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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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  • Praise God for the release of John Short, an Australian missionary who was detained in North Korea for distributing Christian leaflets. John, who is 75 and based in Hong Kong, was reported to security officials in Pyongyang after he was spotted leaving a Christian leaflet at a Buddhist temple, an act that is illegal in North Korea. Further Korean-language Christian pamphlets were subsequently found in his hotel room. John, who was released on 3 March after two weeks in custody, was required to sign a confession probably scripted by the authorities. Other foreign missionaries arrested in North Korea have been given long prison sentences. Give thanks to God that John has escaped further punishment, and pray for him as he recovers from his traumatic ordeal. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed 13 hours ago

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  • Pray for the residents of a mainly Christian village in Borno state, Northern Nigeria, in the aftermath of a horrific attack by Boko Haram militants on 15 February. Ask for God’s comfort for the relatives and friends of the 106 people in Izghe who were gunned down and slaughtered in their houses or in the open as they tried to flee. Pray for strength for the numerous residents who were wounded or whose properties were looted and torched. Pray too for the many Christians who fled into the neighbouring state after the attack, and ask that the Christian community in the North of Nigeria will be preserved in the face of Islamist violence. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Tue, Apr 2014 00:00

  • Violent attacks by militants from the Islamist group Boko Haram continue unabated in Northern Nigeria. On one horrendous day of violence on 26 January, at least 138 people were killed. A church in Wada Chakawa village in Adamawa state was targeted; the attackers locked the congregation inside and then detonated bombs, shooting and cutting the throats of people who tried to escape. They then went on a four-hour rampage in the village. Later the same day, Kawuri village in neighbouring Borno state was burned to the ground. Boko Haram is fighting to establish an Islamic state, and Christians are among its main targets. Pray that the Nigerian authorities will succeed in containing its insurgency. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Mon, Apr 2014 00:00

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