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Assaults on Religious Freedom 'Worsening' Worldwide, Says U.S. Annual Report


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Assaults on Religious Freedom 'Worsening' Worldwide, Says U.S. Annual Report


More and more Christians worldwide are being subjected to "blatant" and "frightening" assaults, including the "slaughter of innocents," an annual U.S. government report declared.

(PHOTO: INTERNATIONAL CHRISTIAN CONCERN)The North Korean regime tortures thousands of dissidents, many of whom are Christians.

The U.S. Commission in International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) sounded the alarm about the "worsening" state of affairs for religious freedom across the globe in its report for this year, the Christian News Network reported.

The report, released on Wednesday last week, urges the U.S. Department of State to designate 16 more nations as Countries of Particular Concern (CPC), citing particular instances in those countries that merited their inclusion in the list.

"Overall, the Commission has concluded that the state of affairs for international religious freedom is worsening in both the depth and breadth of violations," said USCIRF Chairman Thomas Reese in a statement.

"The blatant assaults have become so frightening—attempted genocide, the slaughter of innocents, and wholesale destruction of places of worship—that less egregious abuses go unnoticed or at least unappreciated," he pointed out.

Kristina Arriaga de Bucholz, a USCIRF member, said during a panel discussion on Wednesday in Washington D.C. that the commission "specifically name names so that those stories are lifted and people gain the strength that they need in order to continue fighting for their faith," CBN News reported.

The commission urged the State Department to designate six nations—Russia, Central African Republic, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, and Vietnam as countries of concern.

The commission blew the whistle on Russia due to worsening religious freedoms in that country, which became even more evident with the recent ban of Jehovah's Witnesses.

Once again, North Korea topped the USCIRF list of countries with the most repressive regimes, noting that freedom of religion is non-existent in that communist nation.

North Korea is also Number 1 on Open Doors USA's World Watch list of the top 50 Christian-persecuting countries in the world.

The Commission urged both Congress and the Trump administration to continually speak up about religious freedom abuses around the world, both in public and in private meetings.

"You cannot have religious freedom without the freedom of worship, the freedom of association, the freedom of expression and opinion, the freedom of assembly, protection from arbitrary arrest and detention, [and] protection from interference in home and family," the report states.

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Religious Freedom Group Notes 'Grave Concerns' About Russia May 18, 2017 7:03 PM Mariama Diallo

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Religious Freedom Group Notes 'Grave Concerns' About Russia

Russia's Supreme Court Judge Yuri Ivanenko reads the decision in a courtroom in Moscow, April 20, 2017, banning Jehovah's Witnesses from operating in the country. It accepted a request from the justice ministry that the religious organization be considered an extremist group.

For the first time in almost 20 years of existence, the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom has designated Russia as a Country of Particular Concern because of an increase in repressive policies it says range from administrative harassment to arbitrary imprisonment.

“The first thing is to make it clear to the Russian government in words, directly, ideally from the president of the United States, that we have grave concerns about the direction of religious freedom,” Daniel Mark, USCIRF's vice chairman, told VOA, and “not just the rules but the trajectory, which has been really concerning of late and played a big role in our decision.”

Last month, Russia's Supreme Court ruled the Jehovah's Witnesses religious group was an “extremist” organization and must hand over all of its properties to the state.

“To be labeled such a way as though we are extremist is clearly a misapplication of the laws on extremism. Clearly Jehovah's Witnesses ... should not really be the target because we are not a threat in Russia or any other country in the world. We are active in over 240 lands,” Robert Warren of the world headquarters for Jehovah's Witnesses told VOA.

No Bibles allowed

Warren says 175,000 people in Russia identify with the faith, and since the ruling, the organization's website has been blocked and no Jehovah's Witnesses Bibles have been allowed in the country.

“We really felt the Supreme Court of the Russian Confederation had a wonderful opportunity with this ruling to really show how advanced they really are in terms of protecting the rights of its own citizens who want to pursue Bible education,” Warren added, pointing out “this is definitely a step back.”

Sixteen countries have been designated as Countries of Particular Concern by USCIRF. The bipartisan U.S. government commission documents religious freedom around the world, and it makes recommendations to the president, secretary of state and Congress.

This year's report, the 18th since the commission's creation in 1998, documents religious freedom violations in more than 35 countries, including the Central African Republic, which also is a Country of Particular Concern because of “ethnic cleansing of Muslims and sectarian violence” in this multiyear conflict.

Members of Jehovah's Witnesses react in a court room after a judge's decision in Moscow, April 20, 2017. Russia's Supreme Court has banned the Jehovah's Witnesses from operating in the country.

Killings condemned

This week, hundreds of civilians sought refuge inside a mosque in the CAR town of Banguassou, amid ongoing attacks by Christian militias that have killed civilians and U.N. peacekeepers.

Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, head of the peacekeeping mission in CAR (MINUSCA), strongly condemned the killings, which he said “targeted a minority with the intention without a doubt to inflame the violence, not just in Banguassou but also in the whole of the territory.”

In Myanmar, government and societal discrimination make the Rohingya Muslims vulnerable; some have even fled the country. Christians are restricted from public worship and subjected to coerced conversion to Buddhism, warranting a Country of Particular Concern designation. The government and military deny all allegations.

In Pakistan, the commission recommended the blasphemy laws be repealed because “they are in one way or another a violation of Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in practice they are used to violate freedom of believers and non-believers.”

Hard-line Buddhists walk by a mosque during a protest march, led by Rakhine State's dominant Arakan National Party, against the government's plan to give citizenship to some persecuted Rohingya Muslims, March 19, 2017, in Myanmar.


A request for Trump

Clifford May, commissioner and founder of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said that “at birth, Pakistan had a 30 percent minority population. It's now down to 3 percent, and that 3 percent is sorely oppressed every single day, and it's disappointing.” He said the last time he spoke on the issues in Pakistan, while his lectures resonated with some, a shoe was thrown at his head as well.

When it comes to religious freedom, the Reverend Thomas Reese, commission chairman, said, “We want the Trump administration to make it an issue, a priority in its foreign policy … our foreign policy should not simply be about U.S. self-interest — you know, national security and trade. It should also be about the ideals, the values for which this country is known,” noting “we also believe that promoting religious freedom around the world is a national security interest because it brings for peaceful societies where there's more tolerance and stability and peace.”

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