“In areas not under Da’esh control, the group continued suicide bombings and vehicle-borne improvised explosive device attacks against Shia Muslims,” it added.

Under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA), the department issues a yearly report describing the state of religious freedom in each foreign country, and designating countries with egregious religious freedom violations as CPCs.

“Earlier this year, the Department designated 10 nations as CPCs under IRFA: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan,” USCIRF noted in an August 12 press release.

“USCIRF agrees with these designations,” and recommends that the State Department take further action designating the seven additional countries as CPCs as well.

“Pakistan’s government, for example, clearly meets IRFA’s CPC standard, but has never been so designated,” USCIRF pointed out.

The State Dept. report details a number of religious freedom violations in Afghanistan, Mauritania, Pakistan, Sudan, and Saudi Arabia, including the brutal torture and murder of a woman in Kabul, Afghanistan who was falsely accused of burning the Koran and other mob killings for supposed apostasy from Islam.

Non-violent methods of religious discrimination were prevalent as well, according to the report.

“Around the world, governments continued to tighten their regulatory grip on religious groups, and particularly on minority religious groups and religions which are viewed as not traditional to that specific country,” according to the State Department.

“Researchers Roger Finke and Dane Mataic of Penn State University found that the number of countries that require some sort of registration has increased significantly over the last two decades, to nearly 90 percent of all countries.

“Finke and Mataic assess that, while some of these countries regulate religion in what appears to be a non-discriminatory way, many of the measures used to regulate religion, or to decide what is a valid and recognized religion and what is not, are clearly discriminatory,” said the report.

Angola, Azerbaijan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, China, North Korea, Eritrea, Brunei, Burma, Vietnam, Central African Republic, Hungary, Bahrain, Ukraine, and Russia were found to have continued or increased religious regulations.

Some of these countries–such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Brunei–have regulations that favor either Sunni or Shi’a Islam and often violently punish those with other beliefs, the report stated.

Meanwhile, other countries–such as Russia–privilege one type of Christianity and limit other religions by refusing permits to build places of worship or otherwise limiting religious activity. Burma appears to discriminate against Islam and privilege the Buddhist majority, the report noted.

The recent migrant crisis in Europe was cited by the State Dept. as an example of increasing religious discrimination.

“In Europe, some governments expressed concern over entry of migrants and asylum seekers on religious grounds,” it said.

“In Hungary, for example, the prime minister repeatedly emphasized the importance of defending the ‘Christian values of Europe,’ and some Slovak Republic officials portrayed Muslims as potential threats to Slovak security, culture and society and threatened to select only Christian refugees for resettlement.”

However, the report also lists what it called several “positive developments.”

“Despite ongoing challenges in Vietnam, most leaders of religious groups agree that religious freedom is gradually expanding in Vietnam,” the State Department said.

The report also welcomes the appointment of two coordinators by the European Commission, “one for combatting anti-Semitism and one for combatting anti-Muslim hatred.”

Steps toward peace between Islam and other religions were made in several countries, it added.

In Kenya, a group of Muslims reportedly shielded Christians who were being attacked on a bus; in the Central African Republic, Christians and Muslims peacefully marched together during Pope Francis’ visit to the country, leading to the demolition of barriers between Christian and Muslim neighborhoods; and the United Arab Emirates reportedly allowed a second Catholic church and the first Hindu temple to be built in the country.

The report also highlighted a Canadian court that ruled that the federal government could not require persons to remove “religiously based clothing” from their faces to take the citizenship oath.

— Written by Rachel Hoover