Reuters: North Korea and Iran were among the world's worst offenders in abusing religious freedom, the U.S. State Department said on Monday in an annual report spotlighting countries Washington charges with severe religious repression. By Andrew Quinn
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – North Korea and Iran were among the world's worst offenders in abusing religious freedom, the U.S. State Department said on Monday in an annual report spotlighting countries Washington charges with severe religious repression.
North Korea, often cited as among the harshest opponents of religious liberty, continued to block almost all unapproved religious activity while Iran's Islamic government saw already limited religious tolerance deteriorate, creating a threatening environment for religious minorities, the report said.
The report cited six other countries for egregious violations of religious freedom over the past year — Myanmar, China, Sudan, Eritrea, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan — the same list that the State Department provided last year. Offenders can be subject to U.S. sanctions.
"It is our hope that the … report will encourage existing religious freedom movements around the world and promote dialogue among governments and within societies on how best to accommodate religious communities and protect each individual's right to believe or not believe as that individual sees fit," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.
Michael Posner, the State Department's top official for democracy and human rights, said President Barack Obama's call this year for a "new beginning" between the United States and Muslims around the world did not mean sidelining important issues such as religious liberty.
"Religious freedom is a fundamental right, a social good, a source of stability, and a key to international security," Posner said in the introduction to the report.
The annual report, compiled from sources including journalists, academics, non-governmental organizations, and human rights and religious groups, provides a long list of both setbacks and progress on religious freedom around the world.
SHARP CRITICISM FOR IRAN
North Korea, which U.S. officials believe has between 150,000 and 200,000 people in political prison camps, some for religious reasons, has been on the U.S. list since 2001.
"Genuine religious freedom does not exist," the report said, noting that North Korea — which does not have formal diplomatic relations with the United States — continues to block almost all independent assessment of conditions within its borders.
Iran also came in for sharp criticism. The Islamic Republic reportedly imprisoned, harassed and intimidated people based on their religious beliefs, while government-controlled broadcast and print media intensified negative campaigns against religious minorities over the period under review, the report said.
Saudi Arabia, a diplomatic ally of the United States, officially bars open practice of any religion besides the state's version of Sunni Islam. But the report said that in practice most people may worship in private.
But it added that in some cases this was not honored, while Shi'a Muslims were at times subjected to religious and judicial discrimination.
China, which U.S. President Barack Obama is due to visit in November, was cited for some improvements, including allowing increased tolerance for some religious groups the government sees as non-threatening.
But the report criticized Beijing for severe religious repression in Tibet and in the western region of Xinjiag, which saw a wave of violence in July following a crackdown on protests by traditionally Muslim Uighurs.
Beijing also repressed the activities of "underground" Roman Catholic clergy, largely because they remain loyal to the Vatican, and restricted what it designates as "evil religions" such as several Christian groups and Falun Gong, the report said.
(Editing by Vicki Allen)