International Religious Report 2012

I take the Liberty to publish the report for those of you who missed it or more likely could not be bothered to read it. It delineates the plague that Religion in its practiced form represents. Those who practice their faith in quiet and personal reflection are not included in this damning report. Fascination With football after all is the lot of the modern Reader. Dealing with matters such as these is not a high priority. It disturbes the low-brow status quo. The one thing about the report that is striking is that it not only points to the genocidal attitudes of the Arab world but also to an anti-semitic rise in quarters where one would expect that the holocaust would have eliminated such attitudes. Bibi and other leaders’ deep conviction of a permanent genocidal attitude towards the Jews is simply confirmed by the report. Take the time to read and absorb and thus prepare for the time when it all explodes in your face. How Manchester United fare under their new manager will hopefully fade into total insignificance.

The only infinitesmal consolation is that representatives from all these conflicting religious Groups, and I have met them all,( they too infinitesmal in realtion to the vast majority of fanatics) are peace-loving beings. Which reminds me of the apocalypse. Down the same road.


Executive Summary

Foremost among the rights Americans hold sacred is the freedom to worship
as we choose…we also remember that religious liberty is not just an American
right; it is a universal human right to be protected here at home and across the
globe. This freedom is an essential part of human dignity, and without it our
world cannot know lasting peace.
President Barack Obama

Fifteen years ago, the U.S. Congress took a momentous step in support of
religious freedom when it passed the International Religious Freedom Act,
establishing within the Executive Branch the position of Ambassador at Large for
International Religious Freedom. With this measure, the U.S. government made a
bold statement on behalf of those who were oppressed, those who were persecuted,
and those who were unable to live their lives at the most basic level, for the
simple exercise of their faith. Whether it be a single deity, or multiple
deities, or no deities at all, freedom to believe–including the freedom not to
believe–is a universal human right.

Freedom of religion and belief and the right to worship as one chooses
fulfill a deep and abiding human need. The search for this freedom led the
Pilgrims to flee Europe for America’s shores centuries ago, and is enshrined in
our own Constitution. But it is by no means exclusively an American right. All
states are committed to freedom of thought, conscience and belief in the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which has been the touchstone and the
global standard for the protection of human rights around the world since

The right to religious freedom is inherent in every human being.
Unfortunately, this right was challenged in myriad ways in 2012. One of the
basic elements of the International Religious Freedom Act is the requirement
that the Department of State publish an annual report on the status of religious
freedom in countries around the world, and the record of governments in
protecting–or not protecting–this universal right.

This year’s report tells stories of courage and conviction, but also recounts
violence, restriction, and abuse. While many nations uphold, respect, and
protect religious freedom, regrettably, in many other nations, governments do
not protect this basic right; subject members of religious minorities to
violence; actively restrict citizens’ religious freedom through oppressive laws
and regulations; stand by while members of societal groups attack their fellow
citizens out of religious hatred, and fail to hold those responsible for such
violence accountable for their actions. The immediate challenge is to protect
members of religious minorities. The ongoing challenge is to address the root
causes that lead to limits on religious freedom. These causes include impunity
for violations of religious freedom and an absence of the rule of law, or uneven
enforcement of existing laws; introduction of laws restricting religious
freedom; societal intolerance, including anti-Semitism and lack of respect for
religious diversity; and perceptions that national security and stability are
best maintained by placing restrictions on and abusing religious freedom.

This comprehensive report comprises almost two hundred individual reports on
countries and territories. Each report sets forth the laws, policies, and
practices of governments; describes the nature of societal respect for religious
freedom; and highlights the specific efforts that the U.S. government made in
each country to promote respect for religious freedom. Some reports document
religious bigotry, hatred, and oppression. Others describe examples of religious
freedom, societal respect, and interfaith dialogue. Whatever the case, the
Secretary of State has been clear that these reports should be accurate,
objective, detailed, and frank.

For 2012, some common themes regarding the status of religious freedom around
the world emerged. In general, these themes reveal negative trends, and often
cut across national and regional boundaries. The individual reports provide the
details, but these worrying trends–and the authoritarian governments that
restrict their citizens’ ability to practice their religion–merit

Government Restrictions and Abuses

Laws and policies that impede the freedom of individuals to choose a faith,
practice a faith, change their religion, tell others about their religious
beliefs and practices, or reject religion altogether remain pervasive. Numerous
governments imposed such undue and inappropriate restrictions on religious
groups and abused their members, in some cases as part of formal government law
and practice.

In China, religious affairs officials and security organs scrutinized
and restricted the religious activities of registered and unregistered religious
and spiritual groups. The government harassed, detained, arrested, or sentenced
to prison a number of religious adherents for activities reportedly related to
their religious beliefs and practice. These activities included assembling for
religious worship, expressing religious beliefs in public and in private, and
publishing religious texts. The government continued to strictly regulate the
religious activities of Uighur Muslims. Authorities sentenced one Uighur Muslim
to ten years in jail for selling “illegal religious material;” harassed or
detained Catholic clergy not affiliated with the government “Catholic Patriotic
Association,” including auxiliary Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daquin; and indicted seven
house church Christians accused of being members of a banned group, “the
Shouters,” a charge they denied. In response to a prolonged period of
progressively more repressive government actions and religious policies in
Tibetan areas, including intense official crackdowns at monasteries and
nunneries resulting in the loss of life, arbitrary detentions, and torture,
Tibetan monks, nuns, and laypersons increasingly sought to express despair and
dissent by self-immolating, often at or near a monastery, usually resulting in
death. There were reportedly 83 self-immolations in 2012.

In North Korea, the government severely restricted religious freedom,
including discouraging organized religious activities, except those controlled
by officially recognized groups. The government dealt harshly with all
opponents, including those who engaged in religious practices it deemed
unacceptable. Religious and human rights groups outside the country provided
numerous reports in previous years that members of underground churches were
arrested, beaten, tortured, or killed because of their religious beliefs. An
estimated 100,000 to 200,000 political prisoners were believed to be held in
prison camps in remote areas, some for religious reasons. In Vietnam,
although authorities made some progress in expanding registration of religious
groups, government practices and bureaucratic impediments restricted religious
freedom. Unregistered and unrecognized religious groups were potentially
vulnerable to harassment, as well as coercive and punitive actions by national
and local authorities. Authorities in An Giang and Dong Thap provinces continued
to harass and abuse followers of the unsanctioned Traditional Hoa Hao Buddhist
Church. The government continued to imprison individuals for their religious
beliefs, including Hoa Hao activist Bui Van Tham. In Burma, the
government maintained restrictions on certain religious activities, limited
freedom of religion, and actively promoted Theravada Buddhism over other
religions, particularly among certain ethnic minority populations. Some
government officials encouraged or enticed non-Buddhists to convert to Buddhism
in southern Chin State. Authorities subjected religious organizations to
restrictions on freedom of expression, association, and assembly, and continued
to monitor the meetings and activities of religious organizations. Muslims in
Rakhine State, particularly those of the Rohingya minority group, continued to
be subjected to lethal violence and to experience severe forms of legal,
economic, educational, and social discrimination. Villages of Kaman people, an
officially recognized Muslim national race group distinct from the Rohingya,
also were burned to the ground.

In Saudi Arabia, the public practice of any religion other than Islam
is prohibited, and the government enforced restrictions on religious freedom.
The government reportedly deported foreigners for worshipping privately. Shias
continued to face discrimination, and authorities restricted public Shia
celebrations, even in some areas with large Shia populations. At least one
individual was beheaded for engaging in “sorcery.” In Syria, the
government increased its targeting and surveillance of members of faith groups
it deemed a “threat,” including members of the country’s Sunni majority. Such
targeting included killing, detention, and harassment. There were credible
reports that the regime targeted citizens based on religious affiliation in
mixed neighborhoods in Homs and rural Aleppo. Violent extremist activity
intensified as the civil conflict escalated, including the targeting of
religious minorities by groups such as the U.S.-designated foreign terrorist
organization Jabhat al-Nusra. In Iran, the arrest and harassment of
members of religious minorities, including Sunni Muslims, increased
significantly. There continued to be reports that the government imprisoned,
harassed, intimidated, and discriminated against people because of their
religious beliefs. Authorities placed U.S.-Iranian citizen and Christian pastor
Saeed Abedini under house arrest in July to investigate previous charges of
undermining national security by leading a network of house churches. In
September Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps officials raided his residence and
took him to Evin prison, where he remained in detention at year’s end. Seven
Bahai leaders remained in detention at the end of 2012, serving sentences
extended by the authorities in 2011 to 20 years. The government charged them in
2011 with “espionage for Israel, insulting religious sanctities, and propaganda
against the Islamic Republic.”

In Russia, government
restrictions targeted members of minority religious groups through the use of
extremism charges to ban religious materials and restrict groups’ right to
assemble. Authorities also restricted religious minorities through detention,
raids, denial of official registration with the Ministry of Justice, denial of
official building registration, and denial of visas to religious workers. In Uzbekistan, the government continued to
imprison individuals on charges of “extremism,” raided religious and social
gatherings of unregistered and registered religious communities, confiscated and
destroyed religious literature, and discouraged minors from practicing their
faith. There were numerous reports of beatings and abuse of prisoners serving
sentences for religious convictions. In Turkmenistan, government
authorities at times disrupted meetings of unregistered religious groups, and
subjected individuals suspected of unauthorized or unregistered activity to
search, detention, confiscation of religious materials, seizure of private
property, verbal abuse, fines, pressure to confess to holding an illegal
meeting, and beating. In Tajikistan, the government generally enforced
legal restrictions on religious freedom, interpreting its right to restrict
religious activity very broadly, and requiring that any religious activity be
approved by the government to be legal. The law prohibits people under the age
of 18 from participating in public religious activities, and effectively bars
most women from attending Muslim religious services. In Afghanistan,
members of minority religious groups continued to suffer discrimination, and the
government often did not protect members of minorities from societal harassment.
The government enforced existing legal restrictions on religious freedom
selectively and in a discriminatory manner. In Azerbaijan, the government
placed restrictions on members of religious groups it considered
“nontraditional,” including Jehovah’s Witnesses and unsanctioned Muslim
religious organizations. Religious registration requirements left unregistered
groups–particularly those considered “nontraditional” by the
government–vulnerable to police harassment, fines, and closures mandated by
court decisions.

In Cuba, the Communist Party, through its Office of Religious Affairs,
continued to monitor and control most aspects of religious life. Although many
religious groups reported reduced interference from the government in conducting
services, importing religious materials, receiving donations from overseas, and
in traveling abroad, serious restrictions to the freedom of religion remained.
The government regularly prevented peaceful human rights activists, including
members of the Ladies in White, from attending religious services, and routinely
used government-sponsored protest groups to assault or detain them. Before Pope
Benedict XVI’s visit, authorities arrested many members of the peaceful
political opposition or prevented them from leaving their homes to participate
with the Pope in celebrating mass. A number of religious groups, such as
Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons, continued their years-long wait for a
decision from the Ministry of Justice on pending applications for official

In Sudan, there were credible reports that state governments and local
authorities razed two churches. In June, authorities in Khartoum State overrode
a longstanding informal agreement and destroyed a building used as an Episcopal
church, and two days later, a Catholic church. In Eritrea, the government
continued to harass members of unregistered religious groups, and detained many
without due process, occasionally for long periods of time, sometimes by
informally charging them with threatening national security. At year’s end, NGOs
estimated the total of those imprisoned because of their religious beliefs at
1,500, including several dozen members of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Anti-Muslim rhetoric and actions were clearly on the rise–particularly in
Europe and Asia. Government restrictions, which often coincided with societal
animosity, resulted in anti-Muslim actions that affected everyday life for
numerous believers. The impact ranged from education, to employment, to personal
safety within communities. Government restrictions on religious attire also
remained an issue, as Muslim women faced increasing restrictions on head
coverings in schools, in public sector employment, and in public spaces. In
Belgium, the Constitutional Court ruled that the nation’s 2011 ban on
face-covering attire, with no exception for religious garments, did not violate
religious freedom. In India, several educational institutions in
Mangalore, Karnataka, reportedly banned Muslim girls from wearing headscarves.
Since 2009, schools and colleges run by both Hindu and Christian administrations
have prevented Muslim female students and teachers from covering their heads,
citing a uniform dress code. In contrast, in November, Turkey lifted a
ban on female students wearing headscarves in schools that provided religious

In both Sunni and Shia majority countries, officials and society repressed
groups whose members viewed themselves as part of branches or offshoots of
Islam. Authorities in a number of countries, including Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Indonesia, harassed, abused, detained,
or banned Ahmadi Muslims from practicing their faith. In some countries in which
the Sunni branch of Islam made up the majority of the population, or otherwise
held political power, authorities targeted Shias and other members of minorities
for discrimination, undue restriction, and/or abuse, and members of society
often followed their lead. For example, in Saudi Arabia, Muslims who did
not adhere to the government’s interpretation of Sunni Islam faced significant
political, economic, legal, social, and religious discrimination, including
limited employment and educational opportunities, underrepresentation in
official institutions, restrictions on religious practice, and restrictions on
places of worship and community centers. In Bahrain, members of the Shia
community continued to face official discrimination, detention, excessive use of
force, and alleged torture. The government revoked the citizenship of 31 Shias,
including three clerics, on charges of “damage to state security.” In
Pakistan, the law prohibits Ahmadi Muslims from identifying themselves as
Muslims or risk imprisonment for up to three years and a fine. Those wishing to
be listed as Muslims on their national identity card, which is needed to vote,
must swear their belief that the Prophet Muhammad is the final prophet, and
denounce the Ahmadi Muslim movement’s founder as a false prophet and his
followers as non-Muslim. This provision prevents Ahmadi Muslims from obtaining
legal documents and puts pressure on members of the community to deny their
beliefs to enjoy citizenship rights, including the right to vote. In the
Maldives, the government restricted religious freedom and pressured
citizens to conform to a stricter interpretation of Islamic practice,
particularly following the change of government in February. The law prohibits
citizens’ practice of any religion other than Islam and requires the government
to exert control over all religious matters, including the practice of

In Iran, a country with a Shia majority, authorities targeted Sunnis
and members of other minorities in similar fashion. Government rhetoric and
actions created a threatening atmosphere for nearly all members of non-Shia
religious groups, most notably for Bahais, as well as for Sunni Muslims
including Sufis, evangelical Christians, Jews, and Shia groups that did not
share the government’s religious views. Christian pastors Behnam Irani and
Farshid Fathi remained in jail at year’s end. Officials reportedly pressured
them to renounce their Christian faith throughout their ordeals and threatened
and harassed their friends and families. Zoroastrians also reported detentions
and harassment.

Blasphemy, Apostasy, and Conversion

The use of blasphemy and apostasy laws continued to be a significant problem,
as was the continued proliferation of such laws around the world. Such laws
often violate freedoms of religion and expression and often are applied in a
discriminatory manner. There were a number of cases of harassment, detention,
and abuse in blasphemy and apostasy-related cases in the Middle East and North
Africa. In Saudi Arabia, there were reports that activists were arrested
and charged with apostasy and blasphemy, which carry potential death penalties.
Authorities arrested journalist and poet Hamza Kashgari in February 2012 after
arranging his forceful repatriation from Malaysia, and arrested journalist and
novelist Turki al-Hamad in December 2012 for comments that they made on the
social media site Twitter that the government deemed blasphemous. Both remained
in detention without charge at year’s end. The new constitution in Egypt
explicitly prohibits insulting or “undermining or subjecting to prejudice all
messengers and prophets,” whereas in the past demeaning or defaming Islam,
Christianity, or Judaism was prohibited by statute. Prosecutors actively pursued
cases against those whose statements or actions were alleged to be blasphemous
or denigrating of religion. In November and December, in Libya,
officials reportedly detained ten Ahmadi Muslims, including six Pakistani
nationals, for conversion and proselytizing. The group remained in custody at
year’s end. In Tunisia, the government occasionally prosecuted
individuals for speech that it deemed blasphemous or offensive to the country’s
Islamic norms. In Iran, where blasphemy and apostasy can carry death
sentences, the government considers Bahais to be apostates, defines the Bahai
Faith as a “political sect,” and arbitrarily arrested at least 60 Bahais during
the year, with at least 116 incarcerated at year’s end. The government required
the arrested Bahais to recant their religious affiliation as a precondition for
release, or to gain entry to institutes of higher education. In Eritrea,
a Muslim convert to an unregistered evangelical sect reportedly died after two
years in an underground detention facility.

In Pakistan, where blasphemy laws have been abused to settle personal
disputes and silence legitimate political discourse, authorities imprisoned
Rimsha Masih, a mentally disabled Christian girl, for over a month on blasphemy
charges until domestic and international condemnation prompted her release in
September 2012. The case was dismissed by the Islamabad High Court in November
2012. While abuses under the blasphemy laws have targeted members of religious
minorities, such as the case of Pakistani Christian Aasia Bibi, many of those
affected were Muslims, including two men who were burned to death by angry mobs
in separate incidents in 2012. In India, some state governments enforced
“anticonversion” laws and authorities reportedly arrested people under these
laws during the year, although there were no convictions. Police reportedly
arrested four Christians accused of proselytizing in March in Cheechgaon, Madhya
Pradesh. Authorities released the four on bail and did not file charges by
year’s end. In Indonesia, there were reports that government officials
and police witnessed the coerced conversion to Sunni Islam of dozens of Shia
followers in East Java. Violation of the ban on proselytizing carries a maximum
five-year prison sentence for blasphemy. In Sudan, most non-Muslim groups
refrained from public proselytizing due to a vaguely worded law that allowed the
government to charge them with supporting apostasy. The government stepped up
its efforts to prosecute suspected proselytizers. In October the security
services detained several foreign English teachers, who were Christians, on
suspicion of proselytizing, which the teachers denied. Authorities held two
teachers for several weeks before ultimately deporting them, along with several
family members, without court proceedings.

A Continued Rise in Anti-Semitism

This report also documents a continued global increase in anti-Semitism.
Holocaust denial and glorification remained troubling themes, and opposition to
Israeli policy at times was used to promote or justify blatant anti-Semitism.
When political leaders condoned anti-Semitism, it set the tone for its
persistence and growth in countries around the world. Of great concern were
expressions of anti-Semitism by government officials, by religious leaders, and
by the media, particularly in Venezuela, Egypt, and Iran.
At times, such statements led to desecration and violence. In Venezuela,
the government-controlled media published numerous anti-Semitic statements,
particularly in relation to opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles,
a Catholic with Jewish ancestors. Separately, during an anti-Israel protest in
November, a group of individuals gathered outside a synagogue chanting
anti-Jewish slogans and throwing fireworks. In Egypt, anti-Semitic
sentiment in the media was widespread and sometimes included Holocaust denial or
glorification. On October 19, President Morsy said “Amen” during televised
prayers in Mansour after an imam stated, “Oh Allah … grant us victory over the
infidels. Oh Allah, destroy the Jews and their supporters.” This is a common
prayer in Egyptian mosques and came in a litany of other prayers. Also in
October, Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed Badei made several
anti-Semitic statements, including saying in a sermon that was also published
online that “It is time for the Muslim [nation] to unite for the sake of
Jerusalem and Palestine after the Jews have increased the corruption in the
world….” He added that “Zionists only know the way of force.”

In Iran, the government regularly vilified Judaism. President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad continued to question the existence and the scope of the Holocaust,
and stated that “a horrendous Zionist clan” had been “ruling the major world
affairs” for some 400 years, while Vice President Mohammad-Reza Rahimi publicly
blamed the “Zionists” for spreading illegal drugs around the world. In
Tunisia, Salafists (fundamentalist Sunni Muslims) attacked synagogues and
issued anti-Semitic messages, as did some imams during Friday prayer sermons.
Certain Salafist imams preached anti-Jewish and anti-Christian messages,
including calling for the killing of non-Muslim citizens. Police arrested five
persons, including one police officer, for allegedly plotting to kidnap Jews in
Zarzis in October for ransom.

In Ukraine, vandals desecrated several Holocaust memorials. In May,
in Russia, vandals painted a swastika on a St. Petersburg synagogue’s
fence, and in July, vandals painted a swastika on a synagogue wall in

Even well into the 21st century, traditional forms of
anti-Semitism, such as conspiracy theories, use of the discredited myth of
“blood libel,” and cartoons demonizing Jews, continued to flourish. An
anti-Semitic cartoon appeared in a major newspaper in Argentina, and a
member of the Golden Dawn party in Greece read from the notorious Tsarist
forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, during a parliamentary
session. In a worrisome sign, such anti-Semitic and xenophobic parties gained
seats in parliaments, and a rise in violent attacks on Jews in Europe included
several shocking incidents. Hungary saw continued racist commentary by an
openly anti-Semitic political party with seats in parliament, the Jobbik Party,
and also witnessed an attack on a member of the Jewish community outside of a
prayer house in Budapest. In France, an Islamist extremist killed a rabbi
and his two children, along with another student, outside a Jewish school in
Toulouse. While a number of governments took active measures to combat
anti-Semitism, this pernicious evil continued to spread.

Societal Violence and Intolerance

Religious freedom can be a bulwark against violent extremism. According to
research by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, there is a correlation
between countries that impose more severe and inappropriate government
restrictions on religious freedom and those more prone to sectarian violence.
Governments that repress freedom of religion and freedom of expression typically
create a climate of intolerance and impunity that emboldens those who foment
hatred and violence within society. Government policy that denies citizens the
freedom to discuss, debate, practice, and pass on their faith as they see fit
also undercuts society’s ability to counter and combat the biased and warped
interpretations of religion that violent extremists propagate. Societal
intolerance increased in many regions during 2012.

In addition to anti-Semitism, intolerance by members of society towards those
of other faiths besides Judaism was a growing problem, and all too often evolved
into violence. While Christians were a leading target of societal
discrimination, abuse, and violence in some parts of the world, members of other
religions, particularly Muslims, suffered as well. Societal groups targeted
members of minority branches of Islam and smaller faith groups, often those
considered by the majority to be heretical or “foreign.”

In Pakistan, where the government maintains intolerant laws, including
blasphemy and anti-Ahmadi laws, there was a rise in sectarian attacks targeting
the country’s Shia minority and instances of mob violence against members of the
country’s Christian and Hindu minorities. There were scores of attacks on Sufi,
Hindu, Christian, Ahmadi Muslim, and Shia Muslim gatherings and religious sites,
resulting in numerous deaths and extensive damage. Between January and October,
there reportedly were 560 cases of communal violence in India, which led
to 89 deaths and 1,846 injuries. On March 13, a mob of approximately 20-30
persons attacked four members of Jehovah’s Witnesses who were sharing their
religious message with individuals in Vidya Nagara, Shimoga. Also in March, in
Sanga Reddy, Medak District, mobs attacked and burned down Muslim properties in
a wave of attacks and counterattacks between Hindus and Muslims following
allegedly inflammatory Internet postings. During several incidents in Karnataka,
local authorities either acted in coordination with, or failed to stop, members
of a Hindu nationalist organization, Hindu Jagarana Vedike (HJV), from entering
private residences to enforce a morality code based on their interpretation of
Hindu traditions, including a desire to keep Hindu and Muslim youths from
fraternizing. NGOs alleged that the state government often failed to intervene
in such attacks due to sympathy for the HJV’s aims.

In Iraq, sectarian violence
continued, including criminal and terrorist attacks targeting both Sunni and
Shia Muslims, as well as members of minority communities. In Egypt, sectarian violence continued,
with little accountability for the perpetrators. Bahais, Shias, and other
minorities faced personal and collective discrimination. In Libya, on December 29, an explosion
near the Coptic Orthodox Church in Misrata killed two men attending church
services, in the first attack specifically targeting a church since the 2011
revolution. Salafist groups attacked Sufi religious sites across the country,
destroying several mosques and tombs of Sufi religious leaders and scholars. In
August, in downtown Tripoli, the Sidi Sha’ab Mosque was attacked and destroyed
with heavy construction equipment in broad daylight. A video on the Internet in
March showed armed Muslim men in the British military cemetery in Benghazi
desecrating Christian and Jewish headstones and attempting to destroy a large
crucifix with sledge hammers. In Tunisia, Salafists attacked targets they
deemed “un-Islamic,” such as a Russian Orthodox Church, synagogues, dozens of
Sufi shrines, and events they associated with Shia Islam. In Nigeria,
Boko Haram extremists violently murdered hundreds of Christians and Muslims
during the year. The group often targeted political and ethnic rivals, religious
leaders, businesses, homes, police stations, military installations, churches,
mosques, and rural villages, using assault rifles, bombs, suicide car bombings,
and suicide vests. Boko Haram claimed responsibility for many of the 15 church
attacks that killed more than 150 people, including scores of Christians, during
worship services. Some Muslim and Christian religious leaders alleged that Boko
Haram sought to incite hostilities between Muslims and Christians and to spark
reprisals in the Northern and Middle Belt states, where local laws,
discriminatory employment practices, and fierce competition for land exacerbated
communal tensions. In Mali, violent extremist groups ousted rebels who
had seized control of the northern two-thirds of the country, destroyed
religious monuments, and imposed their own interpretation of Sharia law. In
Sri Lanka, Buddhists launched sporadic violent attacks on Christian
churches and continued to allege forced or deceitful conversions, which created
societal tension. Growing intolerance of and discrimination against Muslims by
some Buddhists increased.

The Problem of Impunity

In many parts of the world, government officials, no matter how serious the
offense, often acted with impunity, abusing individuals for holding or
expressing their beliefs without being called to account by courts or government
authorities. Governments exacerbated religious tensions within society through
discriminatory laws and rhetoric, fomenting violence, fostering a climate of
impunity, and failing to ensure the rule of law. In several instances of
communal attacks on members of religious minorities and their property, police
reportedly arrested the victims of such attacks, and NGOs alleged that there
were instances in which police protected the attackers rather than the victims.
As a result, government officials were not the only ones to commit abuses with
impunity. Impunity for actions committed by individuals and groups within
society was often a corollary of government impunity.

In Egypt, the government
generally failed to prevent, investigate, or prosecute crimes against members of
religious minorities, including Coptic Christians, which fostered a climate of
impunity. In some cases, authorities reacted slowly or with insufficient resolve
when mobs attacked Christians and their property. In Pakistan,
authorities made few arrests in cases of sectarian attacks against Shias,
Hindus, or Christians. Despite constitutional protections for religious belief,
authorities initiated few investigations and arrests for acts of religious
violence. In India, the government at times failed to respond effectively
to abuses committed by state and local authorities and private citizens. Some
local police and enforcement agencies failed to respond effectively to communal
violence, including attacks against members of religious minorities. Authorities
did not efficiently or effectively prosecute those who attacked members of such
groups, and in several instances police reportedly arrested the victims and
protected the attackers. In Libya and Tunisia, government
investigations of attacks on religious sites resulted in arrests and
prosecutions in only a minority of cases.

In April, in Sudan, rioters in Khartoum brushed aside inadequate local
police forces and burned an evangelical church compound used by a mix of
Eritrean, Ethiopian, and Sudanese worshippers. The authorities did not charge
any of the attackers by year’s end. In Nigeria, the government did not
act swiftly or effectively to quell communal violence or to investigate and
prosecute those responsible for such violence and for abusing religious freedom.
Federal, state, and local authorities did not effectively address underlying
political, economic, ethnic, and religious grievances leading to violence. An
atmosphere of impunity existed, as authorities rarely investigated, prosecuted,
and punished those responsible for violent attacks and sometimes responded to
violence with heavy-handed tactics. In Burma, there were reports of
sexual violence by Burmese army officials in houses of worship in ethnic
minority areas. The government did not hold these officials accountable. In May,
a Burmese news source reported the gang-rape and prolonged torture of a
Christian woman in the sanctuary of a church near the Kachin-China border town
of Pan Wa. According to a Kachin women’s organization, about ten soldiers beat,
stabbed, and raped the woman over a period of three days without penalty. In
Indonesia, the government sometimes did not take adequate measures to
prevent violence, abuse, and discrimination against individuals based on their
religious belief. Militant groups and mobs throughout the country attacked,
vandalized, forced to close, or prevented from being established several houses
of worship, religious schools, and homes of Muslims regarded as unorthodox. In
several cases, police temporarily detained members of “deviant groups” who were
victims of attacks, ostensibly to ensure their safety, but did not arrest their

Countries of Particular Concern

A key requirement of the International Religious Freedom Act is the
designation of Countries of Particular Concern (CPCs), i.e., those countries
that are considered to commit “particularly severe violations of religious
freedom,” and whose records call for the U.S. government to take certain actions
under the terms of the Act. The term ‘‘particularly severe violations of
religious freedom’’ means systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious
freedom, including violations such as: (a) torture or cruel, inhuman, or
degrading treatment or punishment; (b) prolonged detention without charges; (c)
causing the disappearance of persons by the abduction or clandestine detention
of those persons; or (d) other flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty, or
the security of persons.

In making the decision to designate a particular country as a CPC, the
Secretary of State also considers the recommendations of the United States
Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). USCIRF, which was
established under the Act, is an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government
commission dedicated to defending the universal right to freedom of religion or
belief abroad. USCIRF reviews the facts and circumstances of religious freedom
violations and makes policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of
State, and Congress. The Department of State carefully considers USCIRF’s
advice, along with all other available information, and the Secretary of State
then makes the final decision on CPC designation.

The Secretary of State designated eight countries in August 2011 as CPCs,
based on the status of religious freedom in each, and the particularly severe
violations of religious freedom committed by these governments. This status and
these violations are summarized in the following paragraphs, which briefly
updates the situation in each country during 2012.

Burma: Since 1999, Burma has been designated as a CPC, and the
Secretary of State redesignated the country in August 2011. In connection with
this designation, the United States has an ongoing embargo referenced in 22 CFR
126.1 (a). The U.S. government maintains this embargo on the country for its
continuing violations of religious freedom. The constitution and other laws and
policies restrict religious freedom and in practice the government enforced
those restrictions. The government implemented considerable political reforms,
but the trend in the government’s respect for religious freedom did not change
significantly during the year. Some local government officials in Rakhine state
reportedly took part in ethnic and religious violence that erupted in June,
which largely targeted the Muslim community. The government maintained
restrictions on certain religious activities, limited freedom of religion, and
actively promoted Theravada Buddhism over other religions, particularly among
certain ethnic minority populations. Authorities subjected religious activities
and organizations to restrictions on freedom of expression, association, and
assembly. The government continued to monitor the meetings and activities of
religious organizations.

China: The Secretary of State designated China as a CPC in
1999, and renewed the designation most recently in August 2011. The Secretary of
State extended existing economic measures in effect against the country under
the Act related to restrictions on exports of crime control and detection
instruments and equipment (Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Years
1990 and 1991, P.L. 101-246). The government emphasized state control over
religion and restricted the activities and personal freedom of religious
adherents when these were perceived, even potentially, to threaten state or
Chinese Communist Party interests, including the Party’s concept of social
stability. The government’s respect for religious freedom declined during the
year, particularly in Tibetan areas and the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.
The government harassed, detained, arrested, or sentenced to prison a number of
religious adherents for activities reportedly related to their religious beliefs
and practice. The government continued to strictly regulate the religious
activities of Uighur Muslims. Government repression, including crackdowns at
monasteries and nunneries, resulted in the loss of life, arbitrary detentions,
and torture.

Eritrea: The Secretary of State designated Eritrea as a CPC in
2004, and renewed the designation most recently in August 2011. The
CPC-associated assistance restrictions continue. The government only partially
implemented constitutional provisions for religious freedom, and did so only for
the four officially registered religious groups: the Eritrean Orthodox Church,
Sunni Islam, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of
Eritrea, over which it still retained influence. The government’s overall record
on religious freedom was poor and that trend did not change significantly during
the year. The government continued to detain members of unregistered religious
groups, although there were reportedly fewer such detentions than in 2011. The
government enforced mandatory military service for all, with no options for
conscientious objectors. Failure to comply resulted in discrimination and
violent punishment. The government detained many religious prisoners in harsh

Iran: Since 1999, the United States has designated Iran as a
CPC. In August 2011, the Secretary of State redesignated Iran, and redesignated
the existing restrictions on certain imports from and exports to the country, in
accordance with section 103(b) of the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions
Accountability and Divestment Act of 2010, pursuant to section 402(c)(5) of the
Act. Iran’s constitution and other laws and policies do not protect religious
freedom, and in practice, the government severely restricted this right. The
government’s respect for religious freedom declined during the year. There were
increased reports that the government charged religious and ethnic minorities
with moharebeh (enmity against God), “anti-Islamic propaganda,” or vague
national security crimes for their religious activities. Those reportedly
arrested on religious grounds faced worsening prison conditions and treatment,
including physical and mental abuse. The arrest and harassment of members of
religious minorities also increased significantly. There continued to be reports
that the government imprisoned, harassed, intimidated, and discriminated against
people because of their religious beliefs. Authorities reportedly subjected
U.S.-Iranian citizen and Christian pastor Saeed Abedini to physical and
psychological abuse, and his family, friends, and lawyer reportedly faced
harassment by officials. The government prohibits Bahais from teaching and
practicing their faith and subjects them to many forms of discrimination not
faced by members of other religious groups.

North Korea: North Korea was first designated as a CPC in 2001,
and most recently redesignated by the Secretary of State in August 2011. As
required under the Act, the Secretary designated the existing ongoing
restrictions to which the country is subject pursuant to sections 402(c)(5) and
409 of the Trade Act of 1974 (the Jackson-Vanik Amendment). Although the
constitution and other laws and policies provide for religious freedom, in
practice the government severely restricted religious activity, except for some
officially recognized groups that the government tightly supervised. The trend
in the government’s respect for religious freedom did not change significantly
during the year. Genuine religious freedom does not exist. Government practices
continued to interfere with individuals’ ability to choose and to manifest their
religious beliefs. The government continued to repress the religious activities
of unauthorized religious groups. Reports by refugees, defectors, missionaries,
and NGOs indicated that authorities arrested and subjected to harsh penalties
religious persons who engaged in proselytizing in the country and those who were
in contact with foreigners or missionaries.

Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia has been a CPC since 2004. In
connection with the Secretary of State’s redesignation in August 2011, the
Secretary issued a waiver of sanctions “to further the purposes of the act.”
Freedom of religion in Saudi Arabia is neither recognized nor protected under
the law and the government severely restricted it in practice. Sunni Islam is
the official religion and the country’s constitution is the Quran and the Sunna
(traditions and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad). The trend in the government`s
respect for religious freedom did not change significantly during the year. The
public practice of any religion other than Islam is prohibited. Authorities
beheaded at least one individual for engaging in “sorcery.” The government
generally permitted Shia religious gatherings and non-Muslim private religious
practices. Some Muslims who did not adhere to the government’s interpretation of
Islam faced significant political, economic, legal, social, and religious
discrimination, including limited employment and educational opportunities,
underrepresentation in official institutions, restrictions on religious
practice, and restrictions on places of worship. The government continued to
revise school textbooks, removing some objectionable content; however,
significant objectionable content remains.

Sudan: The Secretary of State first designated Sudan as a CPC
in 1999, and most recently redesignated it in August 2011. Consequently, the
country was ineligible for aid under Section 116 of the Foreign Assistance Act
of 1961. Sudan’s Interim National Constitution (INC) and other laws and policies
restrict religious freedom and, in practice, the government generally enforced
legal and policy restrictions on this right. The trend in the government’s
respect for religious freedom did not change significantly during the year. The
government at times enforced laws against blasphemy and defaming Islam.
Authorities harassed religious practitioners of unregistered groups and limited
the freedom of the four registered religious groups. There were instances of
abuse and mistreatment. The security services detained foreign English teachers
on suspicion of proselytizing, and ultimately deported them, along with several
family members, without court proceedings. State governments and local
authorities razed two churches.

Uzbekistan: The Secretary of State first designated Uzbekistan
as a CPC in November 2006, and redesignated it in August 2011. In connection
with this designation, the Secretary of State issued a waiver of sanctions to
“further the purposes of the act.” The constitution and some laws provide for
religious freedom; however, other laws and policies restrict religious freedom
and, in practice, the government generally enforced these restrictions. The
trend in the government’s respect for religious freedom did not change
significantly during the year. The law restricts the religious freedom of
unregistered groups and prohibits many activities, such as proselytizing; many
members of registered and unregistered minority religious groups faced heavy
fines and short jail terms for violations of these laws. The government
continued to deal harshly with Muslims who discussed religious issues outside of
sanctioned mosques. The government continued to imprison individuals based on
charges of extremism; raid religious and social gatherings of unregistered and
registered religious communities; confiscate and destroy religious literature,
including holy books; and discourage minors from practicing their faith. There
were numerous reports of beatings and mistreatment of prisoners serving
sentences for religious convictions. Nongovernmental sources reported that
authorities severely mistreated persons arrested on suspicion of “religious
extremism” or participating in underground Islamic activity, citing torture,
beatings, and harsh prison conditions. Family members of prisoners reported
deaths in custody of prisoners serving sentences on charges related to what the
government considered “religious extremism.” Family members typically reported
that the body of the prisoner showed signs of beating or other abuse, but
authorities pressured them to bury the body before a medical professional could
examine it. The February 2012 death of Abdurahmon Sagdiev, sentenced in 1999 to
16.5 years in prison for membership in Hizb-ut-Tahrir, fit this pattern; local
officials asserted that he died as a result of a beating administered by fellow

U.S. Policy and Programs in Support of Religious Freedom

The Department of State, our missions abroad, and especially the Office of
International Religious Freedom in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and
Labor, leverage the various tools of the U.S. government to promote and protect
religious liberty around the world. Led in these efforts by the Ambassador at
Large for International Religious Freedom, we use bilateral and multilateral
diplomacy, public diplomacy, reporting, CPC designations, and foreign assistance
programming to assist members of religious minorities, increase societal respect
for religious freedom, highlight abuses, and monitor and combat

The Obama Administration has prioritized integrating religious freedom and
religion writ large into the U.S. government’s broader foreign policy
objectives. Specifically, the Department of State has emphasized freedom of
religion and protection of members of religious minorities by: 1) encouraging
accountability for religious-based violence and ensuring the protection of
citizens and places of worship; 2) urging governments to adopt legal protections
for religious freedom and minorities and to amend or rescind unduly and
inappropriately restrictive laws; and 3) promoting societal respect for
religious freedom and diversity.

Officers at U.S. missions abroad meet regularly with government officials and
representatives of religious groups, both large and small, to discuss religious
freedom. U.S officials criticize unjust laws and proposed laws, intervene on
behalf of persecuted individuals, help religious groups get registered, protest
offensive statements by government officials, and mediate conflicts among
religious groups. For example, in China, the embassy in Beijing, and the
consulates general in Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Shenyang, and Wuhan
regularly urged government officials at the central and local levels to
implement stronger protections for religious freedom. In Russia, embassy
officials expressed concern about alleged abuses of the anti-extremism law. In
Vietnam, the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom
visited the country in May, raised religious freedom issues with senior
government officials, and met with religious leaders of multiple faiths, both
those recognized and not recognized by the government.

Embassy and consulate officers actively support those who work for a better
climate for interfaith cooperation. Embassy officials maintain active
relationships with NGOs, and embassies often host meetings with political and
religious leaders to discuss religious freedom issues. For example, in India, embassy and consular officials
engaged Islamic schools and other educational institutions directly and through
exchange programs on topics such as religious freedom, tolerance, and respect
for diversity. In Sweden, embassy staff visited Malmo to assess
multicultural tensions, in particular the situation of the Jewish community, and
the U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism raised anti-Semitism
and intolerance directly with the mayor of Malmo and other government officials,
with representatives of the Jewish and Muslim communities, and with members of
the Interreligious Dialogue Forum. In the Philippines, the embassy’s
Mindanao Working Group coordinated mission-wide efforts in Mindanao, and held
discussions with religious and civil society leaders. During trips to
conflict-affected areas of Mindanao, embassy representatives organized
discussions with religious group leaders to promote mutual understanding. In
Ukraine, the embassy maintained contact with local authorities in Lviv to
follow progress toward resolution of disputes related to construction on the
site of the city’s former main synagogue (destroyed during the Holocaust),
possible destruction of remaining historic buildings, and the status of the
historic Jewish cemetery located on the grounds of the Krakivskiy market in
Lviv. The embassy also stayed in contact with local religious and political
leaders regarding the status of Jewish cemeteries in Chortkiv, Kremenets, and
Lviv, and monitored cases involving discrimination against Tatars in Crimea. In
Uzbekistan, U.S. government representatives frequently and directly
engaged with the host government on religious freedom, including during the
March visit of the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom and
the August annual bilateral consultations, during which discussion of religious
freedom issues played a major part. In November, the embassy sponsored a study
tour by a group of young Muslim leaders to learn about the role of Islam and
interfaith dialogue in the United States.

The United States works through multilateral as well as bilateral channels to
promote increased respect for religious freedom, and also funds NGO programs
designed to achieve this goal. In the multilateral arena, the United States
continued to follow up on the UN Human Rights Council’s March 2011 adoption of
resolution 16/18 on “Combating Intolerance, Negative Stereotyping and
Stigmatization of, and Discrimination, Incitement to Violence and Violence
Against, Persons Based on Religion or Belief.” This resolution focuses on
concrete, positive measures that states can take to combat religious
intolerance, rather than pursuing legal measures to restrict speech, including
religious expression. The U.S. government continues to work with its
international partners to further this strong stand for freedom of expression
and worship, and against discrimination and violence based upon religion or

We continue to focus foreign assistance funds on programs that promote
religious freedom and combat anti-Semitism around the world. Projects include a
rapid response program to provide emergency assistance to victims of religious
persecution, a program that works with madrassahs to advance curriculum reform
to promote religious tolerance and combat violent extremism, and a regional
strategy linking religious freedom and other human rights with stability and
combating violent extremism. We also have programs that promote interfaith
cooperation and mutual respect through joint action programs, and others that
advance the political rights and representation of members of religious
minorities. Our programs are helping foreign governments review textbooks,
curricula, and teacher training materials to identify and remove content that is
biased, intolerant, and inflames sectarian tension. We also have a program that
provides training to government officials in all areas of the world on
engagement and cultural awareness with members of religious minorities, and on
enforcing nondiscrimination laws.


I take the Liberty to post the report. Religious fanaticism as always, rampant and ever-present.
Depressing, what?

As Secretary of State John Kerry said in Berlin in January, “as a country, as
a society, we live and breathe the idea of religious freedom and religious
tolerance, whatever the religion….” The U.S. government will continue to do its
utmost to promote respect for religious freedom wherever it is endangered. This
report does not stand by itself. It is supported by the concrete efforts of
America’s diplomats all over the globe who will remain vigilant, who will
continue to shine a spotlight on abuses wherever they exist, and who will use
all the tools at our disposal to encourage, support, and protect those whose
religious liberty is threatened.

©Howard Gamble

This entry was posted in Current Affairs, International news. Bookmark the permalink.