The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released its lists of countries that egregiously violate religious freedom and those that it's keeping an eye on. The situation in these countries is not just bad; it must show "intent and a pattern of recurrent affirmative acts of abuse on the part of the government."
The annual report, released today, is put together by a bi-partisan group who send their recommendations to the State Department. Theoretically, this could lead to sanctions if the State Department declares them Countries of Particular Concern (CPCs). However, Condoleeza Rice signed off on the official list of CPC's in January - two years late.
USCIRF named 13 countries this year. Since 2008's list, they have added Nigeria (slightly surprising) and Iraq:
? Burma is on the list primarily for its crackdown on monks, although the government also persecutes ethnic Christians and Muslims. "In addition, a new law passed in early 2009 essentially bans independent religious activity in house churches."
? In the Democratic People?s Republic of Korea (North Korea), the National Security Agency runs all legal houses of worship. "Anyone discovered engaging in clandestine religious practice faces official discrimination, arrest imprisonment, and possibly execution."
? Eritrea's religious prisoners often die of "ill treatment, denial of medical care, or torture." Their ban on public religious activity extends to social gatherings in private homes.
? In Iran, "official rhetoric and government policy resulted in a deterioration in conditions for nearly all non-Shi?a religious groups, most notably for Baha?is, as well as Sufi Muslims, Evangelical Christians, and members of the Jewish community."
? Iraqi religious minorities, particularly Christian groups, are subject to targeted violence and other campaigns to get them to move away.
? Nigeria made the list for the communal religious violence that made the news in late 2008 - and the lack of an effective response from the government.
? Pakistan, like Nigeria, tolerates religious violence. It also has anti-blasphemy laws with harsh punishments.
? People?s Republic of China has shown some deterioration in an already bad situation. USCIRF draws attention to their persecution of Uighur Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists.
? Saudi Arabia has made some limited reforms, but it continues to be intolerant of all but a narrow form of Islam, and to promote extremism.
? The Islamist government of Sudan supports attacks on its own people, especially the Christians and animists in the country's south.
? Turkmenistan, two years after the death of their dictator, Turkmenbashi, hasn't seen enough reforms to get off the CPC list. Churches are raided, and students are forced to have an education based on Turkmenbashi's spirituality book/autobiography, Ruhnama.
? Uzbekistan's government tries to maintain tight control over religious activity. Most of the victims are Muslims it claims are extremists. Several thousand Muslims are in custody without fair trials in sight.
? USCIRF says that while Vietnam made some improvements in response to being designated a CPC, Protestants and some others haven't been given adequate freedoms.
Currently, eight of those countries (all but Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam) are on the State Department's list of CPCs.
While Christians are persecuted in nearly all these countries (none is majority-Christian, although Nigeria is close), many of them are Muslim countries that persecute Muslims of minority sects.
USCIRF's watch list - a sort of runner's up of offending countries - shows evidence of degenerating rights in NATO nation Turkey and Russia. The commission removed Bangladesh and added Laos, Somalia, Tajikistan, and Venezuela since last year.
The 274-page report also criticizes the implementation of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, addresses "efforts of some member states at the United Nations to limit free speech and freedom of religion by banning the so-called ?defamation of religions," and comments on the U.S. system of dealing with asylum seekers.
Thomas Farr spoke with CT recently about why America's international religious freedom policy needs reform.