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An annual U.S. government report is adding U.S. ally Turkey as well as Tajikistan to a list of the worst violators of religious rights.

The report to be released on March 20 by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) cites Turkey for "systematic and egregious limitations" on religious liberty.

Turkey and Tajikistan are among a total of 16 nations listed by the commission as countries of particular concern.

The Turkish ambassador to Washington, Namik Tan, dismissed the commission's action as unjustified.

"Any unbiased eye will immediately realize that that's not where Turkey belongs in the USCIRF annual report," Tan told The Associated Press.

Among other problems, the report criticizes Turkey for regulating non-Muslim groups by restricting how they can train clergy, offer education, and own their places of worship.

Congress established the commission in 1998 to compile the reports for use by the president, the secretary of state, and lawmakers. Aside from Turkey and Tajikistan, the report also listed Myanmar, North Korea, Egypt, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, China, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam.

While the commission recommends action the U.S. government should take to encourage improvements in religious freedom in the various countries, the State Department usually narrows down the list to a smaller group it cites for particular concern in its own annual report on religious freedom. Those countries can be subject to sanctions.

Based on AP reports
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has called on Belarus to join the rest of Europe and impose a moratorium on the death penalty.

Lavrov's comments came just days after the Belarusian government executed two men who were convicted for the bombing of a Minsk subway station nearly one year ago that killed 15 people.

Belarus has faced international criticism over the weekend about the executions, amid questions about evidence in the case and concerns about the legal rights of the men who were executed -- Uladzislau Kavalyou and Dzmitry Kanavalau.

Lavrov told Kommersant FM radio that the Russian government is committed to a death-penalty moratorium and wants to see all European countries, including Belarus, join it.

Belarus is the only country in Europe that still practices capital punishment.

With RIA Novosti and ITAR-TASS reports

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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