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State Department Report Documents Religious Freedom Violations

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While noting a few positive examples of steps taken to promote religious freedom in 2018, the U.S. Department of State’s 2018 International Report on Religious Freedom published June 21 focused largely on violations of the right to exercise faith freely and without fear.

In his remarks at the report’s release, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo compared the report to “a report card – it tracks countries to see how well they’ve respected this fundamental human right [of religious freedom].”

Three of the positive stories highlighted in the report are:

Among the positive actions noted in the country report were the release of 185 persons imprisoned for religious extremism charges, lower levels of reported government harassment of minority faith (such as Jehovah’s Witnesses) and the court system overturning fines and prison sentences of some unregistered religious groups for possessing unauthorized religious materials.

The central Asian nation has been moved to a special watch list as a result of the government’s “substantial progress in improving respect for religious freedom.”

  • Pakistan’s acquittal of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death in 2010.

After nearly a decade on death row, she was acquitted of charges and was able to move from Pakistan to Canada.

While praising this action, the country report notes the lack of true religious freedom in the south Asian nation, citing a constitution that enshrines Islam as the state religion, court-enforced blasphemy laws and lack of government action to protect religious minorities from violence.

  • The release of Christian pastor Andrew Brunson by Turkey.

Brunson was arrested in 2016 on charges of conspiring with a coup attempt and convicted by Turkish courts in October 2018.

He was later released and allowed to return to the U.S. While the Turkish constitution establishes a secular state, the country report noted “the government continued to limit the rights of non-Muslim minorities.”

Religious freedom offenses in Burma, China, Iran and Russia were noted by Pompeo in his statement.

In his remarks at the report’s release, Sam Brownback, ambassador at large for international religious freedom, added Eritrea, Nicaragua and Turkey to the list of religious freedom violators highlighted by the State Department leaders.

“We believe there is no more important a time for the United States to promote religious freedom than now,” Brownback said. “We will not stop until we see the iron curtain of religious persecution come down; until governments no longer detain and torture people for simply being of a particular faith or associated with it; until people are no longer charged and prosecuted on specious charges of blasphemy; until the world no longer believes it can get away with persecuting anyone of any faith without consequences.”

The full report is available here.