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Religious Freedom

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Afghanistan, Belarus, Indonesia and Seven Other Countries Recommended for State Department's List of “Countries of Particular Concern”

September 22nd 2008

Islamic Topics - Muslim Anti-Ahmadiyya Protest

The Institute on Religion and Public Policy sent recommendations to President George W. Bush on what countries the United States should designate this year as the world’s most egregious persecutors of religious freedom, or in diplomatic parlance “countries of particular concern. (CPCs)”

CPCs are countries showing "systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom," according to the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act. The U.S. State Department will soon release its annual report on religious freedom around the world, which covers almost 200 countries. 

For 2008, the Institute has recommended to the President and the Secretary of State that the following new countries be named to the list: Afghanistan, Belarus, India, Indonesia, Egypt, Kosovo, Maldives, Russia, Turkmenistan and Vietnam. In addition, the following countries designated in 2006 should remain as CPCs: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan.

According to the Institute’s letter, Kosovo has failed to protect its religious minorities’ physical safety and property, including that of the Serbian Orthodox Church. State agencies and “unchecked aggression by social actors against Protestants, Orthodox Christians, moderate Muslims, and other religious minorities threaten the continued safety of these groups.” The United States removed Vietnam as a CPC in 2006, which was a premature move based on a few minor improvements. However, official persecution of Christians and Buddhists continues. Vietnamese authorities have used government agents dressed as Catholic clergy, for example, to turn public opinion against the Catholic Church, while authorities detain Catholic clergy and continue to confiscate property.

In Afghanistan, arrests and detention of individuals based on their religious beliefs continue to occur with regularity. Conversion by Muslims to other religious faiths and “blasphemy” are still punishable – sometimes by death – under Shar’ia law. Communal violence in India is often encouraged or ignored on the regional and local level, especially in areas controlled by the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. Religious communities throughout Turkmenistan face arbitrary detention, harassment, surveillance, fines and interference from government authorities at numerous levels.

The Institute’s country-by-country analysis on the recommended countries of particular concern can be found on its website. In addition, the Institute recommends the State Department also monitor the following countries more closely for potential CPC designation in 2009: Iraq, Bangladesh, Kazakhstan, Pakistan and Turkey.

According to the State Department, ongoing, severe violations of religious freedom include torture, degrading treatment or punishment, prolonged detention without charges, abduction or clandestine detention, or other flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty, or the security of persons. The President, through the Secretary of State, designates CPCs, which signal the beginning of intense diplomatic efforts with the countries in question to improve religious liberty.  When necessary, the United States may impose economic sanctions on a nation.

Twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, the Institute on Religion and Public Policy is an international, inter-religious non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring freedom of religion as the foundation for security, stability, and democracy. The Institute works globally to promote fundamental rights and religious freedom in particular, with government policy-makers, religious leaders, business executives, academics, non-governmental organizations and others. The Institute encourages and assists in the effective and cooperative advancement of religious freedom throughout the world.

Cutting Foreign Editor Joseph Grieboski is President of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy and Secretary General, Interparliamentary Conference on Human Rights and Religious Freedom. The country-by-country analysis on the recommended countries of particular concern can be found on the Institute’s website at http://www.religionandpolicy.org. 

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