Religious Freedom Still Languishes Worldwide: US State Dept

Religious Freedom Still Languishes Worldwide: US State Dept

New concerns emerge in Arab Spring states

By Mimi Li
Epoch Times Staff Created: Sep 15, 2011 Last
Updated:
Sep 15, 2011

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US Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner speaks
during a press conference, in 2010, at the UN Offices in Geneva. (Fabrice
Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)

A Christian is beaten and tortured in Eritrea for refusing to renounce his faith; a Buddhist monk
is jailed in Burma for denouncing restrictions on religious assembly; a Bahai in
Iran is denied employment or education; a Falun Gong
practitioner in China is sent to a re-education through labor camp for his
beliefs.

These everyday occurrences are examples of—and a drop in the
bucket of—the incessant infringements on religious freedoms in nearly 200
nations around the globe, violations of religious rights documented by the U.S.
State Department’s 13th “Annual Report on
International Religious Freedom” released Tuesday.

Among the countries
named in the report are the eight most heinous offenders of religious liberty,
dubbed the “Countries of Particular Concern," which include the four states
mentioned above along with Saudi Arabia, North
Korea, Sudan, and Uzbekistan.

These countries are and have been
“long-term, chronic, and egregious violators of religious freedom," Michael
Posner, the assistant secretary of state for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor,
said Tuesday at a press conference, according to a transcript of his remarks.

The degree of religious intolerance in the Countries of
Particular Concern ranges from bans on proselytizing in Uzbekistan to the
prohibition of all faiths except Islam in Saudi Arabia to a totalitarian grip on
all religious activities inNorth Korea.

In China, the overall level of
tolerance of religious activities has worsened as the repression of Tibetan
Buddhists, Muslim Uyghurs, Falun Gong adherents, and Christians by the
authoritarian and officially atheist state persists.

The Chinese
communist regime’s crackdown on religious activity has “remained severe" for the
report’s period of documentation between July and December 2010, especially in
Tibet and Xinjiang Autonomous Region during the Shanghai World Expo and the
Asian Games held in Guangzhou.

The largest religious persecution in China
and the world is that of Falun Gong. In early 1999, before the persecution
began, Chinese officials indicated that 100 million people in China had taken up
the practice.

The report notes various aspects of the persecution,
although the numbers it provides are very conservative. For instance, the report
says that since 1999 100,000 practitioners have been held in China’s reform
through labor camps. The independent journalist Ethan Gutmann, who is studying
the persecution, claims that between 15 and 20 percent of all those held in
China’s labor camps are Falun Gong, with a minimum of 450,000 practitioners held
at any one time. The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture Manfed Nowak reported
that two-thirds of all cases of torture in China filed with his office were
Falun Gong.

The suppression of Falun Gong has intensified as the
communist regime presses forward with its campaign to “transform" adherents,
thereport said. Transformation involves forcing practitioners to give up their
beliefs, by brainwashing or torture. In October 2010, the Chinese regime rolled
out a new campaign aiming at transforming three-fourths of all known Falun Gong
adherents.

The report does not discuss the most serious abuse suffered by
Falun Gong practitioner—the practice of live organ harvesting. David Kilgour and
David Matas in theirreport and book Bloody Harvest state that Falun
Gong practitioners are the most likely source for the organs for 41,500
transplantation operations done between 2000 and 2007.

While the report
focuses on the Countries of Particular Concern list, it is “by no means the only
measure of serious violations of religious freedom," Posner said. Instead, many
countries are guilty of “official repression of religious minorities or official
indifference to their plight."

In Pakistan and Iraq, the State Department
report saw slight gains in religious freedoms with increased governmental
oversight and attention to religious violence, but warned that a piece of
Pakistani blasphemy legislation that could be used to repress religious
minorities, as well as the continued violence against pilgrims and worshipers in
Iraq meant that “there is more work to be done," Posner said.

Throughout
the Arab world, religious groups have been facing fresh hostility in the
aftermath of the wave of social upheavals popularly known as the Arab Spring,
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned at a press briefing on Tuesday for the
release of thereport.

“In the Middle East and North Africa, the
transitions to democracy have inspired the world, but they have also exposed
ethnic and religious minorities to new dangers," Clinton said.

“People have been killed by their own neighbors because
of their ethnicity or their faith. In other places, we’ve seen governments stand
by while sectarian violence, inflamed by religious animosities, tears
communities apart."

The Arab people, by embracing or allowing religious
extremism and bigotry, cannot “trade one form of repression for another," she
urged.

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