WASHINGTON — The State Department’s newly released annual report on international religious freedom shows continued attacks and abuse by governments and societies against religious minorities in their respective countries.
The report, issued June 21, collected data on each nation for the year 2018. The China report itself is 87 pages long.
“The government continued to exercise control over religion and restrict the activities and personal freedom of religious adherents when the government perceived these as threatening state or Chinese Communist Party interests,” the report said. “There continued to be reports of deaths in custody and that the government tortured, physically abused, arrested, detained, sentenced to prison or harassed adherents of both registered and unregistered religious groups for activities related to their religious beliefs and practices.”
In Vietnam, “members of religious groups said some local and provincial authorities used the local and national regulatory systems to slow, delegitimize, and suppress religious activities of groups that resisted close government management of their leadership, training programs, assemblies, and other activities,” the report said, including “reports of severe harassment of religious adherents by authorities.”
In Saudi Arabia, “the government continued to imprison individuals accused of apostasy and blasphemy, violating Islamic values and moral standards, insulting Islam, black magic, and sorcery,” it said.
“Since 2004, Saudi Arabia has been designated as a ‘country of particular concern’ under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom,” the report added. “On Nov. 28, the secretary of state redesignated Saudi Arabia as a CPC, and announced a waiver of the sanctions that accompany designation.”
U.S. embassies “prepare the initial drafts of country chapters based on information from government officials, religious groups, nongovernmental organizations, journalists, human rights monitors, academics, media and others,” said the report’s introduction.
The State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom collects and analyzes additional information from separate sources as well.
The report includes disclaimers. “Motivations and accuracy of sources vary, however, and the Department of State is not in a position to verify independently all information contained in the reports,” it said. “The views of any particular source are not necessarily those of the United States government,” it added.
“Specific inclusions or omissions should not be interpreted as a signal that a particular case is of greater or lesser importance to the U.S. government,” the report noted.
A sampling of situations found in the report provide example after example of troubling situations.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, “international NGOs (nongovernmental organizations), media and religious organizations reported the government subjected religious organizations and leaders, most prominently Catholic, to intimidation, arbitrary arrest, and in some cases violence due to the Catholic Church’s support for credible elections, involvement in protest marches in January and February, and the implementation of the December 2016 Sylvester Agreement between the government and opposition parties,” the report said.
Not everything is a picture of worsening government and societal hostility toward religion. In Mauritania, for example, “for the first time in the country’s history, the government accredited an ambassador of the Holy See to the country. The MIATE (Ministry of Islamic Affairs and Traditional Education) continued to collaborate with independent Muslim religious groups as well as with foreign partners to combat extremism, radicalization, and terrorism through a series of workshops in all 15 provinces.”
Sam Brownback, U.S. ambassador at large for international religious freedom, accepted an invitation to testify on the report June 27 before the bipartisan congressional Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.
‘Robust’ religious freedom, education are key to countering attacks
Vatican’s observer to the U.N. commended proposed UN Plan of Action to Safeguard Religious Sites
By Catholic News Service
UNITED NATIONS — Many terrorist attacks and other violence
against houses of worship, religious sites and faith communities around
the world “are finally receiving the attention, condemnation and
committed response they deserve,” Archbishop Bernardito Auza said June
24 at the United Nations.
The archbishop, who is the Vatican’s
permanent observer to the U.N., spoke of the attacks on Pittsburgh
synagogues, on Catholic churches and an evangelical community in Sri
Lanka, on Christians in some regions of Nigeria, in Iraq and Syria, and
countless other such attacks.
“It is a big step in the right
direction that the international community is calling attention to these
attacks through General Assembly Resolution 73/285, the recently
proposed U.N. Plan of Plan of Action to Safeguard Religious Sites and
other mechanisms,” he said.
But at the same time, “even the best
international instruments are not enough,” Archbishop Auza said. “There
is a need to focus on the responsibility and actions of states to
protect all of their citizens equally as well as to address with vigor
the cultural factors necessary to promote tolerance and inclusivity.”
archbishop outlined several actions he said were needed to achieve such
tolerance and inclusivity, starting with “a robust promotion of the
right to freedom of conscience, religion and belief.”
respect and ensure (this) freedom … fosters an environment in which
believers’ other rights, including their right to life, are more easily
violated,” he said.
“A second step is guaranteeing the equality of
all citizens before the law, regardless of their religious or ethnic
identity, as a basic demand of justice,” Archbishop Auza stated.
also called for appealing “to all political, social and religious
leaders to condemn the use of religion to incite hatred and violence or
to justify acts of oppression, exile, murder or terrorism.”
Also needed are “a real commitment to intercultural and interreligious dialogue” and “effective education,” the prelate said.
On the education front, Archbishop Auza said, “Society reaps what it sows.”
he continued, teaching in schools, pulpits and through the internet
must “not foment intransigence and extremist radicalization” but instead
train students in “dialogue, reverence for the dignity of others,
reconciliation, justice, and respect for the rule of law,” he said.
education gives people, especially the young, the ability critically to
assess the destructive narratives and appeals of demagogues,” he said,
“as well as the confidence to proclaim and live as citizens a different
and constructive message.”