The U.S. State Department’s annual International Religious Freedom Report noted problems with religious freedom in many of the nations it tracked in previous reports: North Korea, China, Pakistan, Sudan, Nigeria and Vietnam, among others. The list of countries troubled by religious intolerance includes some nations allied with or supported by the United States. The report cited growing religious persecution in Arab Spring countries—Egypt, Tunisia and Libya—that have overthrown autocratic governments with American support. Even as these countries experienced at least nominally democratic transitions since 2011, the report notes that they have adopted restrictive new laws or carried out persecutions against minority faiths.
“The report chronicles discrimination and violence in countries ranging from established democracies to entrenched dictatorships,” said Secretary of State John Kerry, introducing the report at a press briefing on May 20. “It documents that governments around the globe continue to detain, imprison, torture and even kill people for their religious beliefs. In too many places, governments are also failing to protect minorities from social discrimination and violence.” The report identified global problems of discrimination and violence against religious groups, including Baha’is, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Christians, Muslims and Sikhs.
Kerry said laws against blasphemy and apostasy are increasingly used “to repress dissent, to harass political opponents and to settle personal vendettas.” He said such laws “violate fundamental freedoms of expression and religion, and we believe they ought to be repealed.”
The State Department’s report included updates on “countries of particular concern”—Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan. In these states religious minorities experience “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom...such as: torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; prolonged detention without charges; causing the disappearance of persons by the abduction or clandestine detention of those persons; or other flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty, or the security of persons.”
Religious freedoms declined in China last year, according to the report, a problem highlighted by punitive actions against Christians, Muslims and Buddhists in Tibet, where 82 monks, nuns or laypeople killed themselves in acts of self-immolation in 2012. The report tracked arrests in Saudi Arabia, which prohibits all faiths except Islam. In Pakistan blasphemy laws “have been abused to settle personal disputes and silence legitimate political discourse,” the report said. It cited the case of Rimsha Masih, a 14-year-old Christian girl who faced blasphemy charges last year that were dropped only after national and international protests.