Washington -- The U.S. Department of State released its eighth annual
International Religious Freedom Report September 15. The 2006 report
examines countries' commitment to advancing religious freedom from July 1, 2005,
to June 30, 2006.
The International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 requires an annual review of
the status of religious freedom worldwide. The report to Congress documents
governments' actions that could be a barrier to religious freedom, including
repressing religious expression, persecuting people for their beliefs or
tolerating violence against religious minorities. The report also lists
governments that respect, protect and promote religious freedom.
In addition, the act requires designating countries that have "engaged in or
tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom" as a "country of
particular concern (CPC)." In November 2005, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
designated Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and
Vietnam as CPCs. The 2006 report reviews actions taken by the U.S. government to
advance international religious freedom in these countries.
The actions taken by the United States have varied with each CPC, according
to the report. For example, the United States has imposed a variety of trade
sanctions on Burma while in Eritrea, U.S. officials meet regularly with members
of religious communities. State Department leaders have also visited other
countries to promote religious freedom. In November 2005, Deputy Secretary of
State Robert Zoellick hosted an interfaith forum with Christian and Muslim
leaders in Khartoum, Sudan, and Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy,
Human Rights and Labor Barry Lowenkron held talks on religious freedom during a
February visit to Beijing.
Among the CPCs, Vietnam was cited for improving its overall respect for
religious freedom during the 2006 reporting period. In May 2005, Vietnam began
making improvements with new laws protecting religious activities.
The 2006 report considers a government broadly repressing peaceful religious
expression to be abusive. Additionally, the report states, "countries and
situations in which authorities' over-zealous actions taken against observant
believers suspected of extremism have had the principal effect of restricting
religious freedom. In some countries, for example, many are afraid to attend
mosque frequently lest the government characterize them as religious
The report cites countries that have enacted legislation favoring the
majority religion and discriminating against minority religions. "These
governments implement policies designed to demand that adherents recant their
faith, cause religious group members to flee the country, or intimidate and
harass certain religious groups," according to the report. This has happened in
some countries in which the government is dominated by a majority ethnic
The report also identifies as religious abuse the practice of discriminating
against certain religions by describing them as dangerous cults or sects.
The full texts of the 2006
report and previous
reports are available on the State Department Web site.
For more information, see International
Religious Freedom and Democracy Dialogues' Freedom
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information
Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)