“We at USCIRF applaud the State Department for the excellent work that went into this report and its efforts to encourage countries around the world to adopt policies that respect this fundamental right,” stated Fr. Thomas Reese, chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which advises the State Department.
“The Administration must do more than occasionally raise issues of concern,” stated Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who chairs the House subcommittee on global human rights.
He added that “they must use targeted sanctions, visa denials, and other measures to address a global crisis and hold responsible individuals accountable for religious persecution.”
This is because such laws are routinely abused by governments or sectarian mobs to persecute religious minorities who are not members of the official or majority state religion.
“In many other Islamic societies, societal passions associated with blasphemy – deadly enough in and of themselves – are abetted by a legal code that harshly penalizes blasphemy and apostasy,” the report stated.
“False accusations, often lodged in pursuit of personal vendettas or for the personal gain of the accuser, are not uncommon. Mob violence as a result of such accusations is disturbingly common,” it added. In Pakistan, for instance, there is no punishment for making a false accusation of blasphemy, and no evidence is required to bring an accusation to court.
Pakistan currently has the highest number of people on death row because of blasphemy convictions, including Asia Bibi, a mother of five who allegedly insulting the prophet Muhammad. She was accused by her neighbor of the crime in 2009 and convicted in 2010.
It also commended the State Department for placing 10 countries on its “countries of particular concern” list, the worst violators of religious freedom where governments are either actively persecuting religious minorities or are powerless to stop religiously-motivated sectarian violence and terrorism.
Those countries are China, Burma, Eritrea, North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
Seven more countries should be added to the CPC list, the commission maintained: Central African Republic, Nigeria, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Egypt, and Vietnam.
This has undermined the very purpose of the list, they added, and gives “little incentive for CPC-designated countries to make improvements,” so the waivers should be time-restricted.
One of the actions the U.S. can take is to “negotiate a binding agreement” with one of these countries to pressure them to improve their human rights situation. The U.S. should do so with Burma and Vietnam, USCIRF added.
Ultimately, the report “shows that the world is experiencing a religious freedom crisis that directly challenges U.S. interests around the world,” Smith stated.
Vietnam and Pakistan are both countries that should be on the CPC list but aren’t, he said.
And in Vietnam, the government meddles too much in religion out of “national security and social unity” concerns, the report added, forcing all religions to register and harassing the religious groups that do not.