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Panel cites Egypt for violation of religious freedom

May 9, 2011

NEW YORK

Violence against religious minorities in Egypt, including Coptic Christians, has prompted an independent U.S.-based commission to cite Egypt as a country that violates religious freedom.

The designation, in a report released on April 28 by the Washington-based U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, marks the first time that the panel has recommended that Egypt be placed on a U.S. government list of “countries of particular concern” that violate religious freedom.

Countries on the list are those “whose conduct marks them as the world’s worst religious freedom violators and human rights abusers,” Leonard Leo, head of the commission, said in issuing the annual report.

Leo said Egypt was cited because “instances of severe religious freedom violations engaged in or tolerated by the government have increased dramatically since the release of last year’s report, with violence, including murder, escalating against Coptic Christians and other religious minorities.”

He added that since former President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation from office in February, “such violence continues unabated without the government’s bringing the perpetrators to justice.”

Besides Egypt, others on the list of “countries of particular concern” include Burma, China, Egypt, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

Other countries mentioned in the report are those on a “watch list” ― countries whose violations do not rise to the same level as those of “particular concern” but still require close monitoring. These countries are Afghanistan, Belarus, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Laos, Russia, Somalia, Tajikistan, Turkey and Venezuela. Leo said that among many of the countries cited, impunity ― exemption from punishment ― has become “a matter of escalating alarm.”

“A number of countries are idly standing by in the face of violent attacks against religious minorities and even dissenting members of majority faiths, and this imperils religious freedom much the same way that direct state-sponsored repression does,” he said.

The 2011 report is dedicated to the memory of Shahbaz Bhatti, the late federal minister for minorities affairs in Pakistan. Bhatti, a Roman Catholic, was assassinated March 2 by Taliban militants, and the report called Bhatti “a courageous advocate for the religious freedom of all Pakistanis.”

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is an independent, bipartisan advisory commission created in 1998 to give independent policy recommendations and monitor the status of freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief outside the United States. The U.S. Department of State issues its own report on international religious freedom and can choose to accept or reject the commission’s recommendations.

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