Tuesday, April 30, 2013

USCIRF Issues 2013 Annual Report

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom today transmitted to the President, Secretary of State and Congressional leaders its Annual Report on religious freedom around the world. The report, which covers the period from Jan. 31, 2012 to Jan. 31, 2013, recommends that the Secretary of State re-designate 8 countries as "countries of particular concern" (CPCs) under the International Religious Freedom Act-- Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan. It also recommended that 7 other countries be newly designated as CPCs-- Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam. CPCs are those countries in which the most egregious violations of religious freedom have occurred. In Appendices, the Report sets out detailed lists of Bahai and Christian prisoners in Iran; prisoners in Pakistan who have been sentenced to death or life in prison for violation of blasphemy laws; and prisoners in Uzbekistan arrested or sentenced due to their Muslim religious activities.

USCIRF recommends that 8 other countries be placed in Tier 2, as countries where there are increasing violations of religious freedom-- Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Laos, and Russia. The Tier 2 designation replaces the "Watch List" that appeared in prior USCIRF Annual Reports.

Finally the Report reviews 7 other countries and regions that USCIRF is monitoring because of religious freedom concerns-- Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Ethiopia, Turkey, Venezuela, and Western Europe.  In its review of Western Europe, the Report says:
During the past few years there have been increasing restrictions on, and efforts to restrict, various forms of religious expression in Western Europe, particularly religious dress and visible symbols, ritual slaughter, religious circumcision, and the construction of mosques and minarets. These, along with limits on freedom of conscience and hate speech laws, are creating a growing atmosphere of intimidation against certain forms of religious activity in Western Europe. These restrictions also seriously limit social integration and educational and employment opportunities for the individuals affected.
The Report also urges the State Department to do more to implement the International Religious Freedom Act, including developing with the Department of Homeland Security a lookout list of aliens who should be denied admission because they are responsible for severe violations of religious freedom.