A new report released this week by the U. S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) finds that religious freedom worldwide “has been under serious and sustained assault” since their 2015 report.
“By any measure, religious freedom abroad has been under serious and sustained assault since the release of our commission’s last Annual Report in 2015,” the report said. “From the plight of new and longstanding prisoners of conscience, to the dramatic rise in the numbers of refugees and internally displaced persons, to the continued acts of bigotry against Jews and Muslims in Europe, and to the other abuses detailed in this report, there was no shortage of attendant suffering worldwide.”
According to CNSNews.com, USCIRF Chairman Robert George told reporters in a conference call on Monday that “things have not improved and in some places things have gotten worse.”
“At best in most of the countries we cover, religious freedom conditions have failed to improve in any serious or demonstrable way. At worst, they’ve spiraled downward.”
The Commission is once again asking the U.S. State Department to designate Pakistan as a “country of particular concern,” or CPC, under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA).
The U.S. Department of State defines countries of particular concern as those nations that engage in, or tolerate, particularly severe violations of religious freedom where the abuses are “egregious, ongoing, and systematic.” These abuses include torture, degrading treatment or punishment, prolonged detention without charges, abduction or clandestine detention, or other flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty or the security of persons.
Designation as a CPC results in the imposition of sanctions.
Thus far, the CPC list includes Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
The Commission believes Pakistan belongs on this list due to its discriminatory “blasphemy law” which has been used to target religious minorities such as Christians. The unjust law has resulted in scores of prosecutions and imprisonments.
In addition, the Easter Sunday bombing in Lahore which killed 72 and injured 320, which was aimed at Christians celebrating the holiday, is just another example of the hardships being endured by the faithful in that country while the government does little to protect them.
“The government’s failure to provide adequate protection for likely targets of such violence or prosecute perpetrators has created a deep rooted climate of impunity,” the Commission reports.
The report also cites the country’s discriminatory content against minorities in provincial textbooks which remains a significant concern, as are reports of forced conversions and marriages of Christian and Hindu girls and women.
The Commission is also asking the government to designate seven other countries as countries of particular concern: Central African Republic, Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Syria, Tajikistan, and Vietnam.
The USCIRF also noted religious freedom issues in Western Europe, including an increase in anti-Semitism.
“Despite the increasing police protection in places where European Jews congregate, the rise in anti-Semitism has produced an exponential rise in Jewish emigration from Europe,” the report noted “with immigration to Israel from France increasing from less than 2,000 in 2012 to nearly 8,000 last year alone.”
George told reporters that while rhetoric may seem positive in some of the nations covered in the report, “there has been a continued gap between the rhetoric of the regime and the reality on the ground.”
He is calling upon the American people to get behind the cause for international religious freedom in order to prod the government into promoting this essential freedom in its foreign policy.
“Our interests and our values are really one. They’re not two separate things,” he said. “Protecting our interests does require advancing our values, including our belief in religious freedom.
“I think the more the American people get behind this, understand this, call on their own leaders to stand up for the cause, then our government will respond with greater attention to religious liberty issues in the formation and execution of our foreign policy,” he concluded. “We believe that can do a lot of good.”
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