Washington DC, USA - The US has classified Saudi Arabia as a violator of religious freedom along with China, Afghanistan, Russia and Pakistan in a new report that names several US allies.
The International Religious Freedom Report, which covers the six-month period from July to December 31, 2010, documents incidents of state repression, extremist attacks, apostasy and blasphemy laws that target minorities, and other restrictions in 198 countries and territories.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described religious tolerance as a foundation for stable, harmonious societies as she released the report Tuesday.
“Hatred and intolerance are destabilizing,” Clinton said. “When governments crack down on religious expression, when politicians or public figures try to use religion as a wedge issue, or when societies fail to take steps to denounce religious bigotry and curb discrimination based on religious identity, they embolden extremists and fuel sectarian strife.”
The report singled out several “countries of particular concern,” with Michael Posner, the assistant secretary for democracy, human rights and labour singling out Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Iran, China, Uzbekistan, North Korea as among the “long-term and egregious violators of religious freedom.”
Afghanistan made the list, because non-Muslim minority groups, particularly Christian, Hindu, Sikh and Bahai minorities are targets of persecution. The report listed Burma, also known as Myanmar, because religious activities there are subject to restrictions on freedom of expression, association and assembly.
China was named to the list because only religious groups affiliated with one of five state-sanctioned “patriotic religious associations” are permitted to hold worship services and offer social services.
Egypt was singled out because the government has failed to prosecute numerous violent incidents targeting Coptic Christians. The State Department noted that Iran continues to harass, arrest and imprison thousands for their religious beliefs. And the role of local Nigerian politicians in stoking Muslim-Christian clashes was noted.
Clinton praised the Organization of Islamic Cooperation for shepherding the adoption in March of UN Human Rights Council Resolution 1618, which calls on states to take concrete action against religious bigotry through tolerance, education, government outreach, service projects, and interfaith dialogue.
The top US diplomat also praised Turkey for taking “serious steps to improve the climate for religious tolerance.” In August, Turkey issued a decree in August that invited non-Muslims to reclaim churches and synagogues that were confiscated 75 years ago.
The State Department submits the report to Congress every year in compliance with the law.