A US report has warned of declining religious freedom worldwide. The US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) published its annual report on April 25 and claimed worsening religious freedom across the globe.
The report highlighted abuses of religious freedom in Asian countries: China, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Russia, Sudan and the Central African Republic were also countries the USCIRF recommended the State Department recognise as Countries of Particular Concern (CPC).
The USCIRF Chair Daniel Mark cited particular concerns about religious liberty in Pakistan.“What we have said for many years is that Pakistan is the worst country in the world that’s not designated for CPC. Pakistan is a world leader in imprisonment and convictions, prosecutions for blasphemy and apostasy, and those sorts of things,” Mark told CNA.
The report says that 40 people have been sentenced in the last year under blasphemy laws to either the death penalty or life sentences.
This situation deteriorated in December 2017 when Islamic State suicide bombers attacked a church in Quetta, Pakistan killing nine people.
“Given the rise of extremism in Pakistan…we really do think that pressure should be kept up,” Mark said.
The report also mentioned Chinese government persecution of Catholics with the government-backed Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association marking its 60th anniversary in 2017. This Association is part of President Xi Jinping’s efforts to “manipulate all aspects of faith into a socialist mood infused with ‘Chinese characteristics.'”
Other than Cuba all 28 states categorised as the worst offenders against religious rights lie in the Eastern Hemisphere.
USCIRF recommended the US government focus its efforts on supporting the release of prisoners of conscience. A good example of such efforts was the recent visit of Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback to Turkey to campaign for the release of pastor Andrew Brunson noted Mark.
On another positive note, Mark said the degrading of ISIS control in the Middle East had brought some improvement to the region.
“The pushback against ISIS in Iraq and recapturing all or almost all of the territory from them has been absolutely critical in saving lives. And another thing that gets much less noticed is international cooperation. It was great to see that on January 1st Denmark opened a new office with an ambassador representative covering this issue and we hope to see more countries follow”.