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Panel cites Egypt for religious freedom violations
Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service
May 02, 2011

Panel cites Egypt for religious freedom violations

Panel cites Egypt for religious freedom violations
Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service
May 02, 2011

WASHINGTON — A religious freedom watchdog panel has added

Egypt to its list of the worst violators of religious liberty, citing attacks on

Coptic Christians that occurred surrounding the downfall of former President

Hosni Mubarak.

“The Egyptian government engaged in and tolerated religious

freedom violations both before and after President Hosni Mubarak stepped down

on Feb. 11,” said Leonard Leo, chairman of the bipartisan U.S. Commission on

International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which released its report April 28.

“In his waning months, religious freedom conditions were

rapidly deteriorating and since his departure, we’ve seen nothing to indicate that

these conditions have improved.”

Members of the independent commission also continued their

criticism of the Obama administration for not making religious freedom a higher

priority.

“President Obama’s administration has yet to break from the

practice of previous administrations of keeping the issue of religious freedom

on the margins of U.S. foreign policy,” the report states.

Leo acknowledged the recent confirmation of Suzan Johnson Cook

as the new ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom and said he

hopes it will lead to “meaningful actions” in the near future.

Commissioners, who are appointed by the president and

members of Congress, listed a total of 14 countries that they recommend the

State Department designate as “countries of particular concern.” The department

currently lists eight such countries, a number that remains unchanged since

President George W. Bush left office.

Countries on the State Department’s list include Burma,

China, Eritrea,

Iran, North

Korea, Saudi

Arabia, Sudan

and Uzbekistan.

In addition to Egypt,

USCIRF says the list should also include Iraq,

Nigeria, Pakistan,

Turkmenistan

and Vietnam.

State Department spokesman Evan Owen differed with the

commission’s analysis, saying his department issues reports on both religious

freedom and anti-Semitism, and now has special envoys for both areas. He said the

department will consider USCIRF’s recommendations as it weighs updating its

list of the worst violators of religious freedom.

“It’s a long process and with the appointment of an

ambassador for religious freedom, we expect it to be a more streamlined process

in the future,” he said.

Commissioners continue to hope that Pakistan and other

nations will rescind anti-blasphemy laws that they believe lead to violent

violations of religious freedom. The panel’s 379-page report was dedicated to Shahbaz

Bhatti, a Pakistani minister for religious minorities who was assassinated in

March after challenging such laws.

“Pakistan

is arguably the most glaring omission to the State Department’s CPC

list, as the government is both responsible for and tolerates egregious

violations of religious freedom,” said Commissioner Nina Shea.

USCIRF also designates “watch list countries,” nations whose

violations do not merit a listing as the worst offenders but nevertheless

require monitoring. This year’s list includes Afghanistan, Belarus, Cuba,

India, Indonesia, Laos, Russia, Somalia, Tajikistan, Turkey and Venezuela.

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