State Department Releases International Religious Freedom Report

The U.S. Department of State today released its International Religious Freedom Report for 2014.

The International Religious Freedom Report, now in its 17th year, attempts to give voice to those oppressed people and to document when and where the universal human right to religious freedom was violated. Congressionally-mandated and comprising almost 200 distinct reports on countries and territories, this report continues to reflect the United States’ commitment to, and advancement of, the right of every person to freedom of religion or belief.

In the Executive Summary to the full report,  blasphemy and other laws that restrict freedom of religion, belief, and expression are given a central focus:

People cannot enjoy religious freedom unless they have both the right to express their beliefs freely and change their religion without facing persecution, violence, or discrimination. The threat and enforcement of blasphemy and apostasy laws during the year had a significant impact on the ability of individuals to exercise freedoms of expression and religion and resulted in deaths and imprisonment.

The Summary then goes on to mention several situations or cases highlighted in the Campaign for Free Expression:

In Pakistan, the government’s general failure to investigate, arrest, or prosecute those responsible for religious freedom abuses promoted an environment of impunity. This environment fostered further intolerance and acts of violence. Government policies also failed to protect members of majority and minority religious groups. In addition, the persistent use of discriminatory legislation, such as blasphemy laws, including the government’s failure to address false accusations of blasphemy and laws designed to delegitimize the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, meant that minorities were often afraid to profess freely their religious beliefs. The Supreme Court announced a detailed judgment regarding minorities’ rights on June 20, in accordance with which the government created a National Commission for Minorities with representatives of various faith groups. However, other recommendations from the judgment have yet to be implemented, such as establishment of a police task force to protect minorities, revision of school curricula to promote religious and social tolerance, and steps to discourage hate speech in social media. …

Restricting free expression on basis of religion in India: Authorities continued to enforce laws designed to protect “religious sentiments” which, according to observers, at times had the effect of limiting free expression related to religion. On September 24, police in Rustampura, Gujarat arrested Mehdi Hasan, a Muslim cleric, on charges of insulting Hindus’ religious sentiments after a member of the Hindu community complained about Hasan’s comments during an interview with a Gujarati newspaper. During the interview, Hasan reportedly labeled those who honored the nine-day Hindu festival Navratri as “demonic.” Hasan remained in judicial custody until serving out his sentence on October 2. …

Raif Badawi, a young Saudi Arabian blogger and activist for reform was charged with apostasy. Eventually, after months of court proceedings, he was convicted of the lesser charge of “insulting Islam,” sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment, and given a penalty of 1000 lashes. What he had done was simply speak his mind about his country, his government, and his religion. Badawi remains a prisoner of conscience, jailed for his beliefs and for speaking his mind.

You can access the full report and its almost 200 distinct country entries here.