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2010 U.S. State Department Report On Religious Freedom

Afghanistan: One Step Forward, Two Back

In Afghanistan, where the constitution states that Islam is the "religion of the state" and that "no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam," the report says respect for religious freedom deteriorated during the reporting period, particularly toward Christians.

It cites examples of intolerance "in the form of harassment, occasional violence, discrimination, and inflammatory public statements by members of parliament" and notes that "television programming targeted members of non-Muslim minority groups, particularly Christians, Hindus, and Sikhs, as well as Muslims perceived by government and societal forces as not respecting Islamic strictures."

The report says that "relations among different Muslim sects continued to be difficult, and members of the minority Shi'a community continued to face societal discrimination from the majority Sunni population."

Kabul's efforts to promote ethnic and interfaith reconciliation by indirectly supporting membership of judicial, constitutional, and human rights commissions by different ethnic and Islamic religious groups is praised in the report, as is the cooperation between the Ministry of Women's Affairs and the Ministry of Hajj and Islamic Affairs to give women the opportunity to attend mosques.

Iraq: Outside Government Pressure

The Iraqi government has "generally endorsed" constitutional guarantees of freedom of thought, conscience, and religious belief, the report says, and since 2003, "generally has not persecuted any religious group and has called for tolerance and acceptance of all religious minorities."

But the report also found that "violence conducted by terrorists, extremists, and criminal gangs restricted the free exercise of religion and posed a significant threat to the country's vulnerable religious minorities throughout the reporting period."

It says, "Radical Islamic elements from outside the government exerted tremendous pressure on individuals and groups to conform to extremist interpretations of Islamic precepts. Sectarian violence, including attacks on religious leaders and religious places of worship, hampered the ability to practice religion freely."

The government responded to attacks on six Christian churches in July 2009 and a wave of killings that targeted the Christian community in early 2010 by forming an investigative committee and the report notes that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki "made numerous public statements in support of the country's religious minority communities," but says that "very few" of the people who committed the acts of violence against Christians and other religious minorities were punished.

Pakistan: Effort Despite Problems

In Pakistan, the report says, "the government took some steps to improve its treatment of members of religious minorities, but serious problems remained."

"For example," Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner said, "in May, extremist attacks on two Ahmadiyya congregations in Lahore killed at least 86 people."

The report says organized violence against members of minorities increased and cites violent incidents against Christians in Gojra, Punjab, and a terrorist attack on Ahmadis in Lahore, Punjab. It also notes "instances when law enforcement personnel abused members of religious minority groups in custody" and says "security forces and other government agencies did not adequately prevent or address societal abuse against members of religious minorities."

The report also criticizes Islamabad for "the government's failure or delay in taking action against societal forces hostile to those who practiced a different religious belief fostered religious intolerance, acts of violence, and intimidation against members of religious minorities."

But it gives the government credit for taking steps to respect religious freedom, including "allocating four reserved seats for religious minorities in the senate, one from each province" and praises the National Assembly's Standing Committee on Minorities for forming a subcommittee to review blasphemy laws and prepare recommendations for changes.

The country's federal minister for minority affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti, hosted several events to promote interfaith dialogue and religious tolerance, the report says, and "took an active role in assisting victims of religiously motivated attacks on Christians and Ahmadis."

Russia: 'Extremist' Labels

The Russian government "generally respected freedom of religion for most of the population," according to the report, but "authorities imposed restrictions on certain religious minorities and did not always respect the equality before the law of adherents of all religions."

It says legislation aimed at countering extremism "has led to greater restrictions on religious freedom, particularly for Jehovah's Witnesses, Muslim readers of Said Nursi's works, and Scientologists."

Some Russian courts, the report notes, "have declared their literature extremist, resulting in bans on those publications and their inclusion in the Federal List of Extremist Materials. Security services have raided their meetings and homes, confiscated their religious literature, and detained them."

Incidents of religiously motivated violence were documented during the reporting period, but the report says, at times it was hard to determine whether the violence was driven by xenophobic, religious, or ethnic prejudices.

The report also says Moscow's visa rules continued to hamper religious minorities' efforts to bring foreign religious workers into the country.

Tajikistan: In Print, Not In Practice

Tajikistan's constitution provides for freedom of religion, but the report says legislation and governmental decrees "contradict this right [and] government respect for religious freedom remained poor."

The Tajik government continued to promote secularism and allowed religious practice only under tight controls, according to the report. The reports cites the March 2009 law on religion, which "tightly controls the process of opening religious institutions, including places of worship and schools, and required all religious organizations to reregister with the government by January 1, 2010."

The law also limits the number of mosques that may be registered within a given population area and requires registration of all religious education programs. It cites "reports that some local officials refused to provide non-Muslim religious communities with documents they needed to register, preventing them from registering as legal entities."

The report says that the government-affiliated Council of Ulemo 2006 fatwa against women attending mosque remained in effect and notes reports that officials ordered imams to prevent schoolchildren from attending mosques outside of school hours.

In addition, "some individuals thought to be members of banned religious groups were sentenced to long prison terms," the report says, and notes that "government officials used concern about Islamic extremism to justify imposing restrictions on religious freedom of Muslim groups and engaging in surveillance."

Turkmenistan: Troubling Treatment

The constitution in Turkmenistan provides for freedom of religion and does not establish a state religion, but the report says that "in practice, the government continued to restrict the free practice of religion."

Beyond "small positive changes in the government's respect for religious freedom during the reporting period, including the registration of the Catholic Church, permission for some religions to host foreign co-religionists and leaders, and permission for some churches to engage in proselytizing, " the report cites "troubling treatment of some members of registered and unregistered groups" and notes that "several religious groups remained unable to register."