Friday, September 23, 2011

'Religious persecutors' list incomplete (

The State Department has issued its list of countries whose persecutory environments are "of particular concern."

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) welcomes the Obama administration's release of the Annual Report on International Religious Freedom, and the Commission is urging the U.S. government to increase action to promote freedom of religion or belief. Burma, Eritrea, China, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan are eight "countries of particular concern," but USCIRF spokesperson Elizabeth Cassidy says her group thinks the list is incomplete.

"We have six others that we think ... should be designated," she reports. "The most recent recommendations we made were in May of this year, and we believe that the six other countries that meet the standard are Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam."

The State Department can add new countries at any time, so USCIRF plans to continue trying to influence officials to designate those six as countries of particular concern.

"The U.S. government is then supposed to take some kind of action to either encourage religious freedom in that country, or, if it feels that that's not feasible, to sort of penalize that country," Cassidy explains. "There's a menu of options under the act. It can range from everything from negotiating an agreement with the country to make certain improvements -- ultimately, to potentially economic, or some kind of other sanction."

Concerning the eight countries the State Department did list, the Commission is hopeful the agency will follow up with vigorous U.S. diplomatic activity to improve conditions for religious minorities.

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