National Edition

Pakistan tops new list of religious freedom abusers, panel says

Published: Thursday, May 1 2014 4:00 a.m. MDT

"There are hundreds of Muslims jailed (in Russia), reportedly on false charges; many are denied due process and mistreated in detention," the report stated. "Rising xenophobia and intolerance, including anti-Semitism, are linked to violent and lethal hate crimes that occur with impunity. A blasphemy law, which went into effect in July 2013, further curtailed the freedoms of religion, belief, and expression."

George said it was not yet necessary to designate Russia as a CPC, but the situation requires attention.

Religious liberty retrospective

The document also provides a 15-year retrospective on the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the U.S. law that created the commission and required its annual reports. George said the report "identifies some strengths" in the IRFA, but also points out areas where improvements can be made.

"Concerns about religious freedom should be included across U.S. engagements, including in diplomatic exchanges and strategic dialogues with other countries, and during country visits," and, "vacancies in relevant positions, including the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom and USCIRF Commissioners, should be quickly filled," the report stated.

The Ambassador-at-Large position has been vacant since Suzan Johnson Cook, a pastor from the Bronx, New York, resigned in October 2013. At the Feb. 6, 2014, National Prayer Breakfast, Obama suggested, a nomination was pending, but three months later he has yet to put forward a name.

"We all loved what President Obama said about international religious freedom in his National Prayer Breakfast speech," George said. However, "presidents need to be making annual (country) designations, and need to be updating the CPC list. I hope this report will prompt a refocusing, a rededication … to this human right."

'Some" administration recognition

USCIRF Commissioner Katrina Lantos Swett, daughter of the late human rights champion Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., told the Deseret News that she sees "some recognition" by administration officials that expanding religious freedom is important.

"One of my repeated soap box speeches that I give at the National Security Council staff, Congress or State Department, is that getting religious freedom right … will have an enormous positive impact on our national security interests," she said.

"I do see the glass as half-full, and I do see the commitment," Swett added, saying she has seen "in off-the-record conversations that I've had with top-level people in the administration, that they get it, they're committed to this."

One outside global religious freedom advocate also lauded the USCIRF report, particularly for the effect such attention gives to the underlying issue.

"The annual report is an important document for all those who are promoting or defending religious freedom, and also for the persecuted, it attracts public and media attention," said John R. Graz, a Seventh-day Adventist pastor and secretary-general of the International Religious Liberty Association in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Email: mkellner@deseretnews.com

Twitter: @Mark_Kellner

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