Religious freedom globally “is worsening in both the depth and breadth of violations,” according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF)’s annual religious freedom report.
“Many violations of religious freedom do not appear to be aimed at religion,” the report noted. “Violations can seem mundane, such as requirements for building permits (to establish/repair places of worship) or less mundane, such as restrictions on association (constraining the right to worship). … [M]any restrictions on religious freedoms are done under the guise of protecting national security.”
The report used three categories to indicate the degree to which religious freedom is restricted or hindered:
1. Countries of Particular Concern (CPC): “Any country whose government engages in or tolerates particularly severe religious freedom violations that are systematic, ongoing and egregious.”
Sixteen nations received CPC designation for 2017, including Burma (Myanmar), China, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and Sudan.
Russia was moved up from its 2016 Tier 2 designation due, in large part, to “new laws [that] effectively criminalized all private religious speech not sanctioned by the state.”
2. Tier 2: “Nations in which the violations engaged in or tolerated by the government are serious and characterized by at least one of the elements of the ‘systematic, ongoing and egregious’ CPC standard.”
Afghanistan, Cuba, Egypt, Iraq and Turkey were among the dozen tier 2 nations.
Egypt and Iraq were moved off the CPC list in 2017 due to government efforts to address violations of religious freedom, while Bahrain moved from monitoring to tier 2.
3. Monitoring: “Countries previously recommended for CPC designation or on Tier 2 and in which USCIRF continues to monitor ongoing concerns; countries USCIRF visited during the reporting year but did not find to meet the CPC or Tier 2 standards; and countries where USCIRF saw emerging issues or troubling trends that merited comment but did not rise to the CPC or Tier 2 level.”
Eight nations and one region (Western Europe) were designated for monitoring. Ethiopia, Kenya, Mexico, Nepal and Somalia were added to this list in 2017, while Horn of Africa was removed.
An appendix highlighted 12 “prisoners of conscience” who have been imprisoned or placed under house arrest due to their religious beliefs, practices or both.
The full report is available here.