Faith in Action
The Associated Press
Study shows religious persecution is still a problem
A State Department report Thursday pointed to evidence of
widespread religious persecution in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan, all
under varying degrees of authoritarian rule, and to discrimination in
some democratic countries as well, including Israel and India.
report, covering 194 countries and territories, is the first of what
will become an annual assessment of the state of religious freedom
around the world. The most serious violators could eventually face
The study stressed that religious persecution is
not confined to a particular faith. "Throughout the world, Buddhists,
Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims and other believers continue to suffer
for their faith," it said.
While the report did not rank the countries
based on the degree to which they limit freedom, the excesses attributed
to the Iraqi government stood out.
Iraqi leader "Saddam Hussein has
for decades conducted a brutal campaign of murder, summary execution and
protracted arbitrary detention against the religious leaders and
adherents of the Shiite Muslim population," the report said.
Iraqi security forces "have murdered senior Shiite clerics, desecrated
mosques and holy sites, arrested tens of thousands of Shiites and
forcibly prevented Shiites from practicing their religion."
Afghanistan also suffered persecution and killing at the hands of the
Taliban-led government in Kabul. Afghan police impose "severe physical
punishment and imprisonment" for deviations from codes of worship and
dress," the report said.
It said Iran is intent on eradicating the
Baha'is through prolonged detention and imprisonment, confiscation and
desecration of graveyards and holy places. It added that other religious
minorities in Iran also suffer.
In general, the report made clear that
democratic countries are far more tolerant of religious diversity than
are countries run by totalitarian or authoritarian regimes. The report
credits India, for example, for respecting constitutional provisions
guaranteeing freedom of religion.
But it said, tensions between
Muslims and Hindus in India, and to a lesser extent between Hindus and
Christians, "continue to pose a challenge to the concepts of secularism,
tolerance and diversity on which the state was founded." It added that
state and local governments only partially respect religious freedom.
The report also said there have been numerous reports of human rights
abuses carried out by the mostly Hindu security forces against the
predominantly Muslim population in the region of Kashmir controlled by
As for India's rival, Pakistan, the report said discriminatory
legislation has encouraged an atmosphere of "religious intolerance,
which has led to acts of violence by extremists against members of
religious minorities, including Christians, Hindus, Ahmadis and
In democratic Israel, the report said the country's 20
percent Arab population does not receive the same quality of education,
housing, employment opportunities and social services as Jews. In
addition, it said, "government spending and financial support are
proportionally far lower in predominantly non-Jewish areas."
the report said Chinese citizens can face harassment or prolonged
detention in labor camps if they practice religion outside officially
The study also cited credible reports of abuse
against Buddhist monks and nuns in China, including Tibet.
a Chinese spokesman rejected the allegations as malicious
"Nobody has been arrested or detained because of
religious beliefs," Foreign Ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi said. "If
religious believers are arrested, it is not because of their religious
beliefs but because they have taken part in criminal
President Clinton is expected to meet this weekend with
Chinese President Jiang Zemin at the Asia-Pacific summit in Auckland,
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