Report: Two-Thirds of 'Worst Violators of Religious Freedom' Are Muslim Countries

Ten out of the 15 countries with the worst religious freedom abuses are Muslim nations, according to the recently released U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) 2013 Annual Report, which identifies the status of religious freedom throughout the world, and cites countries that are the least tolerant of religious freedom.

The 15 most intolerant countries, identified as "countries of particular concern" (CPCs), cited in this year's report are: Burma, China, Egypt, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tasjikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam. Of these, ten are Muslim countries.

The nearly 400-page report details a range of human rights violations occurring in these countries.

For example, in Egypt, the government has failed to protect Coptic Christians, who comprise 10 percent of the country's 90 million people. The Copts have been tortured and killed and individuals continue to be prosecuted, convicted, and imprisoned for "contempt" or "defamation" of religion (Islam).

In Iran, religious freedom has deteriorated over the last year for minorities, such as the Baha'is, Christians, and Sufi Muslims. The Report details that, "physical attacks, harassment, detention, arrests, and imprisonment" intensified. Jews, Armenian and Assyrian Christians, and Zoroastrians – have faced harassment, intimidation, discrimination, arrests, and imprisonment. Anyone who has dissented against the government, a theocratic republic, including Majority Shi'i and minority Sunni Muslims, have been intimidated, harassed, and detained. Several dissidents and human rights defenders have been sentenced to death and executed for "waging war against God."

Congress created USCIRF in 1998 as an independent federal advisory body to monitor religious freedom abuses abroad. Every year it designates "countries of particular concern" (CPCs) whose governments have engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of the universal right to freedom of religion, by committing such acts as torture, prolonged detention without charges, disappearances, or "other flagrant denial[s] of the right to life, liberty, or the security of persons."

In Pakistan and Nigeria, religious extremism has resulted in "unprecedented levels of violence that threaten the long-term viability of both nations."

North Korea "remains one of the world's most repressive regimes," the Report states, operating an expansive network of political prison camps, which holds a sizable number of people arrested for "illegal" religious activity.

In Sudan, since 2011, approximately 700,000 people have been expelled to the South as President Al-Bashir seeks to make Sudan an Islamic society.

Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett, USCIRF's Chairwoman, stated that the state of international freedom around the world was "increasingly dire" because of "religious extremists… [who] target religious minorities and dissenters from majority religious communities for violence, including physical assaults and even murder.

"Many of these countries top the U.S. foreign policy agenda, and religion is a core component in their makeup. Religious freedom is both a pivotal human right under international law and a key factor that helps determine whether a nation experiences stability or chaos."

The Report suggests a number of reforms the United States could recommend to each country, in concert with the United Nations, that could coincide with economic and humanitarian assistance or sanctions.