Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Egypt remains on US list of worst religious freedom violators

Egypt is still among the world's worst violators of religious freedom, according to a U.S. commission whose 2012 report has named it as a “country of particular concern” for the second year in a row. 

“In Egypt, an epicenter of the Arab Spring, hope turned to dismay, as human rights conditions, particularly religious freedom abuses, worsened dramatically under military rule,” the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom stated in its report released March 20.

The report covers the period from April 1, 2011 – two months after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak resigned – to Feb. 29, 2012. Other countries cited for violations during the same period include Burma, China, Iraq, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkey, and Vietnam.

During the reporting period, the commission found that Egyptian authorities “continued to prosecute and sentence citizens charged with blasphemy and allowed official media to incite violence against religious minority members, while failing to protect them or to convict responsible parties.”

According to the commission, the police and courts “fostered a climate of impunity in the face of repeated attacks against Coptic Christians and their churches.” 

In October 2011, security forces were accused of shooting Coptic protesters during street clashes that left at least 24 people dead and 200 injured.

Last year's report marked Egypt's first appearance on the list of countries singled out for concern by the government commission, which maintains a list of countries found to have “engaged in or tolerated systematic and egregious violations” of religious liberty. 

The commission's most recent reporting period was also a time of difficulty for religious believers in the People's Republic of China, where authorities have pursued a policy of nationalistic control over the Catholic Church and other institutions.

In its 2012 report, the commission said the Communist nation “continues to interfere in the religious activities of Chinese Catholics,” particularly through its harassment of both state-recognized and unregistered clergy.

Commission members accused Beijing of blocking Catholic clergy from communicating with the Vatican, and said the government “continues to deny Catholic leaders the right to abstain from activities that contravene Holy See policies.”

Figures from the U.S. government's Congressional-Executive Commission on China, cited by the religious freedom commission in its report, allege that “at least 40 Roman Catholic bishops remain imprisoned or detained, or were forcibly disappeared” during the reporting period.

In his announcement of the report's release, commission chair Leonard Leo explained that governments “too often stand idly by in the face of violent attacks against religious minorities and dissenting members of majority faiths.”

He described religious freedom as “inseparable” from other civil rights, noting that it is often “the first human right threatened by tyranny.”

During 2011, the commission's own work was threatened when a bill reauthorizing its existence was stalled in Congress. 

According to CQ Weekly, which reports on developments in Congress, the re-authorization stalled because of a “hold” placed on it by Richard Durbin (D-Ill.).

The last-minute re-authorization, passed in December 2011, established term limits and travel restrictions on the commissioners. 

Its provisions called for five of the nine commission members to resign their positions on March 21, one day after the release of its 2012 report.