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Imprisonment, torture and murder as part of religious persecution will continue unchecked around the world unless the United States takes economic or diplomatic action to curb such practices, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

The commission, in its annual report, released May 12, also warned about the future of religious freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan, two nations in which the United States has been conducting wars to topple oppressive regimes. It called on the United States to support "moderate" Muslims and encourage explicit guarantees of individual religious freedom in the two countries' permanent constitutions.

Afghanistan's constitution provides a general right to religious freedom while Iraq's transitional law has more specific protections.

"With no guarantee of the individual right to religious freedom and a judicial system instructed to enforce Islamic principles and Islamic law, the new constitution does not fully protect individual Afghan citizens against, for example, unjust accusations of religious `crimes,' such as apostasy and blasphemy," the report said.

While Afghanistan's constitution allows for non-Muslims to practice their religion, it does not allow any laws contrary to Islam.

The panel was created in 1998 to monitor and advise the government on international religious rights.

In its newest report, it called on President Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell and Congress to take steps such as providing human rights training or withholding support for international loans to countries with records of severe religious persecution.

The 10-member commission added six countries to five it had earlier identified as being of particular concern for religious persecution, or for tolerating ...

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July 2004

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