Clinton Urges Protection for Middle East Christians and Minorities

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that religious minorities in the Middle East, including Christians, need protection after many fled their countries to escape oppression.

Clinton told lawmakers Tuesday at the hearing held by the House Foreign Affairs Committee that violence against Christians and minority Muslim sects has intensified in North Africa and South Asia.

She emphasized that the United States needed to do more to protect the rights of religious minorities, in addition to holding foreign governments accountable for abuses.

The attacks reported by Clinton show no direct connection to the unrest in several North African and Middle East countries. However, such acts of repression do not get the deserved amount of attention, said Clinton.

In Egypt, churches have been looted or burned by Muslim mobs following the forced resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Though there is no evidence to suggest that perpetrators were linked to anti-government protests, churches remain vulnerable to acts of violence.

Last week, the Egyptian army forcibly tore down a makeshift wall of a Coptic monastery in Wadi Al-Natroun, about 68 miles north of Cairo. The barrier was erected after military officials apparently refused to answer the monastery's request for protection against convicts who escaped from jail.

In videos posted on YouTube, Egyptian soldiers can be seen firing automatic assault rifles at onlookers, and driving U.S.-supplied armored vehicles into the wall. It remains unclear if "less-than-lethal" or rubber-coated bullets were used. One monk and six workers were reportedly injured, while another two were arrested in the aftermath.

Around the same time, Afghan Christian-convert Said Musa was released from prison after being sentenced to death for apostasy. Under the country's sharia law, conversion from Islam is punishable by death. Last year, Afghan Christian Shoaib Assadullah, 23, was arrested for handing a Bible to a man who later reported him to the authorities. Assadullah awaits trial and is expected to receive the death penalty.

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