U.S. Report on Religious Freedom is Flawed

U.S. Report on Religious Freedom is Flawed



(New York, October 26, 2001) The State Department's annual report on 

international religious freedom has failed to single out a number of egregious 

violators that are members of the U.S.-led anti-terrorism coalition, Human 

Rights Watch said today.

The report, released today, candidly described violations of religious freedom 

around the world, but failed to designate Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, and 

Turkmenistan as "Countries of Particular Concern." 

"Clearly, the Administration doesn't want to offend key allies in the coalition 

through excessive truth-telling," said Tom Malinowski, Washington Advocacy 

Director for Human Rights Watch. "The irony is that getting too close to 

countries that crush religious freedom may be more dangerous for America right 

now than keeping its distance-particularly when the religion being crushed is 


Among those countries not named is Uzbekistan, where several thousand 

non-violent Muslims have been arrested in the last three years for practicing 

their faith outside state controls. Uzbekistan is hosting U.S. forces involved 

in operations in Afghanistan. 

The State Department report acknowledges that the Uzbek government has committed 

"abuses against many devout Muslims for their religious beliefs" - arresting 

people for proselytizing, for private teaching of religious principles, for 

wearing of religious clothing in public, and for distributing religious 

literature. It also acknowledges that authorities systematically torture 

religious prisoners. 

"By not designating Uzbekistan a 'Country of Particular Concern,' the 

Administration missed an easy opportunity to show that the war on terrorism 

cannot be a campaign against Islam," Malinowski said. 

Saudi Arabia was not designated, although, as State Department spokesman Richard 

Boucher said today, "there is essentially no religious freedom" there. 

Christians working in the country are forbidden to conduct any form of public 

worship. The country's Shi`a Muslim minority faces severe discrimination. 

Conservative Sunni clerics associated with the government have publicly 

denigrated Shi`a as "apostates" and "non-believers" because some of their 

religious practices are at odds with the strict Wahhabi doctrine imposed by the 

country's rulers. In few countries in the world is the denial of religious 

freedom so integral to the self-conception and ethos of the government. 

Also not designated was Turkmenistan, which suppresses all forms of religious 

practice other than state-sanctioned Islam and Russian orthodoxy. Hundreds of 

Protestants, followers of Hare Krishna and other minority religions have been 

harassed, questioned by police, and threatened with arrest for exercising their 

religious convictions. Turkmenistan is the only state in the former Soviet Union 

where authorities have confiscated and destroyed houses of worship (Seventh Day 

Adventist, Hare Krishna, and Muslim). 

China was designated a "Country of Particular Concern," and the report's 

analysis of abuses of religious freedom is generally accurate, with one 

exception: The reporting on Xinjiang, the mainly-Muslim region of northwest 

China, is strikingly less critical than last year's. The government's "Strike 

Hard" anti-crime campaign, launched nationwide in April 2001, has led to many 

arbitrary arrests and summary executions in Xinjiang. Separatism and religion 

appear to be as much the targets as ordinary crime. Under "Strike Hard," people 

have been arrested, for example, for having "illegal religious publications" in 

their possession. Last year's State Department report accurately described a 

"harsh crackdown on Uighur Muslims...that failed to distinguish between those 

involved with illegal religious activities and those involved in ethnic 

separatism or terrorist activities." Today's report, by contrast, merely notes 

that "government sensitivity to Muslim community concerns is varied...and (in 

areas where there has been violence attributed to separatists) police crackdown 

on Muslim religious activity and places of worship accused of supporting 

separatism" in Xinjiang. The "Strike Hard" campaign isn't even mentioned. 

Also designated were Burma, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Sudan and the Taliban. 

Under the International Religious Freedom Act, when a country is named to this 

list, the Secretary of State must choose from an optional menu of steps, from 

diplomatic pressure to the imposition of sanctions. Most of the designated 

governments, however, are already subject to U.S. sanctions. 

"The State Department has been least likely to use this tool in the countries 

where it might have the most impact," Malinowski said. 


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