By Father John Flynn, LC
ROME, AUG. 3, 2012 (Zenit.org).- On Monday, the U.S. Department of State released its “2011 International Religious Freedom Report.” “This report details increasing intolerance against a range of religious communities,” commented Suzan Johnson Cook, the ambassador at large for international religious freedom, on presenting it to the media.
Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt and Burma were among the countries she singled out for criticism.
“There was a marked deterioration during 2011 in the government’s respect for and protection of religious freedom in China,” the report commented.
The Department of State noted that the Chinese government and the Holy See do not have diplomatic relations, and that while the authorities have allowed some Vatican input on the selection of bishops in some instances local authorities have reportedly pressured unregistered Catholic priests and believers to renounce all ordinations approved by the Holy See.
The report noted that there were some improvements in Cuba, “although significant restrictions remained in place and the Cuban Communist Party, through its Office of Religious Affairs, continued to wield regulatory control over most aspects of religious life.”
Weekend church attendance has improved and it is now easier to bring into the country non-Cuban religious workers. Religious organizations also reported less discrimination of their members and a greater freedom to conduct educational activities, the report stated.
The news was not so good about Iran where according to the report: “Religious freedom in Iran deteriorated further from an already egregious situation.”
Imprisonment, harassment, intimidation, and discrimination based on religious beliefs were common in 2011. Authorities continued to threaten nearly all non-Shia religious groups, the report observed. Even Shia adherents who did not share the government’s official religious views faced harassment, the report added.
Arrested and even executed
The Department of State had even harsher words for North Korea, where it said: “Religious freedom does not exist in any form.”
Those who attempt to engage in religious activity as missionaries are arrested and harshly treated. The report also said that some Christians have been executed in recent times, although the scarcity of information from North Korea makes it difficult to know exactly what is going on.
In the capital of Pyongyang there are four state-controlled churches, one of which is designated Catholic, but it is not known how many people worship at them.
The government-established Korean Catholic Association (KCA) provides basic services at the capital’s Changchun Church, but according to the report it has no ties with the Vatican and there are no Catholic priests residing in North Korea.
The situation in Pakistan, which has been a country with numerous violent attacks on Christians, is continuing to deteriorate according to the report.
There are restrictions on freedom of speech and abuses have continued under the blasphemy law and other discriminatory laws, the report noted. Moreover, the government has not taken adequate measures to prevent such abuses or to change the laws.
In fact, the number of extremist attacks on religious minorities has increased and the perpetrators of this aggression continue unpunished.
“There were instances in which law enforcement personnel reportedly abused persons belonging to religious minorities in custody,” the report added.
Saudi Arabia, the Department of State commented, “does not recognize freedom of religion and prohibits the public practice of any religion other than Islam.”
In addition those Muslims who do not adhere to the government’s interpretation of Islam are subject to discrimination, while some non-Muslims face detention and even death.
“The government generally limited public religious practice to activities that conform to the official interpretation of Islam,” the report commented.
The content of school textbooks, which have been the subject of criticism for some time, still contain intolerant content regarding Jews, Christians, and some Muslim groups the report observed.
For example, the report said that textbooks state that apostates from Islam should be killed if they do not repent within three days of being warned and that treachery is a permanent characteristic of non-Muslims, especially Jews.
At the start of 2011 Pope Benedict XVI’s message for the World Day of Peace on January 1 took as its theme religious freedom. “At present, Christians are the religious group which suffers most from persecution on account of its faith,” the Pope commented.
“Religious freedom expresses what is unique about the human person, for it allows us to direct our personal and social life to God, in whose light the identity, meaning and purpose of the person are fully understood,” Benedict XVI stated.
“I implore all men and women of good will to renew their commitment to building a world where all are free to profess their religion or faith, and to express their love of God with all their heart, with all their soul and with all their mind,” the Pontiff said. A plea as relevant as ever, and unfortunately often disregarded during the past year.