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No Pakistan or Egypt in US State Dept list of religious freedom violators

Country/Region: United States

The US State Department has been criticised for “glaring omissions” in its latest list of countries designated as severe violators of religious freedom.

US_State_Department_Building_4X3.jpg
The Harry S. Truman Building, headquarters of the US State Dept
CC BY-SA 3.0 / Wikimedia Commons

In its Annual Report on International Religious Freedom, the State Department re-designated eight “countries of particular concern” (CPCs) – Burma (Myanmar), China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan – the same as listed last year.

The term is applied to any country in which the government has "engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom". The US International Religious Freedom Act (1998) requires the US government to take specific actions, including economic sanctions and diplomatic protests, against CPCs.

CPC recommendations are made by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent, bipartisan body. It raised concerns that no new countries were added this year.

“Glaring omissions”

Chairman Leonard Leo said the current list “continues glaring omissions” and called for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to consider the six additional countries recommended for designation. These were Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Turkmenistan and Vietnam

Pakistan was omitted despite recognition in the State Department’s report that the country’s laws restrict religious freedom and that the government enforced these restrictions, and also that investigation and prosecution of perpetrators of extremist attacks on minorities are rare.

The Pakistani government’s measures to improve religious freedom were noted, including the creation of a Ministry of National Harmony, which was set up after the assassination of two politicians, Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, who opposed the “blasphemy laws”.

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are often used against Christians and other non-Muslim minorities; Christian mother Aasia Bibi is currently on death row in Pakistan, having been falsely accused of defiling the name of Muhammad.

The USCIRF has recommended Egypt as a CPC for the first time in light of increasing attacks on Christians since the revolution and failure of the government to take action. Mr Leo said:

Instances of severe religious freedom violations engaged in or tolerated by the government have increased dramatically. Since President Mubarak’s resignation from office in February, such violence continues unabated without the government’s bringing the perpetrators to justice.

Egyptian Christians are concerned that religious freedom will deteriorate further if Islamist parties emerge victorious in the country’s forthcoming parliamentary elections.  

USCIRF threatened

The latest State Department report comes as the future of the USCIRF, which was created 13 years ago to promote religious freedom overseas, is under threat. It has been criticised for what some see as a disproportionate focus on the persecution of Christians globally, while others feel that it causes confusion overseas as to whether or not it speaks for the White House, and has too little accountability.  

It needs to be re-authorised by the Senate, and whether or not this will happen remains unclear. If the USCIRF is retained, it will have to operate with a reduced budget and a reduction in the number of commissioners from nine to five.

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    • Heavenly Father, we lift up to You today the heartbroken family of Mary Sameh George, a young Christian woman who was killed in an Islamist attack on a church in Egypt. We pray that You will comfort them and give them Your peace. We thank You that Mary was not ashamed to make her allegiance to You known, even taking the risk of provoking murderous anger against herself. We pray also for the families of three others who were killed in this attack at a church in Ain Shams, a suburb of Cairo, on 28 March. Lord God, may the hostility of Muslim Brotherhood supporters towards Christians in Egypt be restrained. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed 20 hours ago

    • Give thanks that as believers in some areas of Egypt continue to be at risk of violence from Islamists, Barnabas Fund is able to provide various kinds of practical help for needy Christians there, especially those most affected by the political turmoil. We are supporting Christian families in Upper Egypt with housing costs, medicines, food and schooling for their children, and 30 Christian students who were on the verge of dropping out of education because of lack of money have received funding to complete their education. Pray for all those receiving this help, that they will also be encouraged spiritually. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Wed, Jul 2014 00:00

    • Give thanks that the authorities in Egypt are pursuing justice for the Christian community following widespread violence against them by supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood last summer. Christians were scapegoated by the Islamists for the downfall of President Mohammed Morsi. On 14 August, mobs torched scores of churches, Christian institutions and private property in what was described as the worst single day of violence against the Egyptian Church since the 14th century. Over 100 Muslims have been charged in connection with the attacks; at the time of writing they were due to stand trial for rioting, attacking citizens and targeting the churches and homes of Christians. Pray that justice will be done and restitution made to churches and individuals who suffered material losses. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Tue, Jul 2014 00:00

    • “I was so happy and treasure this Word of God. It brings me so much peace and hope.” Uu Dee KoMang, an elderly woman in Burma (Myanmar), was one of many Christians who recently received a Kachin Bible through Barnabas Fund. Two years ago the Burmese army entered her village and ordered everyone to leave within the hour. Uu Dee took some clothes and food and ran, but her Bible was too heavy to carry. Now living in a relocation camp, she regretted not taking it, until the Bibles from Barnabas arrived. Pray that God’s Word will comfort and strengthen these believers who have lost so much and will give them encouragement for the future. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Mon, Jul 2014 00:00

    • Pray for three Christian prisoners of conscience in Vietnam who are being denied access to Bibles and other sources of spiritual support. Prison guards in Hanoi and Thanh Hoa province have refused to allow Le Quoc Quan, a lawyer and activist, and bloggers Maria To Phong Tan and Paul Tran Minh Nhat to receive visits from their church leaders and have prevented them from receiving Communion. Maria is serving a ten-year prison sentence in a harsh labour camp; she has been beaten by other inmates. Pray that the Lord will sustain and build up the faith of our brothers and sister as they cry out to Him in their need (Psalm 142:6). Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Sun, Jul 2014 00:00

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