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Global religious freedom commission cites 28 key nations for ‘ongoing downward trend …

Cover of the “United States Commission on International Religious Freedom: 2018 Annual Report.” Image courtesy of USCIRF

(RNS) — The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom cited more than two dozen countries as main contributors to an “ongoing downward trend” in religious liberty worldwide and called on the Trump administration to prioritize the release of religious prisoners and assist in resettling refugees fleeing persecution.

“Sadly, religious freedom conditions deteriorated in many countries in 2017, often due to increasing authoritarianism or under the guise of countering terrorism,” said USCIRF Chairman Daniel Mark as the independent watchdog issued its 2018 report on Wednesday (April 25).

“Yet there is also reason for optimism 20 years after the passage of the International Religious Freedom Act. The importance of this foundational right is appreciated more now than ever, and egregious violations are less likely to go unnoticed.”

The report noted the range of severe abuses in 28 countries, from what the U.S. and U.N. have labeled “ethnic cleansing” of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar (also known as Burma) to persecution of Tibetan Buddhists, Uighur Muslims and Falun Gong practitioners in China. It cited the so-called Islamic State’s continuing “genocidal campaign” against Christians, Yazidis and Shiite Muslims; Russia’s harsh treatment of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims and Scientologists; and “the continued unjust detention” of U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson in Turkey.

As it did in 2017, the commission asks the State Department to redesignate 10 nations as “countries of particular concern,” or CPCs, for egregious religious freedom violations: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

A map of the countries of particular concern in the “United States Commission on International Religious Freedom: 2018 Annual Report.” Image courtesy of USCIRF

It also reiterated its request that the department add six countries to that list: Central African Republic, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Syria and Vietnam.

Mark told reporters in a conference call that the repeated requests should not be viewed as a “status quo move” but rather the result of continuing monitoring of each country. He pointed to the example of Russia, which was added to the list of suggested CPCs last year.

“All the news has only confirmed that move and suggested that the State Department should take a very serious look, for example, at Russia and the others as well,” said Mark, an assistant professor of political science at Villanova University.

The commission also recommended the State Department designate as “entities of particular concern” organizations its members consider severe religious freedom violators: the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS; the Taliban in Afghanistan; and al-Shabab in Somalia.

Commissioners traveled to a dozen countries in 2017 and early 2018 to assess religious freedom conditions, prioritizing religious prisoners of conscience, blasphemy laws and the connections between women’s equality and freedom of belief. Two commission members visited Brunson in late 2017, becoming the first Americans to visit him outside family and consular staff, Mark said.


READ: US pastor Andrew Brunson accused of using Christianity as part of a terrorist plot


“This is a man who had just gone about his business peacefully for more two decades and with no warning whatsoever was swept up in this horrible thing, accused of aiding terrorists and extremism and so on and facing a life sentence,” he said. “So the chilling effect is incalculable.”

In their report, commissioners requested that the Trump administration provide sufficient funding for the office of the international religious freedom ambassador, a post recently filled by former Sen. Sam Brownback. They also called for prioritizing the release of people “imprisoned for their religious beliefs, activity, identity, or religious freedom advocacy” and the resettlement of refugees fleeing religious persecution.

The report noted the commission’s ongoing concerns about the administration’s expansion of “expedited removal” procedures in which Department of Homeland Security officials deport some noncitizens.

“We find that those in charge are not sufficiently sensitive to concerns of religious persecution at home,” Mark told reporters. “It’s important that when people come with credible fear of persecution if they return home, that that be acknowledged and treated appropriately under the law.”

In addition to the CPCs, the report also cited 12 “Tier 2” countries that are considered to be less problematic but still violators of religious freedom: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Cuba, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Laos, Malaysia and Turkey.

About the author

Adelle M. Banks

Adelle M. Banks, production editor and a national reporter, joined RNS in 1995. An award-winning journalist, she previously was the religion reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and a reporter at The Providence Journal and newspapers in the upstate New York communities of Syracuse and Binghamton.

66 Comments

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  • Let me guess: these infractions on religious freedom on the other side of the world have nothing to do with companies being forced to pay for contraception coverage in their emoyees’ health care plans.

  • I’m ready now for that pop quiz.

    TRUE OR FALSE: “The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom … [is an] independent watchdog … travel[ing] to … countries … to assess religious freedom conditions”.

    FALSE. Because, their “commission members visited [Andrew] Brunson … to assess religious freedom conditions”, then without further ado, just like that, without so much as reviewing reports from the Daily Sabah, described his “religious freedom conditions” as a “‘continued unjust detention’ … in Turkey.”

    The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is up to something. And it isn’t for “Religious Freedom”!

  • Does this commission also include those who are imprisoned for no religion? Such as Raif Badawi?

  • I don’t think this appeal will get far. Trump’s administration is notoriously hostile to refugees. In fact, most of his supporters were panicking at the notion of allowing refugees to enter the U.S., since they’re apparently ‘potential terrorists.’

  • I’m surprised that the US isn’t included due to their persecution of evangelical and fundamentalist Christians. ?

  • Are you saying that any of these countries are not curtailing religious freedom for some (or all) of its citizens?

  • Can these statistics be correct? I see no mention of all the good Christians being horifically persecuted for hewing true to Jesus’ command not to bake cakes or pizza pies for filthy sinners.

    As we all know, denying cakes and pizzas to dirty sinners was at the very top of Jesus’ list of commands — right after, “Do unto others as you would have done unto you,” and “Whatsoever you do to the least of these, you do to me.”

    As we all know, too, being held to the same non-discrimination laws that govern everyone else in the nation: that’s a step away from facing the lions in the Coliseum.

    The persecution of Christians in the U.S. — who understand Jesus’ message about cakes and pizzas better than Christians anywhere else in the world — is beyond brutal, and surely should have been noted on this list of brutal persecution of religious people around the world.

  • What utter nonsense. Ultra-conservative Xians are the ones who elected Trump, the guy who has made it clear that he would like to reduce religious liberty for most Americans by having government force all taxpayers to support private religious schools and who opposes women’s rights of conscience on abortion.

  • According to Mehmet Solmaz, “The other side of the coin in Turkish media: The Turkish media landscape is more diverse than critics of the government would have you think – here’s what you possibly didn’t know”, Middle East Eye, 10 December 10, 2015:

    “[The] media landscape [in Turkey is] dominated by opposition papers … Statistically speaking, the five best-selling papers are the Zaman, Hurriyet, Sozcu, Posta and Sabah, totaling 2,029,958 papers a day on average from 23 November to 30 November. Only Sabah is pro-government as the other four strongly oppose the AK Party [‘the ruling Justice and Development Party’], and above all [‘Turkish President Recep Tayyip’] Erdogan. Overall, 65 percent of the daily newspapers in Turkey openly call themselves anti-AK Party and five percent remains in the grey area, while remaining 30 percent support the government. The cases of arrests of journalists are mainly with issues related to breaking the law, but even when taking them into account, the bulk of media coverage has been and remains anti-government – uninterrupted. In many cases, those detained are released, despite the fact that had they acted in such a manner that in the West they would have been fired, sued or even jailed. They include journalists who … [1] accused the president of giving the orders for the Ankara bombing … [2] of sending weapons to ISIS … [3] ma[de] allusions to coup attempts [against Erdogan] as a solution … [4] prompt[ed] coups against democracy, using media freedom as a shield for their anti-democratic steps … [5] implied Erdogan will face the same fate of [‘former Egyptian president Mohamed’] Morsi. … It is important to remember that such rhetoric is not harmless in a country where the military – backed by some quarters of the press – toppled four democratically elected governments.”

  • There is status of religious freedom; and there is status of religious freedom ACCORDING TO THE UNITED STATES COMMISSION ON INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM (USCIRF). Do recognize the former based on your own research, but don’t trust the latter. Why? Because:

    (1) The USCIRF’s watch lists for India as a Country of Particular Concern in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2009 and 2010 were deemed “fiction … biased … [and] surpassing Goebbels” by B. Sandeep, Surpassing Goebbels”, The Pioneer, August 19, 2009.

    (2) The USCIRF’s inspection visit to Egypt in 2001 was seen as “a vile campaign against Egypt [and a] foreign intervention in [the Egyptians’] internal affairs”, according to Omayma Abdel-Latif in Al-Ahram Weekly, March 22–28, 2001.

    (3) A former USCIRF policy analyst, Safiya Ghori-Ahmad, had accused the organization of being anti-Muslim, according to Michelle Boorstein, “Agency that monitors religious freedom abroad accused of bias”, Washington Post, February 17, 2010.

    (4) While a USCIRF Commissioner, Richard Land wrote the book Imagine! in 2005, wherein he judges Hindu culture and tradition as both “superstitious [and] cruel”.

  • I am unaware of any Christians being persecuted for refusing to sell cakes or pizza pies to “filthy sinners”.

    There is a case in Colorado involving a baker who refused to design a custom cake for a same sex wedding, but that involves free speech issues, not cakes per se.

  • Adelle Banks needs to look at religious freedom in UK as it is on its way out under the heel of the fascists who allow Muslims to rant and rave while Christians must be silenced on pain of imprisonment – they can’t behead us just yet!

  • abortion is murder.
    obviously has the entire life on Earth has been deterioration for 6,000 years since Eve ate that fruit there are lots of feotuses that are best aborted.

  • Revelation 22:15 Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

  • Sam Brownback’s credentials as a Christian fundamentalist disqualifies him and his “Commission” from being an arbiter of anything religious (or anything else). This whole effort is just a sham to pander to his gullible Evangelical base.

  • The smiley face at the end was a big clue. But in case that was a later edit that you had not seen at the time of posting your original reply, I double-checked Jim’s history of comments to be sure, and noticed a pattern that firmly places him on the side of reason.

  • Abortion is not murder. A fetus is not considered a human life.
    Exodus 21:22-23

    The Bible places no value on fetuses or infants less than one month old.
    Leviticus 27:6
    Numbers 3:15-16

    God sometimes approves of killing fetuses.
    Numbers 31:15-17
    Hosea 9:14-16
    Hosea 13:16

    God sometimes causes abortions by cursing unfaithful wives.
    Numbers 5:21-21, 27-28

    God’s law sometimes requires the execution (by burning to death) of pregnant women.
    Genesis 38:24

  • Precisely.
    Falsehood is claiming to be hurt because one baker in town won’t bake a cake. I wouldn”t either.

  • What GOD does to or approves of being done to pagans and the immoral is no justification fo rabortion.

  • There’s something wrong with the language of this study. Real religious freedom (as opposed to religious privilege) in the U.S. is on a “downward trend,” but the U.S. is not on the list of countries of concern.

  • Thanks. The Wikipedia page, as far as I could tell, did not say whether this commission was taking up his cause. That is the point. Religious freedom also means free to have no religion.

  • In the United States religious freedom also means freedom to have no religion.

    In Muslim countries there is generally some form of religious pluralism, which is a more restrictive view.

  • No, I’m serious. Real religious freedom (i.e., the freedom to believe in any religion or no religion) is on a “downward trend” in the U.S. So why isn’t the U.S. listed as a country of concern?

  • Your dehumanization of entire groups of people based on their religious opinions is repugnant. A perfect example of why religion is harmful and ultimately evil.

  • There are several major organizations that protect religious freedom. I belong to two of them. Please give an example of losing religious freedom.

  • My name has absolutely no bearing on the validity of the opinions, evidence, and facts that I present. You’re just deflecting because you know that your stance is indefensible.

    But, if you really need a name other than my current avatar, you can call me Enewetak. 😉

  • This is why I was asking if the Commission was doing anything about Raif, or the Atheists in other countries, such as Bangladesh.

  • I belong to several of those organizations as well, and they all agree with me that discrimination against religious minorities is increasing in the U.S. Violent crime against religious minorities is also increasing. Almost weekly there is state or federal legislation proposed that would impinge the rights of religious minorities and/or non-religious persons. All of this constitutes a “downward trend” in religious freedom.

  • I don’t know what a “Sheldonite fairytale” is. But I’ll gladly accept the label of humanist. I love humankind, and I want to see humanity flourish. I believe love, compassion, empathy, reason, and intellect are the best tools we have for solving societal problems, and creating a sustainable future for life on earth. Theology, religious dogma, superstition and other forms of magical thinking might be good for light entertainment, but not much else.

  • You will need to give examples. I cannot think of any recent incident or legislation that has impinged on religious freedoms.

  • Please put a smiley or something to let us know if this is satire. This is a clear example Poe’s Law.

  • Calling GOD a Nazi is childishness exemplified.
    Better learn and repent or be slaughtered when Jesus returns.

  • Sit on your po like a good little child until you have emptied all the excrement from yourself.

  • Sarch. your friend Satan is delighted you fell for his lies.
    Unfortunately humanity is far from flourishing under Satan’s rule but shortly Jesus will return to end that rule and make the Christians flourish.
    If you think it a shame to miss that you might try learning the Gospel and stop watching Sheldon and BigBang.

  • You are the person who said it was OK to kill outgroup people. If that is not a definition of Nazism.

    Also, you need to go back and read the Gospels. Threatening me with Jesus’ vengeance is the opposite of what the Gospels teach.

  • That’s absurd. I don’t know who Sheldon is. You’re the one with imaginary friends, not me. Satan is just another mythical character like Yahweh and all the other ancient gods. I have read the “gospels” many times. They’re just legends written by highly superstitious people who didn’t know much about how the world works. The texts themselves contain proof of their own unreliability. Christians have been threatening people with the immanent return of Jesus for 2,000 years. He’s not coming back. Get over it.

  • (1) According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, “the number of anti-Muslim hate groups in the U.S. has steadily increased for the past few years, reaching it’s highest level in 2017…” When the personal safety of citizens is in danger simply because they belong to a minority faith, that sounds like a downward trend in relgious freedom to me.

    (2) In addition, “During 2017, thirteen states introduced anti-Sharia bills…” That sounds like a downward trend in religious freedom to me.

    (3) Studies have shown that incidents of anti-Muslim violence and harrassment spike in correlation with the President’s anti-Muslim rhetoric. When the president’s words routinely inspire individuals to harm religious minorities, that sounds like a downward trend in religious freedom to me.

    (4) Trump’s multiple attempts to enact a discriminatory Muslim ban sounds like a downward trend in religious freedom to me.

    (5) There are more laws and policies than I can name that impinge religious freedom by damaging/undermining the separation of church and state. For example, many states have enacted school voucher programs that use public taxpayer dollars to fund religious education. So, I’m being compelled by the government to pay for religious instruction that I do not agree with. That’s an infringement of religious freedom.

    (6) The Supreme Court’s Trinity Lutheran decision is a violation of the separtion of church and state.

    (7) FEMA’s policy change to allow public funds to be used to rebuild houses of worship is a violation of the separation of church and state.

    (8) Virtually every proposed anti-LGBTQ bill (concerning everything from marriage equality to adoption to access to baked goods) is faith-based, and therefore constitutes a violation of the separation of church and state.

    (9) The many legal disputes over women’s health issues (e.g. birth control) are faith-based, and therefore constitute a violation of the separation of church and state.

    (10) Christian-only prayers/invocations allowed at school board meetings, city council meetings, and state legislatures across the country are a violation of the separation of church and state.

    (11) New state laws permitting/requiring “in God we trust” signage in public schools is a violation of the separation of church and state.

    This is only a partial list, but I think it suffices to demonstrate a “downward trend” in religious freedom in the U.S.

  • Well played. You threw me a curve, and I totally missed it. Most people on these forums would be complaining about the evils of having to treat Gay people as humans, or not getting to post the Ten Comandments in every classroom.

  • LOL. Humanists say let’s work together!” That’s your good friend Satan’s plan for the one world government based in Jerusalem consisting of the false Jews, Catholics and Muslims – and all who refuse to accept tehir demands to worship the abomination of desolation will be beheaded.
    Good luck with your one world government.

  • I told you, I don’t have any imaginary friends. Satan is a mythical character invented by superstitious people like you in order to explain things that they couldn’t otherwise understand.

    What evidence do you have that any of the wacky fairy-tales that you believe in are true? And don’t say the bible. The bible is the claim, not the evidence. What evidence can you cite that demonstrates that the claim is true?

    (I’m even starting to suspect that you might be pulling my leg. Your ideas are just too obviously goofy for any sane person to espouse.)

  • Yeah, I thought we might’ve had our wires crossed. Reading some of your previous comments, it looks like we are on the same wavelength for the most part. Nice to meet a like-minded thinker. Stay strong!

  • Does Sheldonite refer to Big Bang Theory? If so, that is ironic after her Star Wars crack.

  • Prove it. And if “god” is going to kill them, then why do you need guns to “keep them in line?”

  • Prove it. And what kind of “god” would “slaughter” billions of people just because they don’t believe in him? The god you worship sounds like a childish, tantrum-throwing, maniacal dictator. The god you describe does not deserve to be worshiped, even if he did exist (which he doesn’t).

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