WASHINGTON — US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged governments Tuesday to do more to defend religious freedom as Washington released a report citing eight countries with troubling records on the issue.
“We reaffirm the role that religious freedom and tolerance play in building stable and harmonious societies. Hatred and intolerance are destabilizing,” Clinton said, releasing the State Department’s International Religious Freedom report for the second half of 2010.
The report named China, Saudi Arabia, Myanmar, North Korea, Eritrea, Iran, Sudan and Uzbekistan, a list unchanged since 2009, as “countries of particular concern” regarding religious freedom.
Ten other countries were cited for failing to sufficiently protect religious rights: Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Venezuela and Vietnam.
The report, previously published annually, detailed actions such as active state repression, violence against religious groups, apostasy and blasphemy laws, anti-Semitism and restrictions on religious attire and expression.
“When governments crack down on religious expression, when politicians or public figures try to use religion as a wedge issue, or when societies fail to take steps to denounce religious bigotry and curb discrimination based on religious identity, they embolden extremists and fuel sectarian strife,” Clinton said.
“And the reverse is also true: When governments respect religious freedom… they create a climate of tolerance that helps make a country more stable, more secure, and more prosperous.”
Clinton praised Turkey for taking “serious steps to improve the climate for religious tolerance” with a decree in August that invited non-Muslims to reclaim churches and synagogues that were confiscated 75 years ago.
She said Turkey “also now allows women to wear headscarves at universities, which means female students no longer have to choose between their religion and their education.”
A member of Congress meanwhile argued that Vietnam should have been placed on the list of countries of particular concern. Representative Ed Royce said leaving Vietnam off the list was “a grave mistake.”
“No religious group is immune from government coercion and harassment. Buddhists, Catholics, and evangelicals alike face the heavy hand of Vietnamese government tyranny if they step outside its tight restrictions,” he said.