A New Report Shows the Troubling Status of International Religious Freedom
Seven months after being acquitted of blasphemy charges by the Supreme Court of Pakistan, Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian, finally joined her family in Canada on May 7, 2019. Bibi was initially convicted and sentenced to death nearly a decade ago, and her case sparked worldwide outrage over blasphemy laws, which criminalize “the act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence for God.”
While Bibi’s release by the Pakistani government in 2018 was a positive step, it was marred by nationwide protests. Pakistan’s blasphemy law is prone to false accusations because accusers do not need to present evidence and those convicted face severe punishments including the death penalty and life in prison. According to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, “blasphemy accusations [are increasingly] weaponized to strip members of minority communities of their property or employment,” further degrading religious freedom around the world.
Blasphemy laws are just one of many tools used by governments to suppress religious freedom.
What is the Report?
Each year, the Commission releases an annual report on the state of international religious freedom. The report includes recommendations to the State Department on which countries have particularly egregious violations and should be labeled “Countries of Particular Concern,” or CPCs. This designation can result in sanctions and other forms of diplomatic pressure. (To learn more about the history of this commission and how it designates countries, read our post on the 2017 report.)
In late April, the Commission released its 20th annual report. They recommended that 16 countries, including Pakistan, receive a CPC designation. This year’s report also includes 13 “Tier 2” countries that, while not rising to the level of “particular concern,” still have significant violations of religious freedom. The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC) has long advocated for the rights of persecuted religious minorities across the world. Recently, we have focused on two of the CPCs listed in Commission’s 2019 report:
The Situation in Burma
We spoke out against attacks on the Rohingya Muslim community, which has faced longstanding discrimination and, in 2017 were the victims of mass atrocities, crimes against humanity and genocide. According to the report, the Burmese government and military have continued to deny responsibility, failed to cooperate with international partners and made no effort to restore basic human rights to the Rohingya and other persecuted minorities.
What's Going On in China
The mass surveillance and detention of the Uighur Muslim community remains a moral outrage of major concern to the RAC. Between 800,000 and two million Uighurs are in detention facilities and subject to harsh conditions and forced labor under the guise of combatting extremism. In reality, the Uighurs have been detained because of their religious identity. The severe repression of Muslims and other religions in China include destroying houses of worship and sending government agents to suppress religious expression.
Concerns in the U.S.
Unfortunately, no nation is immune from threats to religious freedom, including the United States. Rabbi Jonah Pesner, director of the RAC, wrote after the synagogue shooting in Poway that attacks on synagogues and mosques in our country are animated by white supremacy and white nationalism, which is on the rise. Dismantling this system of hate, he wrote, “requires deep partnership across all communities affected.”
This partnership cannot only exist in one country, but must extend across international borders, with North American Jews and Rohingya Muslims and Pakistani Christians and all those persecuted based on their religion or other identities standing together. We urge you to join us in building a world where people of all religions, races, and ethnicities are truly free.
Learn more about the Reform Jewish community's work on this topic and related one by visiting the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism's international issues page.