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International Religious Freedom Report

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, part of the State Department, this annual report addresses which countries are interfering with God. Here is a portion of the Executive Summary of the report:

    The Year in Review

    This section highlights U.S. Government actions in selected countries. Further details may be found in the individual country chapters.

    Afghanistan. The Ambassador at Large and other U.S. Government officials have urged Afghan officials to include protections to religious freedom in the Constitution. Embassy representatives met regularly with religious and minority figures in an ongoing dialog regarding the political, legal, religious, and human rights context of the country’s reconstruction. The U.S. also worked with civil society organizations to promote religious tolerance. A grant from U.S. Embassy Kabul was used to fund a monthly magazine designed to challenge “religious despotism” and to promote a tolerant interpretation of Islam.

    Belarus. In October, the Department sent an officer to Minsk to protest the new restrictive law on religion. In November, the Department of State issued a public statement criticizing the passage of the law, citing the law’s numerous restrictive elements. The U.S. Embassy released public statements condemning the passage of the law and called upon the Government to ensure that all citizens have the right to worship freely. The U.S. delegation to the OSCE criticized the Government’s poor religious freedom record in an October 2002 public statement.

    Bosnia and Herzegovina. The U.S. Ambassador met frequently with the principal religious leaders, individually and collectively, to urge them to work toward moderation and multiethnicity. The Ambassador has been involved actively as a member of the Srebrenica Foundation for the Memorial and Cemetery dedicated to victims of the 1995 massacre of Muslims in Potocari. The Embassy severely criticized instances of religious discrimination and attacks against religious communities or buildings and encouraged leaders from all ethnic groups and members of the international community to oppose publicly such attacks. The U.S. Agency for International Development provided funding to train lawyers and judges on human rights, including religious freedom.

    Burma. U.S. Embassy personnel promoted religious freedom with government officials, private citizens, scholars, and representatives of foreign governments, media and businesses. As a key part of the Embassy’s reporting and public diplomacy activities, Embassy staff met repeatedly with leaders of Buddhist, Christian, and Islamic religious groups, including ethnic minority religious leaders, faculty members of theological schools, and other religious-affiliated organizations and NGOs.

    The United States has discontinued bilateral aid to the Government, suspended issuance of licenses to export arms, and suspended the generalized system of preferences and Export-Import Bank financial services in support of U.S. exports to the country. The U.S. Government also has suspended all Overseas Private Investment Corporation financial services, ended active promotion of trade, and halted issuances of visas to high government officials and their immediate family members. It also has opposed all assistance to the Government by international financial institutions and urged the governments of other countries to take similar actions. New investment in the country by U.S. citizens has been illegal since 1997. For the fourth consecutive year, the Secretary of State designated Burma a “country of particular concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act for particularly severe violations of religious freedom.

    China. The Department of State, the U.S. Embassy and the Consulates General regularly encouraged greater religious freedom in the country, using both focused external pressure on abuses and support for positive trends within the country. On numerous occasions, both the Department of State and the Embassy in Beijing protested Government actions to curb freedom of religion and freedom of conscience, including the arrests of Falun Gong followers, Tibetan Buddhists, Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang, and Christian clergy and believers. The Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, accompanied by the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, attended the U.S.-China Human Rights Dialogue in Beijing. Religious freedom was a major agenda item. The Department of State brought Chinese religious leaders and scholars to the U.S. on International Visitor programs to see firsthand the role that religion plays in U.S. society. The Embassy also brought experts on religion from the U.S. to speak about the role of religion in American life and public policy.

    In 2003 the Secretary of State designated China as a “country of particular concern” for the fourth consecutive time.

    Georgia. The U.S. Government repeatedly raised its concerns regarding harassment of and attacks against nontraditional religious minorities with senior government officials, including the President, Parliament Speaker, Internal Affairs and Justice Ministers, and the Prosecutor General. Embassy attendance at the trial of excommunicated Orthodox priest Basil Mkalavishvili, charged with inciting violence against religious minorities, was instrumental in its moving forward. Embassy officials, including the Ambassador, frequently met with representatives of the Government, Parliament, various religious confessions, and NGOs concerned with religious freedom issues. The Ambassador at Large on International Religious Freedom met with officials from the Georgia Government about ending religious violence. In May, a visiting official from his office met with members of the Government, various religious confessions, and NGOs concerned with religious freedom issues and underscored the need for the Government to end religious violence.

    In May, a visiting official from the Department of State met with members of the Government, various religious confessions, and NGOs concerned with religious freedom issues and underscored the need for the Government to end religious violence.

    Germany. The status of Scientology was the subject of many discussions during the period covered by this report. The U.S. Government expressed its concerns over infringement of individual rights because of religious affiliation and over the potential for discrimination in international trade posed by the screening of foreign firms for possible Scientology affiliation. Mission officers facilitated contacts between the country’s Scientologists and government officials as they took the first steps toward a dialog and encouraged the Government to designate an ombudsman, or central point of contact, for Scientology matters with whom U.S. officials and Scientologists themselves can carry on a more intensive dialog on the status of Scientology.

    In response to anti-Semitic crimes, members of the U.S. Mission closely followed the German Government’s responses and officially expressed the U.S. Government’s opposition to anti-Semitism. Mission officers maintained contacts with Jewish groups and continued to monitor closely the incidence of anti-Semitic activity.

    India. The U.S. Embassy continued to promote religious freedom through contact with the country’s senior leadership, as well as with state and local officials. The U.S. Embassy and Consulates regularly met with religious leaders from all significant minority communities, as well NGO representatives, and reported on events and trends that affect religious freedom. In May 2002, a representative from the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom traveled to Gujarat, Mumbai, Chennai, and Delhi to discuss the status of religious freedom in the country.

    The Ambassador and other senior U.S. officials publicly expressed regret over the communal violence in Gujarat in 2002, extended condolences to the victims, and urged all parties to resolve their difference peacefully. In addition, the USAID office provided funding for an NGO program designed to assist internally displaced persons in Gujarat. U.S. officials from the Consulate General in Mumbai traveled to Ahmedabad within days of the start of the violence in Gujarat, to meet with officials and private citizens about the violence and continued to have contact during the period covered by this report. Consulate officers also met in Mumbai with a range of NGO, business, media, and other contacts, including Muslim leaders, to monitor the aftermath of the violence in Gujarat. Officials from the U.S. Consulate in Chennai were active in assisting missionary Joseph Cooper following the attack on him by Hindu extremists. U.S. officials continued to engage state officials on the implementation and reversal of anti-conversion laws.

    Indonesia. The U.S. Government provided grants to local NGOs and international organizations to assist the Indonesian government in helping victims of interreligious violence, particularly those displaced by conflicts. Through the Asia Foundation, the U.S. Government provided funding to Baku Bae Maluku, a local NGO, to evaluate efforts of Muslim and Christian lawyers in Maluku to resolve communal conflicts, and to take stock of lessons learned. Also through the Foundation, the U.S. Government provided funding to Desantara, another local NGO, to ensure the protection of religious minorities in Cigugur, West Java, and to prevent religious conflict there. The U.S. Embassy expanded its outreach to the Muslim community, selecting dozens of scholars from Islamic institutions and influential journalists for visits to the U.S. and giving Muslim television viewers exposure to the principles that guide religious freedom in the U.S.

    Iran. While the United States does not have diplomatic relations with Iran, the United States made clear its objections to the Government’s treatment of religious minorities and other restrictions on religious freedom through public statements, support for relevant U.N. and non-governmental organization efforts, and diplomatic initiatives with other states concerned about religious freedom in Iran. The U.S. State Department vice-spokesman on numerous occasions raised concerns about the situation of the Baha’i and Jewish communities. The U.S. Government encouraged other governments to make similar statements and urged those governments to raise the issue of religious freedom in discussions with the Iranian Government.

    In 2003 the Secretary of State designated Iran as a “country of particular concern” for the fourth consecutive time.

    Iraq. Prior to the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime, the United States had no diplomatic relations with Iraq and thus was unable to raise directly with the Government the problems of severe restrictions on religious freedom and other human rights abuses. In early 2003, the U.S. Secretary of State designated Iraq a “country of particular concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act for the Saddam Hussein Government’s severe violations of religious freedom. The country was similarly designated in 1999, 2000 and 2001. A U.S.-led coalition overthrew the Baathist regime in Operation Iraqi Freedom on April 9, 2003.

    Since the establishment of the Coalition Provisional Authority in May, the U.S. Government discussed the importance of protecting religious freedom with the people and with leaders, from all ethnic backgrounds and faith traditions, involved in charting the path to a new constitutional system. It is the policy of the Coalition Provisional Authority to help the Iraqi people create a democratic, representative government that respects the fundamental rights of all its citizens, irrespective of ethnicity or faith. In April, close to 1.5 million Shi’a Muslims participated in the Ashura pilgrimage.

    Laos. The U.S. Ambassador visited several problem areas to observe the situation of religious freedom firsthand. The Ambassador and other Embassy officials persistently raised both, general religious freedom concerns and specific cases of abuse with senior Lao officials. The Embassy maintained an ongoing dialog with the Department of Religious Affairs in the Lao Front for National Construction and informed officials of specific cases of arrest or harassment. The Embassy hosted the visit of a member of the U.S. Congress and supported and encouraged the visits of recognized U.S. NGOs devoted to promoting religious freedom.

    Nigeria. U.S. Embassy officials regularly discussed religious freedom issues with federal, state, and local officials, and also prominent citizens, including representatives of Muslim and Christian communities. The U.S. Government, through the U.S. Embassy and in statements from officials in Washington, sought to encourage a peaceful resolution of the question regarding Shari’a criminal penalties in a way that would be compatible with recognized international human rights norms and urged that human rights and religious freedom be respected in all instances.

    The U.S. Agency for International Development’s Office of Transition Initiatives created programs for conflict resolution training that it continued to implement, targeting several Muslim communities. The American Speaker Program has been particularly effective in promoting dialog and informing local audiences about religious freedom in the U.S. The Embassy also continued publishing its informational magazine in Hausa, the language of the predominantly Muslim north. In January, as part of the Embassy’s efforts to engage Islamic opinion leaders, a forum initiated by the Emir of Kano brought together U.S. Embassy officials and five U.S. speakers with Muslim leaders for dialog on Islam, poverty alleviation, and other foreign policy issues.

    North Korea. The United States does not have diplomatic relations with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea but pursues improvements in religious freedom through a variety of means. During talks in Pyongyang in October 2002, Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs James A. Kelly highlighted U.S. concerns about the regime’s deplorable record on human rights and religious freedom. The U.S. regularly raised these concerns about North Korea in multilateral fora and bilaterally with other governments. U.S. officials urged other countries to condition their bilateral relations with North Korea on concrete, verifiable, and sustained improvements. At the 59th session of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, the U.S. Government worked to achieve passage for the first time of a resolution on the human rights situation in North Korea, including the regime’s deplorable record on religious freedom. U.S. policy allows U.S. citizens to travel to the country, and a number of churches and religious groups organized efforts to alleviate suffering caused by shortages of food and medicine.

    The Secretary of State again designated North Korea a “country of particular concern” in 2003.

    Pakistan. U.S. Embassy officials attended the trials of several individuals charged with blasphemy, including the trial of Dr. Younis Sheikh, and encouraged government officials to pursue aggressive investigations of incidents involving the bombing of churches. The Embassy also assisted local and international human rights organizations to follow up on specific cases involving religious minorities. Through the International Visitor Program, the Embassy sponsored several academics to travel to the United States to take part in programs that focus on religious freedom and pluralism. The United States has urged the Government to address extremist elements of some madrassas.

    Russia. U.S. officials regularly meet with Government officials to press for protections to religious freedom. Consular officers raised the issue of visas for religious workers with the Passport and Visa Unit in the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Embassy officers also met with missionaries during regional travel in the country’s interior. On December 20, the Ambassador held a meeting with Minister of Justice Yuriy Chayka and expressed concern over the inconsistent application of registration requirements by regional MOJ officials. In November, the Deputy Chief of Mission hosted a reception for fifty religious workers and government officials to focus on religious freedom issues.

    In October and again in May, an officer from Washington with responsibilities for religious freedom visited Moscow to hold meetings with religious and human rights groups. On November 7, 11 members of the United States Helsinki Commission and 6 members of Congress urged President Putin to correct a pattern of religious discrimination in the denial of visas to foreign religious workers from targeted minority faiths. In January, the U.S. Government’s International Visitor program, focusing on religious freedom, sent Russian local, regional, and federal officials to the U.S. on the program “Promoting Dialog and tolerance across Ethnic Lines.”

    Sudan. U.S. Government officials made clear to the Sudanese government that the problem of religious freedom is one of the key impediments to an improvement in the relationship between the two countries. High-level U.S. officials and U.S. missions to international fora have raised consistently the issue of religious freedom with both the Government and the public. Ambassador Hanford met with Sudanese officials promote religious freedom. The Embassy consistently raised the issue at all levels of the Government, including with the President and the Foreign Minister. The U.S. Embassy and the Department of State forcefully raised religious freedom issues publicly in press statements and at international fora, including the U.N. Human Rights Commission. The Special Envoy for Peace in Sudan, John Danforth, met with religious leaders during his visits to the country and pressed for religious freedom. In October 2002, a representative from the Office of International Religious Freedom met with Sudanese religious leaders in Khartoum and Nairobi to discuss religious freedom in the country.

    U.S. diplomatic efforts to bring about peace in the country have continued to focus on promoting religious dialog. The U.S. Embassy has enlisted the help of organizations such as the Sudan Council of Churches and the Sudan Inter-religious Council to this end, and also has maintained and developed relationships with religious leaders from both Muslim and Christian traditions.

    In 2003 the Secretary of State designated Sudan a “country of particular concern” for the fourth consecutive time.

    Saudi Arabia. The U.S. Government continued its policy of pressing 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. The U.S. Ambassador called for increased respect for religious minorities in the country, and Embassy officers met with Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials to deliver and discuss the 2002 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom. Senior U.S. Embassy officers called on the Government to respect the rights of Muslims who do not follow the Salafi tradition of Islam. Senior Embassy officials also protested the raids on private homes and detention of Christian worshipers in Riyadh, contributing to the successful release of several Christian prisoners in September 2002. The U.S. Government also facilitated the resettlement of a former Christian prisoner so that he would avoid facing persecution if deported to his country of origin.

    Turkmenistan. In November 2002, the U.S. Ambassador urged the Government to release imprisoned Jehovah’s Witness Kurban Zakirov and others in the December 2002 presidential amnesty. The Ambassador and Embassy officers raised specific reports of abuse and urged greater respect for religious freedom in encounters with members of the Council on Religious Affairs. In meetings with the Foreign Minister, the Ambassador also raised specific reports and urged ending numerically based registration for religious minority groups. The Ambassador and Embassy officers met regularly with the staff of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Center in Ashgabat and other diplomatic missions to maximize cooperation in monitoring abuses of and promoting greater respect for religious freedom. With the support of the State Department, in April 2003 the UNCHR passed a resolution condemning human rights violations, mentioning religious freedom.

    Uzbekistan. Members of Congress and other high level U.S. legislative and executive branch officials met with Uzbek officials abroad and in the country to express the strong U.S. position on human rights, including its stance on freedom of religious expression. The U.S. Ambassador and other Embassy officials met with local religious leaders, human rights activists, and Uzbek officials to discuss specific issues of religious freedom. Officials in Washington, including the Ambassador at Large, met on several occasions with Uzbek Embassy officials to convey U.S. concerns regarding the state of religious freedom. Department officials traveled around the country meeting with religious leaders and groups as well as with government officials.

    Vietnam. The U.S. Government commented publicly on the status of religious freedom in the country on several occasions. In a visit to the country in August 2002, Ambassador Hanford raised with high-level Government officials concerns about religious prisoners, conditions of religious freedom in the Central and Northwest Highlands, restrictions on the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), and other restrictions faced by major religious communities. In their representations to the Government, the Ambassador and other Embassy and Consulate General officers urged recognition of a broad spectrum of religious groups, including members of the UBCV, Protestant house churches, and dissenting Hoa Hao and Cao Dai groups. They also urged greater freedom for recognized religious groups. During the November 2002 Human Rights Dialog, Ambassador Hanford raised a wide range of religious freedom concerns with Vietnamese officials. Embassy and Consulate General officials also focused on specific abuses and restrictions on religious freedom. Officers from the Embassy and the Consulate General met on several occasions with leaders of major religious communities, including Buddhists, Catholics, Protestants, Cao Dai, Hoa Hao, Muslims, and Hindus. When traveling in the provinces, Embassy and Consulate General officers took special efforts to meet with local Religious Affairs Committees, village elders, local clergy, and worshippers.

There is much sucking going on in the world in this regard.

About Eric Olsen

Career media professional and serial entrepreneur Eric Olsen flung himself into the paranormal world in 2012, creating the America's Most Haunted brand and co-authoring the award-winning America's Most Haunted book, published by Berkley/Penguin in Sept, 2014. Olsen is co-host of the nationally syndicated broadcast and Internet radio talk show After Hours AM; his entertaining and informative America's Most Haunted website and social media outlets are must-reads: Twitter@amhaunted, Facebook.com/amhaunted, Pinterest America's Most Haunted. Olsen is also guitarist/singer for popular and wildly eclectic Cleveland cover band The Props.

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