Washington DC, USA - The following summarizes July-December 2010 reports for a number of countries that face challenges in protecting religious freedom. The countries are listed in alphabetical order and those designated as "Countries of Particular Concern" (CPC) are noted.
Non-Muslim minority groups, particularly Christian, Hindu, Sikh, and Bahai groups, which together constitute approximately 1 percent of the population, were targets of discrimination and persecution. The minority Shia community continued to face discrimination from the majority Sunni population. Authorities detained at least two converts from Islam to Christianity during the reporting period, although both have since been released. Television programming led to increased negative public opinion and suspicion of Christian activities and targeted violence and harassment against Christians, including converts from Islam. The Afghan Supreme Court ruled that membership in the Bahai Faith constituted blasphemy and that Muslims who convert to the Bahai Faith are apostates. Local Hindu and Sikh populations continued to encounter problems in obtaining land for cremation and harassment during major celebrations.
Religious activities and organizations are subject to restrictions on freedom of expression, association, and assembly. Hundreds of Buddhist monks remained in prison following a 2007 crackdown on prodemocracy demonstrations. The government promoted Theravada Buddhism over other forms of Buddhism or other religions, particularly among ethnic minorities. Christian groups continued to struggle to obtain permission to repair places of worship or build new ones. The regime continued to monitor and restrict Muslim activities and to restrict worship for other non-Buddhist minority groups. The government continued to refuse to recognize the Muslim Rohingya ethnic minority as citizens and restricted their movement and marriage; Rohingyas also experienced severe legal, economic, educational, and social discrimination. Adherence or conversion to Buddhism was an unwritten prerequisite for promotion to senior government and military ranks. Nearly all officers of the government and the armed forces are Buddhists.
Only religious groups affiliated with one of the five state-sanctioned "patriotic religious associations" (Buddhist, Taoist, Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant) are permitted to register, hold worship services, and apply to offer social services. In October 2010 authorities prevented a large number of Christian leaders from unregistered churches from traveling to participate in the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in South Africa and reportedly subjected invitees to confiscation of passports, beatings, surveillance, and temporary detention. The government continued to implement measures that strictly regulate religious activity in the XUAR, including restricting private hajj pilgrimages and the wearing of Muslim headscarves in some areas. The government's repression of religious freedom remained severe in the Tibet Autonomous Region and other Tibetan areas, particularly during "sensitive periods," such as the Shanghai World Expo and the Asian Games.
The government failed to prosecute numerous perpetrators of violence against Coptic Christians. On November 24, 2010, a riot that began over a church in Amraniya led to the death of two Copts, reportedly caused by security forces, and nearly 70 injuries, including 18 police. Positive developments included prosecution of four alleged perpetrators of a January 2010 sectarian attack against Copts in Naga Hammadi and high-level government statements against sectarian violence. Nevertheless systemic harassment and discrimination against minorities continued. Many Christians and members of the Bahai Faith, which the government does not recognize, faced discrimination, especially in government employment and the ability to build, renovate, and repair places of worship. Authorities also arrested, detained, and harassed certain Muslims, such as Shia, Ahmadiyah, and Quranists; converts from Islam to Christianity; and members of other religious groups.
The government continued to harass, arrest, and imprison thousands of believers. There were continuing reports that an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 members and pastors of unregistered churches were being detained without trial. Religious prisoners were reportedly held for long periods without due process and subjected to harsh treatment, including forced renunciations of faith, torture, and deaths in custody. Yemane Kahasay, of the Kale-Hiwot Church in Medefera, died in the Metier prison in July 2010 after reportedly being tortured for 18 months and denied medical treatment.
Reports continued of government imprisonment, harassment, intimidation, and discrimination based on religion. All non-Shiite religious groups were targeted, most notably Bahais, but also Sufis, Christians, Jews, and Shia who do not share the government's religious views. All religious minorities suffered varying degrees of officially-sanctioned discrimination, particularly in employment, education, and housing. Bahais reported arbitrary arrest and prolonged detention, expulsions from universities, and confiscation of property. Government-controlled media intensified negative campaigns against Bahais and Christians.
Violent extremist attacks on members of all religions continued. While the overall magnitude of sectarian violence declined during the reporting period, Muslims of all sects were victims of mass-casualty attacks. The government continued to respect the right of citizens to practice their religion, and provided additional security to Christian communities and sites of worship throughout the country following the October 31, 2010, attack on Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad, which was widely condemned by religious and political leaders. The Prime Minister pledged government funds to repair the church. The Kurdistan Regional Government declared its region a temporary safe haven for Christians wishing to flee Baghdad.
Violence and hostility between Christian and Muslim communities increased. The government generally respected religious freedom in practice, although local political actors stoked sectarian violence with impunity, occasionally using religion as a catalyst. Sectarian violence was particularly acute in the Middle Belt region, the boundary between the predominantly Muslim North and the Christian South. Religious differences often paralleled and exacerbated differences between ethnic groups.
North Korea (CPC)
The government of the Democratic Republic of North Korea continued to violate individuals' right to choose and practice their religious faiths. The government reportedly used authorized religious entities for external propaganda and political purposes and barred citizens from entering places of worship. Some foreign visitors stated that church services appeared staged and included political content supportive of the government.
The government did not reform a blasphemy law that had been used to prosecute those who belong to religious minorities, and in some cases Muslims who promote tolerance. The government also used provisions of the penal code to prevent Ahmadis from practicing their religion. Members of other Islamic sects, Christians, Sikhs, and Hindus also reported governmental and societal discrimination. Despite some government steps to protect religious minorities, the government largely failed to take measures that could prevent societal intolerance and violence against religious minorities and Muslims promoting tolerance. The government of Pakistan rarely prosecuted perpetrators of extremist attacks, deepening the climate of impunity. The public discourse on the blasphemy laws intensified, which increased the government's reluctance to address them, and it distanced itself from a bill introduced by a member of the ruling party to amend the blasphemy laws to prevent abuse.
In 2010 the government brought criminal cases for the first time against individuals in possession of banned religious literature. Although conditions remained largely unrestricted for religious groups authorities deemed "traditional," the government continued to restrict the religious freedom of several "non-traditional" groups. Restrictions on religious freedom generally fell into four categories: registration of religious organizations; access to places of worship (including access to land and building permits); visas for foreign religious personnel; government raids on religious organizations; and detentions of individuals.
Saudi Arabia (CPC)
The public practice of any religion other than Islam is prohibited. There is no separation between state and religion, and the deep connection between the royal family and the religious establishment results in significant pressure on all citizens to adhere to the official government interpretation of Islam. The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (the religious police) and ministry of interior forces continued to raid private non-Muslim and non-Sunni Muslim religious gatherings and confiscated the personal religious materials of some non-Muslims.
Many non-Muslims reportedly worshiped in secret because of continuing fear of harassment, detention, or deportation. Shia Muslims (who comprise approximately 10-15 percent of the population), and some other Muslims who do not adhere to the government's interpretation of Islam, faced significant political, economic, legal, social, and religious discrimination, including limited employment and educational opportunities, underrepresentation in official institutions, restrictions on religious practice, and restrictions on places of worship and community centers. Shia in the Eastern Province are also subject to arbitrary arrests.
In the North, the Government of National Unity (GNU) generally did not respect religious freedom in law or practice, and there were some reports of societal abuses and discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice. The GNU continued to favor Islam and place some restrictions on religious minorities in the North. However, laws providing for imprisonment or death as punishment for conversion from Islam, and laws calling for imprisonment for blasphemy and defaming Islam were rarely enforced. The GNU has never carried out a death sentence for apostasy. It did occasionally subject converts to ostracism or intimidation or encouraged them to leave the country. The Government of Southern Sudan respected religious freedom, and there were no reports of abuse based on religious belief or practice in Southern Sudan.
The government banned religious groups it classified as "extremist" and the ministry of education banned wearing the hijab in schools and universities. Only Muslim men were permitted to go to mosques. The 2009 Law on Religion expanded the government's power to regulate religious communities and required all registered religious organizations to re-register by January 2010. Most religions completed re-registration by the deadline, although at least 28 mosques were "temporarily closed" by the government, and local officials reportedly obstructed efforts to register some new churches. The president ordered all students studying religion in foreign madrassahs without government approval to return to the country.
The government placed restrictions on both registered and unregistered religious groups. During the reporting period, the government registered one Muslim group, but denied registration to several others. Registered groups could not own property, print, or import religious materials. A Protestant pastor was convicted of extortion in a trial that reportedly involved serious procedural deficiencies. Authorities reportedly raided and arbitrarily detained members of Jehovah's Witnesses and continued to arrest and imprison members who conscientiously objected to military service.
The law restricts the religious freedom of unregistered groups and prohibits many activities, such as proselytizing. Heavy fines and short jail terms were imposed on violators from minority religious groups. The government continued to deal harshly with Muslims who discuss religious issues outside of sanctioned mosques but did not interfere with worshippers at sanctioned mosques. Traditional religious groups, including Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, and Russian Orthodox congregations, were permitted to operate.
Jewish leaders expressed concern about anti-Semitic expressions in official and government-affiliated media. For example on July 13, Diario Vea published a political cartoon depicting the Israeli foreign minister with half his face as Adolf Hitler, holding up his hand tattooed with a skull with sharp teeth and an Israeli flag on its forehead. Such expressions often increased following government criticism of Israeli government policies or actions.
In Vietnam the record was mixed. The government allowed hundreds of new places of worship to be built. But significant problems remained, especially at the provincial and village levels. These included slow, or no, approval of registration for some groups, including unrecognized Hoa Hao Buddhists and Protestant groups in the North and Northwest highlands.
There were also reports of harsh treatment of detainees after a protest over the closing of a Catholic cemetery in Con Dau parish. Moreover, the government re-imprisoned Father Nguyen Van Ly, a Catholic human rights defender who had been paroled 16 months earlier after suffering a series of strokes while being held in solitary confinement.