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People prayed at a Catholic service outside the Legislative Council building in Hong Kong as they protested the extradition bill with China June 11. The U.S. 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.
People prayed at a Catholic service outside the Legislative Council building in Hong Kong as they protested the extradition bill with China June 11. The U.S. 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.
Photo Credit: Thomas Peter | Reuters

Report details attacks on, abuses against religious freedom worldwide

State Department’s annual report on religious freedom included 87 pages of information on China

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.”

A member of the police bomb squad unit examines the site of a May 12, 2018, explosion outside Santa Maria Catholic Church in Surabaya, Indonesia. The U.S. 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.
Photo Credits: CNS photo/ M Risyal Hiday, Antara Foto via Reuters
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.”

The 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.”

“Failure to 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.

He 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.”

Therefore, 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.

“Proper 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.”


From the Archive Module

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