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State Department Overlooks Partners Who Violate Religious Freedom

When the United States Department of State identified countries last week that violate religious freedom, it overlooked U.S. partners, according to Human Rights Watch.

<?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan were left off the list when it was updated, despite a record of systematically violating religious freedom.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” /> 
According to a State Department press statement, six countries were listed as “countries of particular concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act. These nations included Burma, China, Iran, Iraq, North Korea and Sudan.

“Regrettably, the status of religious freedom has not significantly improved in any of these countries,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

“Advancing religious freedom remains a high priority of U.S. foreign policy,” he said, “both as a universal human right and as a cornerstone of stable and free societies.”

But according to a release from Human Rights Watch, “The U.S. State Department’s designation … of countries that deny religious freedom once again failed to single out some of the world’s most egregious violators.”

HRW pointed to Saudi Arabia, which “forbids all demonstrations of religious faith that is not consistent with the state-sanctioned interpretation of the Sunni branch of Islam.” In addition to banning the distribution of the Bible, Saudi Arabia imprisons and deports Christians for practicing their faith.

Turkmenistan had “draconian restrictions on religion,” specifically against Jehovah’s Witness, Pentacostalists, Baptists, Adventists and Hare Krishnas, the HRW release said. 
HRW also flagged Uzbekistan for its torture of independent Muslims.

Tom Malinowski, HRW’s advocacy director, said, “The Bush administration says it wants to promote human rights in the Muslim world. But it can hardly say it’s trying if it’s afraid to state simple truth about some of its partners.”