Yesterday the State Department released its annual report on religious freedom. Among the violators of religious freedom, which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says emboldens extremists, Iran is among the worst offenders. The other offenders are China, and Saudi Arabia. Other countries include Burma, North Korea, Uzbekistan and African countries Sudan and Eritrea. The Voice of America reports:
An example of the abuses can be see in the case of Mahtab Farid, whose father was arrested after he tried to circumvent a ban on university education for the Baha'i minority.
"This is the picture of my Dad. This is from two years ago when he was visiting the United States," Mahtab Farid said. She explains her father Kamran was arrested in Iran on May 22, the day she graduated from college here in the United States.
The crime, according to his his daughter: administering a university for young Baha'is who are not allowed to study in Iranian universities.
Farid took part in a discussion in Washington on the plight of Baha'is in Iran.
She says she doubts her father will get a fair trial. "We're all really, really, really worried and devastated. I mean all we can really do is pray, she said. "And really try to hold on to our faith."
Governments often violate religious freedom through both intentional restrictions and the failure to prevent and prosecute societal violence and discrimination. Some governments, such as Iran and North Korea, seek to control religious thought and expression as part of a more comprehensive determination to control all aspects of political and civic life. Others intimidate and harass religious communities, or in severe cases like Eritrea, demand that adherents renounce their faith, or force them to relocate or flee the country. Still others discriminate against specific groups or favor one religion over others, as in Russia and Belarus. In France and Germany where religious freedom is protected by law, some public expressions of religion are restricted, and unequal treatment of some religious minorities occurs at the local level. Many states that have laws guaranteeing religious freedom still fall short in protecting minorities by failing to take steps to curb intolerance, attacks, or harassment. In countries such as Pakistan such impunity can exacerbate sectarian violence and empower those who attack religious minorities.
Sadly, anti-Semitism has increased. The report stresses further:
Violent Extremist Attacks: Violent extremist groups often exploit and inflame sectarian tensions. During the past year, al-Qaida issued calls for further violence against religious minorities in the Middle East; its declared affiliates took credit for attacks on religious minorities there and in South Asia. The last year saw attacks on Sufi, Shia, Ahmadiyah, and Christian holy sites and their worshippers in Pakistan. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the killing of Abdullah Haleem, the Director of Hajj and Religious Affairs in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in June 2011. In October 2010 in Iraq, terrorists affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq stormed the Sayidat al-Najat (Our Lady of Salvation) cathedral in Baghdad, killing at least 50 people. In Nigeria the last year has seen a sharp increase in the scale of violent extremists' attacks on Christians and Muslims, and sectarian violence in February 2011 led to an estimated 96 deaths.
Apostasy and Blasphemy Laws: Use, and in particular abuse, of apostasy and blasphemy laws have exacerbated abuses and discrimination against religious minorities and Muslims who promote tolerance, deepening the climate of impunity. In particular blasphemy and conversion from Islam, which is considered apostasy, are punishable by death in Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. Often apostasy and blasphemy laws are exploited to settle personal vendettas related to property or other resource-related disputes. In November 2010 Aasia Bibi became the first woman to be sentenced to death in Pakistan for blasphemy, after she reportedly refused to convert to Islam. She remained in custody while her case was on appeal. The government of Iran convicted reformers and peaceful protesters on the charge of moharebeh (understood as enmity against God, including blasphemy), a crime punishable by death. In Jordan converts from Islam may be denied their civil rights if any member of society files an apostasy complaint against them.
Repression of Religious Minorities: Religious minorities often face explicit bans or targeted harassment. In Egypt, Afghanistan, Sudan, Vietnam, and China, Christians face discrimination, violence, and government restrictions. Other often-targeted minorities include Tibetan Buddhists, Uighur Muslims, Ahmadis, and Bahais.
Anti-Semitism: Anti-Semitism continued or increased on every continent in the last year.