Commission on International Religious Freedom finds little progress
That “Coexist” bumper sticker, with religious symbols taking the place of all the letters, doesn’t seem to be having much of an effect. At least not in many countries around the world.
Assaults on people’s freedom to practice their religion, if anything, are increasing around the world, not decreasing.
And Christians are far from being the only victims.
The 2016 edition of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom annual report presents a grim picture for religious liberty in places as diverse as Syria, Nigeria, the Central African Republic, Europe and Southeast Asia.
Created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA), the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is an independent, bipartisan U.S. government advisory body, separate from the State Department, that monitors religious freedom worldwide and makes policy recommendations to the president, secretary of state and congress. USCIRF bases these recommendations on its statutory mandate and the standards in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international documents.
The 2016 report covers the period from Feb. 1, 2015, to Feb. 29, 2016. Some of the worst violations include the following:
In China, Pastor Bao Guohua and his wife, Xing Wenxiang, were sentenced to 14 and 12 years in prison, respectively, for leading a Christian congregation that was opposing a government campaign to remove crosses atop churches.
In Iran, Shahram Ahadi, a Sunni cleric, was sentenced to death on unfounded security-related charges. “Iran holds many other prisoners of conscience including the Baha’i Seven who were given 20-year sentences in 2010 for their leadership roles in the persecuted Baha’i community,” the report said.
In Uzbekistan, Gaybullo Jalilov, a member of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, remains imprisoned for his work on behalf of persecuted independent Muslims.
In Western Europe, mass immigration from Middle Eastern and African countries where war and persecution is taking place has “fueled an already-rising tide of hatred and violence targeting Muslims and Jews,” the report outlines.
Among the recommendations in the report, USCIRF suggests that the State Department make greater efforts to:
- Ensure that foreign government officials are denied entry into the United States when they are responsible for religious freedom violations abroad
- Train consular sections of all embassies on this inadmissibility requirement and insist that application of this provision is mandatory
- Announce a policy whereby all individuals applying for entry to the United States will be denied if they are discovered to be involved in violence against members of religious communities, or if they incite such violence.
“Elected leaders and U.S. officials need to communicate clearly and regularly that religious freedom is a foreign policy priority for the United States,” the document states. “The United States also should insist that discussions on freedom of religion or belief and religious tolerance be included in various bilateral strategic dialogues and summits, such as the strategic dialogues with Russia, Pakistan, or Indonesia, or the meetings of the U.S.-Nigeria Bi-National Commission.”