Freedom of religion is central to our national identity as Americans and a core objective of U.S. foreign policy. The right to believe in a religious creed or not, without fear of government interference, is essential to human dignity, robust civil society and sustainable democracy.
To promote these principles, every year our government compiles a report on the status of religious liberty around the world. It documents the actions of both governments that repress spiritual expression by their citizens and those that respect it.
In its most recent findings, the U.S. State Department found that religious intolerance is on the rise in many nations, with inter-religious and sectarian violence displacing millions of people and devastating communities. Government officials worldwide often act with impunity while violating the religious rights of their countrymen.
Religious freedom is also often impinged by the introduction of new restrictions, such as laws against perceived blasphemy and apostasy against mainstream faiths.
As in previous years, the government of Eritrea's record on religious freedom remains extremely poor, and the U.S. government has re-designated Eritrea as a Country of Particular Concern because of severe violations of religious liberty there. Authorities continued to detain members of unregistered religious groups. That has been fueled by an increase in arrests of persons who refused to participate in the new citizen militia program, as well of arrests of those who refuse to participate in the country’s national service program on religious grounds.
Other individuals have been harassed and detained for exercising their right to religious freedom, and there have been reports of forced recantations while imprisoned. Released prisoners reported harsh detention and life-threatening conditions, including solitary confinement. Three persons detained for religious objections to military service reportedly died in custody during 2013.
Religious freedom is a universal value. The freedom to profess and practice one’s faith, to believe or not believe, or to change one’s beliefs, is a birthright of every human being.
Our nation will continue to shine a spotlight on violations of religious freedom in Eritrea and around the world, and will continue to promote this universal right as a moral and strategic imperative.