State Department Report on Religious Freedom: Much Persecution, Few Positive Trends

The U.S. State Department released its annual report Wednesday on religious freedom worldwide, which covered almost every nation in the world and many non-state groups, but excluded the United States, reported Yahoo! News. The report covers developments in 2015.

The International Religious Freedom Report for 2015 includes a long “global overview” of the report as well as individual reports on every other country. The country reports cover the country’s religious demography, its government’s respect for religious freedom, and what it calls “societal respect” for religious freedom, and the American government’s policy in respect to religious freedom in that country. The report also includes several appendices with the texts of international and American statements on religious freedom.

Top Persecutors

Among the top persecutors of religious people were, unsurprisingly, ISIS and Boko Haram, which “continued to rank amongst the most egregious abusers of religious freedom in the world.” Earlier this year, Secretary of State John Kerry stated that these groups and others were committing genocide of Yazidis, Christians and Shiite Muslims. He added that the Islamic State’s “entire worldview is based on eliminating those who do not subscribe to its perverse ideology.”

In releasing the report, Deputy Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said “Daesh [ISIS] kills Yezidis because they are Yezidi, Christians because they are Christian, Shia Muslim because they are Shia. … They’ve not only killed, they’ve sought to erase the memory of those they’ve killed, destroying centuries-old religious cultural sites.”

ISIS, according to the report, pursued a “brutal strategy” that included “barbarous acts, including killings, torture, enslavement and trafficking, rape and other sexual abuse against religious and ethnic minorities and Sunnis in areas under its control.” In areas it doesn’t control, the group sent suicide bombers and car bombs to kill “continued suicide bombings and vehicle-borne improvised explosive device attacks against Shia Muslims.”

The terrorist group also exploits its own version of the blasphemy laws common in Islamic countries. One speaker at the press conference told the story of seven-year-old Muaz Hassan. He was playing soccer with friends in ISIS-controlled Syria. “During the game, he said a bad word out of his frustration. He was detained by Daesh for blasphemy or cursing God. In a matter of days, he was marched out into a public square and murdered by a firing squad in front of a crowd of hundreds, including his parents.”

ISIS and Boko Haram were not the only countries singled out in the Overview. The report calls out Syria, Angola, Azerbaijan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, China, North Korea, Eritrea, Brunei, Burma, Viet Nam, the Central African Republic, Hungary, Bahrain, Ukraine, and Russia. Most are either Islamic or Communist or ex-Communist countries. Only one, Hungary, is a Western nation and it is flagged for its government contributing to a statue of a WWII anti-Semite, which the government then rescinded.

Few Positive Developments, But Effective Blasphemy Laws

In a much shorter section of the Overview, the State Department lists some “positive developments,” though these were almost all one act of small groups, in comparison with the large, organized, often state-led assaults on religious freedom around the world.

Religious freedom is “gradually expanding” in Vietnam, while in Kenya and the Central African Republic groups of Christians and Muslims worked together. A second Catholic church was built in the United Arab Emirates and the government gave permission for the building of the first Hindu temple. A court in Canada prevented the government from requiring that “persons must remove religiously based clothing that covered their faces while reciting their citizenship oath,” an indirect way of saying that it can’t require Muslim women from wearing the niqab.

In his remarks at the release of the report, the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom said that his office had been given “significant” increases in funding. The department was able to increase its monitoring of individual countries and spend more time in those where “here our religious freedom advocacy can make a constructive difference,” said David N. Saperstein.

Only 24 percent of the world’s nations have “serious restrictions on religious freedom,” he said, but these countries contain 74 percent of the world’s people. This year, he told the press conference, he wanted to highlight “the chilling, sometimes deadly effect of blasphemy and apostasy laws” that governments use to persecute religious minorities. Such laws, he said, quoting a U.N. official, “do not contribute to a climate of religious openness, tolerance, non-discrimination and respect. To the contrary, they often fuel stereotyping, stigmatization, discrimination and incitement to violence.” (For more from the author of “State Department Report on Religious Freedom: Much Persecution, Few Positive Trends” please click HERE)

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