United States Releases 2005 International
Religious Freedom Report
The U.S. Department of State released the seventh Annual Report on International Religious Freedom, which examines the status of religious freedom around the world.
The annual report to Congress, released November 8, is mandated by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 and seeks to examine barriers to religious freedom in individual countries. The report also notes countries in which conditions have improved and outlines U.S. actions to promote international religious freedom.
The 2005 report re-designates Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Vietnam as "Countries of Particular Concern" (CPC) for severe violations of religious freedom. The same countries were listed as CPCs in the 2004 report.
The report reviews countries commitments to religious freedom and examines barriers to the free practice of religion in several countries, including CPCs.
According to the report, Georgia, India, Turkmenistan and United Arab Emirates have showed significant improvement in the protection and promotion of religious freedom through modification of legal and social barriers.
Some countries cited in the report curtail religious freedom by controlling religious expression and practice. These countries regard some or all religious groups as enemies of the state because of their religious beliefs or their independence from central authority.
Other countries named in the report allow the free practice of religion for established, majority religions but curtail religious freedom of minority or non-approved religions. These governments are hostile and oppressive toward minority religions and implement policies that demand adherents to recant their faith, cause religious group members to flee the country, or intimidate and harass certain religious groups, or have as their principal effect the intimidation and harassment of certain religious groups, according to the report.
The report also identifies countries that restrict religious freedom through state neglect or discrimination against or persecution of minority religions, discriminatory legislation or policies prejudicial to certain religious practices and denunciations of certain religions by affiliating them with dangerous "cults" or "sects."
The report concludes with an overview of U.S. efforts to promote and support international religious freedom through public advocacy and support of active monitoring of religious freedom conditions.
The pursuit of religious liberty supports other freedoms, including speech, assembly, and conscience, according to the report. When the cause of religious freedom is furthered, so is the pursuit of democracy.
For more information, see International Religious Freedom.
The full text of the 2005 report and previous reports are available on the State Department Web site.
Following is the executive summary of the report:
U.S. Department of State
[Released on November 8, 2005]
The Executive Summary consists of three parts. Part I identifies many of the countries where religious freedom is restricted and classifies their actions and policies into five categories. Part II provides examples of nations whose governments have taken significant steps to promote or protect religious freedom, although serious problems may remain in those countries. Part III lists noteworthy actions the U.S. Government has taken in selected countries to encourage other nations to promote religious freedom. Some countries are mentioned in more than one part of the summary, according to the type of action or situation being reported. Within Part I, several of the countries could be listed in more than one of the five categories; however, in the interest of brevity, a given country is listed only once, in the category that best characterizes the fundamental barriers to religious freedom in that country.
PART I: BARRIERS TO INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
Totalitarian or Authoritarian Actions to Control Religious Belief or Practice
Totalitarian and authoritarian regimes seek to control religious thought and expression. Such regimes regard some or all religious groups as enemies of the state because of their religious beliefs or their independence from central authority. The practice of religion is often seen as a threat to the state's ideology or power. Oftentimes, the state suppresses religious groups based on the dominant ethnicity of groups.
Burma. The Government continued to engage in particularly severe violations of religious freedom. The Government generally infiltrated or monitored the meetings and activities of virtually all organizations, including religious ones. Religious organizations of all faiths also were subject to broad government restrictions on freedom of expression and association. The Government systemically restricted efforts by Buddhist clergy to promote human rights and political freedom, discouraged or prohibited non-Buddhist groups from constructing new places of worship or repairing existing ones, and actively promoted Buddhism over other religions, particularly among members of ethnic minorities. Anti-Muslim violence continued to occur, Muslim activities were monitored, and the Government restricted the ability of Muslims to travel freely. Non-Buddhists experienced employment discrimination at upper levels of the public sector.
China. The Government's respect for freedom of religion and freedom of conscience remained poor. Communist Party officials restated that party membership and religious belief were incompatible. The Government continued to seek to manage religious affairs by restricting religious practice to government-sanctioned organizations and registered places of worship and to control the growth and scope of activities of religious groups to prevent the rise of possible competing sources of authority outside the control of the Government. Unregistered religious groups continued to experience varying degrees of official interference and harassment. Members of some unregistered groups were subjected to restrictions, including intimidation, harassment, and detention. In some localities, "underground" religious leaders reported pressure to register with a government agency or become affiliated with and supervised by an official government-sanctioned religious association. Religious leaders and adherents, including those in official churches, were detained, arrested, or sentenced to prison or reeducation-through-labor camps. Underground Christian groups, Muslim Uighurs, Tibetan Buddhists, and members of groups that the Government considered "cults" were subjected to increased government scrutiny. In some areas, security officials used threats, demolition of unregistered property, extortion, interrogation, detention, and at times beatings and torture to harass leaders of unauthorized groups and their followers. The arrest, detention, and imprisonment of Falun Gong practitioners continued; those who refused to recant their beliefs were sometimes subjected to harsh treatment in prisons and reeducation-through-labor camps, and there were credible reports of deaths due to torture and abuse.
In Tibetan areas, the Government maintained tight controls on religious practices and places of worship. Government authorities forcibly suppressed activities they viewed as vehicles for political dissent or advocacy of Tibetan independence, including such religious activities as venerating the Dalai Lama. The most important figures in Tibetan Buddhism, such as the Dalai Lama and the Karmapa Lama, remained in exile. Dozens of monks and nuns continued to serve prison terms for their resistance to "patriotic education." The Government refused free access to Tibetan areas for most international observers, tightly controlled observers who were granted access, and closely controlled publication of information about conditions in Tibet. These limitations made it impossible to determine accurately the scope of restrictions on religious freedom.
Cuba. The Government continued to control and monitor religious activities and to use surveillance, infiltration, and harassment against religious groups, clergy, and laypersons. The Government ignored unregistered groups' pending applications for legal recognition. The law allows for the construction of new churches once the required permits are obtained; however, the Government has rarely issued construction permits, forcing many churches to meet in private homes, which also requires a permit. Government harassment of private houses of worship continued, with evangelical denominations reporting evictions from houses used for worship. Religious groups must obtain authorization from the Government to reconstruct or repair existing places of worship; however, the process of obtaining permission and purchasing construction materials from government outlets is lengthy and expensive. The authorities restricted the import and distribution of religious literature and materials and monitored church-run publications. The Government maintained its policy of not allowing the Catholic Church to train or transfer from abroad enough priests for its needs; the Government also did not allow the Church to establish social institutions, including schools and universities, hospitals and clinics, and nursing homes.
North Korea. There was no change in the extremely poor level of respect for religious freedom. Religious freedom does not exist. The regime continued to repress unauthorized religious groups, and there were indications that the regime used authorized religious entities for external propaganda and political purposes and that local citizens were barred from entering their places of worship. Religious persons who proselytized or who had ties to overseas evangelical groups operating in the People's Republic of China were subjected to arrest and harsh penalties, according to several unconfirmed reports. Defectors continued to allege that the regime arrested and executed members of underground Christian churches in prior years. Over the years, defectors have claimed that Christians were imprisoned and tortured for reading the Bible and talking about God. Due to the inaccessibility of the country and inability to gain timely information, it was difficult to confirm these reports.
State Hostility Toward Minority or Nonapproved Religions
Some governments, while not implementing full control over minority religions, nevertheless are hostile and repressive towards certain groups or identify them as "security threats." These governments implement policies designed to demand adherents to recant their faith, cause religious group members to flee the country, or intimidate and harass certain religious groups, or have as their principal effect the intimidation and harassment of certain religious groups.
Eritrea. The Government's poor respect for religious freedom for minority religious groups continued to worsen. Following a 2002 decree requiring all religious groups to register or cease religious activities, the Government closed all religious facilities not belonging to the four religions registered by the Government. The closures, the Government's failure to authorize any of the groups that applied for registration, and the arbitrarily enforced restriction on holding religious meetings continued. The Government harassed, arrested, and detained members of Pentecostal and other independent evangelical groups and Jehovah's Witnesses. Some religious detainees were held in harsh conditions that included extreme temperature fluctuations with limited or no access to family. There also were numerous reports of attempts to force recantations.
Iran. The Government engaged in particularly severe violations of religious freedom. Members of religious minorities--including Sunni Muslims, Baha'is, Jews, and Christians--reported imprisonment, harassment, intimidation, and discrimination based on their religious beliefs. All religious minorities continued to suffer varying degrees of officially sanctioned discrimination, particularly in the areas of employment, education, and housing. The Government continued to imprison and detain Baha'is based on their religious beliefs, and state controlled media conducted a campaign of defamation against the group. Baha'is could not teach or freely practice their faith, nor could they maintain links with co-religionists abroad. The Government vigilantly enforced its prohibition on proselytizing activities by evangelical Christians by closing evangelical churches and arresting converts. In September 2004, security officials arrested 85 leaders of the Assemblies of God Church. The Government's anti-Israel policies, along with a perception among radical Muslims that all Jewish citizens support Zionism and the state of Israel, continued to create a hostile atmosphere for the Jewish community. Sunni Muslims encountered religious discrimination at the local, provincial, and national levels, and there were reports of discrimination against practitioners of the Sufi tradition.
Laos. The Government continued to interpret the Constitution in a manner that restricted religious practice, and application of the law was arbitrary. Persons arrested for their religious activities were sometimes charged with exaggerated security or other criminal offenses. Persons detained could be held for lengthy periods without trial, and an accused person's defense rights were limited. There were five known religious prisoners, all members of the Lao Evangelical Church, the country's domestic Protestant Christian group. Central authorities continued to withhold permission for the printing of non-Buddhist religious material. Central government control over the behavior of local officials was weak. In some areas, local officials displayed intolerance for minority religions, particularly evangelical Protestants. There were reports that local officials pressured Christians to renounce their faith; in two instances, persons were detained and evicted from their villages for resisting such efforts. Local authorities often refused to grant permission to construct new places of worship or repair existing facilities.
Saudi Arabia. Freedom of religion does not exist. Islam is the official religion, and all citizens must be Muslims. Religious freedom is not recognized or protected under the country's laws, and basic religious freedoms are denied to all but those who adhere to the state-sanctioned version of Sunni Islam. The Government's official policy is to permit non-Muslims to practice their religions freely at home and in private; however, the Government does not always respect this right in practice. Citizens are denied the freedom to choose or change their religion. Members of the Shi'a minority are subject to officially sanctioned political and economic discrimination, including limited employment opportunities, little representation in official institutions, and restrictions on the practice of their faith and the building of mosques and community centers. The Government enforces a strictly conservative version of Sunni Islam and discriminates against other branches of Islam. The Government prohibits the public practice of other religions; non-Muslim worshippers risk arrest, imprisonment, lashing, deportation, and torture for engaging in religious activity that attracts official attention, especially of the Mutawwa'in (religious police). All public school children receive mandatory religious instruction that conforms to the Salafi tradition. While there was an improvement in press freedom, open discussion of religious issues was limited.
Sudan. The Government considers itself an Islamic government, and Islamization is an objective of the governing party. It continued to place many restrictions on and discriminate against non-Muslims, non-Arab Muslims, and Muslims from tribes or groups not affiliated with the ruling party. Applications to build mosques generally were granted; however, the process for applications to build churches continued to be difficult--the last permit was issued around 1975. Many non Muslims stated that they are treated as second-class citizens and discriminated against in government jobs and contracts. Some Muslims received preferential treatment regarding limited government services, such as access to medical care, and preferential treatment in court cases involving Muslims against non-Muslims.
Uzbekistan. There was a slight decline in the already poor status of religious freedom. The Government continued its campaign against unauthorized Islamic groups suspected of extremist sentiments or activities. Government authorities arrested numerous alleged members of these groups and sentenced them to lengthy jail terms. In thousands of cases, authorities have asserted membership in Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT), a banned political organization that encourages terrorism, based solely on outward expressions of devout belief, or have made false assertions of HT membership as a pretext for repressing the innocent expression of religious belief. The Government pressured the banned Islamic group Akromiylar (Akromiya), especially in Tashkent and Andijon, and those actions resulted in violence and deaths in Andijon in May 2005. Following three terrorist bombings in Tashkent in July 2004, the Government took into custody several hundred persons; the overwhelming majority of detainees were identified as having belonged to HT or other so-called "Wahhabi" groups. Most of these were released after questioning, but approximately 115 were convicted on terrorism-related charges. A number of minority religious groups, including congregations of various Christian confessions, had difficulty satisfying the strict registration requirements set out by law. As in previous years, Protestant groups with ethnic Uzbek members reported operating in a climate of harassment and fear. Some registered groups experienced raids and harassment, including de-registration and closing of several groups. A small but growing number of "underground" mosques, such as those that were tolerated during the Soviet period, operated under the close scrutiny of religious authorities and security services. After the May 2005 violence in Andijon, the number of congregants at these mosques declined significantly.
Vietnam. Although there was some improvement in respect for religious freedom, the Government continued to restrict organized activities of religious groups that it declared to be at variance with state laws and policies. Despite the introduction of less restrictive legislation governing religion, the legal framework continued to require that the organization and activities of all religious denominations be officially sanctioned by the Government. Restrictions on the hierarchies and clergy of religious groups remained in place. Oversight of recognized religions and harassment of followers of nonrecognized religions varied with the locality, often as a result of diverse local interpretations of national policy. There were reports that on several occasions, local officials pressured ethnic minority Protestants to recant their faith. According to reports, police arbitrarily detained and sometimes beat religious believers, particularly in the mountainous ethnic minority areas. At least 6 persons were in prison or detention for religious reasons, and at least 15 other persons were under various levels of restrictions on their activities.
State Neglect of Societal Discrimination or Abuses Against Religious Groups
Some countries have legislation that discourages religious discrimination and persecution but fails to prevent conflicts, harassment, or other harmful acts against usually, but not necessarily, minority religious groups. Other countries do not respond with consistency and vigor to violations of religious freedom by private actors, nongovernmental entities, or local law enforcement officials.
Bangladesh. Citizens generally were free to practice the religion of their choice; however, police often were ineffective in upholding law and order and slow to assist members of religious minorities who were victims of crimes. Religiously motivated discrimination and violence--including killings, rapes, attacks on places of worship, and forced evictions--remained a problem. The period was marked with harassment and violent attacks against Ahmadis. The Government often failed to investigate the crimes and prosecute the perpetrators; in some instances, it appeared police aided crowds that were attacking Ahmadis. Village leaders continued to issue declarations and claim they were fatwas, often resulting in extrajudicial punishments of women for their perceived moral transgressions. Religious minorities remained underrepresented in most government jobs, especially at the higher levels of the civil and foreign services. Some foreign missionaries reported that internal security forces closely monitored their activities.
Egypt. Despite some improvement in the Government's respect for religious freedom, there continued to be abuses and restrictions. Government discrimination against non-Muslims continued: Christians were discriminated against in the public sector and in staff appointments to public universities and were refused admission to Al-Azhar University, a publicly funded institution. Elements within the Government, often local administrative and security officials, impeded efforts by Christians to obtain permits required for construction or renovation of places of worship. The approval process for church construction continued to suffer time delays often measured in years. The state-sponsored National Council for Human Rights, established in January 2004, issued its first report in March 2005 but neglected to discuss religious freedom. The Government continued to deny civil documents, including identification cards, birth certificates, and marriage licenses, to Baha'is. Persons accused of proselytizing have been harassed by police or arrested on charges of violating provisions in the Penal Code that prohibit ridiculing or insulting heavenly religions or inciting sectarian strife.
India. At times, the Government did not act quickly enough to counter societal attacks against religious minorities and attempts by some leaders of state and local governments to limit religious freedom. This resulted in part from legal constraints on central government action inherent in the country's federal structure and from shortcomings in the law enforcement and justice systems. Despite central government efforts to foster communal harmony, some extremists continued to view ineffective investigation and prosecution of attacks on religious minorities as a signal that they could commit such violence with impunity. Prospects for justice for victims of the 2002 Gujarat violence remained uncertain. "Hindutva," the ideology that espouses politicized inculcation of Hindu religious and cultural norms above other religious norms, continued to influence governmental policies and societal attitudes in some regions at the state and local level. Interreligious tensions between Muslims and Hindus and also between Hindus and Christians continued. Anti-conversion laws remained in effect in some states. In some regions, local officials selectively enforced laws to the detriment of religious minorities.
Sri Lanka. The status of religious freedom remained fragile. There was an increase in attacks on Christian churches by Buddhist extremists and also in societal tension, due to allegations of forced conversions and efforts to pass anti conversion legislation. Some groups complained that authorities tacitly condoned harassment and violence, and in some cases, police were reluctant to take legal action against persons involved in attacks. In October 2004, the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) party formally proposed a constitutional amendment to declare Buddhism the state religion, and in May 2005, the JHU presented a bill criminalizing conversions for its second reading to Parliament, despite the Supreme Court's ruling that some sections of the bill were unconstitutional. In April 2005, the Cabinet approved an anti-conversion bill, and in June, the bill was formally gazetted, the first step toward introducing it to Parliament. The Supreme Court ruled that sections of the proposed JHU bill would be unconstitutional; however, the sections that criminalize forced conversion were generally upheld. At the end of the period covered by this report, the proposed JHU bill remained under consideration in Parliament.
Discriminatory Legislation or Policies Prejudicial to Certain Religions
Some governments have enacted legislation that favors majority religions and discriminates against minority religions. This often results from historical dominance by the majority religion and a bias against new or minority religions. In such countries, segments of the citizenry are often suspicious of new religions.
Azerbaijan. The Constitution provides that persons of all faiths may choose and practice their religion without restrictions; however, there were some abuses of that right. The Law on Religious Freedom, which the Government enforces, prohibits foreigners from proselytizing. Some religious groups reported delays in and denials of registration and limitations on their ability to import religious literature. In June 2004, authorities evicted a Muslim congregation from its mosque, citing the political activity of the community's imam as one of the reasons for the eviction. The mosque remained closed. Local authorities occasionally monitored religious services, and officials at times harassed nontraditional religious groups. Sporadic violations of religious freedom by some officials continued. In many instances, abuses reflected the popular antipathy towards ethnic Azeri converts to non-Russian Orthodox Christianity and other nontraditional religions.
Belarus. The Government continued to restrict religious freedom in accordance with the provisions of a 2002 law on religion and a 2003 concordat with the Belarusian Orthodox Church (BOC). Although there is no state religion, the concordat grants the BOC privileged status. Authorities continued to harass certain religions and denominations, particularly those that the authorities appeared to regard as bearers of foreign cultural influence or suspected of having a political agenda. Protestants in particular appeared to attract negative attention for their perceived links with the United States. A 2002 law on religion required religious groups to re-register; however, authorities refused to re-register some minority groups, including some Protestant groups, Orthodox confessions outside of the BOC, and some Eastern religions. Without registration, many of these groups faced problems with authorities and found it difficult to function.
Brunei. Practitioners of non-Muslim faiths are not permitted to proselytize, and Christian-based schools are not allowed to teach Christianity. All schools must give instruction in the Islamic faith to all students. The Government uses municipal and planning laws and other legislation to restrict the expansion of any religion other than official Islam. The Government restricts the practice of non Muslim faiths by occasionally denying entry to foreign clergy or particular priests, bishops, or ministers; banning the importation of religious teaching materials or scriptures such as the Bible; and refusing permission to expand, repair, or build churches, temples, or shrines. Muslims who wish to change or renounce their religion face considerable difficulties. The dominant Islamic religious ethos discourages Muslims from learning about other faiths and forbids those of other faiths from proselytizing. At the same time, Islamic authorities organize activities to explain and propagate Islam and also offer financial incentives and housing for converts to Islam.
Indonesia. Security forces occasionally tolerated discrimination against and abuse of nonrecognized groups by private actors, and the Government at times failed to punish perpetrators. Ethnoreligious violence, exacerbated by economic tensions between predominantly non-Muslim local or native peoples and predominantly Muslim immigrants, occurred in the Moluccas, Central Sulawesi, Papua, and Kalimantan. The Government recognizes only five major religions, and persons of nonrecognized groups frequently experienced official discrimination, such as in the issuance of identity cards and the civil registration of marriages and births.
Israel and the Occupied Territories. The Israeli Declaration of Independence describes the country as a "Jewish state" but also provides for full social and political equality regardless of political affiliation. However, some non-Jews, primarily Arab Muslims and Christians, continued to experience discrimination in the areas of education, housing, and employment. The State continued to recognize only Orthodox Jewish religious authorities in personal and some civil status matters concerning Jews. Tensions between Israeli Jews and Arab Muslims and Christians remained high due to the institutional, legal, and societal discrimination against the country's Arab citizens. Building codes for places of worship were enforced selectively, based on religion. Government resources available for religious/heritage studies to Arab and to non-Orthodox Jewish public schools were proportionately less than those available to Orthodox Jewish ones. During Jewish holidays and following terrorist attacks, the Government imposed internal and external closures for security purposes that had the effect of restricting access to holy sites for Arab Muslims and Christians, as well as for Israeli Arabs and Palestinians who possessed Jerusalem identification cards. The construction of a separation barrier by the Israeli Government, particularly in and around East Jerusalem, severely limited access to mosques, churches, and other holy sites and impeded the work of religious organizations that provide education, health care, and other humanitarian relief and social services to Palestinians. Palestinian violence against Israeli settlers prevented some Israelis from reaching Jewish holy sites in the occupied territories, such as Joseph's Tomb near Nablus and the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. Disagreements between the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority continued over access to the Haram al-Sharif (Temple Mount), containing the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque.
Malaysia. Sunni Islam is the official religion, and the Government continued to place significant restrictions on the practice of non-Sunni Islamic beliefs. Muslims are not permitted to convert to another religion, and proselytizing of Muslims by followers of other religions is strictly prohibited. The Government restricted the distribution in peninsular Malaysia of Malay-language translations of the Bible, Christian tapes, and other printed materials. Due to concern that "deviationist" teachings could cause divisions among Muslims, the Government continued to monitor the activities of the Shi'a minority. Shi'a followers could be arrested and detained, with the consent of the Islamic court, in order to be "rehabilitated" and returned to the "true path of Islam."
Pakistan. The Constitution requires that laws be consistent with Islam and imposes some elements of Islamic law on both Muslims and religious minorities. Discriminatory legislation and the failure to take action against societal forces hostile to those who practice a different faith fostered religious intolerance and acts of violence and intimidation against religious minorities. The Government took steps to improve the treatment of religious minorities, but there were instances in which authorities failed to intervene in cases of societal violence directed at minority religious groups. The Ahmadiyya religious minority continued to face legal bars to the practice of its faith. Members of certain Islamic schools of thought claimed governmental discrimination. Law enforcement personnel abused religious minorities in custody, leading to deaths in some cases. The abuse of the Hudood Ordinances and the blasphemy law continued. The government in the Northwest Frontier Province continued to pass directives and legislation in accordance with the conservative Islamic vision of its supporters.
Russia. Although government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion for most of the population, conditions deteriorated for some minority religious faiths. Some federal agencies and many local authorities continued to restrict the rights of various religious minorities. Legal obstacles to registration under a complex 1997 law "On Freedom of Conscience and Associations" seriously disadvantaged many religious groups considered nontraditional. There were indications that security services, including the Federal Security Service, increasingly treated the leadership of some minority religious groups as security threats. The courts maintained a 2004 ban on Jehovah's Witnesses activities in Moscow; subsequently, members of Jehovah's Witnesses throughout the country began to report problems in conducting activities or with rental contracts on buildings they used for worship. Other religious groups reported similar problems with rented properties. Restitution of religious property seized by the former Communist government remained an issue. Muslims, the largest religious minority, continued to encounter societal discrimination and antagonism in some areas. Anti-Semitic incidents increased, as did the use of violence in such incidents. Reports of the harassment of evangelical and Pentecostal Christians also increased.
Turkey. There was some deterioration in respect for religious freedom, in contrast to previous positive trends. The Government's Directorate of Religious Affairs initiated a public campaign against Christian missionary activity. High-level government officials made statements depicting missionaries as a threat. There also was an increase in anti Christian media coverage. Threats and vandalism against Christians and church facilities increased. In addition, some Muslims, Christians, and Baha'is faced restrictions and occasional harassment for alleged proselytizing or unauthorized meetings. Authorities continued their broad ban on wearing Muslim religious dress in government facilities, including universities, schools, and workplaces. Non-Muslims claimed they were effectively barred from careers in government institutions such as the armed forces and national police. The Government continued to deny requests to reopen the Ecumenical Patriarchate's Halki seminary on the island of Heybeli.
Denouncing Certain Religions by Identifying Them as Dangerous "Cults" or "Sects"
Some Western European governments continued to use restrictive legislation and practices to brand minority religions as dangerous "cults" or "sects."
Belgium. A 1997 parliamentary commission list of 189 "harmful sectarian organizations," while lacking legal standing, was not retracted by the Government. In October 2004, the city of Brussels reneged on a contract with the Genealogical Society of Utah, declaring it did not wish to associate with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), an organization "on the parliamentary sects list." In January 2005, the Chair of the House of Representatives working group on sects urged the Foreign Minister to ensure that Church of Scientology workers had no access to tsunami relief funds sent by the country.
France. After being established in November 2002, an interministerial organization began to observe and analyze the movements of "sects" and "cults" that allegedly constitute a threat to public order or that violate French law. The organization also coordinated responses to abuses by cults, informed the public about potential risks, and helped victims to receive aid. The 2001 About-Picard law, which permits dissolution of cults, was used in November 2004 to convict Arnaud Mussy, founder of the group Neo-Phare, of fraudulently abusing the ignorance and weakness of his followers.
Germany. The Government continued to characterize some nontraditional religions as "sects." A 1995 Interior Ministry refusal to issue a visa to Unification Church founder Reverend Sun Myung Moon remained in force. A 10-year legal effort by the Jehovah's Witnesses to gain public law corporation status in Berlin remained unresolved, despite a court ruling ordering recognition. The Church of Scientology remained under scrutiny by both federal and state officials, who contended that its ideology is opposed to the democratic constitutional order. The Government continued to prohibit firms bidding on government training contracts from using technology associated with the Church of Scientology.
PART II: SIGNIFICANT IMPROVEMENTS IN THE PROMOTION OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
The International Religious Freedom Act prescribes that a section of the Executive Summary identify countries where "significant improvement in the protection and promotion" of religious freedom has occurred during the period covered by the report. Serious problems, however, may remain in these countries.
Georgia. In the wake of the 2003 "Rose Revolution," religious freedom improved in several important areas. Attacks on religious minorities, including violence, verbal harassment, and disruption of services and meetings, decreased. The Government arrested and sentenced to imprisonment excommunicated Orthodox priest Father Basil Mkalavishvili and several of his associates, who were primary instigators of religiously motivated violence. In April 2005, the Government passed a law enabling religious groups to register. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and the Seventh-day Adventists were registered under the new procedure in record time. The Government also passed a law on general education that partly improved regulation of religious freedom in schools. Local police were generally more responsive to the needs of minority believers, although at times they failed to adequately protect these groups.
India. The status of religious freedom improved in a number of ways. The Government demonstrated its commitment to a policy of religious inclusion at the highest levels of government and throughout society. The Government also took steps to address expeditiously the failures of the Gujarat State government to halt Hindu-Muslim riots there in 2002. Minority rights activists reported that instances of communal violence decreased as a result. The Government refused to approve the Gujarat Control of Organized Crime Act, passed by the Gujarat legislature in June 2004, and which Muslim groups feared would be used selectively against them. The Government repealed the controversial Prevention of Terrorism Act, often criticized by Muslim groups as a tool used to target them, and replaced it with a law considered to be fairer to minorities. The Government also withdrew controversial school textbooks that had been condemned for espousing a Hindu nationalist agenda and replaced them with more moderate editions, although problems lingered in some states controlled by the opposition. The National Human Rights Commission intervened in legal battles surrounding the 2002 Gujarat riots, which resulted in the reopening of 2,000 cases. The commission also directed the Gujarat state government to entrust certain cases to the Central Bureau of Investigation, support NGOs working on behalf of religious minorities, and reform the police. No states passed new anti conversion laws, and Tamil Nadu repealed its anti-conversion law.
Turkmenistan. While serious violations of religious freedom continued, the Government made progress in some areas. In March 2004, the President signed a decree pledging to register all religious groups, regardless of creed or number, and to adhere to generally accepted international norms and rules concerning treatment of religious minorities. Despite the onerous registration process and additional requirements for minority congregations to register and operate, five groups were registered in 2004 and an additional four were registered in 2005, bringing the total to nine minority religious groups. On April 16, 2005, four members of Jehovah's Witnesses serving prison sentences for conscientious objection to military service were amnestied. Unlike previous years, there were no confirmed reports of torture, but there was at least one report of a beating experienced by a woman detained for questioning in connection with practice of her faith. Human rights observers widely reported that the Government replaced a number of Sunni Muslim imams, including the Mufti, with individuals believed to be less independent in their interpretations of Islam, in an attempt to better facilitate government control of mosques.
United Arab Emirates. The Government took several steps that demonstrated respect for religious freedom. In October 2004, the Ministry of Justice, Islamic Affairs, and Awqaf hosted an international conference on religion and terrorism that was designed to encourage moderation in preaching and condemn extremism and terrorism. Also in October, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed received the Patriarch of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch and All the East. The Crown Prince stated that such visits foster friendship, tolerance, and religious dialogue. In late 2004, the Crown Prince of Dubai donated a plot of land to build St. Mary's church for the Greek Orthodox community in Dubai. In December 2004, the Ministry of Justice, Islamic Affairs, and Awqaf participated in the Christmas celebrations of the Arab Evangelical Church in Abu Dhabi. Both the Assistant Under Secretary for Mosque Affairs and the Assistant Under Secretary for Islamic Affairs attended the event and called for religious tolerance. In March 2005, the Minister received Elder Zwick of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to discuss means of enhancing relationships between people of different religions and to confirm the tolerance of Islam. In April 2005, the Minister of Education received Bishop Bernard G. Gremoli, ex-bishop of Abu Dhabi's Saint Joseph's Catholic Church, to whom the Minister conveyed his condolences on the demise of Pope John Paul II. In May 2005, the Government's Religious Adviser unveiled the foundation stone of the Egyptian Coptic Church of the Reverent Antonios, accompanied by the Archbishop of the Orthodox Coptic Church in Jerusalem, the Gulf, and the Middle East. In June 2005, President Khalifa issued a law establishing the Zayed Center for Islamic Culture to foster interreligious tolerance and co-existence and to promote a better understanding of Islam in the West.
Vietnam. The Government made significant revisions to the legal framework governing religion. While maintaining close government oversight of religious organizations, the November 2004 Ordinance on Religion and Belief relaxed control of religious activities and the promotion and transfer of clerics, and it allowed religious organizations to conduct charitable activities in education and healthcare, which had been highly restricted in the past. In February 2005, the Prime Minister issued instructions that urged government officials to cooperate with Protestant believers, assist unrecognized religious groups to register, and allow nonrecognized "house churches" to operate if they committed to follow regulations. A March 2005 implementing decree stated that forcing others to renounce their faith is illegal and set forth procedures for religious organizations to register; these procedures had previously been left to the discretion of local officials. The Government released or granted amnesty to a number of religious prisoners. Many of the hundreds of Protestant house churches in the Central Highlands that had been ordered to shut down in 2001 have been able quietly to resume activity, although most have not yet sought or received official registration.
PART III: U.S. ACTIONS TO ADVANCE INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
This section highlights U.S. Government actions in selected countries. Further details may be found in the individual country reports.
Azerbaijan. Embassy representatives conveyed U.S. Government concerns about the registration process and the overall attitude towards nontraditional religious groups to the Chairman of the State Committee for Work with Religious Associations and expressed concerns about the Government's commitment to religious freedom with others in the Government and also to the press. Embassy officers also repeatedly expressed objections to the censorship of religious literature. The Embassy closely monitored the court case against the Juma Mosque community and met with government and religious leaders to urge respect for religious freedom. In October 2004, a representative of the State Department's Office of International Religious Freedom visited Baku and advocated respect for religious freedom in meetings with an official from the Caucasus Muslim Board and senior government officials.
Bangladesh. Due to renewed attacks on Ahmadis, the U.S. Government continued to make religious freedom a central point in meetings with the Prime Minister and other ministers. The Embassy expressed its views to the media and in public forums related to democracy and governance. The State Department's Assistant Secretary for South Asian Affairs and the U.S. Ambassador visited Ahmadiyya headquarters to show support for the security and religious freedom of Ahmadis. In March 2005, Embassy representatives expressed concerns over legislation that would have created a blasphemy law based on the Pakistani model. The Embassy encouraged the Government to develop and expand its training program for Islamic religious leaders. After an initial pilot program, USAID provided educational material on human rights, HIV/AIDS, gender equality, and trafficking in persons to be used in courses for religious leaders.
Belarus. During meetings with government officials and ministers, Embassy representatives raised such issues as the 2002 religion law, the continued sale of intolerant literature at locations affiliated with the Government and the Belarusian Orthodox Church (BOC), and registration denials of certain religious communities. Embassy officers also raised the issue of government passivity in the face of intolerant acts and attempts to preserve the religious status quo through discriminatory action. The Embassy monitored the continued sale of anti-Semitic and xenophobic literature at stores and events linked with the BOC and state media distributors. On several occasions, Embassy representatives also visited the site of a Jewish cemetery in Grodno and met with local officials and community leaders to discuss their agreement for reburial of human remains uncovered during a construction project.
Burma. The Secretary of State again designated Burma as a "Country of Particular Concern" under the International Religious Freedom Act for particularly severe violations of religious freedom, and the U.S. Government continued to impose extensive sanctions on the regime. The U.S. Government promoted religious freedom with all facets of society, including government officials, religious leaders, private citizens, scholars, diplomats or other governments, and international business and media representatives. The Embassy emphasized religious tolerance by hosting interfaith workshops and discussions with visiting speakers. Embassy representatives offered support to local organizations and religious leaders and acted as a conduit for exchanging information with otherwise isolated human rights NGOs and religious leaders.
China. Since 1999, the Secretary of State has designated China as a "Country of Particular Concern" for particularly severe violations of religious freedom. President Bush raised religious freedom in his November 2004 meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao at the APEC summit, and the Secretary of State discussed religious freedom and attended a church service during her March 2005 visit to Beijing. The Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor traveled to the country twice to discuss human rights and religious freedom with the Government. Other State Department representatives also traveled to the country to discuss religious freedom problems. U.S. officials protested vigorously whenever there were credible reports of religious harassment or discrimination in violation of international laws and standards, and they requested information in cases of alleged mistreatment in which the facts were incomplete or contradictory. The Embassy raised reported cases of detention and abuse of religious practitioners with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the State Administration of Religious Affairs, except from March through November 2004, when, in response to U.S. sponsorship of a resolution on Chinese human rights at the March 2004 session of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, the Government unilaterally implemented a policy of refusing to discuss such cases. The U.S. Embassy and Consulates maintained contacts with a wide spectrum of religious leaders within the country's religious communities, including bishops, priests, and ministers of the official Protestant and Catholic churches; Taoist, Muslim, and Buddhist leaders; and leaders and members of the unofficial Christian churches. The Department of State brought a number of Chinese religious leaders and scholars to the United States on International Visitor Programs to observe the role that religion plays in U.S. society. The Embassy also brought experts on religion from the United States to speak about the role of religion in American life and public policy.
Egypt. The subject of religious freedom was raised with senior government officials by several levels of the U.S. Government, including by the Secretary of State, Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs, the Ambassador, and other Embassy officials. Embassy representatives discussed religious freedom issues regularly with governors and Members of Parliament. The Embassy raised its concerns about official discrimination against Baha'is and unofficial discrimination against Christians. Visiting U.S. congressional delegations also raised religious freedom issues during meetings with government officials. Officials from the Embassy and USAID actively challenged anti-Semitic articles in the media through discussions with editors-in-chief and other journalists. The Mission, including the Department of State and USAID, continued to work to expand human rights and ameliorate the conditions that contribute to religious strife by promoting economic, social, and political development. U.S. programs and activities supported initiatives in several areas directly related to religious freedom, including funding for programs that work with Coptic community groups in upper Egypt. An interagency grant supported projects to promote tolerance and mutual respect between different religious communities. The Mission also continued to promote the development of curriculum materials in Arabic and English that encourage religious tolerance, diversity, and understanding. USAID worked with the Supreme Council of Antiquities to promote the conservation of cultural antiquities, including Islamic, Christian, and Jewish historical sites.
Eritrea. In September 2004, the Secretary of State designated Eritrea as a "Country of Particular Concern" for particularly severe violations of religious freedom. The Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom pressed senior Eritrean officials to release religious prisoners and permit closed churches to reopen. The U.S. Ambassador and other Embassy representatives raised the cases of detentions and restrictions on unregistered religious groups with officials in the President's Office, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, and leaders of the sole legal political party. Embassy officials were able to meet for the first time since 2002 with the Government's Director for the Office of Religious Affairs. They also met regularly with leaders of the religious community.
Georgia. The U.S. Government repeatedly raised its concerns with senior government officials, including the President, regarding harassment of and attacks against nontraditional religious minorities. Embassy officials met with Members of Parliament to encourage legislation allowing for registration of religious groups. Embassy officials encouraged religious minority groups to support the efforts of the State Ombudsman concerning religious freedom by participating in his roundtables and new initiatives. Embassy representatives attended the trial of defrocked Orthodox Priest Basil Mkalavishvili. In April 2005, the Ambassador showed support for local Jewish communities by attending a reception conducted by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. In May 2005, the Ambassador participated in the reopening of a Baptist church in Akhalsopeli burned down by arsonists in 2003, and in June, the Ambassador attended the opening of the Baptist Beteli Social Center in Tbilisi.
India. On March 18, 2005, the U.S. Government denied the diplomatic visa application of Chief Minister Narendra Modi and revoked his business/visitor visa on grounds that, as head of the state government in Gujarat between February and May 2002, he was responsible for the performance of state institutions at the time of the riots in Gujarat. U.S. officials engaged Gujarat State authorities on the implementation and reversal of anti-conversion laws. Consulate officers met in Mumbai with a range of NGO, business, media, and other representatives, including Muslim leaders, to monitor the aftermath of the violence in Gujarat. In October 2004, the Consulate in Chennai organized roundtables to promote better understanding between the Hindu, Muslim, Christian, and Buddhist communities. The Chennai Consulate continued to provide English instruction to underprivileged Muslim children; donate books to madrassahs in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Bangalore; and sponsor Muslims for International Visitor Programs. Embassy and Consulate officials celebrated Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, and Jewish festivals with members of the various religious communities. The Embassy expanded the Urdu and Hindi editions of SPAN magazine, exploring issues such as human rights, conflict resolution, and inclusiveness toward women and minorities.
Indonesia. The U.S. Embassy arranged eight speaking tours throughout the country for U.S. scholars to address religious tolerance and human rights, including a team from Hartford Seminary that spoke at pesantren and universities in Lombok and Yogyakarta on interfaith dialogue. Universitas Islam Negeri and the Liberal Islam Network each received a grant to survey attitudes toward religious practice and extremism and determine if they correlated with public opinion critical of the United States and its policies. The Embassy sponsored more than 76 religious scholars and leaders, community and youth leaders, students, human rights activists, and journalists to travel to the United States and participate in programs related to religious freedom. In addition, the Embassy sent more than 55 pesantren leaders to the United States on an exchange program focused on religious tolerance and civic education. In 2004, 38 students and teachers from private boarding schools attended an international youth leadership program on religious diversity, leadership, and civic education. More than 60 Muslim students were spending a year at high schools throughout the United States. The Embassy and the American-Indonesian Exchange Foundation continued to support the country's first graduate-level comparative religion program at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta. Six English Language Fellows were based in Islamic institutions of higher education. Ten institutions of higher education, five of which are Islamic universities, have established American Corners, which are program and information centers that provide computers with Internet access and reference materials about American life, including religious topics, and venues for discussion with Embassy representatives and Embassy-sponsored speakers about religious pluralism. The State Department provided grants to two U.S. universities to support conflict resolution and training exchanges and establish five mediation centers in Islamic institutions of higher learning. During Ramadan, the Embassy made extensive use of the media to convey American respect for Islam, the role of tolerance in a democracy, and shared Indonesian-U.S. values, including an original television documentary series that consisted of 30 3-minute stories on topics concerning Islam in America and profiles of Muslims in the United States. The production was a joint project of the State Department and Cakrawala Andalas Televisi (ANTV), one of the country's oldest national television networks.
Iran. The Secretary of State again designated Iran as a "Country of Particular Concern" under the International Religious Freedom Act for particularly severe violations of religious freedom. The United States has no diplomatic relations with the country and thus cannot raise directly the restrictions the Government places on religious freedom and other abuses that it commits against adherents of minority religions. The U.S. Government makes its position clear in public statements and reports, support for relevant U.N. and NGO efforts, and diplomatic initiatives to press for an end to government abuses. On numerous occasions, the State Department spokesman has addressed the situation of the Baha'i and Jewish communities. The U.S. Government has encouraged other governments to make similar statements and has urged them to raise the issue of religious freedom in discussions with the Government.
Iraq. U.S. officials at all levels, including the Secretary of State, members of Congress, the Ambassador, and Embassy officers, regularly engaged the Government on problems relating to freedom of religion. The Embassy facilitated interfaith discussion by hosting meetings, roundtables, and other events with all religious communities, and it funded training, seminars, conferences, and exchange programs to promote religious understanding and tolerance. The Embassy's primary focus was on the prevention of sectarian violence, Sunni and non-Muslim inclusion in the political and constitutional development processes, and interfaith understanding. USAID worked to increase Sunni inclusion in the political process by providing technical assistance to Sunni leaders. USAID worked with religious minorities by bringing together members of different religious and ethnic backgrounds to discuss common issues. USAID also conducted a significant amount of conflict mitigation at the local level through its Community Action Program. At the request of leading Shi'a and Sunni clerics, the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) funded the establishment of an interfaith dialogue center to help unite religious groups against violence and foster an environment of tolerance, particularly between Sunni and Shi'a, as well as towards Christians and others. USIP held workshops for students at the University of Kirkuk and intercommunal conflict management programs for political and civil society representatives in Baghdad. Awareness workshops on intercommunal tolerance for Shi'a and Sunni mothers and schoolteachers in Baghdad were implemented.
Israel. U.S. Embassy representatives, including the Ambassador, met with Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Druze leaders at various levels. In April 2005, the Embassy invited two Knesset members from the secular Shinui party and two from the ultra-Orthodox Shas party to participate together in an International Visitors Program on the U.S. legislative, judicial, and executive branches of government. In October 2004, a representative from the Office of International Religious Freedom visited Israel and met with government officials, Jewish religious leaders, civil rights NGO representatives, Israeli-Arab human rights advocates, and Christian clergy and religious workersparticularly those negatively affected by construction of the separation barrier. In November 2004, the Embassy hosted an Iftar to commemorate the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, inviting more than 80 Israeli Muslim representatives from the political, economic, legal, religious, and business communities as well as representatives of interfaith organizations. The Embassy provided grants to local organizations promoting interfaith dialogue and coexistence and to organizations examining the role of religion in resolving conflict. The Embassy also provided a grant to support a program for a dozen Palestinian youths and 20 Israeli-Jewish and Israeli-Arab youths to hold an October dialogue/retreat on Christian, Islamic, and Jewish Youth Leadership. Embassy representatives attended and spoke at NGO meetings, including the Arab Association for Human Rights, the Mossawa Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens in Israel, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the Israel Religious Action Center, and Adalah.
Laos. The U.S. Ambassador raised the issue of religious freedom with senior figures in the Government and also spoke directly about religious freedom with provincial governors in her visits to the provinces. The Embassy informed Department of Religious Affairs officials of specific cases of arrest or harassment, who in turn used this information to intercede with local authorities. For the second year, the Government co-hosted with the Embassy a seminar on religious freedom issues aimed at senior district and provincial administrators as well as officials from the central Government. The Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs raised religious freedom with senior officials during his visit. The Deputy Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor also visited and met with senior government officials to discuss religious freedom and other human rights. The Embassy continued to support the visit of the president of the Institute for Global Engagement (IGE), an NGO devoted to promoting religious freedom.
Nigeria. The U.S. Government sought to encourage a peaceful resolution of the question regarding Shari'a criminal penalties in a manner compatible with international human rights norms and urged that human rights and religious freedom be respected in all instances. The U.S. Mission hosted Iftars in Abuja, Lagos, and the predominantly Muslim Kwara State. The Mission reached out to Muslim communities through the International Visitor Program, the American Speaker Program, the Fulbright Senior Scholar Program, the Humphrey Fellowship Program, and programs organized by the Office of Citizen Exchanges. The Mission also continued publishing its informational magazine in Hausa, the language of the predominantly Muslim north. In September 2004, USAID concluded a 3-year project to improve literacy and numeracy at the primary school level in public and Islamic schools in 3 of the country's 36 states. The program reached more than 120,000 students and 4,000 teachers, and it involved Islamic leaders as well as federal, state, and local government officials. In December 2004, the Embassy presented scholarships to students in the Muslim heartlands of Kano and Zaria to improve literacy and numeracy. In accepting the awards, school officials declared that the inclusive process of selecting the students sowed a seed of respect for diversity and tolerance for religious differences.
North Korea. The Secretary of State again designated the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) as a "Country of Particular Concern" for particularly severe violations of religious freedom. The U.S. Government does not have diplomatic relations with the DPRK; however, it continued to raise religious freedom concerns about the country in multilateral forums and bilaterally with other governments. U.S. officials urged other countries to condition their bilateral relations with the country on concrete, verifiable, and sustained improvements. In response to serious concerns over the country's human rights record, the U.S. Congress enacted the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004. The act establishes the position of Special Envoy on Human Rights in North Korea to coordinate and promote efforts to improve respect for the fundamental human rights of the people of the country. At the 61st session of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, the U.S. Government co-sponsored a resolution condemning the regime for its human rights record. The resolution called on the Government to fulfill its obligations under human rights instruments to which it is a party and ensure that humanitarian organizations and the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the DPRK have free access to the country. In 2004, the Department of State provided the National Endowment for Democracy with a $350,000 grant to improve and expand monitoring and reporting on human rights conditions in the country. The Department of State also provided a grant to Freedom House for a series of conferences and other activities dedicated to pressuring the regime to end its abuses. Radio Free Asia provides regular Korean language broadcasting. U.S. Government policy allows U.S. citizens to travel to the country, and a number of churches and religious groups have organized efforts to alleviate suffering caused by shortages of food and medicine.
Pakistan. The U.S. Embassy continued to raise concerns with the Government, Members of Parliament, and other officials about the abusive and excessively harsh implementation of the blasphemy laws and Hudood Ordinances. Embassy officials monitored madrassah reform, and the Ambassador and other U.S. Government representatives discussed reforms with the Religious Affairs Minister and the Minister of Education. The Embassy urged reconciliation with the Ahmadiyya community and an end to abuses committed against the group. Embassy officials also met with religious and political leaders of major Islamic groups to call for an end to sectarian violence. The Embassy encouraged interfaith dialogue initiatives, such as the World Council of Religions, and supported the annual American Studies conference organized by the Quaid-i-Azam University, among other programs, to promote religious tolerance and better understanding of religion in the United States.
Russia. The U.S. Embassy and Consulates worked to encourage the development of programs designed to sensitize law enforcement officials and municipal and regional administration officials to recognize discrimination, prejudice, and crimes motivated by ethnic or religious intolerance. The Consul General in Yekaterinburg hosted Iftars for Muslims in three Ural cities to celebrate Ramadan, and Consulate officials visited mosques and madrassahs. Two American speakers on Islamic issues visited six major Ural cities, and an exhibit featuring U.S. mosque architecture was displayed in seven cities. In June-July 2004, the Embassy and Consulate General Yekaterinburg coordinated and funded a summer camp for 70 children from the predominantly Muslim city of Ufa, Bashkortostan. The camp promoted English language and leadership skills, an understanding of American culture, and interethnic tolerance. In September 2004, the Consulate General in Yekaterinburg sent a group of 10 primarily Muslim community and religious leaders from the Urals to the United States on a program entitled "Promoting Multiculturalism in Civic Life." Subsequently, one participant, a television producer, devoted an episode of her television show Islam Today to religious freedom in the United States and, with another participant, founded the Interethnic Information Center to follow media coverage of ethnic and religious minorities and educate journalists and government officials on tolerance issues. USAID continued to form and strengthen regional tolerance councils in Kazan, Ryazan, and Leningrad Oblast. USAID supported tolerance projects in Perm and Nizhniy Novgorod; one direct result of the project in Nizhniy Novgorod was further refining of the proposal to change federal legislation concerning the regulation of religion that was submitted to the Committee on Religious Affairs of the State Duma. Tatarstan's regional Ministry of Education signed an agreement to include tolerance courses in education programs for school teachers. In April 2005, members of the U.S. Helsinki Commission held a hearing in Washington on unregistered religious groups in Russia.
Saudi Arabia. The U.S. Government continued its policy to press the Government to honor its public commitment to permit private religious worship by non-Muslims, eliminate discrimination against minorities, and promote tolerance toward non-Muslims. In 2004, the Secretary of State designated Saudi Arabia as a "Country of Particular Concern" for particularly severe violations of religious freedom. The Ambassador discussed U.S. concerns over the lack of religious freedom with a wide range of senior government and religious leaders.
Sudan. The Secretary of State again designated Sudan as a "Country of Particular Concern" for particularly severe violations of religious freedom. Embassy representatives continued to stress that progress on religious freedom was vital to improving the countrys relationship with the United States. U.S. efforts to bring about peace in the country focused, among other things, on promoting religious dialogue through the Sudan Inter-Religious Council and the Sudan Council of Churches. Embassy officials discussed with government authorities possible benchmarks to be used to judge improvement in human rights, including religious freedom, for the eventual relaxing or lifting of economic sanctions.
Turkey. The U.S. Ambassador and other Embassy representatives met frequently with government officials and representatives of religious groups to discuss legal reform aimed at lifting restrictions on religious minorities. The Embassy continued to urge the Government to enable the reopening of the Halki seminary on Heybeli Island. In December 2004, the Archons of the Order of St. Andrew, an American group that actively supports the Ecumenical Patriarchate, visited Istanbul and Ankara with the support of the Mission. The Ambassador accompanied the Archons to a meeting with Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul to encourage an agreement on the reopening of Halki and a resolution of the issue of properties seized by the Government from religious minority communities. In June 2005, President Bush met with Prime Minister Erdogan and discussed the importance of maintaining the tradition of religious freedom, including urging the reopening of Halki. The Embassy and Consulates hosted Iftars and met regularly with representatives of various religious groups to discuss the Government's anti-missionary campaign, problems faced by "non-Muslim" groups, and the debate over the role of Islam.
Turkmenistan. The U.S. Embassy continued to urge the Government to take steps necessary to improve respect for freedom of religion. A visit in October 2004 by a representative of the State Department's Office of International Religious Freedom, who met with Government officials and members of faith groups, underscored the importance of the issue to the U.S. Government. In early March 2005, the Counsel of the U.S. Helsinki Commission delivered to the Foreign Minister and the Acting Minister of Justice specific points of concern that the Government needed to address. U.S. Embassy representatives continued to encourage the Government to explain to local authorities--and encourage implementation of--presidential decrees and the laws passed in March 2004. The Ambassador and Embassy officers raised specific reports of abuse and urged greater respect for religious freedom in meetings with the Foreign Minister and other government officials. Embassy officials also requested that the Government assist registered religious groups in finding places to hold services. In November 2004, the Ambassador held an Iftar during Ramadan to promote religious tolerance; members of the Council for Religious Affairs, including the Mufti, attended. The Ambassador and Embassy representatives met regularly with the staff of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Center in Ashgabat and also with other diplomatic missions to maximize cooperation in monitoring abuses of and promoting greater respect for religious freedom.
Uzbekistan. U.S. Embassy officials repeatedly urged the Government to allow more freedom of religious expression and permit more mosques to be registered. U.S. officials, both in Washington and in Tashkent, encouraged the Government to revise its laws on religion, including repealing the ban on proselytizing, lifting restrictions on the import and publication of religious literature, and eliminating legal provisions prohibiting the private teaching of religion. The Embassy continued to intervene on behalf of religious groups, including Muslims, Baptists, Grace Church in Samarkand, Jehovah's Witnesses, and several faith-based foreign aid organizations. All but 2 of approximately 50 Jehovah's Witnesses detained in Tashkent's Chilonzor District in March 2005 were released within hours, a result they credited to the Embassy. The U.S. Government continued to sponsor exchange and educational programs designed to promote religious tolerance and expand religious freedom. In September 2004, through the U.S. International Visitors Program, the deputy mufti and head imams from Samarqand and Surkhondarya visited the United States to view the role that religious organizations play in American society and the separation of religion and state. The Community Connections and Cultural and Religious Pluralism projects brought 70 local Islamic leaders to the United States, exposing them to the diversity of U.S. religious practices. In April 2005, Embassy officials met with Cultural and Religious Pluralism alumni at Kok Gumbaz mosque in Qarshi, where religious leaders shared impressions of their visit to the United States. A 3-year comparative religious studies program, funded by the Embassy and managed by the University of Washington, provides for exchange of experts and professors from five local universities.
Vietnam. In September 2004, the Secretary of State designated Vietnam as a "Country of Particular Concern" for particularly severe violations of religious freedom. The Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, the U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam, and other high-level U.S. officials and Embassy representatives conducted discussions with the Government to urge improvements in religious freedom. On May 5, 2005, the United States and Vietnam concluded an agreement that addresses a number of important religious freedom concerns. Under the agreement, Vietnam made a number of commitments including: to fully implement the new laws on religious activities and to render previous contradictory regulations obsolete, to instruct local authorities to adhere strictly and completely to the new legislation and ensure their compliance, to facilitate the process by which congregations are able to open houses of worship, and to give special consideration to prisoners and cases of concern raised by the United States during the granting of prisoner amnesties. In May 2005, the Deputy Secretary of State discussed human rights, including religious freedom, with high-level government officials during his visit. In June 2005, the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of Vietnam discussed the status of religious freedom in the country. The Ambassador and other Mission officers urged recognition of a broad spectrum of religious groups, including the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, the Protestant house churches, and dissenting Hoa Hao and Cao Dai groups. They urged greater freedom for recognized religious groups and repeatedly advocated ending restrictions on Thich Huyen Quang and Thich Quang Do, among others. Along with Ambassador at Large for Religious Freedom and the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Mission representatives continued to urge an end to forced renunciations, punishment of officials involved, and registration and reopening of house churches that had been closed.