International Religious Freedom Report for 2005
International Religious Freedom Report for 2005
By: U.S. Department of State
Date: November 8, 2005
Source: U.S. Department of State. Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. "International Religious Freedom Report for 2005." November 8, 2005. Available online at: 〈http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2005/index.htm〉 (accessed May 3, 2006).
About the Author: The U.S. Department of State seeks to protect and assist U.S. citizens working and living abroad, oversees Constitutional issues concerning U.S. foreign policy, and informs the U.S. public of U.S. foreign policy.
In 1962, the United Nations began discussions concerning ways in which to extend protections for religious freedom, and, in 1982, it finally promulgated the Elimination of Religious Intolerance and Discrimination Declaration. Unfortunately, the United Nations has not imposed substantial sanctions and punishments on nations that violate these rights. In November 2005, the U.S. State Department issued its 2005 annual report on international religious freedom. This report describes numerous countries that have, according to the guidelines of the department, violated basic human and civil rights. The U.S. State Department's annual report on religious freedom is submitted to the U.S. Congress in compliance with Section 102(b) of the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998. That act requires that the Secretary of State with the assistance of the Ambassador at Large for Religious Freedom "shall transmit to Congress … detailed information with respect to matters involving international religious freedom."
While popular media accounts frequently focus on religious groups that hinder a woman's education, social interactions, or freedom of choice in marriage, other forms of governmental religious intolerance and suppression receive less media attention. The governments of many countries place curbs on basic elements of the religious freedom for a number of reasons, including political domination by a single religious group, misunderstanding of smaller religious groups, and fears that minority religious groups sponsor terrorist acts or contribute to political instability. The U.S. State Department's 2005 report focuses on countries whose governments act in a totalitarian fashion to prevent targeted religious groups from flourishing.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights states in Article 18 that "[e]veryone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion … [and] to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance." There is a strong correlation among nations that restrict religious freedom and nations that commit other human rights abuses. Regime restriction of private religious liberties often accompanies restrictions of speech, press, and political dissent.
The U.S. State Department's 2005 report is just one of many studies dealing with religious freedoms. It documents governmental violations of religious freedom and also points to countries where improvements in religious tolerance have occurred and are continuing to occur. Although the U.S. government advocates for and supports religious freedom around the globe, its record at home is not perfect. In February 2005, the bi-partisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom issued a report that spotlighted the hardships refugees may face in the United States. The report documented inconsistencies in the implementation of established procedures for processing refegees and asylum seekers by U.S. Immigration officials. These shortcomings put legitimate asylum seekers at risk of being returned to countries where they may face persecution, including religious persecution. The report also made recommendations for improvements in the system.
Sullivan, Winnifred Fallers. The Impossibility of Religious Freedom. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2005.
Slaughter, Anne-Marie. "Security, Solidarity, and Sovereignty: The Grand Themes of UN Reform." American Journal of International Law 99 (July 2005): 610-631.
Sullivan, Donna J. "Advancing the Freedom of Religion or Belief Through the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Religious Intolerance and Discrimination." American Journal of International Law 82 (July 1988): 487-520.
U.S. Department of State. "International Religious Freedom." 〈http://www.state.gov/g/drl/irf/〉 (accessed May 3, 2006).