WASHINGTON — Concerned about what it considers an increase of religious intolerance and abuses throughout the world, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has upped the total of its "countries of particular concern" from a year ago.
Conversely, the religious freedom commission took to task President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the U.S. administration in general for decreased attention to religious freedom worldwide and a "narrowing (of) the discussion" globally.
A specific "narrowing" example cited are foreign-soil speeches by Obama and Clinton where they use the phrase "freedom of worship" rather than "freedom of religion."
The commission released its 11th annual report Thursday, outlining nation by nation serious abuses of freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief throughout the world. The 373-page report highlights what it calls "hot spots" and recommends policy changes for each "country of particular concern."
This year's additions to the concern list: Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Turkmenistan and Vietnam. They join 2009 holdovers Burma (Myanmar), China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan.
Another dozen nations are on the commission's "watch list" and will be closely monitored in 2010 — Afghanistan, Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Laos, Russia, Somalia, Tajikistan, Turkey and Venezuela.
The result of the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act allows the United States to designate as countries of particular concern those nations that have engaged in or tolerated systematic and egregious violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief.
Members of the independent, bipartisan federal commission are appointed by the president and leadership of both political parties in the Senate and House of Representatives.
The commission also decried the Obama administration's lack of an appointment of an ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, which is allowed by the 1998 federal act.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is based in Salt Lake City but which operates member congregations in many of the highlighted nations, was mentioned only briefly three times in Thursday's report.
While the Cuban government is most tolerant of religious groups that maintain close ties with the state or that support government policies, it has not interfered with activities of the Baha'i and LDS congregations — two groups not officially registered in Cuba — and it hasn't interfered with the small Jewish community in Havana.
Building or renting worship space remains difficult for a number of religions in Russia that do not recognize the Moscow Patriarchate, Molokans and Old Believer communities there. The LDS Church is among the property-challenged groups, along with Jehovah's Witnesses and Pentecostal congregations.
Also in Russia, a single act of vandalism against an LDS property was among the 65 documented vandalism acts in the past 16 months. Multiple acts were committed against property of the Russian Orthodox (27), Jehovah's Witnesses (23), Jewish (seven) and Muslim (three) religions.
While such cases were usually prosecuted with appropriate charges, few cases resulted in convictions, resulting in members of religious groups concerned about property security and a lack of protection even during services.
For more information, go to www.uscirf.gov/.
The 2010 U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended 13 nations be designated as "countries of particular concern" and put another 12 countries on its "watch list."
Countries of particular concern
Countries on the "watch list"
This story was reported from Salt Lake City.
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