The governments of Pakistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan have engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom, according to findings by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). In a letter to the U.S. Secretary of State, the Commission recommended the names of the three countries be added to the list of countries of particular concern in addition to the eight countries previously designated last year.
One of the Commissions chief responsibilities in this process, and one required by IRFA, is to draw your attention to those countries whose governments have engaged in or tolerated systematic and egregious violations of religious freedom and recommend that they be designated as countries of particular concern, or CPCs, USCIRF Chair Preeta D. Bansal stated in her letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The designation of CPCs not only brings into the spotlight those countries where the most severe violations take place, but also guides important decisions in U.S. relations with these countries.
Yesterday, the USCIRF announced its 2005 recommendations to the Secretary of State on CPCs, which this year included Burma, Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (North Korea), Eritrea, Iran, Pakistan, Peoples Republic of China, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Vietnam, and for the first time, Uzbekistan.
Although Pakistan and Turkmenistan were not included in last year's recommendations, both had made appearances in prior years. The following are some brief notes regarding the three addition's to this year's recommendations:
In its letter to Rice, the USCIRF claimed that the government of Pakistan "does not provide an adequate response to vigilante violence frequently perpetrated by Sunni Muslim militants against Christians, Hindus, Shias, and Ahmadis.
Blasphemy allegations, routinely false, result in the lengthy detention, imprisonment of, and sometimes violence against Ahmadis and Christians as well as Muslims, some of whom have been sentenced to death, the letter stated.
According to a report issued recently by the Religious Liberty Commission (RLC) of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), Pakistan's anti-blasphemy laws sentence people to life in prison for speaking against the Koran and condemns people to death if found guilty of insulting Mohammed upon the oral testimony of only four Muslim witnesses. Since its implementation in 1986, over four thousand people have been accused of such blasphemy - including many Christians.
In Turkmenistan, President Saparmurat Niyazovs monopoly of power and absolute control over Turkmen society render any independent religious activity impossible, the USCIRF wrote in its letter.
In the recent WEA report, the RLC stated that government officials were known to place harsh restraints on religious activities of unregistered and even registered, non-Muslim congregations. Government officials were known to raid peaceful gatherings, confiscating copies of Christian literature, including Bibles. The WEA Commission claimed that Ethnic Turkmen who convert to faiths other than Islam have been subjected to official harassment and mistreatment and, in some cases, social isolation.
Meanwhile, the USCIRF reports that in Uzbekistan, a restrictive law on religion is severely limiting the ability of religious communities to function in the predominantly Sunni Muslim country.
Persecution watchdog groups such as the Voice of the Martyrs Religious have reported that communities are required to officially register and that police have made unannounced visits to churches, closing those who cannot immediately produce their registration papers. Only approved religious organizations can be registered, which include approved Muslim groups, Jews, Russian Orthodox and some protestant groups.
In addition, the USCIRF claimed in its letter that government authorities also continue to crack down harshly on Muslim individuals, groups, and mosques that do not conform to government-prescribed practices or that the government claims are associated with extremist political programs. This has resulted in the imprisonment of thousands of persons in recent years, many of whom are denied the right to due process, and there are credible reports that many of those arrested continue to be tortured or beaten in detention.
For the full text of the Commissions letter to the Secretary of State or for the 2005 Annual Report, visit the Commissions web site at www.uscirf.gov.