The United States has issued its annual report on religious freedom around the world. The State Department study singled out Afghanistan, whose Taliban government was ousted by U.S.-led forces, as virtually the only country achieving significant improvements in religious freedom last year.
Washington, 8 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- A new U.S. government report on the state of religious freedom around the world says millions of people are still deprived of the rights to openly practice their faith. The State Department report issued yesterday faults Iran, Iraq, China, and North Korea as being particularly hostile to certain religions.
The only country that achieved a significant improvement in religious freedom last year is Afghanistan, according to the study. U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban government, which practiced a fundamentalist branch of Islam. In its place, an interim governing body now administers a far more tolerant regime, the report says.
The report says U.S. religious-freedom policy is a means of fighting the war on terrorism and that the 11 September 2001 attacks have had significant implications. "The attacks by Al-Qaeda highlighted the reality that people can and do exploit religion for terrible purposes, in some cases manipulating and destroying other human beings as mere instruments in the process," the report said. "This is, unfortunately, not a new phenomenon in human affairs. In the post-Cold War world, some scholars are predicting that religious differences are likely to be a cause of major conflicts between civilizations."
In issuing the report, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell noted that freedom of religion is a cornerstone of U.S. democracy. "Our commitment to religious liberty lies at the heart of our national experience as Americans. Many of our ancestors fled religious persecution, coming to these shores seeking the freedom to practice their faith. They laid the foundation for a society in which every person could worship free of fear, free of discrimination, and free of coercion. Americans now live in a country in which faith and freedom thrive," Powell said.
Powell said inexcusable assaults on individual liberty and personal dignity cannot be justified in the name of any religion or culture. He said the United States rejects the notion that the security or stability of any country requires the repression of members of any faith or precludes the promotion of religious tolerance. "Religious freedom, we believe strongly, is an inalienable right of every human being. The existence of this right is beyond dispute. It is enshrined in the universal declaration of human rights and in a host of other international instruments," Powell said.
The following is a partial list of countries and their religious records, according to the report.
Unapproved religious and spiritual groups remain under scrutiny and, in some cases, harsh repression. The government continues its harsh treatment of Falun Gong.
Government actions continue to create a threatening atmosphere for some religious minorities. All such groups suffer officially sanctioned discrimination, particularly in the areas of employment, education, and housing. The government fuels anti-Bahai and anti-Jewish sentiment for political purposes.
The government continues its vicious policies against Shias. It has desecrated Shia mosques and holy sites, disrupted Shia religious ceremonies and interfered with Shia religious education. There were also reports that the government engaged in various abuses against the country's Assyrian and Chaldean Christians.
The U.S. Embassy is supporting programs designed to create a better understanding of how democracies address the issue of secularism and religious freedom. Several participants say they have attained a better understanding of how to create a more open society.
The government continues to place restrictions on religious expression. The only religions that have successfully registered under the law are Sunni Islam and Russian Orthodox Christianity, which are controlled by the government.
The government continues its harsh campaign against unauthorized Islamic groups is suspected of antistate sentiments or activities. Christian churches generally are tolerated as long as they do not attempt to win converts among ethnic Uzbeks.
The United States is highly concerned about the country's commitment to religious freedom. The report cites what it calls media campaigns against minority religions.
The official policy continues to favor the Russian Orthodox Church, the country's majority religion. The authorities increased harassment of other denominations and religions. The regime denied registration to some religious groups on the grounds that they were "nontraditional" and also to all religious groups considered to be "sects."
The status of religious freedom deteriorated during 2001. Local police and security officials harass nontraditional religious minority groups. Police failed to respond to continued attacks by Orthodox extremists.
Certain religious groups cannot get official recognition. A number of minority religious groups in the separatist region of Transdniestr also continued to be denied registration and are subjected to official harassment.
The government continues to use legislation to restrict religious freedom, in particular the provision allowing the state to ban religious organizations. A number of clergy and religious workers, especially Roman Catholics and evangelical Christians, have been denied visas. The declaration of one of only four Roman Catholic bishops in Russia as persona non grata placed serious restrictions on the ability of Russian Catholics to practice their religion. Anti-Semitic leaflets, graffiti, and articles continued to appear in some regions, such as St. Petersburg and other towns and cities.
For a list of all countries covered by the report, please go to the following website: http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2002/c7599.htm.