The U.S. State Department has released its annual International Religious Freedom Report – a report that seeks to advance religious freedom by shining a spotlight on abuses and violations.
This year’s report makes clear that governments around the globe continue to detain, imprison, torture, and even kill people for their religious beliefs. In too many places governments are also failing to protect minorities from social discrimination and violence.
In Iran, more than 116 Baha’is are in prison for teaching and expressing their faith – including the seven leaders of the faith, who are all serving 20-year prison sentences, -- and many Christians, Sufis, and Sunnis are facing similar abuse. In addition, Christian pastor Saeed Abedini is serving an eight year prison sentence for his beliefs. In Eritrea, people are detained on account of their religious faith. Some have reportedly died due to torture or lack of medical treatment. The United States seeks the release of all individuals detained or imprisoned because of their beliefs.
Many governments fail to prosecute the perpetrators of religious persecution. In Egypt, the government failed to properly investigate and prosecute and often did not intervene in violence against the Christian Copts and other religious minorities. In Pakistan, minorities including Christians and Shia continue to encounter discrimination and violence, and authorities frequently fail to arrest the perpetrators.
In Nigeria, elements of the extremist group Boko Haram claimed the lives of both Christians and Muslims in northern Nigeria. The Nigerian government’s heavy-handed response has resulted in credible allegations of gross violations of human rights. A culture of impunity has, to date, impeded independent investigations into these allegations and prosecutions of human rights violators.
In Syria, the government targeted faith groups it deemed a threat, including members of the country’s Sunni majority and religious minorities. Such targeting included killing, detention, and harassment. Syrian Orthodox Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim and Greek Orthodox Archbishop Paul Yazigi were kidnapped April 22nd by persons unknown, and still remain missing.
Societal intolerance against religious minorities is on the rise. In Iraq, extremists target religious ceremonies, leading people not to attend services out of fear for their safety. Inter-religious violence, largely against Muslims in central Burma in March 2013 resulted in casualties, displacement, and the destruction of places of worship. In addition, violent attacks against Jews in Europe continue.
“I urge all countries,” said Secretary Kerry, “especially those identified in this report, to take action now to safeguard,” the fundamental right of freedom of religion.