Yesterday the State Department released its International Religious Freedom Report for 2013. A wide range of U.S. government agencies and offices use the reports for such efforts as shaping policy and conducting diplomacy. The Secretary of State also uses the reports to help determine which countries have engaged in or tolerated “particularly severe violations” of religious freedom in order to designate “countries of particular concern.”
“In 2013, the world witnessed the largest displacement of religious communities in recent memory,” is the depressing introduction to the report. “In almost every corner of the globe, millions of Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and others representing a range of faiths were forced from their homes on account of their religious beliefs.”
All around the world, individuals were subjected to discrimination, violence and abuse, perpetrated and sanctioned violence for simply exercising their faith, identifying with a certain religion, or choosing not to believe in a higher deity at all. Militants in Pakistan killed more than 400 Shia Muslims in sectarian attacks throughout the year and more than 80 Christians in a single church bombing; the government arrested and jailed a number of those responsible for sectarian attacks, but it generally failed to prevent attacks. Both Shia Muslims and Christians faced violent and deadly attacks in Egypt, and Shia Muslims in Saudi Arabia continued to face discrimination and prejudice, as were others who did not adhere to the government’s interpretation of Islam. In Iran, officials threatened, detained and harassed members of almost all non-Shia religious groups. Hindus and other ethnic and religious minorities in Bangladesh faced increased harassment and physical attacks amidst political turmoil while in Sri Lanka violent Buddhist nationalist groups destroyed mosques and churches while security forces simply stood by. China prosecuted family members of self-immolators, imprisoned and tortured Falun Gong practitioners, continued its harassment of members of house churches and unregistered Catholic bishops and priests, and sought the forcible return of ethnic Uighurs who were seeking asylum overseas. Members of unregistered religious groups were continuously intimidated in Eritrea, where 1,200 to 3,000 people were imprisoned because of their religious beliefs. Throughout Europe, the historical stain of anti-Semitism continued to be a fact of life on Internet fora, in soccer stadiums, and through Nazi-like salutes, leading many individuals who are Jewish to conceal their religious identity.
Once again, North Korea stands out as the worst offender for “its absolute prohibition of religious organizations and harsh punishments for any unauthorized religious activities.” Other countries of note were Saudi Arabia, Iran and Sudan — each of which put severe restrictions on members of religious groups that did not conform to the state-approved religion — as well as China, Cuba, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, countries where religious activity was only lawful if explicitly authorized by the state.
Reports on each of the countries can be found here.