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US religious freedom panel finds conditions ‘worsening’ around the globe

WASHINGTON — Conditions for religious freedom are “worsening” around the globe, a U.S. government body monitoring international religious freedom said in a recent report.

In its 2023 report, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom identified “regression” last year in countries including Afghanistan, China, Cuba, Iran, Nicaragua and Russia. The annual report by the independent, bipartisan commission makes recommendations to the U.S. government for the promotion and protection of religious freedom abroad.

USCIRF recommended that the State Department designate 17 countries as “Countries of Particular Concern” due to governments that engage in or tolerate “systematic, ongoing and egregious violations” of religious freedom. Twelve of those nations — Burma (Myanmar), China, Cuba, Eritrea, Iran, Nicaragua, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan — were designated as such by the State Department in November 2022. The report made five additional recommendations: Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, Syria and Vietnam.

“USCIRF is disheartened by the deteriorating conditions for freedom of religion or belief in some countries — especially in Iran, where authorities harassed, arrested, tortured, and sexually assaulted people peacefully protesting against mandatory hijab laws, alongside their brutal continuing repression of religious minority communities,” USCIRF Chair Nury Turkel said.

The report details difficult circumstances for some people of faith in those nations, such as China’s “attempts to eradicate Uyghurs,” human rights violations amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine including the suppression of some religious communities, and the regime of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s persecution of Catholic leaders.

Stephen Schneck, USCIRF commissioner, said that “the situation for religious freedom or freedom of belief around the world is worsening.”

“I liken it to a virus spreading around the world where religion is itself being weaponized and used in nationalistic and often authoritarian circumstances against other religions,” Schneck said. “It’s very worrisome to see this combination of religion and government working against the space in which religious freedom and freedom of belief have traditionally operated.”

Praising the federal government’s response to the persecution of Catholic leaders in Nicaragua, Schneck said the U.S. is responding correctly but should ramp up its efforts to include congressional hearings. He also called for a more vocal response from the Vatican.

Helsinki Commission examines Russia’s attack on religious liberty in Ukraine

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine also has been an attack on religious liberty in the country, witnesses and lawmakers said at a hearing of the U.S. Helsinki Commission April 27.

The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, is an independent U.S. government agency created in 1976 that monitors and encourages compliance with the Helsinki Accords, a major but nonbinding international agreement aimed at reducing Cold War tensions between the Soviet and Western blocs by their acceptance of a post-World War II order in Europe.

In a hearing at the Capitol, Reps. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., chairman and ranking member of the Helsinki Commission, respectively, expressed concern about the Putin regime’s use of the state-run Russian Orthodox Church in an effort to achieve its ends in the invasion of Ukraine.

Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, has backed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, equating it to a defense of the Orthodox faith, despite international condemnation.

“War has made life dangerous for many Christians in occupied areas of Ukraine, who not only have to worry about their physical safety, but the protection of other freedoms, including the right to believe and worship according to one’s conscience,” Wilson said. “Occupation authorities have used various tactics to deny believers the right to practice their faith, including by de facto banning religious groups not approved by the Russian-led occupation’s government and destroying religious materials.”

From the Archive Module

US religious freedom panel finds conditions worsening around the globe 8626

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