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No Pakistan or Egypt in US State Dept list of religious freedom violators

Country/Region: United States

The US State Department has been criticised for “glaring omissions” in its latest list of countries designated as severe violators of religious freedom.

US_State_Department_Building_4X3.jpg
The Harry S. Truman Building, headquarters of the US State Dept
CC BY-SA 3.0 / Wikimedia Commons

In its Annual Report on International Religious Freedom, the State Department re-designated eight “countries of particular concern” (CPCs) – Burma (Myanmar), China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan – the same as listed last year.

The term is applied to any country in which the government has "engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom". The US International Religious Freedom Act (1998) requires the US government to take specific actions, including economic sanctions and diplomatic protests, against CPCs.

CPC recommendations are made by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent, bipartisan body. It raised concerns that no new countries were added this year.

“Glaring omissions”

Chairman Leonard Leo said the current list “continues glaring omissions” and called for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to consider the six additional countries recommended for designation. These were Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Turkmenistan and Vietnam

Pakistan was omitted despite recognition in the State Department’s report that the country’s laws restrict religious freedom and that the government enforced these restrictions, and also that investigation and prosecution of perpetrators of extremist attacks on minorities are rare.

The Pakistani government’s measures to improve religious freedom were noted, including the creation of a Ministry of National Harmony, which was set up after the assassination of two politicians, Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, who opposed the “blasphemy laws”.

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are often used against Christians and other non-Muslim minorities; Christian mother Aasia Bibi is currently on death row in Pakistan, having been falsely accused of defiling the name of Muhammad.

The USCIRF has recommended Egypt as a CPC for the first time in light of increasing attacks on Christians since the revolution and failure of the government to take action. Mr Leo said:

Instances of severe religious freedom violations engaged in or tolerated by the government have increased dramatically. Since President Mubarak’s resignation from office in February, such violence continues unabated without the government’s bringing the perpetrators to justice.

Egyptian Christians are concerned that religious freedom will deteriorate further if Islamist parties emerge victorious in the country’s forthcoming parliamentary elections.  

USCIRF threatened

The latest State Department report comes as the future of the USCIRF, which was created 13 years ago to promote religious freedom overseas, is under threat. It has been criticised for what some see as a disproportionate focus on the persecution of Christians globally, while others feel that it causes confusion overseas as to whether or not it speaks for the White House, and has too little accountability.  

It needs to be re-authorised by the Senate, and whether or not this will happen remains unclear. If the USCIRF is retained, it will have to operate with a reduced budget and a reduction in the number of commissioners from nine to five.

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  • “Jesus Christ performed tremendous miracles in all our lives through this Shalom Camp.” A pastor spoke of how God had worked through a Barnabas-sponsored weekend Bible camp for persecuted Christians in Sri Lanka. The camp was attended by believers from five different churches that had been the target of threats or attacks by Buddhist or Hindu extremists. The participants heard teaching on the Biblical basis for persecution and took part in group discussions; they came away refreshed and encouraged, and for many the camp was a time of great spiritual renewal. Give thanks to the Lord for the peace He has brought to these persecuted believers, and ask that the weekend will continue to bear much fruit in their lives. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed 8 hours ago

  • Pray for a church leader in Sri Lanka, S.S. Johnpillai, who was threatened at gunpoint by attackers who claimed to be Special Forces officers. The minister was in a hut next to his church building in Guadalupe, Trincomolee when, he said, the men “appeared out of nowhere”. The intruders put a gun to Johnpillai’s head and accused him of holding a Communion service in honour of the founder of the Tamil Tigers, the government’s opponents in the country’s long and bloody civil war. The government had that day made it a criminal offence to commemorate the group. The gunmen ignored Johnpillai’s protests that he had not dedicated Communion to the group’s founder, and they threatened to shoot him. Ask the Lord to support and strengthen Johnpillai as he recovers from this terrifying ordeal. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Tue, Apr 2014 00:00

  • Lift up to the Lord persecuted Christians in Sri Lanka, where at least 65 anti-Christian incidents took place during 2013, including repeat attacks on several believers and their property in October 2013. However, a Sri Lankan government minister from a Buddhist nationalist party denied the accounts, saying that they might be “made up”. The minister claimed that Sri Lankans are “one family … trying to live together after a long civil war”. Pray that the Sri Lankan government will recognise the danger that our brothers and sisters face from militant Buddhists and that the authorities will provide effective protection for vulnerable Christians. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Mon, Apr 2014 00:00

  • Condemned Christian mother Aasia Bibi’s final appeal hearing is scheduled to take place tomorrow (14 April) having been deferred twice. She was sentenced to death for blasphemy in November 2010 having been falsely accused of insulting Muhammad following an argument with Muslim co-workers. Aasia has been languishing in jail since the accusation was made in June 2009. Pray that her appeal will finally go ahead and that the judges will have the courage to acquit and release Aasia; there are concerns that they may give in to pressure from hardline Islamists who have been calling for her execution. Pray that Aasia, her husband and children will know the Lord’s peace as they await the verdict. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Sun, Apr 2014 00:00

  • Indians have started going to the polls this week in a general election that is taking place in phases until 12 May. The ruling, secular Congress party is expected to be defeated by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). This would be an ominous outcome for the country’s Christian minority. The BJP has given support to extremist groups that attack Christians; states under the party’s rule have generally experienced a rise in anti-Christian violence. It has introduced anti-conversion laws on a state level, and has pledged to introduce national legislation to curb "missionary" activity and end proselytising if elected nationally. Pray for wisdom for Indians as they vote and that the outcome will result in a just government that upholds the rights and freedoms of all citizens. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Sat, Apr 2014 00:00

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