US Releases Report on State of Religious Freedom

Singles Out Holy See as Promoter of Relations With Islam

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WASHINGTON, D.C., NOV. 18, 2010 ( Religious freedom is under threat in many places around the globe, according to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who presented Wednesday the annual International Religious Freedom Report.

The report’s first section details the status of religious freedom in 27 nations, many in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, but also including Cuba and Venezuela.

Clinton presented the report with reference to the attack on the Syriac Catholic church in Baghdad just a few weeks ago.

The report itself considers international initiatives to promote religious freedom. It notes various efforts from the Vatican, stating: «The Holy See has taken a leading role in recent engagement with Islam, accompanied by growing interest from diverse religious groups and regions.»

The overview of religious freedom in select countries includes both abuses and signs of improvement.

So, for example, regarding Cuba, it notes, «[I]n law and in practice, the government placed restrictions on freedom of religion.» But the report adds, «Many religious groups reported improvements in religious freedom, although significant restrictions remained in place.» It went on to mention the Church’s mediation with the «Ladies in White,» a group of wives and family members of political prisoners.

Regarding North Korea, the report notes: «Foreign media and a South Korean NGO reported 23 Christians were arrested in May 2010 for belonging to an underground church in Kuwol-dong, Pyongsong City, South Pyongan Province. Reportedly three were executed, and the others were sent to Yoduk political prison camp.

«An estimated 150,000 to 200,000 persons were believed to be held in the ‘kwan li so’ (re-education) political prison camps, 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 report noted an advance in Turkmenistan, where 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 positive changes in the government’s respect for religious freedom during the reporting period, including the registration of the Catholic Church,» it noted.

Both Christians and Jews are suffering in Venezuela, the report explained.

«[T]hose religious groups that criticized the government, like others who criticized the government, were subject to harassment and intimidation,» it stated. «During the reporting period, Catholic Church leaders noted criticism from government-sponsored media intended to discredit their leadership. […]

«Like other private sector and nongovernmental entities, the Catholic Church and evangelical communities were subjected to property expropriations. In February 2010 vandals spray-painted anti-Semitic graffiti on downtown Caracas commercial buildings erroneously rumored to be Jewish-owned during the week after their expropriation by President Chávez.

«In August 2009 the national assembly passed an education law that could prohibit religious education during normal school hours, including in private schools.»

Though the report does not evaluate assaults against religious freedom suffered by particular creeds around the world, in the 27 countries mentioned in the first section, inhibitions to the religious freedom of Christians is specifically mentioned in as many as 16 of them.

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Executive summary of report:

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