US sees serious religious freedom problems in Pakistan
Daily Times, September 15, 2007
WASHINGTON: The US State Department’s annual report on religious freedoms around the world notes “continued deterioration of the extremely poor status of respect for religious freedom” in Iran and highlights “serious problems” in Pakistan.
‘Report on International Religious Freedom’ published on Friday warns that religious freedom conditions have worsened in insurgency-wracked Iraq as well as Egypt, while communist China has embarked on a crackdown on foreign missionaries ahead of the Olympics. Religious freedom is “integral to our efforts to combat the ideology of hatred and religious intolerance that fuels global terrorism,” said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as she launched the 800-page report in Washington.
Amid intra-sectarian Muslim violence, religious worship conditions “deteriorated” over the past year in Iraq with the ongoing insurgency “significantly” harming the ability of people to practice their faith, according to the report.
“Many individuals from various religious groups were targeted because of their religious identity or their secular leanings,” the report said of the situation in Iraq where US troops are facing an uphill battle to restore order.
In Egypt, a key US ally, respect for religious freedom has “declined”, the report said, citing particularly a court ruling this year that reinstated a policy not to provide a legal means for converts from Islam to Christianity to amend their civil records. “There are cases where converts have been held and sometimes received physical abuse,” US special envoy for international religious freedom John Hanford told a briefing.
One convert released after 25 months has his life now “under threat,” he pointed out.
The report also highlighted religious repression in China, which reportedly expelled more than 100 foreign missionaries in the spring of 2007 in what some groups alleged was a “government-initiated” campaign to tighten control on Christian house churches ahead of the Olympics next year.
There were also “credible reports of deaths due to torture and abuse” involving practitioners of the Falun Gong spiritual sect who “continued to face arrest, detention and imprisonment.” Beijing is imposing “extremely harsh treatment” on those determined to have religious contact in China, Hanford lamented.
The report transmitted to Congress on Friday, is a precursor to the announcement each year of a blacklist of countries “of particular concern” that are subject to US sanctions for religious repression.
Iran headed last year’s list alongside China, Eritrea, Myanmar, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan. afp