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Minorities squeezed, says US

10 August 2012


Show of force: Chinese police officers question a foreign journalist near a building where leaders of the unregistered Shouwang house church had told parishioners to gather in Beijing, China, in April, 2011

Show of force: Chinese police officers question a foreign journalist near a building where leaders of the unregistered Shouwang house church ha...

THE US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, said last week that "pressure is rising" on religious minorities around the world.

Speaking at a press briefing to launch the US State Department's 2011 International Religious Freedom Report, on Thursday of last week, Mrs Clinton said: "More than a billion people live under govern­ments that systematically suppress religious freedom. New technologies have given repressive governments additional tools for cracking down on religious expression. . . Even some countries that are making progress on expanding political freedom are frozen in place when it comes to religious freedom."

Mrs Clinton said that Egypt was "grappling" with the challenge of religious freedom "as it navigates its unprecedented democratic trans­ition". Christians in Egypt "want to know that they will be accorded the same rights and respect as all Egyptians in a new government led by an Islamist party. They wonder, understandably, will a government looking explicitly to greater reliance on Islamic principles stand up for non-Muslims and Muslims equally?"

The report says that the interim government of Egypt has taken "measures towards greater inclusive­ness, such as passing an anti-discrimination law; arresting and prosecuting alleged instigators of sectarian rioting; and allowing dozens of churches previously closed to reopen".

But "sectarian tensions and violence increased during the year", and the report cites the attack on Coptic Christian demonstrators last year by Egyptian security forces ( News, 14 October 2011). "To date, government officials have not been held accountable for their action."

The government of Burma, the report says, "took steps towards over­coming a long-standing legacy of intense religious oppression", such as easing restrictions on the construction of churches. But, it says, "the government continued to impose restrictions on certain religious activities, and frequently limited religious freedom."

The increasing religious and racial diversity in Europe is "sometimes accompanied by growing xenophobia, anti-Semitism, [and] anti-Muslim sentiment", the report says. It also says that there has been "a global increase in anti-Semitism, manifested in Holocaust denial, glorification, and relat-ivism".

The report is strongly critical of China. In 2011, it says, "there was a marked deterioration . . . in the government's respect for and protection of religious freedom." China "only allows groups belonging to one of the five state-sponsored 'patriotic religious associations' . . . to register with the government and legally hold worship services".

The Chinese government pub­lished a response on the country's official news agency, Xinhua, last Friday. It described the  report as "nothing but a political tool used by the US government to exert pressure on other countries, mostly deemed as its rivals".

On Tuesday, the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, sent a letter on behalf of Pope Benedict XVI to Carl Anderson, the Supreme Knight of the Roman Catholic fraternity the Knights of St Columba. It said that religious freedom was under threat in the United States.

RC bishops in the US are cam­paigning against the US Department of Health and Human Services mandate, which requires employers to provide insurance for con­traceptives and abortion-inducing drugs. The letter quoted Pope Benedict's remarks earlier this year, which urged American RC bishops to "counter a reductive secularism which would delegit­imise the Church's participation in public debate about the issues which are determining the future of American society".

Russia survey. A report on religious freedom in Russia since late 2008, published last month by the Christian human-rights group Forum 18, said that "the most serious type of [religious] freedom violation - misapplication of counter-extremism measures against peaceful profession of religion or belief - is now ex­tensive."

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