This is the basic text view. SWITCH NOW to the new, more interactive format.
The Annual Report on International Religious Freedom records the status of respect for religious freedom in all countries during the period from July 1, 2008 to June 30, 2009. The Annual Report's primary focus is on the actions of governments, including those that contribute to religious repression or tolerate violence against religious minorities as well as those that protect and promote religious freedom. Each country report contains sections covering the country's religious demography; government respect for religious freedom (including the legal and policy framework, restrictions on religious freedom, abuses of religious freedom, and improvements and positive developments); societal respect for religious freedom; and U.S. Government policy and actions. We strive to report fairly and accurately, with sensitivity to the complexity of religious freedom in varied settings.
The International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRF Act) designates the promotion of religious freedom for all persons as a core objective of U.S. foreign policy. U.S. advocacy for religious freedom is grounded in our commitment to advance respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms worldwide. The vast majority of the world's population professes some religious belief or identification. The right to believe or not to believe, without fear of government interference or restriction, provides an essential foundation for human dignity, robust civil society, and sustainable democracy. This principle holds a central place in American culture, values, and history. It is also a global concern; both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights articulate the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief.
The IRF Act also provides the mandate for this report and prescribes the principal topics for this Executive Summary: following an introductory overview of challenges to religious freedom, Part I outlines the religious freedom situations in selected countries, Part II addresses U.S. actions in designated countries of particular concern (CPCs), and Part III discusses improvements and positive developments, with a special section on efforts to promote interfaith dialogue and understanding.
State-Sponsored Challenges to Religious Freedom
Religious freedom can be restricted in a variety of ways, from the overt to the subtle. The five categories below provide an analytic framework for recognizing the range of limitations on religious freedom.
1) Authoritarian governments. The most severe abuses take place in certain strict authoritarian regimes that seek to control all religious thought and expression as part of a more comprehensive state control of expression and civic life. These regimes regard some groups as enemies of the state because of their religious beliefs or because they undermine unquestioned loyalty to the state. Some governments cite political security concerns as a pretext to repress peaceful religious practice. This report distinguishes between expression of legitimate political grievances by groups of religious believers and misuse of religion to advocate and undertake violence against other groups or the state.
2) Hostility toward minorities. Serious abuses occur where there is state hostility toward minority or non-approved religious groups. While not exerting full control over these groups, some governments intimidate and harass religious minorities and tolerate societal abuses against them. In severe cases, governments may demand that minority adherents renounce their faith or force them to relocate or even flee the country. This report takes careful note of the relationships between religious identity and ethnicity, especially in cases in which a government dominated by a majority ethno-religious group suppressed the religious expression of minority groups. Also detailed in this report are instances in which governments were hostile to a minority religious group because of the group's real or perceived political ideology or affiliation.
3) Failure to address societal intolerance. Some states fail to address forces of intolerance against certain religious groups. In these countries, laws may discourage religious discrimination or persecution, but officials fail to prevent attacks, harassment, or other harmful acts against certain individuals or religious groups. Protecting religious freedom requires more than having good laws and policies in place. Governments also have the responsibility to work at all levels to prevent abuses, to bring abusers to justice, to provide redress to victims when appropriate, and to proactively foster an environment of respect and tolerance for all people.
4) Institutionalized bias. Governments sometimes restrict religious freedom by enacting discriminatory legislation or taking concrete action to favor majority religions. These circumstances often result from historical dominance by a majority religious group and can result in institutionalized bias against new or historic minority religious communities. This report highlights instances in which government endorsement of a particular interpretation of the majority religion resulted in restrictions on adherents of that religion who follow a different interpretation.
5) Illegitimacy. Some governments discriminate against specific groups by identifying them as dangerous or illegitimate because they are regarded as dangerous to individuals or societal order, describing the groups with terms such as "cults" or "sects," thereby perpetuating the stigmatization of the groups and encouraging or implicitly condoning acts of violence against them. This practice is relatively common even in countries where religious freedom is otherwise respected.
Multilateral, Global, and Regional Challenges to Religious Freedom
In addition to these country-by-country concerns, the wide spectrum of efforts to undermine the right to religious freedom extends to multilateral, regional, and global fora. For instance, over the past decade, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), an inter-governmental organization comprising 57 states with majority or significant Muslim populations, has worked through the United Nations (UN) to advance the concept of "defamation of religions" by introducing annual resolutions on this subject at the UN Human Rights Council and UN General Assembly. While the United States deplores actions that exhibit disrespect for particular religious traditions, including Islam, we do not agree with the "defamation of religions" concept because it is inconsistent with the freedoms of religion and expression.
The United States understands the primary concern of the resolution to be the negative stereotyping of members of religious groups, particularly minority groups, and the contribution of such stereotypes to disrespect and discrimination. The United States shares concerns about the impact of negative stereotypes and believes that such stereotyping, particularly when promoted by community, religious, or government leaders, contributes to disrespect, discrimination, and in some cases, to violence. The United States, however, believes the best way for governments to address these issues is to develop robust legal regimes to address acts of discrimination and bias-inspired crime; to condemn hateful ideology and proactively reach out to all religious communities, especially minority groups; and to defend vigorously the rights of individuals to practice their religion freely and to exercise their freedom of expression.
The forcible return of individuals from another country to face persecution or abuse in their home country in retribution for their religious activism is also of grave concern to the United States. During the reporting period, the Government of China reportedly sought the forcible return of several Muslims living in other countries, including Syria; during previous periods it had done so with Muslims living in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Some had reportedly protested restrictions on the Hajj and encouraged other Muslims to pray and fast during Ramadan. There were credible reports that the Government of China tortured and, in some cases, executed individuals who had been forcibly returned, including some who advocated for religious freedom. Similarly, the Government of Uzbekistan continued to pursue the extradition of suspected Uzbek religious extremists from third countries, particularly from Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Ukraine, including those who had sought asylum. During the reporting period, at least two individuals seeking political asylum in Kyrgyzstan were forcibly extradited to Uzbekistan and imprisoned on religious extremism charges.
PART I: RESTRICTIONS, ABUSES AND CONCERNS
This section summarizes overall conditions during the reporting period in some countries where violations of religious freedom have been noteworthy. Some of these countries have also seen some positive developments, and these are highlighted in Part III. Additional information can be found in the country reports.
The Constitution states that Islam is the "religion of the state" and that "no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam." In 2004, the Constitution accorded Shi'a and Sunni Islam equal recognition. It proclaims that "followers of other religions are free to exercise their faith and perform their religious rites within the limits of the provisions of law." The Government took limited steps to increase religious freedom; however, serious problems remained. In April 2009 President Karzai signed a controversial law limiting the rights of women from the Shi'a minority. International partners of Afghanistan objected strongly to the law. The President agreed to suspend enactment of the law until the Ministry of Justice had reviewed and amended it. The review process was ongoing at the end of the reporting period. Although the Government and political leaders aspire to a national environment that respects the right to religious freedom, the residual effects of years of jihad against the former Soviet Union, Taliban rule, civil strife, popular suspicion regarding outside influence of foreigners, and still weak democratic institutions hindered the realization of this aspiration. Intolerance was manifested in harassment and occasional violence against religious minorities and Muslims perceived as not respecting Islamic strictures. Within the Muslim population, relations among the different sects continued to be difficult. Non-Muslim minority groups, including Christians, Hindus, and Sikhs, continued to face incidents of discrimination and persecution. Many citizens understand conversion as contravening the tenets of Islam and Shari'a, and most local Christians do not publicly state their beliefs or gather openly to worship.
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion. There were changes to the Constitution approved during the reporting period, however, that undermined religious freedom. On March 18, 2009, a national referendum approved a series of amendments to the Constitution; two amendments limit the spreading and propagandizing of religion. On May 8, the Milli Majlis (Parliament) passed an amended Law on Freedom of Religion, signed by the President on May 29, which could result in a more restrictive system of registration for religious groups. In spite of these developments, the Government continued to respect the religious freedom of the majority of citizens, with some notable exceptions for members of religions considered non-traditional. Both Muslim and non-traditional Christian groups reportedly experienced monitoring as well as instances of harassment and detention. There were mosque closures as well as State and locally sponsored raids on evangelical Protestant religious groups.
Government respect for religious freedom deteriorated during the reporting period as the Government restricted religious freedom for non-Muslims. Non-Muslims were prohibited from receiving religious education in private religious schools, which had previously been allowed. Non-Muslims also faced social and, at times, official pressure to conform to Islamic guidelines on behavior. The Government maintained a ban on a number of groups it considered "deviant." Government policies generally discouraged the population from being exposed to religions besides Islam. Across denominational lines, non-Muslim religious leaders stated that they were subject to undue influence and duress and some were threatened with fines and/or imprisonment. Active monitoring of churches and disruption of supply shipments and mail were reported. Laws and regulations generally limited access to religious literature, places of worship, and public religious gatherings for non-Muslims. The Government continued to favor the propagation of Shafi'i beliefs and practices, as well as the Malay Islamic Monarchy belief system, particularly through public events and the education system. Muslims remained subject to the Government's interpretation of Shari'a (Islamic law).
The 2008 Constitution provides for freedom of religion; however, it also grants broad exceptions that allow the regime to restrict those rights at will. Most adherents of registered religions were permitted to worship as they chose, but the Government continued to infiltrate and monitor activities of virtually all organizations, including religious ones. It systematically restricted efforts by Buddhist clergy to promote human rights and political freedom. Many of the Buddhist monks arrested in the violent crackdown that followed the pro-democracy demonstrations of September 2007, including prominent activist monk U Gambira, remained in prison serving long sentences. The Government actively promoted Theravada Buddhism, particularly among minority ethnic groups. Although there were no new reports of forced conversions of non-Buddhists, the Government applied pressure on students and poor youth to convert to Buddhism. Adherence to Buddhism remains generally a prerequisite for promotion to senior government and military ranks. Anti-Muslim violence continued, as did the close monitoring of Muslims' activities. Restrictions on Christians and other non-Buddhist minority groups also continued throughout the country.
The Constitution protects only "normal religious activities," and officials have wide latitude to interpret the meaning of "normal." Citizens do not have the ability to bring legal action based on the Constitution’s guarantees of religious freedom. The Government officially restricts legal religious practice to the five (Buddhist, Taoist, Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant) state-sanctioned "patriotic religious associations." The treatment of religious groups varied significantly among different religions and different locations. During the reporting period, officials continued to scrutinize and in some cases interfere with the activities of religious and spiritual groups. In some areas government officials violated the rights of members of unregistered Protestant and Catholic groups, Uighur Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, and members of groups the Government determined to be "evil religions," especially the Falun Gong. The Government strongly opposed the profession of loyalty to religious leadership outside the country, most notably the Pope and the Dalai Lama. Government officials asked some unregistered Protestant house churches in Beijing to stop meeting during the 2008 Olympic Games.
China - Tibetan Autonomous Region and Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region
The Government's repression of religious freedom remained severe in Tibetan areas and in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR). Religious adherents in the XUAR, the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR), and other Tibetan areas suffered severe restrictions on religious activity, as a consequence of the Government's tendency to conflate concerns about separatism and religious extremism with peaceful expressions of religious beliefs and political views. In the XUAR, the Government’s concerns also included terrorism. After the March 2008 protests in the TAR and other Tibetan regions, the Government harshly criticized the Dalai Lama and accused him of instigating the protests. Ethnic Tibetans and Uighurs had difficulty obtaining passports from the Government, limiting their ability to travel abroad for religious purposes. Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns also reported that they were frequently denied registration at hotels, particularly during sensitive times, including the period around the Beijing Olympics.
The Constitution recognizes the right of citizens to practice any religious belief within the framework of respect for the law; however, the Government continued to assert itself over all aspects of social life, including religious expression. Religious groups complained about widespread surveillance and infiltration by state security agents. Various religious groups reported fewer restrictions on politically sensitive expression, the ability to hold religious activities, increased capacity to conduct charitable and community service projects, fewer import and travel restrictions, permission to repair buildings, and significant increases in membership. The Government continued to maintain strict controls on the construction of new buildings for religious purposes, and permission was difficult to obtain. The Government does not permit private schools, including religious schools.
The Constitution provides for freedom of belief and the practice of religious rites, although the Government places restrictions on these rights in practice. Islam is the official state religion, and the principles of Shari'a (Islamic law) are the primary source for legislation. The status of respect for religious freedom by the Government declined somewhat during the reporting period, based on the failure to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of increased incidents of sectarian violence. There were some positive developments, however, including actions by the courts and the Ministry of Interior that opened the door for the possibility that all of the country’s Baha'is would eventually be issued national identification documents that contain a dash or the term "other" in the religious affiliation field. The Government continued to sponsor "reconciliation sessions" following sectarian attacks, which generally precluded the prosecution of perpetrators of crimes against Copts and prevented their recourse to the judicial system for restitution. This practice contributed to a climate of impunity that encouraged repetition of the assaults. Members of non-Muslim religious minorities officially recognized by the Government generally worshipped without harassment. Christians, however, and members of the Baha'i Faith--which is not recognized by the Government--face personal and collective discrimination in many areas. The Government detained members of Islamic religious minority groups, including Quranists and Shi'a, and detained and harassed some converts from Islam to Christianity and pressured them to revert to Islam. One Christian convert told U.S. officials that government authorities had raped her. A court sentenced a Coptic priest to five years of hard labor for officiating at a wedding between a Copt and a convert from Islam who allegedly presented false identification documentation. There continued to be religious discrimination and sectarian tension in society during the period covered by this report, and Egypt's quasi-governmental National Council on Human Rights expressed concern in its fifth report, released in May 2009, over growing sectarian tension, including the burning of an unlicensed Coptic Church and of homes belonging to Baha'is.
The Constitution, ratified by the National Assembly in 1997, provides for religious freedom; however, the Government has yet to implement the Constitution. Although the Government requires religious groups to register, since 2002 it has not approved any registrations beyond the country's four principal religious groups: the Eritrean Orthodox Church, the Evangelical (Lutheran) Church of Eritrea, Islam, and the Roman Catholic Church. The Government's record on religious freedom remained poor during the reporting period. The Government failed to approve religious groups that fulfilled the registration requirements, and arrested persons during religious gatherings. The Government continued to harass and detain members of unapproved religious groups and retained substantial control over the four approved religious groups, requiring them to submit a list of religious leaders for enrollment in military/national service. The Government held religious prisoners in harsh conditions for long periods and without due process. There continued to be reports of torture of religious detainees and forced recantations of faith by some adherents of unregistered religious groups held in detention as a precondition of their release. During the reporting period, there were reliable reports that authorities detained without charges several hundred members of unregistered religious groups. Reports indicated there were more than 3,000 Christians from unregistered groups detained in prison. Citizens generally were tolerant of one another in the practice of their religion, with the exception of societal attitudes toward Jehovah's Witnesses and Pentecostal groups.
Prior to its abrogation in April 2009, the Constitution expressly provided for freedom of religion. The country's current laws and policies contributed to the generally free practice of religion; however, the role of religion continued to be politically contentious. There was a decline in the status of government respect for religious freedom during the reporting period as a result of a nationwide "Christian crusade" directed by the Police Commissioner. All police officers and their families, regardless of their religious beliefs, were required to attend evangelistic rallies at all police divisions and major police stations in the country. There were reports of Hindu and Muslim police officers joining the commissioner's church for fear of being denied promotions or losing their jobs. The Police Force asserted that the Christian crusade was highly successful, resulting in a 50 percent decrease in crime, and would continue.
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the National Government generally respected this right in practice. Some state and local governments imposed limits on this freedom, however. Although the vast majority of citizens of every religious group lived in peaceful coexistence, some organized societal attacks against minority religious groups occurred. State police and enforcement agencies often did not act swiftly to effectively counter such attacks. Religious extremists committed numerous terrorist attacks throughout the country during the reporting period, including the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai that targeted luxury hotels, a crowded railway station, a Jewish center, a hospital, and restaurants. Violence erupted in August 2008 in Orissa after individuals affiliated with left-wing Maoist extremists killed a Hindu religious leader in Kandhamal, one of the country's poorest districts. According to government statistics, 40 persons died and 134 were injured. Although most victims were Christians, the underlying causes that led to the violence have complex ethnic, economic, religious, and political roots related to land ownership and government-reserved employment and educational benefits. The police arrested 1,200 persons and registered more than 1,000 criminal cases. On April 21, 2009, police arrested Maoist leader P. Rama Rao in connection with the murder of the Hindu leader. According to several independent accounts, an estimated 3,200 refugees remained in relief camps, down from 24,000 in the immediate aftermath of the violence. Numerous cases were in the courts at the end of the reporting period, including cases in connection with the 2002 Gujarat violence, the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, and more recent attacks against Christians. Some extremists continued to view ineffective investigation and prosecution of attacks as a signal that they could commit such violence with impunity. In general, India's democratic system, open society, independent legal institutions, vibrant civil society, and press all provided mechanisms to address violations of religious freedom when they did occur.
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respected religious freedom in practice; however, ongoing government restrictions, particularly among unrecognized religions and sects of the recognized religions considered "deviant," were significant exceptions. In some cases, however, the Government tolerated discrimination against and the abuse of religious minorities by societal groups and private actors. Some groups used violence and intimidation to close at least nine churches and 12 Ahmadiyya mosques, and many perpetrators were not brought to justice. Even though the central Government holds authority over religious matters, it did not try to overturn any local laws that restricted rights guaranteed in the Constitution. Members of minority religious groups continued to experience some official discrimination in the form of administrative difficulties, often in the context of civil registration of marriages and births or the issuance of identity cards.
The Constitution provides that "other Islamic denominations are to be accorded full respect" and recognizes the country's pre-Islamic religious groups--Zoroastrians, Christians, and Jews--as "protected" religious minorities. Article 4 of the Constitution states that all laws and regulations must be based on Islamic criteria. Despite constitutional guarantees, in practice those who are not Shi'a Muslims faced substantial discrimination. Respect for religious freedom in the country continued to deteriorate. Government rhetoric and actions created a threatening atmosphere for nearly all non-Shi'a religious groups, most notably for Baha'is, as well as for Sufi Muslims, evangelical Christians, and members of the Jewish community. Reports of government imprisonment, harassment, intimidation, and discrimination based on religious beliefs continued during the reporting period. Baha'i religious groups reported arbitrary arrest and prolonged detention, expulsion from universities, and confiscation of property. Government-controlled broadcast and print media intensified negative campaigns against religious minorities, particularly Baha'is, during the reporting period. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad continued a virulent anti-Semitic campaign, questioning the existence and scope of the Holocaust. Sufis faced an increasing repression campaign including arbitrary arrest and detention, confiscation of property, and defamatory attacks in newspapers and in sermons by Shi'a clerics. The Government vigilantly enforced its prohibition on proselytizing by some Christian groups by closely monitoring their activities, closing some churches, and arresting Christian converts. Laws based on religious affiliation continued to be used to stifle freedom of expression, including through imprisonment of public figures.
The Constitution guarantees freedom of thought, conscience, and religious belief and practice for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. The Government generally endorsed these rights, but violence by terrorists, extremists, and criminal gangs restricted the free exercise of religion and posed a significant threat to the country's vulnerable religious minorities. Radical Islamic elements from outside the Government exerted pressure on individuals and groups to conform to extremist interpretations of Islam's precepts; sectarian violence, including attacks on clergy and places of worship, hampered the ability to practice religion freely. The Government’s growing will and capacity to challenge its militant opponents resulted in a decrease in the overall level of violence and the Government became increasingly successful in restoring security, in a generally nonsectarian manner, throughout the country. Since 2003 the Government has generally not engaged in the persecution of any religious group, calling instead for tolerance and acceptance of all religious minorities. The overall magnitude of sectarian violence declined during the reporting period, but numerous incidents occurred. The general lawlessness that permitted criminal gangs, terrorists, and insurgents to victimize citizens with impunity affected persons of all ethnicities and religious groups, and the mass-casualty attacks primarily targeted the majority Shi'a population. Very few of the perpetrators of violence committed against Christians and other religious minorities in the country have been punished; arrests following a murder or other crime are rare.
The Israeli Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty provides for freedom of worship and the Government generally respected this right in practice. While there is no constitution, government policy continued to support the generally free practice of religion. The Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty refers to the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, which provides for the protection of religious freedom. In addition, numerous Supreme Court rulings incorporate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, including their religious freedom provisions, into the country's body of law. The Declaration describes the country as a Jewish state, establishing Judaism as the dominant religion while also promising full social and political equality, regardless of religious affiliation, and the Basic Law describes the country as a "Jewish and democratic state." Government policy continued to support the generally free practice of religion, although governmental and legal discrimination against non-Jews and non-Orthodox streams of Judaism continued. Governmental allocations of state resources favored Orthodox (including Modern and National Religious streams of Orthodoxy) and ultra-Orthodox (sometimes referred to as "Haredi") Jewish religious groups and institutions. Some individuals and groups committed abusive and discriminatory practices against Israeli-Arab Muslims, evangelical Christians, and Messianic Jews (persons who identify as Jews and follow Jewish traditions but believe Jesus was the Messiah), which continued at an elevated level. Relations among religious and ethnic groups--between Jews and non-Jews, Muslims and Christians, Arabs and non-Arabs, secular and religious Jews, and among the different streams of Judaism--often were strained during the reporting period. This was due primarily to the continuing Israel-Palestinian conflict and the Government's unequal treatment of non-Orthodox Jews, including the Government's recognition of only Orthodox Jewish religious authorities in personal and some civil status matters concerning Jews. Tensions between Israeli Jews and Palestinians were inflamed further during and in the aftermath of Israel's December 2008-January 2009 military campaign "Operation Cast Lead" against Hamas in the Gaza strip.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) does not have a constitution but has stated that the Palestinian Basic Law functions as its temporary constitution. The Basic Law states that Islam is the official religion and the principles of Shari'a (Islamic law) shall be the main source of legislation, but it provides for freedom of belief, worship and the performance of religious rites, unless they violate public order or morality. The Basic Law also proscribes discrimination based on religion and stipulates that all citizens are equal before the law and that basic human rights and liberties shall be protected. Israel exercised varying degrees of legal, military, and economic control in the Occupied Territories, and the Israeli Government generally respected the right to freedom of religion there during the reporting period. Despite these provisions for freedom of religion in the PA's Basic Law and the Israeli Government's Declaration of Independence, religious freedom restrictions continued in the Occupied Territories. In particular, Israel's strict closure policies and the separation barrier constructed by the Government of Israel had the effect of severely restricting the ability of Palestinian Muslims and Christians to reach places of worship and to practice their religious rites. Israeli law also restricted the ability of Israeli Jews to reach places of worship in areas under Palestinian control. The status of respect for religious freedom by the PA was unchanged during the reporting period, although problems persisted. The Gaza Strip remained under the control of Hamas during the reporting period, and the PA was therefore unable to enforce respect for religious freedom or address reports of harassment of religious groups in the Gaza Strip. Christians and Muslims generally enjoyed good relations, although tensions existed. Tensions between Jews and non-Jews remained high, and continuing violence heightened those tensions.
During the reporting period, the overall status of respect for religious freedom did not significantly change. As was the case during previous reporting periods, officials in urban areas tended to show more acceptance of a variety of religious practices than those in rural areas. The law does not recognize a state religion; however, the Government's financial support and promotion of Buddhism, along with its willingness to exempt Buddhism from a number of restrictions, gave the religion an elevated status. Authorities in some of the country's 17 provinces continued to be suspicious of non-Buddhist religious communities and displayed intolerance for minority religious practice, particularly Protestant groups, whether or not they were officially recognized. Officials generally respected the constitutionally guaranteed rights of members of most religious groups to worship, albeit within strict constraints imposed by the Government. Some local officials, however, reportedly interfered with the right of Protestants to worship in a number of places, particularly in Luang Namtha and Bolikhamsai provinces. Arrests and detentions of Protestants reportedly occurred in Luang Namtha, Phongsali, and Savannakhet provinces. At the end of the reporting period, there were two known religious prisoners, both Protestants. A number of other Protestants were being detained for reasons other than their religion, although religion was alleged to have been a contributing factor in their arrests. Local officials also reportedly pressured Protestants in some locations to renounce their faith on threat of arrest or forceful eviction from their villages in Bolikhamsai, Houaphan, Salavan, Luang Prabang, Attapeu, Oudomsai, and Luang Namtha provinces.
The Constitution of Malaysia provides for religious freedom; however, other constitutional provisions designate Islam as "the religion of the Federation," define all ethnic Malays as Muslim, give the Government authority to regulate Islamic religious affairs, and prohibit the propagation of other faiths among Muslims. In general, there were few reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice. Malaysia maintains a dual legal system with both secular and Shari'a courts, the latter of which have jurisdiction over the Muslim population in certain civil matters. Shari'a courts generally prohibited those officially registered as Muslims from legally converting to another faith. Those who attempted conversion were deemed "apostates" and sometimes sent to religious "rehabilitation" centers, where they received coerced religious instruction. The Government maintained a list of 56 "deviant" Islamic sects, and members of these and other banned groups may also be subject to "rehabilitation." Officials at the state level sometimes interfered with mosque activity by using mosques to convey political messages, preventing certain imams from speaking, and overseeing the content of sermons. Religious minorities remained generally free to practice their beliefs. Nevertheless, over the past several years, many have expressed concern that the civil court system has gradually ceded jurisdiction to Shari'a courts, particularly in areas of family law involving disputes between Muslims and non-Muslims. Religious minorities continued to face alleged violations of property rights and limitations on religious expression. The Hindu community continued to express concern about the demolition of Hindu temples.
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, including freedom to change one's religion or belief and freedom to manifest and propagate one's religion or belief through worship, teaching, practice, and observance. The Constitution prohibits state and local governments from adopting a state religion or giving preferential treatment to any religious or ethnic community, but the Constitution also provides that states may establish courts based on common law or customary law systems. Twelve northern states use Shari'a courts to adjudicate criminal and civil matters for Muslims and common law and customary law courts to adjudicate cases involving non-Muslims. The Government generally respected religious freedom in practice, although local political actors stoked sectarian violence with impunity, occasionally using religion as a catalyst. Violence, tension, and hostility between Christian and Muslim communities increased, as political and socioeconomic conflicts often divided persons along religious lines and were expressed in the targeting of religious symbols and spaces. Sectarian violence, exacerbated by indigene/settler laws, discriminatory employment practices, livelihood differences, and resource competition, was particularly acute in the Middle Belt and served to heighten tensions between religious groups, even in parts of the country that did not experience the violence. Religious differences often paralleled and exacerbated differences between ethnic groups. While the law prohibited religious discrimination in employment and other practices, some private businesses continued to discriminate on the basis of religion or ethnicity in their hiring practices. In many communities, Muslims or Christians who converted to another religion reportedly faced ostracism by members of their former religion.
Although the Constitution provides for "freedom of religious belief," genuine religious freedom does not exist, and there was no change in the extremely poor level of respect for religious freedom during the reporting period. The Government severely restricted religious freedom, including organized religious activity, except that which was supervised tightly by officially recognized groups linked to the Government. Some foreigners who have visited the country stated that services at state-authorized churches appeared staged and contained political content supportive of the regime. The 2008 Korean Institute for National Unification White Paper indicated that the regime used authorized religious entities for external propaganda and political purposes, and that citizens were strictly barred from entering places of worship. Defectors reported the regime increased its investigation, repression, and persecution of unauthorized religious groups in recent years. Despite these restrictions, reports indicated contacts with religious personnel both inside the country and across the border in China appeared to be increasing. In June 2009 South Korean activists reported that Ri Hyon Ok was publicly executed for distributing Bibles in the city of Ryongchon near the Chinese border. She was allegedly accused of spying and organizing dissidents. These claims could not be independently verified. An estimated 150,000 to 200,000 persons were believed to be held in political prison camps in remote areas, some for religious reasons. Prison conditions are harsh; torture and starvation are common. Refugees and defectors who had been in prison stated that prisoners held on the basis of their religious beliefs generally were treated worse than other inmates.
The country is an Islamic republic; Islam is the state religion, and the Constitution requires that laws be consistent with Islamic principles. Despite some positive steps to improve the treatment of religious minorities during the reporting period, discussed in Part III, serious problems remained. Law enforcement personnel abused religious minorities in custody. Security forces and other government agencies did not adequately prevent or address societal abuse against minorities. Discriminatory legislation and the Government's failure to take action against societal forces hostile to those who practice a different religious belief fostered religious intolerance, acts of violence, and intimidation against religious minorities. Specific laws that discriminate against religious minorities include anti-Ahmadi and blasphemy laws that provide the death penalty for defiling Islam or its prophets. The Ahmadiyya community continued to face governmental and societal discrimination and legal bars to the practice of its religious beliefs. Members of minority Islamic sects also claimed governmental discrimination. Freedom of speech is subject to "reasonable" restrictions in the interests of the "glory of Islam." Relations among religious communities were tense. Societal discrimination against religious minorities was widespread, and societal violence against such groups occurred. Non-governmental actors, including terrorist and extremist groups and individuals, targeted religious congregations. A domestic insurgency led by Sunni Taliban elements increased acts of violence and intimidation against religious minorities and exacerbated existing sectarian tensions. Imposition of extremist religious views on the majority Muslims loomed large as a threat throughout the reporting period due to the increased activity of an extremist insurgency, particularly in the Swat Valley. In various incidents, Muslims with liberal views, particularly women, were asked to follow a strict version of Islam and were threatened with dire consequences if they did not abide by it.
Although the Government generally respected freedom of religion for most of the population, authorities imposed restrictions on certain religious minorities and did not always respect separation of church and state and the equality of all religions before the law. Vague legislation to counter "extremism" has had a detrimental effect on religious freedom. There were indications that security services treated the leadership and literature of some minority religious groups, including Jehovah's Witnesses, as security threats. Alexander Dvorkin, an outspoken proponent of categorizing minority religious groups as extremist cults and “sects,” was elected to head the Council of Experts that makes recommendations on designating these religious groups. Societal attitudes toward traditionally Muslim ethnic groups were negative in many regions, and there were manifestations of anti-Semitism as well as hostility toward Roman Catholics and other non-Orthodox Christian denominations. Instances of religiously motivated violence continued, although often it was difficult to determine whether xenophobic, religious, or ethnic prejudices were the primary motivation behind violent attacks. Conservative activists claiming ties to the Russian Orthodox Church occasionally disseminated negative publications and held protest meetings against religions considered nontraditional, including alternative Orthodox congregations. Some Russian Orthodox Church clergy, including Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, publicly stated opposition to the expansion of the presence of some non-Orthodox Christian denominations, though other prominent societal leaders took positive steps to promote religious freedom. Many religious groups had difficulty acquiring land or permits to build houses of worship, and nontraditional denominations frequently complained that they were unable to obtain venues for worship.
Freedom of religion is neither recognized nor protected under Saudi law and it is severely restricted in practice. The Government confirmed that, as a matter of policy, it guarantees and protects the right to private worship for all, including non-Muslims who gather in homes for religious services. This right was not always respected in practice and is not defined in law. The King's official title is "Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques," reflecting the importance the royal family attaches to upholding Islam within the country as a central pillar of its legitimacy, both domestically and within the global Muslim community. The deep connection between the Al-Saud family and the religious establishment results in significant pressure on the state and society to adhere to the official Saudi interpretation of Islam and conservative societal norms. Some Muslims who do not adhere to this interpretation faced significant political, economic, legal, social, and religious discrimination, including limited employment and educational opportunities, underrepresentation in official institutions, and restrictions on the practice of their faith and on the building of places of worship and community centers. The largest group affected was the Shi'a. Moreover, the public practice of non-Muslim religions is prohibited, and the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (CPVPV) continued to conduct raids on private non-Muslim religious gatherings. Although the Government also confirmed its stated policy to protect the right to possess and use personal religious materials, it did not provide for this right in law or practice. There were fewer charges of harassment and abuse at the hands of the CPVPV than in previous years, but incidents of CPVPV excesses continued to cause many non-Muslims to worship in secret, for fear of the police and CPVPV. Saudi textbooks continued to contain overtly intolerant statements against Jews and Christians and subtly intolerant statements against Shi'a and other religious groups, notwithstanding Government efforts to review educational materials to remove or revise such statements.
Although the Transitional Federal Charter provides for religious freedom, there were limits on the extent to which this right was respected in practice. The Charter establishes Islam as the national religion, and proselytizing for any religion other than Islam is strictly prohibited. Moreover, statutes and regulations provide no effective recourse for violations of religious freedom. The independent regions of Somaliland and Puntland establish Islam as the official religion. On May 10, 2009, the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) ratified legislation to implement Shari'a law nationwide. In practice, the TFG does not have the capacity or mechanisms to implement the legislation uniformly. The TFG generally did not enforce legal protections of religious freedom. There was a decline in the status of respect for religious freedom during the reporting period, primarily as a result of extremist militias taking control over significant territory in the country. Militia groups, particularly those associated with the U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization al-Shabaab, often imposed through violence a strict interpretation of Islam on communities under their control. In religiously motivated violence, al-Shabaab destroyed the tombs of revered Sufi clerics and killed clerics, civilians, and government officials of Sufi orientation. In targeted assassinations, members of these extremist groups killed TFG officials and allies they denounced as non-Muslims or apostates. There were also reports that individuals who do not practice Islam experienced discrimination, violence, and detention because of their religious beliefs. There were no public places of worship for non-Muslims in the country. A political process to establish peace and stability in the country continued.
The Interim National Constitution (INC) provided for freedom of religion throughout the country; however, the INC enshrined Shari'a as a source of legislation in the north, and the official laws and policies of the Government of National Unity (GNU) favor Islam in the north. The Constitution of Southern Sudan provides for freedom of religion in the south, and other laws and policies of the Government of South Sudan contributed to the generally free practice of religion in the 10 states of the south. Although the GNU generally did not vigorously enforce its strictest restrictions on religious freedom, it generally did not respect religious plurality and continued to place some restrictions on Christians in the north. Even so, unlike in prior reporting periods, Christian churches in the north reported that they held regular religious services and large holiday celebrations without government interference. There were some reports of societal abuses and discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice, and religious prejudices remained prevalent throughout the country.
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, but legislation and governmental decrees contradict this right. The Government continued to promote secularism and allowed religious practice only under tight controls. Respect for religious freedom continued to decline during the reporting period. The Government passed a new religion law that includes significant restrictions on religious expression, particularly among the country's majority Muslim population, and it continued to use the registration process to hinder, influence, or intimidate religious organizations and communities. The Government expanded its efforts to control virtually all aspects of religious life, and government officials actively monitored religious groups, institutions, and figures. Government policies reflected a concern about Islamic extremism, and government officials used these concerns to justify imposing restrictions and engaging in surveillance.
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and other laws and policies contributed to the generally free practice of religion; however, constitutional provisions regarding the integrity and existence of the secular state restricted these rights. There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom by the Government during the reporting period. The Government continued to impose limitations on Muslim and other religious groups and significant restrictions on individuals' Islamic religious expression in government offices and state-run institutions, including universities, for the stated reason of preserving the "secular state." Authorities continued their broad ban on wearing Islamic religious headscarves in government offices as well as in public schools. Minority religious groups faced difficulties in worshipping, registering with the Government, and training their members. Societal threats against non-Muslims created an atmosphere of pressure and diminished freedom for some non-Muslim communities. Many Christians, Baha'is, and heterodox Muslims faced societal suspicion and mistrust, and some elements of society continued to express anti-Semitic sentiments.
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion and does not establish a state religion; however, in practice the Government continued to restrict the free practice of religion. There were small improvements in the status of respect for religious freedom by the Government during the reporting period, but troubling developments in the treatment of some registered and unregistered groups continued. All groups must register to gain legal status; unregistered religious activity is illegal and may be punished by administrative fines. Several religious groups remained unable to register, and the Government restricted registered groups' ability to own property, print or import religious materials, and host foreign guests. There were reports of raids and arbitrary detentions involving Jehovah's Witnesses.
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion and for the principle of separation of church and state; however, the 1998 Religion Law restricts many rights only to registered religious groups and limits which groups may register. Respect for religious freedom declined in several respects during the reporting period. The Government's campaign against unauthorized Islamic groups suspected of extremist sentiments or activities continued; alleged members were arrested and sentenced to lengthy jail terms. The number of individuals imprisoned for membership in extremist groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir appeared to decrease for the second year in a row; however, the Government appeared to shift its focus to Nur, a Turkish Muslim group, arresting at least 33 alleged Nur members and sentencing many of them to prison terms ranging from six to 12 years. The Government did not interfere with worshippers at sanctioned mosques and permitted the operation of other religious groups it considered mainstream. Some minority religious groups remained unregistered because they were unable to satisfy the strict registration requirements set out by the law. These groups, particularly those perceived as engaging in proselytism, experienced raids, harassment, and the detention of their leaders and members; some faced criminal charges. Religious groups enjoyed generally tolerant relations, although some minority religious groups continued to face negative media coverage and neighbors, family, and employers sometimes continued to pressure ethnic Uzbek Christians.
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion on the condition that the practice of a religion does not violate public morality, decency, or the public order. The Government generally respected the practice of religious freedom; however, religious groups, like others that criticized the Government, were subject to harassment and intimidation. During the reporting period leaders within the Catholic Church issued several statements critical of the country's democracy and human rights record. In response, President Chavez and other government officials on multiple occasions publicly criticized specific Catholic bishops and the Papal Nuncio. On April 6, 2009, the Catholic Episcopal Conference of Venezuela (CEV) issued a communiqué warning that the country's democratic system was "at risk of collapse." On April 13, 2009, unknown assailants robbed the Caracas headquarters of the CEV, stealing a laptop computer. Jewish leaders reported numerous incidents of anti-Semitism including graffiti, slurs, political cartoons, and media commentary. In January 2009 armed gunmen vandalized the Tiferet Israel synagogue, the oldest synagogue in Caracas, held the building for several hours, and spray-painted the walls with anti-Semitic slurs. In February 2009 criminal charges were filed against 11 persons, including several police officers, in connection with the vandalism. There were some efforts by the Government to limit the influence of religious groups in certain geographic, social, and political areas. Foreign missionaries, who require special visas, noted continued difficulties, especially for access to indigenous areas.
Respect for religious freedom and practice continued to improve in some regards during the reporting period, though significant problems remained. The Government took further steps to implement its 2004 Ordinance on Religion and Belief and supplemental decrees on religious policy issued in 2005. During the reporting period, the Government granted national recognition to five Protestant denominations and four additional religions: the Bani Muslim Sect, the Threefold Enlightened Truth Path, the Threefold Southern Tradition, and the Baha'i Community. Also during the reporting period, the Government granted national registration certificates to one additional Protestant denomination as well as two additional religious groups. Some problems remained with implementation, primarily at the provincial and village level, including the slow pace--in some cases inaction--of registration of Protestant congregations in the north and the Northwest and Central Highlands; inconsistent application of procedures for the registration of congregations; and other cumbersome legal requirements and restrictions on religious recruitment. In some areas where registrations have been slow, Protestant congregations experienced harassment, such as in Tra Vinh province in the Mekong Delta and some isolated areas in the Northwest Highlands. There were unresolved property claims with virtually all religious groups including the Catholic Church, SECV, ECVN, and many smaller denominations, resulting, in particular, in large-scale Catholic protests that were forcibly repressed.
The Constitution does not protect or inhibit freedom of religion. The Constitution declares that Islam is the state religion and that Shari'a (Islamic law) is the source of all legislation. Muslims and followers of religious groups other than Islam are free to worship according to their beliefs; however, the Government prohibits conversion from Islam and the proselytizing of Muslims. There was a decrease in the status of respect for religious freedom by the Government during the reporting period, particularly with regard to the Baha'i and Jewish communities. Following increased harassment, threats, and the killing of a Jewish community leader, many Jewish residents of Amran governorate began making plans to leave Yemen. The Government appeared unwilling or unable to increase security for the remaining Jewish population. For the first time, based on fears for the community's safety in Yemen, the U.S. Government initiated a special process to refer the Yemeni Jews for refugee resettlement in the United States. During the reporting period, the Government detained members of the Baha'i community because of their religious beliefs and they faced deportation, and there were reports of arrests of Christian converts. Some Zaydi Muslims reported that they continued to feel targeted by government entities for their religious affiliation.
PART II: U.S. ACTIONS IN COUNTRIES OF PARTICULAR CONCERN
This section highlights actions by U.S. government officials to promote religious freedom and to encourage governments to take positive steps to improve religious freedom conditions in the Countries of Particular Concern (CPCs). The IRF Act requires an annual review of the status of religious freedom worldwide and the designation as CPCs of countries that have "engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom" during the reporting period. Following the designation, a period of negotiation may ensue, in which the United States seeks to work with a designated country to bring about change. Subsequently, depending upon the results of these discussions, the Secretary of State takes one or more actions, pursuant to the IRF Act.
Options for such actions include application of sanctions or negotiation of a bilateral agreement to improve religious freedom. Sanctions may be waived to further the purpose of the IRF Act or to further national interest. Some of these countries have also seen limited positive developments under circumstances where abuses of religious freedom are generally severe, and these are highlighted in Part III. Additional information can be found in the country reports. The Office of International Religious Freedom, headed by an Ambassador at Large, works throughout the year to promote religious freedom in each CPC.
In addition to its efforts in CPCs, the Department of State monitors religious persecution and discrimination worldwide, implements policies, develops initiatives, funds programs, and actively works bilaterally and multilaterally to foster greater respect for religious freedom. Through diplomacy, the United States seeks to promote freedom of religion and conscience throughout the world as a fundamental human right and as a source of stability for all countries.
Burma first was designated a CPC in 1999 and most recently was re-designated on January 16, 2009. As the action under the IRF Act, the Secretary designated the existing ongoing arms embargo referenced in 22 CFR 126.1(1), pursuant to section 402(c)(5) of the Act. The U.S. Government has a wide array of financial and trade sanctions in place against Burma for its violations of human rights. The passage and signing into law in July 2008 of the Tom Lantos Block Burmese Junta Anti-Democratic Efforts Act further strengthened these sanctions. The U.S. Government advocated religious freedom with all strata of society, including government officials, religious leaders, private citizens, scholars, foreign diplomats, and international business and media representatives. Through outreach and travel, when not blocked by regime officials, embassy representatives offered support to and exchanged information with many otherwise isolated local nongovernmental organizations and religious leaders. The U.S. Government funded a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees program to issue identification cards to undocumented Rohingya Muslims to facilitate their registration of births and marriages and access to basic education and health care.
China first was designated a CPC in 1999 and most recently was re-designated on January 16, 2009. As the action under the IRF Act, the Secretary designated the existing ongoing restrictions on exports to China of crime control and detection instruments and equipment, under P.L. 101-246 and the Foreign Relations Authorization Act of 1990 and 1991, pursuant to section 402(c)(5) of the Act. The U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, and the Consulates General in Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Shenyang, and Wuhan made a concerted effort to encourage greater religious freedom in China. U.S. officials condemned abuses while supporting positive trends within the country and urged the Government to expand the scope of religious freedom for both registered and unregistered religious groups according to citizens' constitutional and internationally recognized rights. U.S. officials protested the imprisonment of, asked to attend the trials of, and requested further information about numerous individual religious prisoners. U.S. officials encouraged the Government to address policies that restricted Tibetan Buddhist religious practices and contributed to tensions in the TAR and other Tibetan regions. Secretary of State Clinton raised religious freedom issues in meetings with Chinese leaders and attended services at a registered Protestant church in February 2009. In May 2009 Speaker of the House of Representatives Pelosi raised religious freedom concerns and attended mass at a registered Catholic church in Shanghai.
Eritrea first was designated a CPC in 2004 and most recently was re-designated on January 16, 2009. As the action under the IRF Act, the Secretary designated the ongoing arms embargo referenced in 22 CFR 126.1(a), pursuant to section 402(c)(5) of the Act. The U.S. Ambassador and other embassy officers raised the cases of detention and restrictions on unregistered religious groups in prior reporting periods with officials in the President's Office, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the leaders of the sole legal political party, the People's Front for Democracy and Justice. Despite repeated attempts, government authorities responsible for religious affairs did not grant U.S. embassy officials opportunities to specifically discuss instances of religious freedom abuse during the reporting period.
Iran first was designated a CPC in 1999 and most recently was re-designated on January 16, 2009. As the action under the IRF Act, the Secretary designated the existing ongoing restrictions on United States security assistance in accordance with section 40 of the Arms Export Control Act, pursuant to section 402(c)(5) of the Act. The United States has no diplomatic relations with Iran, and thus it does not raise directly with the Government the restrictions the Government places on religious freedom and other abuses the Government commits against adherents of minority religious groups. The U.S. Government makes its position clear in public statements and reports, support for relevant UN and nongovernmental organization efforts, and diplomatic initiatives to press for an end to government abuses. The United States calls on other countries with bilateral relations with Iran to use those ties to press the Government on religious freedom and human rights. On numerous occasions, the U.S. State Department spokesman has addressed the situation of the Baha'i and Jewish communities in the country. In UN resolutions, the U.S. Government has publicly condemned the treatment of the Baha'is, including a resolution that passed in the General Assembly in 2008. The U.S. Government encourages other governments to make similar statements.
The Democratic People's Republic of North Korea (DPRK) first was designated a CPC in 2001 and most recently was re-designated on January 16, 2009. As the action under the IRF Act, the Secretary designated the existing ongoing restrictions to which North Korea is subject pursuant to sections 402 and 409 of the Trade Act of 1974 (the Jackson-Vanik Amendment), pursuant to section 402(c)(5) of the Act. The United States has no diplomatic relations with North Korea, and thus it does not raise directly with the Government the restrictions the Government places on religious freedom and other abuses the Government commits against adherents of minority religious groups. The U.S. Government raised its concerns about the deplorable state of human rights in the country with bilateral partners and in multilateral forums. In December 2008 the U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution with U.S. co-sponsorship that condemned the country's poor human rights record, expressing special concern at "continuing reports of systemic, widespread and grave violations" of human rights. The resolution called on North Korea to fulfill its obligations under human rights instruments to which it is a party and further urged the Government to permit UN special representatives to visit and to ensure that humanitarian organizations have free access to the country. The Department of State continued to support programs that document human rights abuses and increase the availability of outside information in the country, and provided support to NGOs that seek to build the capacity of South Korea-based NGOs in their efforts to improve and expand monitoring and reporting of the human rights situation in North Korea. Radio Free Asia and Voice of America also provided regular Korean-language broadcasting.
Saudi Arabia first was designated a CPC in 2004 and most recently was re-designated on January 16, 2009. The Secretary authorized a waiver of actions under the IRF Act to further the purposes of the Act, pursuant to section 407 of the Act. U.S. government policy is to press the Government consistently to honor its public commitment to permit private religious worship by non-Muslims, eliminate discrimination against minorities, promote tolerance toward non-Muslims, and combat extremism. During the reporting period, the U.S. Ambassador met with senior government and religious leaders regarding religious freedom and raised with senior officials specific cases of violations. Other senior U.S. officials encouraged the Government to honor policies to halt the dissemination of intolerant literature and extremist ideology within the country and around the world, protect private worship for all religious groups, curb harassment of religious groups, and promote tolerance toward all religions. Senior U.S. officials supported provisions calling for religious tolerance, including elimination of discrimination against religious minorities, improved respect for human rights, and improved accountability and transparency in these matters. They also raised specific cases and instances of religious freedom violations with senior Saudi officials. An official from the U.S. Department of State's Office of International Religious Freedom visited Jeddah, Riyadh, and Dhahran to promote U.S. views on religious freedom.
Sudan first was designated a CPC in 1999 and most recently was re-designated on January 16, 2009. As the action under the IRF Act, the Secretary designated the use of the voice and vote of the United States to oppose any loan or other use of the funds of international financial institutions to or for Sudan consistent with 1621 of the International Financial Institutions Act, pursuant to section 402(c)(5) of the Act. The U.S. Government encouraged respect for religious freedom in its discussions with the Government of National Unity and urged it to fulfill the promise of religious freedom in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and the Interim National Constitution. U.S. embassy officials met regularly with leaders from many Muslim and Christian groups in Khartoum, Juba, and elsewhere, noting the importance of religious freedom and the extent of U.S. interest and concern.
Uzbekistan first was designated a CPC in 2006 and was re-designated on January 16, 2009. The Secretary authorized a 180-day waiver of actions under the IRF Act, effective January 16, 2009, to further the purposes of the Act, pursuant to section 407 of the Act. During the reporting period, the U.S. Ambassador to Uzbekistan and other embassy officials met with local religious leaders, human rights activists, and government officials to discuss specific issues of human rights and religious freedom. The Embassy emphasized the importance of religious freedom by hosting a variety of discussions and providing small grants to local groups focusing on religious freedom, and intervening with difficulties religious groups or faith-based foreign aid organizations faced. In November 2008, the Embassy hosted a roundtable with colleagues from other foreign missions and representatives from several evangelical Protestant denominations and the Jehovah's Witnesses to discuss issues affecting those communities. Officials in Washington, D.C., met on several occasions with Embassy of Uzbekistan officials to convey U.S. concerns regarding religious freedom. U.S. officials, both in Washington, D.C., and in Tashkent, encouraged the Government to release religious prisoners of conscience and revise its laws on religion, including lowering the 100-member minimum required to form a religious group, lifting restrictions on the importation and publication of religious literature, and eliminating legal provisions prohibiting the private teaching of religion, which the U.S. Government believes is an essential element for preventing further radicalization of young Muslims.
PART III: IMPROVEMENTS AND POSITIVE DEVELOPMENTS
This section highlights specific improvements in religious freedom conditions and positive developments during the reporting period that could lead to significant and lasting change. These developments took place across varied settings and do not reflect an overall assessment of religious freedom conditions in a country; some countries listed below already have excellent records on religious freedom, and others do not. Data from previous Annual Reports suggest that improvements in respect for religious freedom often develop incrementally over time, usually alongside complex and ongoing concerns. This section recognizes steps government and prominent societal actors took toward the achievement of significant improvements in religious freedom conditions, which must be identified under the IRF Act. Additional information helpful for placing these developments in context can be found in the country reports.
The Government has put in place extensive programs to promote respect for religious pluralism and in December 2008 established the Multicultural Advisory Council to provide advice on social "cohesion issues relating to Australia's cultural and religious diversity." The Government worked with Muslim leaders on the Advisory Council to develop de-radicalization programs for convicted terrorists. In December 2008, the Government launched the National Human Rights Consultation to seek the views of the public on how better to protect human rights. It was due to report to the Government by August 31, 2009. The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission was preparing a report entitled Freedom of Religion and Belief in the 21st Century. Prominent Catholic, Anglican, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist leaders launched the Ambrose Centre for Religious Liberty in April 2009. One of the Centre's concerns is that the country's anti-vilification laws can be used against religious leaders who express views critical of other religions.
The Ministry of Education worked with the Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs to develop a new religious education curriculum that covers the five principal schools of Islamic jurisprudence and practices and includes content opposing extremism. The Government has yet to give the curriculum its approval, after which it will go to Parliament for legislative approval. Also during the reporting period, the Government allowed members of some Christian churches to visit Christian prison inmates regularly to provide clothing and Christian literature.
On December 29, 2008, the Awami League (AL), an avowedly secular party that enjoys broad support from religious minorities, won power in the first parliamentary elections since 2001. These elections were largely free of the violence and intimidation against religious minorities that had characterized earlier ones. The Government initiated efforts to reform the curriculum of Islamic religious schools, known as madrassahs, to standardize education. The Government also appointed members of the minority communities to senior leadership positions and took steps to promote interfaith understanding. For example, government leaders issued statements on the eve of religious holidays calling for peace and warned that they would take action against those attempting to disrupt the celebrations. There were reports of societal abuses and discrimination based on religious belief or practice, but figures suggested that they declined significantly in comparison to the previous reporting period.
In September 2008 the Rio de Janeiro State Legislature created a religious intolerance hotline number to register cases of discrimination or threats against any religion. In January 2009 representatives of various religious groups met in Rio de Janeiro to launch the NGO-published Guide to Combat Racism and Religious Intolerance (Freedom Manual), written by a former state secretary of human rights. Police distributed the manual to police stations and religious organizations in Rio de Janeiro to advise officers on how to respond to discrimination complaints.
During the reporting period, government officials allowed increased space for some unregistered religious groups they viewed as non-threatening. The government took cautious measures to promote Buddhism, Taoism, and some folk religions within the framework of the Patriotic Religious Associations (PRAs). For example, in March the state-sanctioned Buddhist Association of China co-organized the Second World Buddhist Forum in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province. Most Christian groups, the majority of which were not affiliated with one of the PRAs, no longer operated in strict secrecy, and a branch of the State Council held an unprecedented meeting with a delegation of house church leaders. Reinforcing comments President Hu Jintao made in a 2007 speech to the 17th Chinese Communist Party National People's Congress, the Government stated in its new National Human Rights Action Plan that it would "encourage and support religious circles in launching social welfare programs [and] exploring methods and channels for religions to better serve society and promote the people's well-being." The Government did not indicate whether these statements would apply to unregistered religious groups outside the PRAs.
Chancellor Merkel accompanied U.S. President Barack Obama to the former concentration camp at Buchenwald during the President's June 5, 2009, visit, commemorating the victims of the Holocaust and the Nazi regime. The Government monitored right-wing extremists, conducted investigations into anti-Semitic crimes, and at times banned extremist groups deemed a threat to public order. Authorities sought to address right-wing extremism by conducting a variety of education programs to promote tolerance, many focusing on anti-Semitism and xenophobia. On November 4, 2008, the Bundestag passed a resolution addressing anti-Semitism in which it called upon the Government to create an experts group to coordinate government activities to combat anti-Semitism and provide routine reports and an action plan to address the issue. The Government promoted tolerance by establishing dialogues with representatives of immigrant and Muslim groups on the integration of minorities and immigrants and on Islamic matters at the Chancellor and Interior Minister levels. On the local level, the Government hosted an exhibition on Muslim integration and the first Government Iftar. The Government released a progress report on its 2007 National Integration Plan, in which state and local authorities, representatives of minority groups, and the Government adopted measures and voluntary commitments relating to integration.
Government officials responded to a number of new and previous violent events, helping to prevent communal violence and providing relief and rehabilitation packages for victims and their families.Indonesia
The Government prosecuted two key leaders of hardline Muslim organizations who were convicted and sentenced to 18 months in prison for their role in organized violence against a peaceful demonstration in support of religious freedom and pluralism. Although the two leaders were released after serving only nine months, the convictions are examples of the Government's growing willingness to pursue criminal actions in cases of violence against religious minorities. The Government also prosecuted terrorists responsible for religiously tinged violence in Sulawesi and the Malukus.
The Constitutional Council ruled in February 2009 that proposed amendments to the religion law were unconstitutional. In response to concerns about the restrictive nature of the legislation, the Government had received expert legal assistance from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe/Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and had incorporated some of its suggestions into the text of the legislation. On April 14, 2009, the President's Human Rights Commission (HRC), an advisory body within the Presidential Administration, presented the National Action Plan on Human Rights for 2009-12, the country's first such plan. One of the HRC's recommendations is that the Ministry of Justice, in collaboration with nongovernmental organizations, begin publishing annual reports on the status of religious freedom in the country. It also proposed that by 2011, the country should amend its religious legislation to bring it in line with international standards. The President signed the Action Plan in June 2009. In comparison to the previous reporting period, the Government's criticism of "nontraditional religious groups" decreased. With the Atyrau group's registration, local Jehovah's Witnesses achieved registration in all 14 oblasts.
Citizens were able to remove their religious affiliation from their civil registry records following the February 11, 2009, issuance of a circular allowing citizens to remove their confessional identity from their civil registry records if they wish to do so.
Following an April 2008 ruling of the Chisinau Appeals Court, all Jehovah's Witnesses missionaries received work permits. On February 2, 2009, the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) added two new courses dedicated to religious freedom to training programs of the National Institute of Justice and instituted related seminars in the first semester of 2009. Following a July 1, 2008, roundtable discussion supported by the United Nations Development Program between the Government and religious groups, the Government published on the MOJ website a guide to the laws and regulations that govern registration of religious groups and their component parts.
In 2008 the Government began a four-year, $38 million (€26 million) outreach campaign to schools and neighborhoods to counter anti-Muslim sentiments, Islamic extremism, and right-wing nationalism. These efforts raised public awareness and triggered debate, but concerns about the policy's effectiveness remained. The Government regularly told prosecutors and the police to give proper attention to incidents of discrimination. In March 2009 Parliament adopted a law obliging all local governments to create antidiscrimination units. The Government followed up with a campaign to encourage victims to report incidents of discrimination. The Government also took measures to deal more effectively with discrimination and incitement to hatred on the Internet; however, critics charged that law enforcement agencies could do considerably more.
The New Zealand Human Rights Commission (HRC) continued to implement its Statement on Religious Diversity published in 2007, which aims to provide for equal treatment of all faiths before the state, the right to safety for religious individuals and communities, freedom of religious expression, the right to recognition and reasonable accommodation for religious groups, and the promotion of understanding in education. On March 26, 2009, the New Zealand police released a new edition of "A Practical Reference to Religious Diversity" as a guide for its officers. The publication contains information on various faiths and religious practices in New Zealand and is designed to assist police in working within diverse religious communities. The guide also sets out basic human rights principles concerning religious diversity.
The Government lifted previous limitations on the number of religious workers in the country and shortened the process for granting permission to religious leaders to enter the country from two months to one week.
The Government took some limited steps to improve its treatment of religious minorities during the reporting period. The democratically elected Government appointed a Roman Catholic as Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs and upgraded his position to a cabinet minister. The Government allocated a 5 percent quota for religious minorities in all federal jobs and directed provincial governments to implement the same at the provincial level. The Government also decided to celebrate Minorities' Day on August 11 every year at the national level.
The Government took steps during the reporting period to allow for increased religious expression, as the Indian Inter-Denominational Christian Church complex at Mesaimeer (offering Protestant and Catholic services) was inaugurated, and construction continued on four additional church facilities within the complex. In 2008 a Roman Catholic church opened for services, the first church built in Doha.
While overall government policies continued to place severe restrictions on religious freedom, there were incremental improvements in specific areas during the reporting period, including better protection of the right to possess and use religious materials; increased scrutiny of and training for the members of the CPVPV; somewhat greater authority and capacity for official human rights entities to operate; limited education reform; and select measures to combat extremist ideology, including close scrutiny of Friday sermons by the Government; and sermons by leading clerics promoting tolerance and moderation.
During the reporting period there were a number of positive developments. On November 26, 2008, Assistant Religion Minister Dragan Novakovic expressed to the media his regret that most attacks on religious communities were prosecuted as minor offenses such as disturbing the peace instead of as incitement of hatred, which carries more severe penalties. In April 2009 Assistant Minister Novakovic visited a licensed Adventist high school in Novi Sad. On December 18, 2008, he met with Jehovah's Witnesses' representatives in Belgrade, the first such visit of a government official to the group's premises. Local authorities in Mladenovac issued a permit to the Christian Adventist Church to continue construction of its house of worship, a project that had been halted for more than two years due to previous decisions ordering destruction of the building. There continued to be progress on restitution of religious property seized in 1945 or later.
The City of Madrid held its first International Seminar on Anti-Semitism. City authorities of Lleida approved the construction of the first purpose-built mosque in Catalonia in modern times.
The Government facilitated and promoted the annual Jewish pilgrimage to the El-Ghriba Synagogue in Djerba, celebrated on the Jewish holiday of Lag B'Omer, and approximately 6,000 Jews, most with ties to the country, traveled from abroad to participate. According to the president of the Djerban Jewish community, attendance was the largest since al-Qa'ida attacked the synagogue in 2002, killing 21 persons. Local Jewish leaders stated that 20 to 25 percent of these pilgrims were Israeli citizens traveling under the relaxed travel policies that went into effect in 2004.
Despite continued problems, there were many small improvements during the reporting period. A policeman was fined a significant amount for beating a member of Jehovah's Witnesses in the only case of physical brutality reported. Two religious groups reported being able to share their faiths publicly without harassment for the first time. One unregistered group's leader reported that the group's adherents gathered in small groups in private apartments and were no longer raided by police or fined as occurred in the past. Government promotion of the Ruhnama, the former president’s book on the spiritual and cultural life of the country, decreased. The UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief carried out a mission. The Government continued construction of large mosques in each of the provincial capitals, as well as smaller mosques in a number of villages and towns. All groups reported an easing of tensions.
Despite continued abuses, the Government took steps to assist in the training of new religious leadership--Buddhist, Catholic, Protestant, and other religions--by facilitating the construction of new training facilities and furthering the education of thousands of monks, priests, nuns, and pastors. New congregations were registered in many of the country's 64 provinces, a number of new religious groups were both recognized and registered at the national level, and citizens were generally allowed to practice religion more freely. The Catholic Church, various Protestant congregations, and other smaller religious groups reported that their ability to gather and worship improved and that the Government eased restrictions on the assignment of new clergy. The Government also permitted Buddhists, Catholics, and Protestants to hold several large-scale religious services throughout the country with more than 10,000 religious followers participating at each event. The Catholic Church reported that the Government approved the establishment of one additional Catholic seminary in Nam Dinh Province. Protestants and Catholics across the north reported improvement in most officials' attitudes toward their religion, and in general Protestants and Catholics were allowed to gather for worship without harassment, despite some isolated incidents.
Initiatives Toward Interfaith Tolerance and Understanding
In addition to the improvements and positive developments described above, many governments and key societal actors made new efforts during the reporting period to promote tolerance, dialogue, and an environment conducive to societal coexistence between religions. More information about most of these initiatives can be found in the country reports; there is no country report on the Vatican, however.
International interfaith initiatives are growing in many parts of the world, and the Middle East region in particular has seen a growing interest in intra-faith and interfaith dialogue. There have been repeated calls for the promotion of tolerance, dialogue, and coexistence, resulting in joint efforts both within and beyond the region. The Doha Conference on Interfaith Dialogue has convened annually in Qatar since 2002. Jordanian King Abdullah's "Amman Message" of 2004 has promoted a number of interfaith conferences and activities and was an important precursor to further efforts. In Saudi Arabia, the Muslim World League held an intra-faith conference for Muslims, which was followed by the July 2008 Interfaith Conference in Madrid and then by Saudi King Abdullah's Interfaith Dialogue Initiative in November 2008 at the United Nations.
The October 2007 release of a 21-page letter organized by Jordan's Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad and signed by 138 Muslim leaders from around the world formed the basis for several ongoing initiatives. The letter was addressed to the Pope and other Christian leaders after the Pope's controversial Regensburg speech of September 2006 and in effect articulated for the first time a consensus among widely diverse (but not all) members of the Muslim community. The Vatican responded publicly in late November 2007, and in the spring of 2008 Muslims and Christians, primarily Roman Catholics, met to begin a dialogue based on the letter's recognition of their shared scriptures requiring love of God and one's neighbor. The first Catholic-Muslim Forum met formally in November 2008. In the meantime, Yale Divinity School organized a three-page reply signed by 300 Christian scholars and leaders representing scores of denominations and institutions. The Archbishop of Canterbury and others also issued separate personal responses.
The Vatican has also been involved in the Mecca-based World Muslim League initiative discussed above and in an ongoing dialogue with Shi'a, mostly Iranians. The Holy See has taken a leading role in recent engagement with Islam, accompanied by growing interest from diverse religious groups and regions.
Muslims engaged in dialogue with the Holy See seek greater respect for Islam, particularly in the West, and wish to emphasize that Islam is a religion of peace and disassociate it from violence. The Holy See favors a dialogue that will lead to greater religious freedom and tolerance for differences. In the letter exchange between Prince Ghazi and the Vatican, analysts have noted references from both sides to longstanding areas of concern, such as respect for the dignity of every human person and respect for religious freedom, often expressed in terms of "reciprocity." Other areas of concern include educating the public on the essential elements of both religions, sharing religious experience, and promoting mutual respect instead of violence, especially among the young.
Argentina: The Government continued to sponsor numerous interfaith dialogues, including high-profile events such as Religious Freedom Day.
Hungary: In light of increased reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice, especially anti-Semitic rhetoric, Christian churches and the Jewish community continued to organize regular events under the auspices of the Christian-Jewish Society, which brings together religious academicians for discussions. The Budapest conference of the Catholic-Jewish Relations International Committee issued a statement declaring that Catholic and Jewish dialogue that results in growing friendship and understanding is a "sign of hope and inspiration for our troubled world."
India: Efforts at ecumenical understanding brought religious leaders together to defuse religious tensions. Prominent leaders of all religious groups made public efforts to show respect for other religious groups by celebrating their holidays and attending social events such as weddings. Muslim groups protested against the mistreatment of Christians by Hindu extremists. Christian clergy and spokespersons for Christian organizations issued public statements condemning anti-Muslim violence in places such as Gujarat. In the aftermath of the November 2008 Mumbai terrorist strikes, religious leaders of all communities condemned the attacks and issued statements to maintain communal harmony.
Norway: The Council for Religious and Philosophical Communities, including the state church and other religious communities, organized events including a "dialogue conference" and a debate about religion in educational institutions. The Oslo Coalition for Freedom of Religious Beliefs facilitated closer coordination and international cooperation on religious freedom issues and conducted research projects on New Directions in Islamic Thought and Practice, Facilitating Freedom of Religion, Missionary Activities and Human Rights, and Teaching for Tolerance and Religious Freedom.
Oman: The Government sponsored regular interfaith dialogues and fora for examining differing interpretations of Islam, Christianity, and philosophical approaches that are not tied to a specific religion.
Samoa: Religious freedom issues were discussed and debated at the Pacific Futures Law and Religion Symposium, which brought together the Head of State, Chief Justice, Deputy Prime Minister, religious leaders, and academics.
South Korea: Prominent religious leaders regularly met privately and under government auspices to promote understanding and tolerance.
Switzerland: Religious communities in approximately 40 cities across the country joined together to celebrate a "Week of Religions" under the motto "Getting to Know Each Other." For a week, Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and Baha'is invited each other to attend their religious services and held a series of special events such as music concerts, panel discussions, round table meetings, and open discussion forums.
Syria: The Government and civil society hosted numerous interfaith dialogue events and conferences, including "The Message of Peace in Islam," "Islam and the West," "Religion and Respect: Learning from Each Other’s Faith," and a workshop on the role of women in promoting interfaith dialogue. The "Sham Spiritual Oasis" architecture exhibition, sponsored by Wadi Deir Mar Musa and the European Union, featured proposals by international architects for an eco-cultural way station that would provide a multi-functional space for people of different ethnic and religious backgrounds to join one another for meditation and educational cooperation. The Government announced that the winning design would be built at Deir Mar Musa on 14 hectares of land the Government donated.
Thailand: In accordance with a clause retained in the 2007 Constitution requiring the Government to "promote good understanding and harmony among followers of all religions," the Government actively sponsored interfaith dialogue through regular meetings and numerous public education programs, including youth reconciliation camps, popular media, and initiatives for poverty relief and crime prevention.
Ukraine: The Government continued to promote interfaith understanding by frequently consulting with the All-Ukraine Council of Churches and Religious Organizations, which represents more than 90 percent of the religiously active population. In April 2009 the Ministry of Defense and major religious groups formed the Council for Pastoral Support.
We are encouraged by this growing recognition by governments and religious leaders that extremism is a common enemy and that freedom and respectful religious coexistence are critical to our shared future. We look forward to broadening these conversations to include the full diversity of faith traditions and to build a world in which all are free to choose and practice their faith and live according to their conscience.