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article imageList of Countries Seriously Violating Religious Freedoms Grows

By Joan Firstenberg     May 1, 2009 in World
Thirteen countries of the world are listed by a U.S. government panel as "egregious" violators of religious freedom. New on the list are Russia, Turkey, Nigeria and Iraq.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a congressionally backed panel said Friday that religious freedoms are deteriorating in Russia, Turkey and four other nations, including Laos, Somalia, Tajikistan and Venezuela. Nigeria was named as a "country of particular concern" joining the above countries that the commission considers to be the world's worst violators.
On a brighter note, the commission removed Bangladesh from the watch list. Although the mostly Muslim country has a history of violence against minorities, especially Hindus, the country showed relatively little violence during the December elections and a 15-party alliance has now been sworn in to replace the two-year military backed interim government.
The panel recommended that unfolding events in Pakistan should be watched. At the time the report was published, emboldened Taliban extremists were advancing to within 60 million of the capital of Islamabad. The report also states....
"In the areas they already control, these groups are imposing draconian restrictions on human rights and religious freedom and engaging in brutal acts against individuals, particularly women and local police, who refused to accede to their repressive policies."
The federal commission is bipartisan, and its commissioners are appointed by the president and members of Congress. It gives Secretary of State Hillary Clinton the opportunity to enter into direct consultations with these governments to try to bring about improvements in religious freedom. The report details her role....
"While sanctions are a possible policy option, the secretary may decide to develop a binding agreement with the CPC government on specific actions that it will take to end the violations that gave rise to the designation or take a commensurate action. The secretary may determine that pre-existing sanctions are adequate or waive the requirement of taking action in furtherance of the Act."
Countries are placed on the watch list or the more serious "countries of particular concern" list because their governments either discriminate against people for religious reasons or are unwilling or unable to stop religious violence by their citizens.
On Russia, the panel found particularly objectionable "a new body in the Ministry of justice with unprecedented powers to control and monitor religious groups." It said the body was established early this year. It also decried "increasing violations of religious freedom by state officials, particularly against allegedly `nontraditional' religious groups and Muslims."
Turkey's problem was its interpretation of secularism. It has "resulted in religious freedom violations for many of the country's citizens, including members of majority and, especially, minority religious communities." It noted a constitutional court's overruling an effort by the government to let women wear Islamic head scarves in universities. It also criticized the government for refusing to recognize religious minorities as legal entities and state policies that effectively deny non-Muslim communities legal and religious rights.
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