U.S. Commission: Religious Freedom Under ‘Serious and Sustained Assault’

By Lauretta Brown | May 2, 2016 | 7:11 PM EDT

People from Pakistani Christian community leave a local church after attending Christmas mass at a local church, under security, Friday, Dec. 25, 2015 in Islamabad, Pakistan. (AP Photo/B.K. Bangash)

(CNSNews.com) – The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released their annual religious freedom report Monday and found that religious freedom worldwide “has been under serious and sustained assault” since their 2015 report.

“By any measure, religious freedom abroad has been under serious and sustained assault since the release of our commission’s last Annual Report in 2015,” the report said. “From the plight of new and longstanding prisoners of conscience, to the dramatic rise in the numbers of refugees and internally displaced persons, to the continued acts of bigotry against Jews and Muslims in Europe, and to the other abuses detailed in this report, there was no shortage of attendant suffering worldwide.”

“Regrettably the situation is that things have not improved and in some places things have gotten worse.” USCIRF Chairman Robert George told reporters in a conference call about the report on Monday. “At best in most of the countries we cover, religious freedom conditions have failed to improve in any serious or demonstrable way. At worst, they’ve spiraled downward.”

The report once again pushes for the U.S. State Department to designate Pakistan as a “country of particular concern,” or CPC, under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA), a recommendation it has made since 2002.

Pakistan’s “Religiously-discriminatory constitutional provisions and legislation, such as the country’s blasphemy law and anti-Ahmadiyya laws,” the report said, “intrinsically violate international standards of freedom of religion or belief and result in prosecutions and imprisonments.”

The recent Easter Sunday bombing in Lahore which killed 72 and injured 320, is just one example of the violence religious minorities have seen in Pakistan.

“The government’s failure to provide adequate protection for likely targets of such violence or prosecute perpetrators has created a deeprooted climate of impunity.” The report adds, also pointing out that “discriminatory content against minorities in provincial textbooks remains a significant concern, as are reports of forced conversions and marriages of Christian and Hindu girls and women.”

The report explained that “religious minority communities view the Pakistani government as unwilling to stem the violent attacks against them by terrorist organizations like the Pakistani Taliban or bring the attackers to justice, and believe that some government officials and local police may be sympathetic to the violent acts.”

The report also asks the government to designate seven other countries as countries of particular concern: Central African Republic, Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Syria, Tajikistan, and Vietnam.

George noted in discussing the CPC recommendations with reporters that Tajikistan was recently designated in April by the State Department as a CPC, becoming the 10th nation so designated on the basis of USCIRF’s recommendations.

George applauded the designation but added that “there remain seven other nations we are recommending and have recommended in some cases over many years for CPC designations that remain not designated by the State Department,” including “nations like Pakistan and Vietnam that clearly merit designation as countries of particular concern, because the violations of religious freedom we have documented are systematic and ongoing and egregious.”

In Iraq and Syria, the report noted, “ISIL’s summary executions, rape, sexual enslavement, abduction of children, destruction of houses of worship, and forced conversions all are part of what our commission has seen as a genocidal effort to erase their presence from these countries.”

“The governments of Syria and Iraq can be characterized by their near-incapacity to protect segments of their population from ISIL and other non-state actors,” the report said, “as well as their complicity in fueling the sectarian tensions that have made their nations so vulnerable.”

The report also highlighted the plight of prisoners of conscience such as Pastor Bao Guohua and his wife, Xing Wenxiang in China, who “were sentenced in Zhejiang Province in February 2016 to 14 and 12 years in prison, respectively, for leading a Christian congregation that was opposing a government campaign to remove crosses atop churches.”

In China, “Christian communities have borne a significant brunt of the oppression, with numerous churches bulldozed and crosses torn down,” the report added. “Uighur Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists continue to be repressed, and the Chinese government has asserted its own authority to select the next Dalai Lama. Falun Gong practitioners often are held in ‘black jails’ and brainwashing centers, with credible reports of torture, sexual violence, psychiatric experimentation, and organ harvesting.”

USCIRF’s recommendations for China, which was recently re-designated by the State Department as a CPC, include raising religious freedom concerns at the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, urging the Chinese government to release prisoners of conscience, and imposing penalties on officials who perpetrate religious freedom abuses.

USCIRF also noted religious freedom issues in Western Europe, including an increase in anti-Semitism.

“Despite the increasing police protection in places where European Jews congregate, the rise in anti-Semitism has produced an exponential rise in Jewish emigration from Europe,” the report noted “with immigration to Israel from France increasing from less than 2,000 in 2012 to nearly 8,000 last year alone.”

George told reporters that while rhetoric may seem positive in some of the nations covered in the report, “there has been a continued gap between the rhetoric of the regime and the reality on the ground.”

“For example, in this past year both President al Sisi of Egypt and Prime Minister Modi of India have made positive remarks favoring religious tolerance and moderation. We certainly welcome the rhetoric, but rhetoric doesn’t really matter unless it is accompanied by action,” he said.

He pointed out that “Egypt remains a country that we recommend for CPC designation for its failure to actually protect in deed on the ground religious minorities from violence,” and “likewise India remains what we call a Tier 2 country, and it remains there for failing to protect religious minorities both from police bias and societal violence.

“It’s also failed to reform a criminal justice system that often doesn’t prosecute violent attackers in a timely manner, so an atmosphere of impunity is permitted to remain in which thugs or mobs or terrorists can freely attack members of religious minorities,” he added.

George emphasized the importance of promoting religious freedom in our foreign policy.

“Our interests and our values are really one. They’re not two separate things,” he said. “Protecting our interests does require advancing our values, including our belief in religious freedom.

“I think the more the American people get behind this, understand this, call on their own leaders to stand up for the cause, then our government will respond with greater attention to religious liberty issues in the formation and execution of our foreign policy,” he concluded. “We believe that can do a lot of good.”

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