Watch Group: Worst Religious Freedom Violators Unchanged

WASHINGTON – A new report on the world's worst religious freedom violators remained primarily unchanged since last year's recommendation by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

The commission's recommendation to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice this year on "countries of particular concern," or CPC's, was entirely the same as last year's list of eleven countries categorized as having governments that engage in or tolerate systematic and egregious violations of religious freedom.

USCIRF's CPC recommendations for 2006 and 2007 are: Burma, Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea), Eritrea, Iran, Pakistan, China, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam.

In most of the recommended CPC countries, there is some form of religion or religions allowed by the government. However, the government severely cracks down and persecutes beliefs that are not in line with the permissible faith.

For instance, China's government officially recognizes a wide range of religion but demands that believers register with the officially sanctioned religious bodies and adhere to the religious laws set by the government. Unregistered Protestant Christians, for example, are imprisoned, abused and harassed while their registered Protestant Christian counterparts for the most part enjoy freedom of worship.

In Saudi Arabia and Burma, the governments support Sunni Islam and Buddhism, respectively, but squashes all other religions.

The Burmese junta has been accused of sending its military and Buddhist monks to tear down churches and crosses and build Buddhist worship structures in their place. Christian women are also reportedly raped by Burmese military with impunity.

Meanwhile, North Korea has a unique situation where there is absolutely no religious freedom or human rights in the country. The government bans all forms of public and private religious activities and promotes a personality cult centered on the late Kim Sung Il and his son Kim Jung Il, who is currently head of the country.

"The issue of religious freedom is now understood to have a profound impact on our own political and national security interests as well as on political stability throughout the world," said USCIRF Chair Felice D. Gaer, in a statement.

Other countries whose situations have not risen to CPC designation but are on the Commission's Watch List include: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Iraq – which was added to the list this year for close monitoring.

The CPC and Watch List are part of the 2007 Annual Report which was released on May 2 and includes recommendations on U.S. policy for the president, secretary of state, and congress concerning CPC countries and in other nations the United States can help to promote freedom of religion or belief.