U.S. Studies Religious Persecution
By GEORGE GEDDA
Sept 9, 1999, WASHINGTON (AP) - A U.S State Department report released
Thursday found evidence of widespread religious persecution in Iraq, Iran
and Afghanistan, all under varying degrees of authoritarian rule, and also
uncovered religious discrimination in some democratic countries, including
Israel and India.
The report, covering 194 countries and territories, is the first of
what will become and annual assessment of the state of religious freedom
around the world. The most serious violators could eventually face economic
The study stressed that religious persecution is not confined to a particular
faith. ``Throughout the world, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims,
and other believers continue to suffer for their faith,'' it said.
While the report did not rank the countries based on the degree to which
they limit freedom, the excesses attributed to the Iraqi government stood
``(President) Saddam Hussein has for decades conducted a brutal campaign
of murder, summary execution and protracted arbitrary detention against
the religious leaders and adherents of the Shiite Muslim population,''
the report said.
It said Iraqi security forces have murdered senior Shiite clerics, desecrated
mosques and holy sites, arrested tens of thousands of Shiites and forcibly
prevented Shiites from practicing their religion.''
Shiites in Afghanistan also suffered persecution and killing at the
hands of the Taliban-led government in Kabul. Afghan police also impose
``severe physical punishment and imprisonment'' for deviations from codes
of worship and dress,'' the report said.
It said Iran is intent on eradicating the Baha'is through prolonged
detention and imprisonment, confiscation and desecration of graveyards
and other holy places. It added that other religious minorities in Iran
also suffer officially sanctioned religious discrimination.
In general, the report made clear that democratic countries are far
more tolerant of religious diversity than are countries run by totalitarian
or authoritarian regimes. The report credits India, for example, for respecting
constitutional provisions guaranteeing freedom of religion.
But it said, tension between Muslims and Hindus in India, and to a lesser
extent between Hindus and Christians, ``continue to pose a challenge to
the concepts of secularism, tolerance and diversity on which the state
was founded,'' the report said. It added that state and local governments
only partially respect religious freedom. The report also said there have
been numerous reports of human rights abuses carried out by the mostly
Hindu security forces against the predominantly Muslim population in the
region of Kashmir controlled by India.
As for India's rival, Pakistan, the report said discriminatory legislation
has encouraged an atmosphere of ``religious intolerance, which has led
to acts of violence by extremists against members of religious minorities,
including Christians, Hindus, Ahmadis and Zikris.''
In democratic Israel, the report said the country's 20 percent Arab
population does not receive the same quality of education, housing, employment
opportunities and social services as Jews.