sabato 25 aprile 2009

2008 Report on International Religious Freedom

2008 Report on International Religious Freedom

Preface, Introduction, and Executive Summary


  • Angola
  • Benin: no discrimination, good interfaith relationships, except for a few incidents which weren't caused by the government.
  • Botswana
  • Burkina Faso: no discrimination, but Muslims resent female genital mutilation (a traditional, not Islamic, practice) being outlawed.
  • Burundi
  • Cameroon
  • Cape Verde
  • Central African Republic
  • Chad: some Muslim groups have been banned, and proselytizing is limited. No apparent discrimination against non-Muslims.
  • Comoros: proselytizing is forbidden, and most non-Muslims avoid public worship for fear of being charged with proselytizing. No other restrictions apply, but there is serious societal discrimination against non-Muslim citizens, and a church and a christian charitable institution were vandalized.
  • Congo, Democratic Republic of the
  • Congo, Republic of the
  • Cote d'Ivoire: Muslims feel discriminated vis-à-vis Christians, although the US State Department finds little reason to complain.
  • Djibouti: Islam is the state religion, but there is no discrimination against non-Muslims.
  • Equatorial Guinea
  • Eritrea: only four faiths are recognized by the government. Members of non-recognized religious groups face extremely harsh treatment, including lengthy prison sentences. One of the worst countries in the Muslim world in this regard.
  • Ethiopia: some difficulties, equally shared by Muslims and non-Muslims :-)
  • Gabon
  • Gambia, The: some societal discrimination against non-Muslims, but the government respects all religions.
  • Ghana
  • Guinea: little to complain about. The most serious complaint is that universities close on Fridays but are open on Sundays, thus favoring religious Muslims over religious Christians.
  • Guinea-Bissau: nothing to complain about.
  • Kenya
  • Lesotho
  • Liberia
  • Madagascar
  • Malawi
  • Mali: everything is OK.
  • Mauritania: Islam is the state religion, and the distribution of non-Muslim religious literature and proselytizing are forbidden. Moreover, the government doesn't tolerate religious gatherings by unregistered groups. But the penalties aren't strict, and the situation isn't too bad. [Earlier this year Mauritania has broken diplomatic relationships with Israel, allegedly at Iran's instigation. I don't know whether it has affected the tiny synagogueless Jewish community there.]
  • Mauritius
  • Mozambique
  • Namibia
  • Niger: no serious complaint.
  • Nigeria: the country is divided between a Muslim north and a Christian south - and the dominant religions tend to discriminate against the other in their respective domains. Worse, relationships between Muslims and Christians are very tense, and several serious incidents have occurred.
  • Rwanda
  • Sao Tome and Principe
  • Senegal: everything is OK.
  • Seychelles
  • Sierra Leone
  • Somalia: little information available on a state on the verge of disintegration. Religious freedom isn't consistently enforced, and at least four people have been killed over their religious beliefs.
  • South Africa
  • Sudan: the Darfur question, however serious, isn't centered on religion. In North Sudan non-Muslims face some discrimination, while in the South there is nothing to complain about - from the purely religious viewpoint.
  • Swaziland
  • Tanzania
  • Togo
  • Uganda
  • Zambia
  • Zimbabwe

East Asia and Pacific

Europe and Eurasia

Near East and North Africa

  • Algeria: non-Muslims face some discrimination and restrictions in the building of churches and the import of religious literature, especially when written in Arabic or Berber. Religious gatherings outside places of worship require special authorization, and the government is especially worried about non-registered imams who may preach subversive sermons. In February 2008 a new law restricting religious freedom went into effect, and that resulted in the closing of 17 churches, as they didn't comply with it.
  • Bahrain: non-Muslims have very little to complain about. Shi'a Muslims have something to complain, as their Sunni counterparts, though being a minority, are favored by tbe govenment.
  • Egypt: the situation here is worrysome, as discrimination against non-Muslims is apparent. The renovation or construction of Christian churches is often delayed under various pretexts, and, in spite of the 1979 peace treaty with Israel, antisemitism in the media is rampant. The requirement that identity cards list the holder's religion makes pieces of id a battleground for non-recognized faiths. The US Department finds the situation worsening.
  • Iran: Islam is part and parcel of national identity, so religious minorities are seriously discriminated against. Christians, Jews, Sabean-Mandeans and Zoroastrians are allowed to worship, but not to proselytize, and their schools and places of worship are under strict governmental control; Jews faces serious antisemitism handed out by the Iranian media, but not physical harm; the Baha'is face the worst persecutions.
  • Iraq: the law is very liberal, but the government can't enforce it. There is an antisemitic provision (just one): Jews who lose Iraqi citizenship can't regain it.
  • Israel and the occupied territories: Israel isn't a Muslim state, but this entry can be viewed as the US State Department yardstick, as it allows itself to criticize Israel for its discrimination against non-Jews in a way unknown of other US Government branches.
  • Jordan: there is some discrimination against non-Muslims, and the situation is worsening. [Personal testimony: on May, 19th, 2009 I toured Petra, and before bringing us there, the guides drove through the city of 'Aqaba, in order to show it to us. Among the buildings near the port, there was a clearly recognizable Christian church, whose capacity might have been several hundred worshippers. I didn't notice if it had a belfry, but there was a noticeable cross on the roof, and the building might not have been older than twenty years. Perhaps it was built for the sailors that attend the free port of 'Aqaba, or perhaps there is an indigenous Christian community who thrives in spite of its minority status.]
  • Kuwait: Islam is the dominant religion, and non-Sunnis and non-Muslims face difficulties in obtaining the necessary permits to build new places of worships. Proselytizing Muslims is forbidden, and no seminaries for non-Muslims can be established here. Religious literature is subject to government censorship, but the situation isn't bad.
  • Lebanon: it is an ethno-religious mosaic in which the highest offices are allotted to different faiths - so they are guaranteed from each other. Non-recognized faiths aren't represented in Parliament, but the religious outlook is so good that people from religious minorities in other Arab states (namely, Egypt, Iraq, Sudan) have escaped discrimination by settling here. Jews, alas, face additional problems (and antisemitism fostered by Hizballah through its media).
  • Libya: it's allowed just a church per city, but this is the only instance of discrimination against non-Muslims. Heterodox muslims are often prosecuted, especially if they're perceived as a security threat.
  • Morocco: Islam is the dominant religion, non-Muslim religious literature in Arabic can't be imported, and proselytizing is forbidden. But all religious minorities (even non-monotheistic ones like Hindus) enjoy remarkable freedom. Hebrew is taught in the country, the National Library has agreed to share its material with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and Judaism is viewed as a valuable enrichment to the country's history and culture [my brother was even invited to visit Fez' "mellah = Jewish quarter" when he toured the country]. The government keeps heterodox Muslims under a tight leash, and closely supervises Muslim services and predication. In my very humble opinion, the King of Morocco can afford this degree of religious tolerance comparable to Al-Mansur's and Abu Bakr's because he can reliably trace his ancestry to Fatima, Muhammad's favorite daughter, so his rule is much much less challenged than the one of other Muslim heads of state. Another proof that religious exclusivism, discrimination and coercion are signs of weakness, not strength.
  • Oman: the worst problem is that religious gatherings outside approved places of worship are forbidden - but violators are only punished if neighbors complain. The problem is compounded by the fact that minorities' places of worship are rare and far away.
  • Qatar: in 2008 a Roman Catholic Church was opened. Non-Muslim places of worship can't bear identifiable religious symbols, and proselytizing is forbidden. Apostasy is technically a capital offence, but nobody has been executed since independence (1971). Baha'is, Hindus and Sikhs complain they lack an authorized place of worship, but home prayer is tolerated.
  • Saudi Arabia: there is no right to religious freedom there. Only private practice of heterodox Islam and non-Muslim religions is allowed; religious literature or objects (like Catholic rosaries or crosses) are often seized by the mutawwa'in, even when they're intended for personal use - and should therefore be tolerated.
  • Syria: Islam is the dominant religion, and Jews face discrimination other faiths don't face; but the most harshly prosecuted people are the Muslim Brothers and the Salafits - Christians fare relatively well.
  • Tunisia: Islam is the dominant religion, but the people most discriminated against are the Muslims who wear the hijab or other traditional Muslim garb, as they're suspected of religious extremism. No new religious group has been officially recognized since 1956 (which especially penalizes Protestant Churches), and there is a Concordat with the Holy See signed in 1964. Jews face no additional problems, and that's why Al Qaeda sought to give them a lesson by blowing up one of the oldest synagogues in the world, in Djerba, in 2002.
  • United Arab Emirates: Islam is the dominant religion, and proselytizing is forbidden, but religious minorities are favorably treated, and Christians better than the rest.
  • Yemen: the law is tolerant, but the Jews' predicament is worsening because of harassment and physical attacks the government has been unable to prevent. [Last year a Jewish doctor was killed, and his murderer was declared mentally ill, so he was sentenced to a few years in a mental asylum. It isn't the 1960s Yemen anymore, when a Jewish family I met decided to settle in Israel as it learnt that there was a "Jewish state" somewhere in the world, even though it hadn't experienced any antisemitism in its native country.]

South and Central Asia

  • Afghanistan: as non-Muslims are extremely rare, religious persecution targets heterodox Muslims and apostates.
  • Bangladesh: the law is liberal, but the government hasn't been very effective in protecting religious minorities. Moreover, although the "Vested Property Law", which was passed during the Pakistani era and allowed the government to dispossess most Hindus of their land, was repealed in 2001, the land seized hasn't yet been returned to the former owners.
  • Bhutan
  • India
  • Kazakhstan: the law is liberal, but bureaucratic snags mostly hit minorities, and preoccupations about both missionary activity and religious extremism may trigger legislation restricting religious freedom.
  • Kyrgyz Republic: the law is liberal, but several non-Muslim denominations have been unable to complete registration (and are therefore in a legal limbo) and the government is becoming increasingly preoccupied with Muslim extremists.
  • Maldives: no religious freedom, as Islam is the only authorized religion. Non-Muslim foreigners may only worship privately, and without encouraging locals to participate.
  • Nepal
  • Pakistan: there are two problems: the law isn't very liberal, and public pressure [and Taliban military successes] prevent effective enforcement of minorities' rights.
  • Sri Lanka
  • Tajikistan: the government is increasingly preoccupied with religious extremism, so it keeps Muslims under an extremely tight leash; there is some discrimination against non-Muslims, which nonetheless pale compared to the extent of state control of religious life.
  • Turkmenistan: Sunni Muslim clerics receive a stipend from the state, but religious group must be registered to practice religion, so the government can restrict religious life at will - it's a problem shared both by the Muslim majority and the non-Muslim minorities.
  • Uzbekistan: the government is extremely preoccupied with Muslim extremists, so religious life in the country has been severely curtailed - and used the registration requirements for religious groups to deny them religious freedom. Import of religious literature is also very limited.

Western Hemisphere


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