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WASHINGTON -- Despite decades of efforts to combat it, religious persecution continues to be a widespread problem, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

In its annual report, released Monday, the independent, bipartisan agency accused 16 nations of engaging in or tolerating "particularly severe religious freedom violations."

The 16 countries with "systematic, ongoing and egregious" religious persecution include 10 already recognized as "countries of particular concern" by the U.S. State Department -- China, Pakistan, Iran, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Eritrea and Burma, plus two former Soviet states: Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

The commission called on the State Department to add six more nations to the list: Russia, Nigeria, Vietnam, Syria, Uzbekistan and the Central African Republic.

Twelve other countries also carried out or condoned "serious" violations of religious freedom, the commission said: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Cuba, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Laos, Malaysia and Turkey.

Mandated by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the commission has attempted ever since to focus attention on the importance of the issue.

The law created an ambassador-at-large for religious freedom and aimed to "strengthen United States advocacy on behalf of" freedom of religious belief and practice.

Efforts to advance religious liberty face obstacles, the report noted.

"Despite two decades of tireless work to bring an end to religious-based discrimination, violence, and persecution, innumerable believers and nonbelievers across the globe continued in 2018 to experience manifold suffering due to their beliefs," the report stated.

In Burma, "widespread atrocities" and "widespread human rights abuses" have occurred, leading to a "catastrophic" human crisis, the report declared.

Roughly 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled the predominantly Buddhist country and now live in refugee camps in Bangladesh, the report stated.

The U.S. should gather evidence of crimes against humanity and genocide and present it to the International Court of Justice, the commission added.

In Burma, sometimes referred to as Myanmar, "victims of severe human rights and religious freedom violations have little hope for justice; this includes Rohingya and other Muslims, Buddhists, Christians and Hindus," it added.

In Pakistan, a predominantly Sunni Muslim country, Shiite Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and Ahmadis have been targeted by "extremist groups." At least 40 people have been convicted of blasphemy and are serving life sentences or awaiting execution, the report noted.

In Saudi Arabia, the government "continues to use criminal charges of apostasy and blasphemy to suppress debate, silence dissidents, and restrict religious freedom," the commission stated.

The report was released days after the Sunni kingdom beheaded 37 people, most of them Shiites. Saudi officials accused those condemned of terrorism-related crimes -- allegations their defenders denied.

Amnesty International said those executed "were convicted after sham trials that violated international fair trial standards which relied on confessions extracted through torture."

In a news release Friday, commission Chairman Tenzin Dorjee said the deceased were singled out because of their "religious identity and peaceful activism."

In predominantly Christian Russia, the state targeted worshippers who do not belong to the Russian Orthodox Church. Jehovah's Witnesses have been banned from worshipping since 2017. Their kingdom halls have been confiscated; dozens of followers have been arrested or placed under house arrest. Many others have been restricted from traveling and are being investigated, the report stated.

Others facing persecution include members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Pentecostals, Scientologists and Baptists, the report claimed.

In many of the countries highlighted by the report, minority religions were targeted for abuse. China, however, cracked down on all faiths, the commission noted.

"Religious freedom conditions in China trended negative" last year, the report stated, as a result of passage of the country's new Regulations on Religious Affairs.

In force since Feb. 1, 2018, the new restrictions "effectively banned 'unauthorized' religious teachings and required religious groups to report any online activity," the report stated.

Although "religious freedom" is enshrined in China's constitution, the communist government seeks "to persecute all faiths" and is taking steps to "diminish and erase the independent practice of religion," the commission stated.

Persecution of Tibetan Buddhists and Uighur Muslims was especially severe, with 800,000 to 2 million or more Muslims reportedly detained, the commission said.

Hundreds of Protestant churches were raided or forced to close their doors. Nearly 1,000 practitioners of Falun Gong were also arrested, the report said.

Beijing's oppression is widespread, Commissioner Gary Bauer said Monday at the report's unveiling.

"They are equal opportunity persecutors," he said. "They go after anybody, any sect that might compete with the communist, atheistic government of China for the loyalty of its citizens."

The report called on the U.S. and the international community to "swiftly and resolutely sanction Chinese officials and agencies that have perpetrated or tolerated severe religious freedom violations."

The Capitol Hill event highlighting the report's findings Monday attracted commission members as well as politicians from both parties.

"You get the full spectrum," said U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C.

"There are some things, even in Washington, that bring us together," said U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern, D-Mass.

A Section on 04/30/2019

Print Headline: Report: Worship freedom denied; 16 nations called faith persecutors


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Archived Comments

  • UoABarefootPhdFICYMCA
    April 30, 2019 at 8:20 a.m.

    Declare war on Russia today!

  • GeneralMac
    April 30, 2019 at 9:41 a.m.

    "usual suspects" who post here are usually gay, atheist or both.

    Some "usual suspects" have advocated the banning of religion.

    Those "usual suspects" must admire China's crackdown on religion.(5th to last paragraph )

  • Illinoisroy
    April 30, 2019 at 12:48 p.m.

    Archie Bunker, aka, GMAC,
    As previously stated gay and atheist isn't an insult. We do want freedom from religion and respect for civil rights.
    Love ya babe.

  • Illinoisroy
    April 30, 2019 at 12:51 p.m.


  • mrcharles
    April 30, 2019 at 4:28 p.m.

    A master fisherman once said wait till a few nibbles before you set the hook. Patiently waiting , barely a nibble save and except GM usual mantra.

    talking primates are notorious for their one true truth wanting to silence the unbelievers. From the day of terulliun and origen, to augustine and aquinas , the sole possessors of information denied to others have wanted to watch you burn in hell, be tortured or just out right killed. Now who could have a problem with such wise men and their "beliefs"?

    GM, and others who set back as crickets, there is a difference in having power to set policy and theology and enforce it upon others [ see john calvin and his killings with love, and the love of the catholic church world wide] versus the right to be nonsensical .

    here in the land of the free, you are not so free to build a mosque and by damned what right does a religion not true have the audacity to interfere with our freedom so fought for in the war to follow the bible and have slaves. The southern baptist being southern and prideful felt it sufficient to change their name in support of that great cause to have slaves, and even after most delicate racist gave up the ideas of slavery, thought it being historical they should not change their name. History is important and they want their children to know the history of why they are southern baptist, not just any old baptist-- remember statutes cannot speak up for themselves, it takes talking primates to defend their honor.

    in white russia the orthodox is getting pretty cozy with putin, but hey, though not nice or very nice, that is not good... a land where homophobia is rampant.. perhaps that is why so many trump followers now follow putin and the black robes.

    Any way freedom of religion is not the freedom to be a dictator and force it among others. I say protect all believes in their right to believe, just stay out of forcing through the government that you are special and can discriminate against others. I know many black churches were burnt and the local most excellent theophilus sheriffs didnt do squat but that aint nice .

    just because talking primates do these injustices in the name of religion or the lack thereof , doesnt make it right [ as to commmie china, kinda a religion itself in its ideology ]

    GM , forget about commie language to go along with gay and atheism. and david loved jonathan.

    at least the myth of the eastern religions being pacifist has been shattered.