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Clinton: International religious freedom backsliding

Clinton: International religious freedom backsliding

Governments worldwide restricted religious freedom in 2011 through the implementation of blasphemy laws and legislation that favored state-sanctioned groups, while religious minorities who experienced political and demographic transitions tended to suffer the most, stated the 2011 State Department International Religious Freedom Report, which was released Monday.

"Members of faith communities that have long been under pressure report that pressure is rising," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said during a speech Monday at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. "When it comes to this human right … the world is sliding backwards."

The report highlighted the deteriorating situation in China, whose government continued to increase restrictions on religious practice for Tibetan Buddhist monks in the Tibetan Autonomous Region and other Tibetan areas. This repression resulted in "at least 12 self-immolations by Tibetans" last year, a trend that Tibetan prime minister Lobsang Sangay emphasized in a recent interview with The Cable. The Chinese government also cracked down on Muslims living in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region and religious groups unaffiliated with China’s official state-sanctioned "patriotic religious associations," particularly Christian house churches.

Other designated "Countries of Particular Concern" included Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, and Burma, also known as Myanmar. According to the report, Burma eased some restrictions on religious freedom, though it continued to "monitor the meetings and activities of all organizations, including religious organizations, and required religious groups to seek permission from authorities before holding any large public events." The Muslim Rohingya ethnic minority, which the Burmese government refuses to recognize as citizens, were especially targeted.

In Egypt, where the population democratically elected an Islamist government, the country’s post-Mubarak transition remains tenuous, as Coptic Christians still face persecution. On October 9, for example, hundreds of demonstrators — mostly Copts — were attacked by Egyptian security forces in the Maspiro area of Cairo.

"Now, I am concerned that respect for religious freedom is quite tenuous, and I don’t know if that’s going to quickly be resolved, but since 2011 and the fall of the Mubarak regime, sectarian violence has increased," Clinton said. "We don’t think that there’s been a consistent commitment to investigate and apply the laws."

Regarding recently elected Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Suzan Johnson Cook said during a briefing Monday that the U.S. government expects him follow through on his commitment to religious freedom and diversity.

"President Morsi has said publicly that in his new government, he will include Coptic Christians, secular citizens, and a woman," she said. "So we are looking for him to follow through on what his promise was."

The new government in Libya, which stopped enforcing Ghaddafi-era laws that restricted religious freedom and institutionalized the free practice of religion in its interim constitution, was cited as a case of tangible success.

"They [the Libyan government] have come to believe that the best way to deal with offensive speech is not to ban it, but to counter it with speech that reveals the lies," the Secretary said.

Another trend on the rise in 2011 was global anti-Semitism, fueled by anti-Israel sentiment in Egypt, Holocaust denial in Iran, the desecration of Jewish synagogues and cemeteries and France, and the openly anti-Semitic and nationalistic Jobbik party in Hungary.