A U.S. panel has issued its annual report on international religious freedom, naming 11 nations as serious violators. The commission added Uzbekistan to the list this year and removed India, where it says improvements have been made recently.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has named 11 nations it believes have tolerated or engaged in serious violations of religious freedom over the past year.
Commission chair, Preeta Bansal, says the listing is to be used in making U.S. foreign policy decisions, such as whether to impose sanctions or other measures.
"We make recommendations to Congress, to the White House and to the Secretary of State about policy recommendations about how best to promote religious freedom abroad," she said.
Later this year, the State Department will issue its own report on religious freedom around the world.
The commission added Uzbekistan this year to its list of "countries of particular concern," which includes Burma, North Korea, Eritrea, Iran, Pakistan, China, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan and Vietnam.
For Uzbekistan, Ms. Bansal expressed concern at a new law restricting religion, and says the commission found other problems during a visit to the former Soviet state last year.
"The Uzbek government continues to exercise a very high degree of control over the manner in which Islamic religion is practiced. For example, the government has closed about 3,000 of the 5,000 mosques that were opened in 1998," she noted.
Also this year, the Commission on International Religious Freedom removed India from its list, citing progress in religious freedom. It noted last year's parliamentary election defeat of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, which it says has ties to Hindu extremist groups. And it says the new government has vowed to halt and punish sectarian violence.
But, commission member Elizabeth Prodromou says political and religious violence is a growing concern in Bangladesh.
"More specifically, the high levels of political violence and instability have really provided opportunities for Muslim extremists to expand their influence. There is also evidence that perpetrators of violence against religious minorities in particular, Hindus, Ahmadis, Christians, have really acted with a good degree of impunity and have not been held accountable," she said.
The panel put Bangladesh on its Watch List of nations that raise concern, but do not show evidence of systematic violations of religious freedom. Also on the watch list are Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, Indonesia and Nigeria. This year the commission removed Laos and Georgia from that list thanks to progress there.
Commission officials say they are also monitoring conditions in Iraq, as the government prepares a draft constitution following the U.S.-led war. While Iraq is not on a commission list, chair Preeta Bansal, says developments there will have a major impact on the Middle East.
"In trying to emphasize the importance of making sure that freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief is enshrined in the Iraqi constitution, it's important to bear in mind that this is not about trying to impose American values. This is about recognizing international standards that many Muslim countries themselves have recognized," she explained.
Members of the Commission on International Religious Freedom are appointed by the White House and Congress and serve two-year terms.
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