Annual Religious Freedom Report Highlights Restrictive Laws


Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom David Saperstein answers questions following the report's release. (Photo: U.S. State Department)

Laws against blasphemy and apostasy violate human rights and can inflame passions related to these matters, the U.S. State Department's annual International Religious Freedom Report released on Wednesday (Aug. 10) said.

"False accusations [of blasphemy or apostasy], often lodged in pursuit of personal vendettas or for the personal gain of the accuser, are not uncommon," the report explained.

"Mob violence as a result of such accusations is disturbingly common," as are "harsh sentences" by courts.

An executive summary shared examples from Afghanistan, Mauritania, Pakistan, Sudan and Saudi Arabia.

Da'esh (ISIS) and Boko Haram were noted as leading non-state actors whose actions repress religious freedom through violence (or the threat thereof).

"Da'esh continued to pursue a brutal strategy of what Secretary Kerry judged to constitute genocide against Yezidis, Christians, Shia, and other vulnerable groups in the territory it controlled, and was responsible for barbarous acts, including killings, torture, enslavement and trafficking, rape and other sexual abuse against religious and ethnic minorities and Sunnis in areas under its control," the State Department noted.

"Boko Haram ... continued to launch indiscriminate, violent attacks targeting both Christians and Muslims who spoke out against or opposed their violent ideology. ... [and] claimed responsibility for scores of attacks on churches and mosques, often killing worshippers during religious services or immediately afterward."

The report also focused on the increase in nations requiring forms of religious registration, most of which aim at regulating what religious expressions are deemed appropriate and acceptable.

Burma's (Myanmar's) "race and religion laws," passed in mid-2015, were cited as one example.

"The percentage of countries that required submission of religious doctrine for approval prior to registration increased from 13 to 18 percent ... the percentage of countries that required a minimum number of religious community members increased from 17 to 32 percent and ... the percentage of countries that sometimes denied registration increased from 22 to 27 percent," the report revealed.

Several positive developments were highlighted. These included Kenyan Muslims protecting Christians from attack, and a peaceful gathering of Christians and Muslims in the Central African Republic during a visit by Pope Francis (who visited a mosque in an area where Christian-Muslim tension had been common).

The full State Department 2015 report is available here.

An EthicsDaily.com news brief summarizing the 2014 report is available here, and a summary of the 2013 report is available here.

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