In a context of confusion and flashy journalism, rigour becomes a precious value.
Syria, Central African Republic, Egypt, Iraq, and Vietnam are also among the “countries of particular concern.” For the first time, Western Europe is in the list as a place that “deserve monitoring.”
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has released its annual report. The USCIRF is an advisory council to the Congress and the president. The study covers 1 February, 2015 to 29 February, 2016.
“By any measure, religious freedom abroad has been under serious and sustained assault since the release of our commission’s last Annual Report in 2015,” it begins. It contains documentation of restrictions upon Christians, Muslims, Jews and other religious minorities.
SEVEN “COUNTRIES OF PARTICULAR CONCERN”
It also recommends that United States add seven countries to its list of worst offenders, designating them as “countries of particular concern.” Those countries are: Central African Republic, Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, and Vietnam.
Western Europe is also included among the list of places that deserve monitoring because of worrisome developments.
A year ago, the commission’s annual report made the same recommendation about the same seven countries, plus Tajikistan. The State Department accepted that recommendation to add Tajikistan on 14 April.
SYSTEMATIC VIOLATION OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
According to US law, those countries are “particularly severe”, because of the “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom, including violations such as:
THE US PRESIDENT, REQUIRED BY LAW TO TAKE ACTION
The US president is required to maintain a list of “countries of particular concern”, considered the worst offenders of religious freedom, taking the commission’s annual report as counsel.
The White House should also “take action designed to encourage improvements in those countries”, the commission says. Those actions can range from nothing, to mutually negotiated treatments, to unilateral sanctions.
Additionally, the law requires the State Department to report on religious freedom in each country, as part of its annual assessment of human rights around the globe.
The US had already formally designated nine countries as “countries of particular concern”: Myanmar; China; Eritrea; Iran; North Korea; Saudi Arabia; Sudan; Turkmenistan; and Uzbekistan. Tajikistan’s recent addition brings the list to 10.
CHINA: CHURCHES DESTROYED
Over the past year, the Chinese government has stepped up its persecution of religious groups deemed a threat to the state’s supremacy and maintenance of a ‘socialist society, the report explains.
BLASPHEMY LAW IN PAKISTAN
USCIRF confirms that “more people are on death row or serving life sentences for blasphemy in Pakistan than in any other country in the world.”
“Aggressive enforcement of these laws emboldens the Pakistani Taliban and individual vigilantes, triggering horrific violence against religious communities and individuals perceived as transgressors, most recently Christians and Muslim bystanders on Easter Sunday 2016 in Lahore.”
BOKO HARAM, A CONTINUOUS THREAT
“Boko Haram continues to attack with impunity both Christians and many Muslims. From bombings at churches and mosques to mass kidnappings of children from schools, Boko Haram has cut a wide path of terror across vast swaths of Nigeria and in neighbouring countries, leaving thousands killed and millions displaced”, the report says.
INDIA, ON A NEGATIVE TRAJECTORY
"Since the Bharatiya Janata Party assumed power, religious minority communities have been subject to derogatory comments by BJP politicians and numerous violent attacks and forced conversions by affiliated Hindu nationalist groups", USCIRF warns.
"India is on a negative trajectory in terms of religious freedom”, that is why USCIRF “will continue to monitor the situation closely during the year ahead to determine if India should be recommended to the U.S. State Department for designation as a 'country of particular concern'."
WESTERN EUROPE TO BE MONITORED
The report includes “Western Europe” on a list alongside five individual countries that the commission says should be monitored, though it has not recommended them for government sanction. The region was not included in the previous year’s report.
According to USCIRF, several European governments have banned the wearing of religious symbols, including crosses. Some have been monitoring religious groups they deem as “cults” or “sects,” including some evangelical Protestant groups.
Christians have found themselves answering charges of hate speech or avoiding public education by home-schooling their children.
But most of the basis for the commission’s inclusion of Western Europe among areas to monitor is related to anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish sentiment that has been rising along with the number of refugees from the Middle East and Northern Africa.
WORLD WATCH LIST AND THE USCIRF REPORT
The seven countries that the US Commission on International Religious Freedom recommends be classified as “countries of particular concern” also are prominent on the Open Doors World Watch list.
The World Watch List ranks the countries where life as a Christian is most difficult. It is published by Open Doors, a global charity that supports Christians who are pressured because of their faith.