Afghanistan, Burma, China, Cuba, Laos, North Korea and Vietnam were listed as the worst violators of religious freedom, according to the U.S. State Department’s 2001 International Religious Freedom Report.
These totalitarian or authoritarian regimes sought to control religious thought and practice. Religious groups were seen as enemies of the state, according to the report.
The report noted Afghanistan’s destruction of two historic giant Buddhist statues earlier this year. It also pointed to Afghanistan’s institution of Shar’ia, or strict Islamic law, forbidding non-Muslims from proselytizing and making apostasy a capital offense.
Human Rights Watch said the report failed to single out strategic U.S. allies in the war against terrorism.
“Clearly, the Administration doesn’t want to offend key allies in the coalition through excessive truth-telling,” said Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch.
In an article posted on the group’s Web site (www.hrw.org), Malinowski said, “The irony is that getting too close to countries that crush religious freedom may be more dangerous for America right now than keeping its distance–particularly when the religion being crushed is Islam.”
Human Rights Watch said that Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Saudi Arabia should have made the list of worse persecutors of religion.
The State Department report acknowledged that “freedom of religion does not exist in Saudi Arabia.”
According to the State Department, Uzbekistan, which recently opened its borders to the U.S. military, was waging a “harsh campaign against unauthorized Islamic groups.” It said the state “regularly beat and tortured suspects.”
“Muslim activity is allowed only in government-approved mosques, holy books cannot be widely circulated and only clerics can wear religious attire,” according to a Washington Post article about Uzbekistan.
The State Department also criticized Turkmenistan, noting that “Four Baptists were tortured after religious literature was found in their car.”
In addition to human rights groups, conservative Christian activists expressed concern about the U.S. government’s relationship with nations that suppress religious freedom.
Those concerned about the persecution of Christians “were furious” when President Bush embraced the Sudan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan following Sept. 11, according to Beliefnet.com. They felt Bush should “get tough on these countries.”
The murder of Protestants last week in a church in Pakistan confirmed the fears of some that the issue of Christian persecution would take a backseat in the war against terrorism.
According to Beliefnet.com, Michael Horwitz, a former member of the Reagan administration, said, “If Colin Powell and the State Department think we can have an alliance with regimes that not only are making protests in Pakistan, but that are liberated to slaughter Christians, they’ve got another thing coming.”
Sunday was the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, an effort of the World Evangelical Fellowship.
Robert Parham is BCE’s executive director.