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 extremists."
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 group.
The report also identifies as religious abuse the practice of discriminating against certain religions by describing them as dangerous cults or sects.
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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