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UNITED STATES COMMISSION ONINTERNATIONALRELIGIOUSFREEDOMA N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 1 5


ANNUAL REPORTOF THE U.S. COMMISSION ON INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOMCommissionersDr. Katrina Lantos SwettChairDr. Robert P. GeorgeDr. James J. ZogbyVice ChairsAmbassador Mary Ann GlendonDr. M. Zuhdi JasserDr. Daniel I. MarkRev. Thomas J. Reese, S.J.Hon. Hannah RosenthalHon. Eric P. SchwartzAmbassador David N. Saperstein, ex officio, non-voting memberAmbassador Jackie WolcottExecutive Director


Professional StaffJudith E. Golub, Director of Government and Media RelationsPaul Liben, Executive WriterKnox Thames, Director of Policy and ResearchDwight Bashir, Deputy Director for Policy and ResearchElizabeth K. Cassidy, Deputy Director for Policy and ResearchSahar Chaudhry, Senior Policy AnalystCatherine Cosman, Senior Policy AnalystTiffany Lynch, Senior Policy AnalystTina L. Mufford, Policy AnalystThomas Kraemer, Manager of AdministrationKalinda M. Stephenson, Government and Media Relations AssociateTravis Horne, Government and Media Relations AssistantU.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom732 North Capitol Street, NW, Suite A714Washington, DC 20401202–523–3240 (phone)202–523–5020 (fax)www.uscirf.gov


TABLE OF CONTENTSINTRODUCTION ......................................................................... 12015 ANNUAL REPORT OVERVIEW ........................................................ 5IRFA IMPLEMENTATION .................................................................. 7IRFA’s History ............................................................................7Religious Freedom Violations under IRFA ......................................................8Institutional Issues ........................................................................9Annual Reports ......................................................................... 11The CPC Mechanism ..................................................................... 11Guidance .............................................................................. 14Training ............................................................................... 15Ensuring Funding for Religious Freedom Programming .......................................... 16The Treatment of Asylum Seekers in Expedited Removal .......................................... 17Multilateral Efforts ....................................................................... 18The Role of Congress ..................................................................... 212015 COUNTRY REPORTS: TIER 1 CPCS DESIGNATED BY THE STATE DEPARTMENTAND RECOMMENDED BY USCIRF ........................................................ 25Burma ................................................................................ 27China ................................................................................. 33Eritrea ................................................................................ 39Iran ................................................................................... 45North Korea ............................................................................ 51Saudi Arabia ............................................................................ 57Sudan ................................................................................. 65Turkmenistan ........................................................................... 71Uzbekistan ............................................................................. 772015 COUNTRY REPORTS: TIER 1 CPCS RECOMMENDED BY USCIRF ........................ 83Central African Republic .................................................................. 85Egypt ................................................................................. 89Iraq ................................................................................... 95Nigeria ............................................................................... 101Pakistan .............................................................................. 109Syria ................................................................................. 115Tajikistan ............................................................................. 121Vietnam .............................................................................. 127USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015iii


2015 COUNTRY REPORTS: TIER 2 ....................................................... 133Afghanistan ........................................................................... 135Azerbaijan ............................................................................ 139Cuba ................................................................................. 145India ................................................................................. 149Indonesia ............................................................................. 155Kazakhstan ........................................................................... 161Laos ................................................................................. 167Malaysia .............................................................................. 171Russia ................................................................................ 177Turkey ............................................................................... 1852015 COUNTRY REPORTS: OTHER COUNTRIES MONITORED .............................. 190Bahrain .............................................................................. 191Bangladesh ............................................................................ 193Belarus ............................................................................... 195Cyprus ............................................................................... 197Kyrgyzstan ............................................................................ 199Sri Lanka ............................................................................. 201APPENDICES. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 205Appendix 1: Commissioner Biographies ................................................... 205Appendix 2: Eritrean Prisoner List 2015 ....................................................211Appendix 3: Pakistani Prisoner List 2015 ....................................................213Appendix 4: Azerbaijani Prisoner List 2015 ..................................................215Appendix 5: Defending Freedoms Project Prisoner List ....................................... 223


INTRODUCTION“I will follow anyone . . . and remind everyone . . . of thefate . . . of the . . . Yazidi . . . No one mentionsyour tears, sadness or slow death! But we feel yourfallen tears, your beheaded bodies, your raped dignity.”“Madagali in Adamawa . . . was overrun . . .Christian men were caught and beheaded;the women were forced to becomeMuslims and were taken as wives for [Boko Haram].”–Widad Akrawi,Iraqi-born human rights activist“How in the 21st century could people beforced from their houses just because they areChristian or Shi’ite or Sunni or Yazidi?”–Baghdad Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako,July 2014 sermon in Baghdad“The Assad regime made no effort to protect theal-Hasakeh province . . . [ISIL] launched a surpriseattack. . . . along the Khabor on February 23 . . . ,kidnapped 265 men, women, and children, sold 30 youngwomen as sex slaves, and executed all captured Syriacdefense forces. . . . Upon securing control of . . . TelHormizd, [ISIL] informed [the elders] that all crosses mustbe removed . . . In fighting for control of Tel Tamr, theyseized the Saint Circis Church and burned its Bibles andbroke its cross. . . . ”–Testimony of Bassam Ishak,Syriac National Council of Syria, before theTom Lantos Human Rights Commission, March 18, 2015“The devastating attack on the Grand Mosque inKano, Nigeria . . . was almost certainly the work ofBoko Haram, which . . . has targeted the Muslim‘establishment’ in Nigeria . . . .”–Tim Lister, CNN, November 30, 2014–Father Gideon Obasogie,Director of Social Communications,Catholic Diocese of Maiduguri, Nigeria,cited in December 12, 2014 article fromwww.churchinneed.org web site“Almost all of the 436 mosques in theCentral African Republic have beendestroyed by . . . fighting betweenChristians and Muslims, the U.S. ambassador to theUnited Nations [Samantha Power] said. . . . At least5,000 people have been killed sinceCAR exploded into unprecedentedsectarian violence in December 2013. Nearly1 million of [its] 4.5 million residents have beendisplaced, many of [them] Muslim.”–Cara Anna,Associated Press, March 18, 2015“During my last visit [to Burma] in January 2015,I witnessed how dire the situation has remained inRakhine State. The conditions in Muslim IDP [internallydisplaced person] camps are abysmal and I receivedheart-breaking testimonies from Rohingya peopletelling me they had only two options: stay and die orleave by boat.”–Yanghee Lee,UN Special Rapporteur on the situation ofhuman rights in Myanmar, March 2015 presentation toUN Human Rights CouncilUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 1


Humanitarian crises fueled by waves of terror,intimidation, and violence have engulfed analarming number of countries in the year sincethe release of the U.S. Commission on InternationalReligious Freedom’s (USCIRF) prior Annual Report lastMay. The previous quotations highlight five of thesenations – Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, Central African Republic,and Burma – and the horrific loss of human life, freedom,and dignity that has accompanied the chaos.A horrified world has watched the results of whatsome have aptly called violence masquerading as religiousdevotion.In both Iraq and Syria, no religious group has beenfree of ISIL’s depredations in areas it has conquered.ISIL has unleashed waves of terror upon Yazidis andChristians, Shi’a and Sunnis, as well as others who havedared to oppose its extremist views. When ISIL last Juneovertook Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, it immediatelymurdered 12 dissenting Sunni clerics, kidnappedChristian priests and nuns, and leveled ancient housesof worship. The recent discovery of mass graves underscoresthe extent of the atrocities ISIL has perpetratedon foes of its reign.More than half a million Mosul residents have fledtheir homes. When ISIL seized Sinjar, the Yazidis’ ancestralhomeland, 200,000 were forced to flee. In Syria,ISIL’s horrors are replicated by those of other religiousextremist groups and the Assad government.Yazidis and Christians have borne the worst bruntof the persecution by ISIL and other violent religiousextremists. From summary executions to forced conversions,rape to sexual enslavement, abducted childrento destroyed houses of worship, attacks on thesecommunities are part of a systematic effort to erase theirpresence from the Middle East.“Displaced Yazidis fleeing violent Islamic State forces in Sinjartown make their way towards the Syrian border” –Reuters“Ethnic Rohingya refugees from Myanmar wave as they aretransported by a wooden boat to a temporary shelter in KruengRaya in Aceh Besar” –ReutersIn Nigeria, Boko Haram has attacked both Muslimsand Christians. From mass murders at churches andmosques to mass kidnappings of children from schools,Boko Haram has cut a wide path of terror across vastswaths of Nigeria.There is perhaps no more visible testament to thehuman toll of these depredations than the millions ofpeople who have been forced to flee their homes. InIraq, 2 million people were internally displaced in 2014as a result of ISIL’s offensive. More than 6.5 million ofSyria’s pre-civil-war population now is internally displaced,and more than 3.3 million more are refugees inneighboring states. In Nigeria, Boko Haram’s rampagesare responsible for the displacement of more thanone million individuals. In Central African Republic,a million or more people have been driven from theirhomes. And in Burma, 140,000 Rohingya Muslimsand at least 100,000 largely Kachin Christians remaininternally displaced.By any measure, the horrors of the past year speakvolumes about how and why religious freedom and theprotection of the rights of vulnerable religious communitiesmatter. Those responsible for the horrors havemade the case better than anybody can.And so it should come as no surprise that in thepages of this report, we have recommended that theUnited States designate all five of these nations – Iraq,Syria, Nigeria, Central African Republic, and Burma –as “countries of particular concern,” or CPCs under theInternational Religious Freedom Act. We are identifyingtheir governments as well as others as eitherperpetrating or tolerating some of the worse abuses ofreligious freedom in the world.2USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


“Investigations following the bombing of Kano CentralMosque, the main mosque in north Nigeria’s biggest city Kano,killing at least 81 people” – ReutersFor humanitarian reasons alone, the world darenot remain silent in the face of the long trail of abusescommitted in these and other countries.But there is another reason as well. In August2014, Archbishop Jean-Benjamin Sleiman, Latin-riteArchbishop of Baghdad, had this to say: “Unless thereis peace . . . , I do not think that Europe will be calm.This . . . does not stop at territorial boundaries. . . . ”The Archbishop’s words proved tragically prophetic.Five months later, in January 2015, the same forces ofviolent religious extremism plaguing the Archbishop’scountry struck the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarketand the Charlie Hebdo newspaper in Paris. The victimsof the supermarket attack were murdered simplybecause they were Jews and the victims of the assaulton the newspaper were killed because their attackersconsidered them blasphemers deserving punishment.All nations should care about abuses beyond theirborders not only for humanitarian reasons but becausewhat goes on in other nations rarely remains there.Standing for the persecuted against the forces of violentreligious extremism is not just a moral imperative; it is apractical necessity for any country seeking to protect itssecurity and that of its citizens.So what can the United States andlike-minded nations do?First, the humanitarian crises of the past year requirecontinued emergency action. The United States governmentshould be commended for its actions which helpedsave numerous Yazidis from murder or enslavementat the hands of ISIL or starvation as they were drivenfrom their homes. The need, however, remains enormous,especially when it comes to the sheer number of“Internally displaced persons on an armed AU peacekeepingconvoy escorting Muslims in the Central African Republic” –Reutersrefugees and displaced people created by the forces ofreligious radicalism.Second, emergency help, while essential to protectlives and communities from current danger, is notenough. In the long run, there is only one permanentguarantor of the safety, security, and survival of thepersecuted and the vulnerable. It is the full recognitionof religious freedom as a sacred human right whichevery nation, government, and individual must fullysupport and no nation, government, or individual mustever violate.In addition, since religious freedom does not existin a vacuum, the fundamental problems of corruptionand unequal sharing of national resources and opportunitiesmust be dealt with. And legal systems mustprotect the rights of both the majority and minorities.The stories of both Iraq and Syria offer an especiallygrim lesson on this score. In both countries, religiousminorities appeared safe for a while, but owed their safetyto the whim of strongmen – Saddam Hussein and BasharAssad – who offered protection for their own purposes.“Lone parishioner sits in church after a small Christmas Eveservice in Baghdad” – ReutersUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 3


In both nations, the rule of a strongman took the place ofrule of law. But to rely on the favor of a single ruler, regime,or party is to live precariously. The question is whattranspires when those in control pass from the scene ordecide that protecting an embattled minority no longerserves stated or unstated interests. In the blink of an eye, aminority’s safety and security can vanish.Rulers, regimes, and parties may come and go, butwhen a society commits itself to religious freedom, thesecurity of religious communities – as well as that ofdissenters from religion – is guaranteed no matter whoholds power.To be sure, embedding religious freedom and otherhuman rights in a society often can seem a herculeantask, but it is a vital one.And so we must stand tall for religious freedom asan antidote to religious extremism, an aid to security,and a universal right of humanity.4USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


2015 ANNUAL REPORT OVERVIEWThe U.S. Commission on International ReligiousFreedom (USCIRF), created by the InternationalReligious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA) as anentity separate and distinct from the State Department,is an independent, bipartisan U.S. government advisorybody that monitors religious freedom worldwideand makes policy recommendations to the President,Secretary of State, and Congress. USCIRF bases theserecommendations on its statutory mandate and thestandards in the Universal Declaration of Human Rightsand other international documents. The 2015 AnnualReport represents the culmination of a year’s work byCommissioners and professional staff to documentabuses on the ground and make independent policyrecommendations to the U.S. government.The 2015 Annual Report covers the period fromJanuary 31, 2014 through January 31, 2015, although insome cases significant events that occurred after thereporting period are mentioned. The Annual Reportaddresses 33 countries around the world and is dividedinto four sections.The first section focuses on the U.S. government’simplementation of the International Religious FreedomAct. It provides recommendations for specific actionsthat the Administration can take to bolster currentefforts to advance freedom of religion or belief abroad.It also recommends legislative activity by Congress toprovide additional tools to equip U.S. diplomats to betteradvocate for religious freedom.The second section highlights countries that USCIRFconcludes meet IRFA’s standard for “countries of particularconcern,” or CPCs, and recommends for designationas such. IRFA requires the U.S. government to designateas a CPC any country whose government engages inor tolerates particularly severe violations of religiousfreedom that are systematic, ongoing and egregious. In itsmost recent designations in July 2014, the State Departmentdesignated nine countries as CPCs. In 2015, USCIRFhas concluded that 17 countries meet this standard.In 2015, USCIRF recommends that the Secretaryof State re-designate the following nine countriesas CPCs: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea,Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.USCIRF also finds that eight other countries meet theCPC standard and should be so designated: CentralAfrican Republic, Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria,Tajikistan, and Vietnam.The 2015 Annual Report recognizes that non-stateactors, such as transnational or local organizations,are some of the most egregious violators of religiousfreedom. For example, in the Central African Republicand areas of Iraq and Syria, the governments are eithernon-existent or incapable of addressing violationscommitted by non-state actors. USCIRF has concludedthat the CPC classification should be expanded to allowfor the designation of countries such as these, whereparticularly severe violations of religious freedom areoccurring but a government does not exist or does notcontrol its territory. Accordingly, USCIRF’s CPC recommendationsreflect that approach.The third section highlights countries USCIRFcategorized as Tier 2, which includes countries wherethe violations engaged in or tolerated by the governmentare serious and are characterized by at least one of theelements of the “systematic, ongoing, and egregious”standard, but do not fully meet the CPC standard.In 2015, USCIRF places the following ten countries onTier 2: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Cuba, India, Indonesia,Kazakhstan, Laos, Malaysia, Russia, and Turkey.Lastly, there are brief descriptions of other countriesthat USCIRF monitored during the year: Bahrain, Bangladesh,Belarus, Cyprus, Kyrgyzstan, and Sri Lanka.USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 5


USCIRF TIER 1 & TIER 2 COUNTRIESTier 1 CPC CountriesDesignated byState Department &Recommended by USCIRFTier 1 CPC CountriesRecommended by USCIRFTier 2 CountriesBurmaChinaEritreaIranNorth KoreaSaudi ArabiaSudanTurkmenistanUzbekistanCentral African RepublicEgyptIraqNigeriaPakistanSyriaTajikistanVietnamAfghanistanAzerbaijanCubaIndiaIndonesiaKazakhstanLaosMalaysiaRussiaTurkey6USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


IRFA IMPLEMENTATIONIRFA’s HistoryThe International Religious Freedom Act of 1998was a landmark piece of legislation, seeking to makereligious freedom an important priority in U.S. foreignpolicy. Congress passed the Act unanimously inOctober 1998 and it was signed into law by PresidentBill Clinton that same month. Members of Congressbelieved that this core human right was being ignoredand that a greater emphasis would make for smarterdiplomacy and reflect the unique role that religiousfreedom played in the formation of the United States.Rather than creating a hierarchy of rights as some criticshave argued, IRFA established parity – it ensuredreligious freedom would be considered by U.S. policymakersalongside the other pressing issues of the day,and not be forgotten or ignored.To accomplish this, the Act did several things. First,it created special mechanisms inside and outside theexecutive branch. Inside the executive branch, the lawcreated the position of Ambassador-at-Large for InternationalReligious Freedom (a political appointee nominatedby the President and confirmed by the Senate),to head an Office of International Religious Freedom atthe State Department (the IRF Office). It also urged theappointment of a Special Adviser for this issue on therecommendations for U.S. policy to the President, Secretaryof State, and Congress.Second, IRFA required monitoring and reporting.It mandated that the State Department prepare anannual report on religious freedom conditions in eachforeign country (the IRF Report), in addition to theDepartment’s annual human rights report. The law alsorequired the State Department to maintain a religiousfreedom Internet site, as well as lists of religious prisonersin foreign countries. And it required that USCIRFissue its own annual report setting forth its findings onthe worst violators of religious freedom and providingindependent recommendations for U.S. policy.Third, IRFA established consequences for theworst violators. The law requires the President – whohas delegated this power to the Secretary of State – todesignate annually “countries of particular concern,”or CPCs, and to take action designed to encourageimprovements in those countries. Under IRFA, CPCsare defined as countries whose governments eitherengage in or tolerate “particularly severe” violations ofreligious freedom. A menu of possible actions is available,ranging from negotiating a bilateral agreement,to imposing sanctions, to taking a “commensurateaction,” to issuing a waiver. While a CPC designationOutside of the executive branch, IRFA created USCIRF,an independent U.S. government advisory body mandatedto review religious freedom conditions globally andmake recommendations for U.S. policy. . .White House National Security Council staff. Outside ofthe executive branch, IRFA created USCIRF, an independentU.S. government advisory body mandated toreview religious freedom conditions globally and makeremains in effect until removed, sanctions tied to aCPC action expire after two years, if not renewed.Fourth, IRFA included religious freedom as an elementof U.S. foreign assistance, cultural exchange, andinternational broadcasting programs.USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 7


IRFA defines “particularly severe” violations of religiousfreedom as “systematic, ongoing, egregiousviolations of religious freedom, including violationssuch as—(A) torture or cruel, inhuman, or degradingtreatment or punishment; (B) prolonged detentionwithout charges; (C) causing the disappearance ofpersons by the abduction or clandestine detention ofthose persons; or (D) other flagrant denial of the rightto life, liberty, or the security of persons.”Fifth, IRFA sought to address perceived deficienciesin U.S. government officials’ knowledge and understandingof the issue. It mandated that State DepartmentForeign Service Officers and U.S. immigration officialsreceive training on religious freedom and religiouspersecution. It also required immigration officials to usethe State Department’s annual IRF Report as a resourcein adjudicating asylum and refugee claims involvingreligious persecution.Finally, IRFA sought assessments of whether recently-enactedimmigration law reforms were being implementedconsistent with the United States’ obligations toprotect individuals fleeing persecution, including butnot limited to religious persecution. The law authorizedUSCIRF to appoint experts to examine whether asylumseekers subject to the process of Expedited Removalwere being erroneously returned to countries wherethey could face persecution or detained under inappropriateconditions. Expedited Removal is a mechanismenacted in 1996 whereby foreign nationals arriving inthe United States without proper documentation can bereturned to their countries of origin without delay, butalso without the safeguard of review by an immigrationjudge, unless they can establish that they have a “crediblefear” of persecution.Religious Freedom Violations under IRFAIRFA brought an international approach to U.S. religiousfreedom advocacy. The Act did not use the FirstAmendment to the U.S. Constitution to measure othercountries’ activities, but rather looked to internationalinstruments. IRFA specifically defined violations ofreligious freedom as “violations of the internationallyrecognized right to freedom of religion and religiousbelief and practice” as articulated in the UN UniversalDeclaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the UN InternationalCovenant on Civil and Political Rights, (ICCPR),the Helsinki Accords, and other international instrumentsand regional agreements.IRFA also did not limit violations to governmentactions. It recognized that religious freedom violationsalso can occur through government inaction againstabuses by private actors. The 1998 statute does not, however,adequately address one of the 21st century’s majorchallenges to freedom of religion or belief: the actions ofnon-state actors in failing or failed states. IRFA focusedon government action or inaction, but in many of themost pressing situations today, transnational or localorganizations are the egregious persecutors and governmentsare either incapable of addressing the violationsor non-existent. In these situations, allowing the UnitedStates to designate the non-state actors perpetratingparticularly severe violators of religious freedom wouldbroaden the U.S. government’s ability to engage theactual drivers of persecution. Such a step was takenwith the Taliban, which was in effect named a CPC from1999-2003 despite the United States’ not recognizingits control of Afghanistan. Naming these countries orgroups would reflect reality, which should be the corepoint of the CPC process.The Act also allows the United States to take certainactions against specific foreign officials who areresponsible for or directly carried out particularly severereligious freedom violations. IRFA bars the entry of suchindividuals to the United States, but the provision hasbeen invoked only once: in March 2005, it was used toexclude then-Chief Minister Narendra Modi of Gujaratstate in India due to his complicity in riots in his state in2002 that resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1,100 to2,000 Muslims. USCIRF continues to urge the Departmentsof State and Homeland Security to develop alookout list of aliens who are inadmissible to the UnitedStates on this basis. The IRF Office has worked to identifypeople inadmissible under U.S. law for religious freedomviolations, and USCIRF has provided information aboutseveral such individuals to the State Department.Separate from the IRFA framework, in 2014 the StateDepartment explicitly and publicly tied entry into theUnited States to concerns about violent activity. Secretaryof State John Kerry announced during a visit toNigeria that the United States would deny entry to any8USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


persons responsible for engaging in or inciting violenceduring Nigeria’s election, including by declaring themineligible for American visas. He said specifically that,“perpetrators of such violence would not be welcome inthe United States of America.” While not mandated byIRFA, USCIRF supports this approach.Directly related to identifying and barring fromentry severe religious freedom violators, IRFA alsorequires the President to determine the specific officialsresponsible for violations of religious freedom engagedin or tolerated by governments of CPC countries, and,“when applicable and to the extent practicable,” publishthe names of these officials in the Federal Register.Despite these requirements, no names of individualofficials from any CPC countries responsible for particularlysevere religious freedom violations have beenpublished to date.Apart from the inadmissibility provision discussedabove, Congress at times has imposed targeted sanctionson specific individuals for severe religious freedomviolations. Based on a USCIRF recommendation,Congress included sanctions on human rights andreligious freedom violators in the 2010 Iran sanctionsact, the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions and DivestmentAct (CISADA, P.L. 111–195). This was the first time Iransanctions specifically included human rights violators.President Obama has now imposed such sanctions(visa bans and asset freezes) by executive order on 16Iranian officials and entities, including eight identifiedas egregious religious freedom violators by USCIRF.Also based on a USCIRF recommendation, the Senateincluded Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov on the listof gross human rights violators in the Sergei MagnitskyRule of Law Accountability Act (P.L. 112–208), whichimposes U.S. visa bans and asset freezes on designatedRussian officials. Kadyrov has engaged in abuses againstMuslims and has been linked to politically-motivatedkillings.With respect to these issues, USCIRF recommendsthat the State Department:• Make greater efforts to ensure foreign governmentofficials are denied entry into the United Statesdue to their inadmissibility under U.S. law for theirresponsibility for religious freedom violationsabroad;• Train consular sections of all embassies on thisentry requirement, and direct them that the applicationof this provision is mandatory; and• Announce a policy that all individuals applyingfor entry to the United States will be denied entry ifthey are involved in or incite violence against membersof religious communities.USCIRF recommends that Congress:• Expand the CPC classification to allow for thedesignation of countries where particularly severeviolations of religious freedom are occurring buta government does not exist or does not control itsterritory; and• Expand the CPC classification to allow the namingof non-state actors who are perpetrating particularlysevere violations of religious freedom.Institutional IssuesIRFA intended the Ambassador-at-Large for InternationalReligious Freedom to be the highest-ranking U.S.official on religious freedom abroad, coordinating anddeveloping U.S. policy regarding freedom of religionor belief, while also serving as an ex officio member ofUSCIRF. There have been four Ambassadors-at-Largesince IRFA’s enactment: Robert Seiple (May 1999 to September2000); John Hanford (May 2002 to January 2009);Suzan Johnson Cook (May 2011 to October 2013); andDavid Saperstein (January 2015 to the present).Under IRFA, the Ambassador-at-Large is to be a“principal adviser to the President and the Secretaryof State regarding matters affecting religious freedomabroad.” However, since the position was established,every administration, including the current one, hassituated the Ambassador-at-Large in the Bureau ofDemocracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) and thusunder its Assistant Secretary, even though the StateDepartment’s organizational guidelines consider anAmbassador-at-Large to be of higher rank than an AssistantSecretary. Other Ambassadors-at-Large report tothe Secretary, such as those for Global Women’s Issues,Counterterrorism, and War Crime Issues, as well as theAIDS Coordinator.Religious freedom advocates, including USCIRF,have long been concerned about the low placement ofUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 9


the Ambassador-at-Large for International ReligiousFreedom within the State Department hierarchy. Secretaryof State Kerry committed to Congress at a publichearing that the Ambassador-at-Large will have directand regular access to him, which would fulfill IRFA’sintention that the Ambassador be “a principal advisor tothe President and Secretary of State” on matters relatingto religious freedom. In addition, the Office of InternationalReligious Freedom should be strengthened,including by enlarging its staff, deepening its expertise,and providing dedicated programmatic funds for religiousfreedom promotion and protection.The Ambassador-at-Large now sits among acrowded field of officials whose mandates overlap.Issues of religious freedom play a part in other U.S.government efforts to engage religious communitiesand to promote human rights more generally. This hasbecome more apparent as various administrationscreated special State Department positions to focus onparticular countries or issues where religious freedom isimplicated, such as a Special Envoy for Sudan, a SpecialRepresentative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, a SpecialRepresentative to Muslim Communities, and a SpecialEnvoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Inaddition, Congress created the position of Special Envoyto Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. In 2014, Congresspassed, and President Obama signed into law, abill creating the position of Special Envoy to PromoteReligious Freedom of Religious Minorities in the NearEast and South Central Asia at the State Department.In addition, the State Department during theObama Administration took steps to improve its abilityto engage with religious actors. The IRF Office staffoversaw initial efforts to track U.S. government religiousengagement globally, and the IRF Office co-chaireda special working group with civil society on religionand global affairs. From this process, the workinggroup issued a white paper recommending, amongother things, the creation of a special State Departmentoffice for religious engagement, modeled on similaroffices in other agencies like USAID. In August 2013,the State Department created a new Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives, headed by a SpecialAdvisor, Shaun Casey. (The position and office titleshave since been changed to Special Representativeand Office for Religion and Global Affairs.) Accordingto the announcement, the Office will “set Departmentpolicy on engagement with faith-based communitiesand . . . work in conjunction with bureaus and posts toreach out to those communities to advance the Department’sdiplomacy and development objectives,” and will“collaborate regularly with other government officialsand offices focused on religious issues, including theAmbassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedomand the Department’s Office of International ReligiousFreedom.” The Special Representative for MuslimCommunities and the Special Envoy to the Organizationof Islamic Cooperation were moved into the Office forReligion and Global Affairs, as was the Special Envoy toMonitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, who formerly wassituated in the DRL Bureau.With respect to these issues, USCIRF recommendsthat the Secretary of State:• Per IRFA’s mandate that the Ambassador-at-Largefor International Religious Freedom be “a principaladviser” to the President and the Secretary of Stateon religious freedom issues, and considering theproliferation of related positions and offices, taskthe Ambassador-at-Large with chairing an inter-bureauworking group with all the religiously-orientedpositions and programs to ensure consistency inmessage and strategy;• Move under the leadership of the Ambassador-at-Largefor International Religious Freedomthe positions of Special Envoy to Monitor and CombatAnti-Semitism and Special Envoy to PromoteReligious Freedom of Religious Minorities in theNear East and South Central Asia (should the latterbe filled); and• Provide the Office of International Religious Freedomwith resources and staff similar to other officeswith global mandates, as well as with increasedprogrammatic funds for religious freedom promotionand protection.USCIRF recommends that Congress:• Annually specify that funds from the State Department’sHuman Rights Democracy Fund (HRDF)be allocated for religious freedom programmingmanaged by the Office of International ReligiousFreedom.10USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


Annual ReportsIRFA requires that the State Department submit theIRF Report “on September 1 of each year or the first daythereafter on which the appropriate House of Congressis in session.” It also requires that USCIRF, based on itsreview of the IRF Report and other sources, submit itsAnnual Report by May 1.However, a recent change by the State Departmentin its reporting calendar and release date hasaffected USCIRF’s ability to review the IRF Report andstill meet the mandated May 1 deadline. In 2010, theState Department decided to consolidate the reportingperiods of its various reports on different human rightsissues, in order to minimize the impact on limited staffresources. As a result, the period covered in each IRFReport was shifted from a mid-year (July 1 to June 30)to a calendar-year (January 1 to December 31) cycle. Italso decided to release the IRF Report in March or April,rather than comply with the September timeframeestablished in IRFA.It should be noted that, although IRFA mandatedboth the State Department and USCIRF to reportannually on international religious freedom, the twoentities’ annual reports are significantly different.The State Department reports on every country in theworld, while USCIRF reports on selected countries,generally those exhibiting the worst conditions. Further,the State Department’s reports focus primarily onreligious freedom conditions, while USCIRF’s countrychapters discuss conditions, analyze U.S. policy, andwhen issuing their reports. As discussed above, however,the State Department’s change of the reportingperiod to harmonize the timing of various humanreports changed the release date of the IRF Report.With respect to these issues, USCIRF recommendsthat:• In light of the State Department’s change in therelease date of its report, USCIRF and the StateDepartment meet to discuss the timing of theirreports.The CPC MechanismIn IRFA’s 16-year existence, the State Department hasmade CPC designations on 10 occasions: October 1999,September 2000, October 2001, March 2003, September2004, November 2005, November 2006, January 2009,August 2011, and July 2014. As is evident from thesedates, for a number of years the designations generallywere made annually, but after 2006, designationsbecame infrequent. While IRFA does not set a specificdeadline, the Act indicates that CPC designationsshould occur soon after the State Department releasesits annual IRF Report, as the decisions are to be basedon that review and on USCIRF recommendations. InAugust 2011 and July 2014, the Obama Administrationmade CPC designations in conjunction with the IRFReport. Ambassador-at-Large Saperstein has also statedhis commitment to have an annual CPC designationprocess.State Department and USCIRF reports “are significantly different” as“USCIRF’s country chapters discuss conditions, analyze U.S. policy, andmake policy recommendations.”make policy recommendations. USCIRF’s AnnualReports also assess the executive branch’s implementationof IRFA and discuss religious freedom issues inmultilateral organizations.IRFA created a system in which the State Department’sand USCIRF’s annual reports would be issuedapproximately four months apart, and the State Departmentand USCIRF would consider each other’s findingsAs noted earlier, while a CPC designation remainsin effect until it is removed, associated Presidentialactions expire after two years if not renewed. The lastthree CPC designations occurred after the two-yearmark from the previous designations had passed.In addition to CPC designations being infrequent,the list has been largely unchanged. Of the nine countriesdesignated as CPCs in July 2014, most had beenUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 11


named as CPCs for over a decade: Burma, China, Iran,and Sudan for 15 years; North Korea for 13 years; Eritreaand Saudi Arabia for 10 years; and Uzbekistan for eightyears. Additionally, removal from the CPC list has beenrare. Since IRFA’s inception, only one country has beenremoved from the State Department’s CPC list due todiplomatic activity: Vietnam (a CPC from 2004 to 2006).Three other CPC designees were removed, but only aftermilitary intervention led to the fall of those regimes:Iraq (a CPC from 1999 to 2004), the Taliban regime ofAfghanistan (a “particularly severe violator” from 1999to 2003), and the Milosevic regime of the Serbian Republicof Yugoslavia (a “particularly severe violator” from1999 to 2001).Besides requiring the naming of violators, IRFAprovides the Secretary of State with a unique toolbox topromote religious freedom effectively. The Act includesa menu of options for countries designated as CPCs anda list of actions to encourage improvements in countriesthat violate religious freedom but do not meet the CPCthreshold. The specific policy options to address severeviolations of religious freedom in CPC countries includesanctions (referred to as Presidential actions in IRFA)that are not automatically imposed. Rather, the Secretaryof State is empowered to enter into direct consultationswith a government to bring about improvementsin religious freedom. IRFA also permits the developmentof either a binding agreement with a CPC-designatedgovernment on specific actions it will take to end theviolations giving rise to the designation or the taking ofa “commensurate action.” The Secretary may furtherdetermine that pre-existing sanctions are adequateSTATE’S DESIGNATIONS OF COUNTRIES AND REGIMES AS CPCSOctober1999:Burma,China,Iran, Iraq,Sudan, andMiloševicand TalibanregimesSeptember2000:Burma,China,Iran, Iraq,Sudan, andMiloševicand TalibanregimesOctober2001:Burma,China,Iran, Iraq,Sudan,andTalibanregimesMarch2003:Burma,China,Iran, Iraq,NorthKorea, andSudanSeptember2004:Burma,China,Eritrea,Iran, NorthKorea,SaudiArabia,Sudan, andVietnamNovember2005:Burma,China,Eritrea,Iran,NorthKorea,SaudiArabia,Sudan, andVietnamNovember2006:Burma,China,Eritrea,Iran,NorthKorea,Saudi Arabia,Sudan,andUzbekistanJanuary2009:Burma,China,Eritrea,Iran, NorthKorea,SaudiArabia,Sudan,andUzbekistanAugust2011:Burma,China,Eritrea,Iran, NorthKorea,SaudiArabia,Sudan,andUzbekistanJuly 2014:Burma,China,Eritrea,Iran, NorthKorea,SaudiArabia,Sudan,Turkmenistan,andUzbekistan1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014January 2001:MiloševicregimeMarch2003:TalibanregimeJune 2004:IraqNovember 2006VietnamSTATE’S REMOVALS OF COUNTRIES AND REGIMES FROM CPC LISTSource: GAO analysis of Department of State information12USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


or waive the requirement of taking action to advancethe purposes of the Act or the national interests of theUnited States.However, in addition to designating the same countriesfor years, administrations generally have not leviednew Presidential actions in accordance with CPC designations,with the State Department instead relying onpre-existing sanctions. While the statute permits suchreliance, relying on pre-existing sanctions – or “doublehatting” – has provided little incentive for CPC-designatedgovernments to reduce or halt egregious violationsof religious freedom.The Presidential actions for the nine currently-designatedCPC countries are shown in the table immediatelybelow. Because of the indefinite waivers for SaudiArabia, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, the UnitedStates has not implemented a unique policy responsetied to the CPC designation and particularly severeviolations of religious freedom.USCIRF welcomes Ambassador-at-Large Saperstein’scommitment to have an annual CPC process.The CPC list should also expand and retractas conditions warrant, and the use of Presidentialactions should be more dynamic. Of the current ninecountries designated as CPCs, six have “double-hatted”sanctions, and three have indefinite waivers. The“double hatting” of sanctions can be the appropriateaction in some circumstances. Yet specifically tailoredactions can be more precise, either broadly structuredor narrowly crafted to target specific government officialsor provinces, if acute situations are highly localized.Indefinite waivers of penalties undermine theeffectiveness of efforts to advance religious freedom,as they signal a lack of U.S. interest and communicateto the designated country that there never will be consequencesfor its religious freedom abuses.Federal Register Notices / Vol. 79, No. 185 / Wednesday, September 24, 2014Pursuant to section 408(a) of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (Pub. L. 105–292), asamended (the Act), notice is hereby given that, on July 18, 2014, the Secretary of State, under authoritydelegated by the President, has designated each of the following as a ‘‘Country of Particular Concern’’(CPC) under section 402(b) of the Act, for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violationsof religious freedom: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia,Sudan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.The Secretary simultaneously designated the following Presidential Actions for these CPCs:• For Burma, the existing ongoing arms embargo referencedin 22 CFR 126.1(a) pursuant to section 402(c)(5) ofthe Act;• For China, the existing ongoing restriction on exportsto China of crime control and detection instruments andequipment, under the Foreign Relations AuthorizationAct of 1990 and 1991(Public Law 101–246), pursuant tosection 402(c)(5) of the Act;• For Eritrea, the existing ongoing arms embargo referencedin 22 CFR 126.1(a) pursuant to section 402(c)(5) ofthe Act;• For Iran, the existing ongoing travel restrictions basedon serious human rights abuses under section 221(a)(1)(C) of the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human RightsAct of 2012, pursuant to section 402(c)(5) of the Act;• For North Korea, the existing ongoing restrictions towhich North Korea is subject, pursuant to sections 402and 409 of the Trade Act of 1974 (the Jackson-VanikAmendment) pursuant to section 402(c)(5) of the Act;• For Saudi Arabia, a waiver as required in the ‘‘importantnational interest of the United States,’’ pursuant tosection 407 of the Act;• For Sudan, the restriction on making certain appropriatedfunds available for assistance to the Governmentof Sudan in the annual Department of State, ForeignOperations, and Related Programs AppropriationsAct, currently set forth in section 7042(j) of theDepartment of State, Foreign Operations, and RelatedPrograms Appropriations Act, 2014 (Div. K, Pub.L.113–76), and any provision of law that is the same orsubstantially the same as this provision, pursuant tosection 402(c)(5) of the Act;• For Turkmenistan, a waiver as required in the ‘‘importantnational interest of the United States,’’ pursuant tosection 407 of the Act; and• For Uzbekistan, a waiver as required in the ‘‘importantnational interest of the United States,’’ pursuant tosection 407 of the Act.USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 13


Along with an annual CPC process, the IRFA toolboxprovides many options for diplomatic action. U.S. diplomaticengagement cannot and should not solely rely onnaming CPCs, but rather use a concert of action including:diplomatic engagement; consultations about possibleCPC action; CPC designations; binding agreement negotiations;presidential actions; and/or a waiver for the narrowestof circumstances. Past practice provides only a few• Hold annual oversight hearings on IRFA implementationin the House and Senate.GuidanceWith multiple offices and positions dealing with issuesthat relate to or overlap with religious freedom, craftinga specific strategy outlining the need to promoteThe CPC list should also expand and retract asconditions warrant, and the use ofPresidential actions should be more dynamic.examples of these tools being used together to bring aboutchange in a country of concern. An annual CPC designationprocess should be the center of all IRF-related work,driving and energizing other areas of U.S. diplomacy, butshould not be the sum total of all activity.With respect to these issues, USCIRF recommendsthat the State Department:• Use all of IRFA’s tools, including “country of particularconcern” designations, in a continuity of action;• Publicly declare the results of its annual reviewof religious freedom conditions and make annualdesignations of “countries of particular concern” forparticularly severe violations of religious freedom;• Ensure that the CPC list expands and contracts asconditions warrant;• Wherever possible, when Presidential Actions orcommensurate actions are taken as a consequenceof CPC designations, undertake specific efforts toemphasize the importance of religious freedom tothe United States, and in particular avoid “doublehatted”sanctions; and• Limit the use of waivers to a set period of time andsubject them to review for renewal.USCIRF recommends that Congress:• Take steps through legislative action to require theState Department to make annual CPC designations,should the State Department fail to do so; andfreedom of religion or belief internationally across U.S.government agencies would set an important tone andgive direction to U.S. efforts.In February 2015, the President issued his secondNational Security Strategy, which touched on religiousfreedom. In a section entitled “Advance Equality,” theStrategy said:American values are reflective of the universalvalues we champion all around the world–including the freedoms of speech, worship, andpeaceful assembly; the ability to choose leadersdemocratically; and the right to due processand equal administration of justice. We willbe a champion for communities that are toofrequently vulnerable to violence, abuse, andneglect– such as ethnic and religious minorities;people with disabilities; Lesbian, Gay,Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) individuals;displaced persons; and migrant workers.The National Security Council issued a more specificstrategy about religious engagement in July 2013,which includes a component on religious freedom andhuman rights. This positive initiative, on which USCIRFstaff informally advised, connected religious freedomwork to other related issues of conflict prevention andto engaging religious leaders on development goals. Adocument specifically tailored to the issue of religiousfreedom would further this effort.In addition to a national strategy to guide U.S. efforts,elected leaders and U.S. officials need to communicate14USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


clearly and regularly that religious freedom is a foreignpolicy priority for the United States. For instance, duringhis January 2015 visit to India, President Obama gave amajor speech highlighting the need for religious toleranceand freedom, and he reiterated the point at theFebruary 2015 National Prayer Breakfast in Washington,DC. Notably, the Prime Minister of India subsequentlygave a major address about these concerns. As this exampledemonstrates, one of the most direct ways to stressthe importance of religious freedom is in high-profileWith respect to these issues, USCIRF recommendsthat:• Each administration issue a strategy to guide U.S.government efforts to protect and promote religiousfreedom abroad and set up a process to oversee itsimplementation;• The President, the Secretary of State, Members ofCongress, and other U.S. officials consistently stressthe importance of international religious freedom inCrafting a specific strategy outlining the need topromote freedom of religion or belief internationally acrossU.S. government agencies would set an important tone andgive direction to U.S. efforts.public events. Both the U.S. government bureaucracy andforeign governments will notice such presentations by thePresident, the Secretary of State, Congressional leaders,and other high-ranking U.S. officials.Action also is needed after communication. Publicadvocacy should be tied to a country-specific actionplan or strategy for advancing religious freedom. This isespecially important for countries designated as CPCs,as well as those recommended by USCIRF for CPC designationor on USCIRF’s Tier 2 list. Such actions wouldinclude scheduling trips for embassy officials, includingthe U.S. ambassador, to visit oppressed religious communitiesor sites of violence. The United States shouldalso insist that discussions on freedom of religion orbelief and religious tolerance be included in variousbilateral strategic dialogues and summits, such as thestrategic dialogues with Russia, Pakistan, or Indonesia,or the meetings of the U.S.-Nigeria Bi-National Commission.Concerns about freedom of religion or beliefshould also be interwoven into negotiations over tradeagreements, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership.It is also essential to ensure that U.S. officials andelected leaders raise religious freedom issues during visitsto key countries of concern. It is important for foreignleaders to hear directly from visiting delegations thatrestrictions on religious freedom are hindering bilateralcooperation and the overall relationship.their public statements as well as in public and privatemeetings in the United States and abroad; and• In consultation with USCIRF, the State Departmentdevelop and implement country-specificstrategies for advancing religious freedom, interfaithharmony, mutual respect, and reconciliation,to ensure that official statements are followed byconcrete actions.TrainingTraining is needed to equip U.S. officials to speak on theseissues and develop action plans. IRFA calls for Americandiplomats to receive training on how to promote religiousfreedom effectively around the world. In the past fewyears, training for Foreign Service Officers on issues ofreligious freedom has increased, but remains voluntary.The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) continued to offer amulti-day Religion and Foreign Policy course. USCIRFstaff has been repeatedly invited to speak about the roleof the Commission, but the overall focus could includea greater emphasis on promoting freedom of religion orbelief. USCIRF also regularly speaks to regional studiesclasses to discuss the Commission’s findings on countriesof interest.By contrast, DHS has made training on religiouspersecution and IRFA mandatory for all new refu-USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 15


gee and asylum officers, and USCIRF and IRF Officerepresentatives regularly speak to these classes. Overthe years, USCIRF also has participated in, as well assubmitted materials for, training sessions on religiousfreedom and religious persecution for Department ofJustice immigration judges. Training on religious freedomissues in the military education system remainsminimal, despite the many schools, military servicecolleges, and universities providing professionalmilitary education. With American service membersincreasingly engaging governments and societalleaders in religious contexts, training on internationalstandards of freedom of religion or belief would betterequip them to carry out their mission.With respect to these issues, USCIRF recommendsthat the U.S. government:• Make training on international religious freedommandatory for State Department officials, includingeducation on what it is, its importance, and how toadvance it; Require such training at three intervalsin each diplomat’s career – the “A-100” class forincoming diplomats, Area Studies for midcareerofficials, and a class for all ambassadors and deputychiefs of missions; and• Train relevant members of the military on theimportance of religious freedom and practical waysto best promote it as an aspect of U.S. foreign policy.USCIRF recommends that Congress:• If necessary, require the Foreign Service Instituteand the military to provide training on internationalreligious freedom and on the best practices topromote it as an aspect of U.S. foreign policy, so thatForeign Service Officers, U.S. service members, andmilitary chaplains can use globally recognized religiousfreedom standards when engaging in-countrywith religious leaders and government and militaryofficials.Ensuring Funding forReligious Freedom ProgrammingIRFA also envisaged the funding of religious freedomprograms, authorizing foreign assistance to promoteand develop “legal protections and cultural respect forreligious freedom.” In Fiscal Year (FY) 2008, for the firsttime, $4 million was carved out from the Human RightsDemocracy Fund (HRDF) for specific DRL grants onreligious freedom programming. While no specific earmarkor carve-out was made in subsequent years, the IRFOffice has continued to receive HRDF funds. In March2015, Ambassador Saperstein reported to Congress thatthe IRF Office receives approximately five percent ofDRL’s HRDF funding (approximately $3.5 million) annually.These funds support religious freedom programscurrently operating in 16 countries. Ambassador Sapersteinalso reported in March 2015 that five new programsusing FY 2014 funds would soon begin operations.While IRFA authorizes the expenditures of funds forgrant making to promote religious freedom, there is noannual appropriation of funds specifically for this purpose.Funding for religious freedom work need not comesolely from the human rights bureau. Other potentialfunding sources include the State Department’s MiddleEast Partnership Initiative (MEPI) and the U.S. AgencyWhile IRFA authorizes theexpenditures of funds for grant makingto promote religious freedom,there is no annual appropriation of fundsspecifically for this purpose.for International Development’s (USAID) Bureau forDemocracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance.Appropriation measures have signaled the importanceof such funding. For instance, the Consolidated andFurther Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015 (P.L.113-325) directed that appropriated funds for democracyprograms “shall be made available to support freedom ofreligion, including in the Middle East and North Africa.”In statute, report language, and discussions, Congresshas at times tasked USCIRF to develop recommendationsfor challenging issues. In addition to theExpedited Removal Study, one such congressional taskingresulted in USCIRF’s study about what Pakistan’seducation system teaches about religious minorities inthat country. Another example was the special fellowshipprogram that was funded for two years to enablescholars to focus on freedom of religion or belief.16USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


With respect to these issues, USCIRF recommendsthat the State Department:• Continue to designate specific HRDF funds to theIRF Office for grant making.USCIRF recommends that Congress:• Support State Department grants related to religiousfreedom programming, and call for entitiesthat receive federal funds, including MEPI, USAID,the National Endowment for Democracy, and U.S.Institute of Peace, to devote resources for religiousfreedom programming;• Encourage USAID to prioritize programs thatdevelop and disseminate, especially in countries ofconcern, educational and teacher training materialsthat focus on international human rights standardsand religious freedom and the centrality ofinterfaith understanding to achieving developmentobjectives; and• Urge that the National Endowment for Democracyand other entities that receive federal fundingsolicit competitive proposals on specific internationalreligious freedom programming.The Treatment of Asylum Seekers inExpedited RemovalAs authorized by IRFA, USCIRF conducted a majorresearch study in 2003 and 2004 on the U.S. government’streatment of asylum seekers in ExpeditedRemoval. The Departments of Homeland Security (DHS)and Justice (DOJ) cooperated with the Commission,whose designated experts had unrestricted access to theinternal workings of Expedited Removal.USCIRF’s February 2005 report, The Treatmentof Asylum Seekers in Expedited Removal (the Study),found serious flaws placing legitimate asylum seekersat risk of being returned to countries where they couldface persecution. It also found that asylum seekerswere being inappropriately detained under prison-likeconditions and in actual jails. To address these problems,the Study made a series of recommendations,none requiring Congressional action, to the responsibleagencies within DHS and DOJ. The recommendationswere geared to help protect U.S. borders and ensure fairand humane treatment for bona fide asylum seekers,mirroring the two goals of the 1996 immigration reformlaw that established Expedited Removal.USCIRF has continued to monitor the implementationof these recommendations and has issued severalfollow-up reports finding progress in some areas but nochanges in others. Moreover, since the time of the Study,DHS has expanded Expedited Removal from a port-ofentryprogram to one that covers the entire land and seaborder of the United States. In addition, over the pastseveral fiscal years, the number of individuals claiminga fear of return in Expedited Removal has increasedsharply. As a result, the continuing flaws in the systemnow potentially affect even more asylum seekers.In 2014, in anticipation of the 10th anniversary of the2005 Study’s release, USCIRF has been reviewing the currentsituation of asylum seekers in expedited removal, asan update to the original study. USCIRF staff has visitedports of entry, border posts, asylum offices, and immigrationdetention facilities in southern California (July 2014),New York and New Jersey (September 2014), Florida andPuerto Rico (November 2014) and south Texas (February2015) to tour facilities, meet with officials and detainees,and observe processing. In addition, USCIRF staff hasmet with DHS officials in Washington, DC, and withnon-governmental experts. USCIRF anticipates issuingin 2015 a special report assessing implementation of thestudy’s recommendations and discussing the changes inexpedited removal over the past decade.With respect to these issues, USCIRF recommendsthat the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice• Implement the recommendations from the 2005Expedited Removal Study that remain either whollyor partly unimplemented, including by:• addressing the serious flaws identified in theinitial interviews of arriving aliens;• allowing asylum officers to grant asylum at thecredible fear stage in appropriate cases;• not detaining asylum seekers after credible fearhas been found unless absolutely necessary and,if asylum seekers must be detained, doing so onlyin civil conditions;• codifying the existing parole policy into regulations;andUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 17


• increasing detainees’ access to legal representationand in-person hearings.USCIRF recommends that Congress:• In light of Expedited Removal’s expansion since theStudy and the recent increase in claims of fear, considerauthorizing and funding USCIRF to conductanother comprehensive study on the treatment ofasylum seekers in Expedited Removal.Multilateral EffortsIRFA specifically cites U.S. participation in multilateralorganizations as an avenue for advancing religiousfreedom. Both the United Nations (UN) and theOrganization for Security and Cooperation in Europe(OSCE) have conventions and agreements that protectfreedom of religion or belief and related rights, includingassembly and expression. UN and OSCE mechanismscan be used to advance religious freedom or callattention to violations, on which USCIRF has engagedover the years.United NationsAt the UN Human Rights Council, the UniversalPeriodic Review (UPR) process allows states to assessthe human rights performance of every UN memberstate, and thereby provides an opportunity for theUnited States and other like-minded countries to askquestions and make recommendations about religiousfreedom. This is particularly important when countriesdesignated as “countries of particular concern” underIRFA are reviewed. Country-specific resolutions in theHuman Rights Council and the UN General Assemblyfocuses on religious freedom as a thematic issue. Thatposition was created in 1986, at the initiative of theUnited States. The UN Special Rapporteur on Freedomof Religion or Belief – currently Professor HeinerBielefeldt of Germany – monitors freedom of religionor belief worldwide, communicates with governmentsabout alleged violations, conducts country visits, andissues reports and statements. Some of the Council’scountry-specific Special Procedures also have drawnattention to religious freedom violations in the countriesthey cover, such as the current UN Special Rapporteuron the Human Rights Situation in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed.In addition, the specially-created Commissionsof Inquiry on North Korea and on Eritrea focused on thesevere religious freedom abuses in those nations.For a number of years, the UN Human Rights Counciland General Assembly were the centers of a problematiceffort by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation(OIC) and some of its members to seek an internationallegal norm restricting speech that defamed religions,particularly Islam. In a welcome change, the OIC nolonger is sponsoring the flawed and divisive defamation-of-religionsresolutions. They were replaced in 2011by a new, consensus approach (often referred to as theResolution 16/18 approach, after the first such resolution)that focuses on positive measures to counter religiousintolerance and protect individuals from discriminationor violence, rather than on criminalizing expression.Nevertheless, USCIRF remains concerned thatsome OIC members continue to support a globalanti-blasphemy law. Many OIC member states continueto have and enforce repressive domestic blasphemyand religious defamation laws. These lawsresult in gross human rights abuses and exacerbateUN and OSCE mechanisms can be used to advancereligious freedom or call attention to violations, on whichUSCIRF has engaged over the years.provide other opportunities to highlight religious freedomconcerns.The Human Rights Council’s system of independentexperts, or Special Procedures, is another importantmechanism, particularly the Special Rapporteur whoreligious intolerance, discrimination, and violence,the very problems that the OIC claims it is trying toaddress. In addition, some OIC countries continue torefer publicly to the defamation-of-religions concept18USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


(no más tarde de una media horadespués del atardecer). Es ilegalusar las luces de estacionamiento ocuartos en lugar de las delanteras.2. Maneje más despacio. El adolescentedebe poder parar el vehículodentro de la distancia que él/ellapueda ver delante suyo.3. Aumente el espacio de seguridaddelante y detrás de su vehículo.4. Ponga las direccionales por adelantadoantes de cada maniobra.5. Evite mirar las luces delanteras deun vehículo que viene en sentidocontrario. Mire hacia la orilla derechade la carretera. Su adolescentedebe aprender a mantener su trayectoriaaunque se le haga difícil ver acausa de las luces delanteras del tráficoque viene en sentido contrario.6. Practique todas estas habilidadesdescritas por un mínimo de 10 horasde manejo durante la noche.PRoBLeMASeSPeCíFiCoS YeMeRGenCiASLo que se debe hacer si ocurreun choqueHable con su adolescente sobre lo que sedebe hacer en caso de un choque. Si sepresencia o se tiene un choque, el Manualdel Automovilista de California leindica los pasos a seguir. Asegúrese quesu adolescente sepa lo que debe hacersi ocurre un choque.Cuando se oye una sirenavehÍculos de emergenciaHágase a un lado y parepARA los vehículos deemergenciaCuando un camión de bomberos, ambulancia,vehículo de policía, u otrovehículo de emergencia se acerca poratrás con la sirena prendida, los conductoresdeberán detenerse lo máscerca posible a la orilla derecha de lacarretera hasta que el vehículo haya pasado.Sin embargo, nunca pare en unaintersección/cruce. Siga atravesandola intersección/cruce y luego hágasea la derecha tan pronto como pueda.El no detenerse puede resultar en unainfracción. A veces el conductor de unvehículo de emergencia usará un altavozpara dirigir a un conductor que le estáobstruyendo el camino.- 20 -


OSCE office in Baku cooperated with the Azerbaijanigovernment to co-sponsor a 2014 religious toleranceconference. The head of the OSCE Baku office also hasmade public statements supporting the government ofAzerbaijan’s positions on religious tolerance and religiousfreedom. ODIHR should make greater efforts toensure consistency on issues of religious freedom andrelated human rights, including by providing trainingfor staff.The OSCE recently has also become more involvedin efforts to counter violent extremism and terrorism inthe name of religion. For example, in 2008, the ODIHRissued a manual to familiarize states’ senior policymakers with basic international human rights standardsto which they must adhere in efforts to combat terrorismand extremism. In 2014, the OSCE held regional anti-terrorismtraining meetings in Tajikistan and Kazakhstan,while in November 2014 ODIHR organized a trainingsession for police in combating terrorism. In MarchWorking with Like-Minded NationsThere are increasing opportunities for the U.S. governmentto work in concert with like-minded nationsaround freedom of religion or belief. The United Statesis no longer the only player in this field. The UnitedKingdom’s foreign ministry and parliament haveincreased their focus, the European Union issuedguidelines for its diplomats in the field on promotingfreedom of religion or belief, and the European Parliamentestablished a working group on the subject.Canada also created an ambassadorial position onreligious freedom. The Austrians, Dutch, Italians, Norwegians,and Germans also have focused specificallyon religious freedom over the past five years. Recently,USCIRF has taken the lead in fostering increasedcollaboration between the United States, Canada, anda number of European countries in promoting freedomof religion or belief. This effort is now expanding toother parts of the world.There are increasing opportunities for theU.S. government to work in concert withlike-minded nations around freedom of religion or belief.2015, ODIHR held a “train-the-trainer” session onrespecting human rights in combating violent extremism,as well as an experts’ meeting on human rights andresponding to foreign fighters.With respect to these issues, USCIRF recommendsthat the State Department:• Urge ODIHR to empower the new Advisory Panel toact independently and issue reports or critiques andconduct activities without undue interference byODIHR or participating States;• Request that the new advisor on freedom of religionor belief be adequately resourced to effectivelymonitor religious freedom abuses across the OSCEarea and to provide training for staff of OSCE fieldoffices; and• Encourage OSCE missions to fully integrate religiousfreedom and related human rights into counter-terrorismtraining and other relevant programs.In early 2014, USCIRF Commissioners and staff metwith members of the British All Parties ParliamentaryGroup on Freedom of Religion or Belief in London andcosponsored with the European Parliament WorkingGroup on Freedom of Religion or Belief (EPWG) anunprecedented joint event in the European Parliament.In Brussels, the event USCIRF cosponsored with theEPWG filled the room to its maximum capacity of 200people. In November 2014, USCIRF, working alongsidea group of parliamentarians from Brazil, Canada, Norway,Turkey, and the United Kingdom, helped launch anew parliamentary network, the Inter-ParliamentaryPlatform for Freedom of Religion or Belief, at the NobelPeace Center in Oslo, Norway. Over 30 MPs signed theCharter for Freedom of Religion or Belief, pledging toadvance religious freedom for all. A direct outcome ofthe meeting was the creation of a caucus in the BrazilianCongress to promote international religiousfreedom. In addition, the parliamentary group has sent20USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


letters to the Prime Minister of Pakistan, the Presidentof Burma, and the North Korean ambassador to theUnited Nations relating to religious freedom issues inthose countries.Paired with any parliamentary effort should becoordinated inter-governmental activities. Officialsfrom the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom,and the EU External Action Service have recognizedthis need. Efforts are beginning to coordinate jointdemarches on countries of common concern, as wellas to share information about how governments fundreligious freedom work in the field. While coordinatinggovernment action may pose challenges, the power ofmany voices is sure to have greater impact.With respect to these issues, USCIRF recommendsthat the State Department:• Continue to work with other governments andparliaments interested in promoting internationalreligious freedom to share information and coordinateactivities.The Role of CongressCongress has an important role to play to ensure thatreligious freedom remains a priority to the U.S. government.Hearings are a particularly useful tool, as theysignal Congressional interest in international religiousfreedom. For example, subcommittees of the Houseof Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairshave held hearings focusing on holding accountablecountries of particular concern, the issuance of theprotecting religious freedom abroad. The Tom LantosHuman Rights Commission has held several hearingson religious freedom, including religious minorities inIndia, religious and indigenous communities in Vietnam,prisoners of conscience, and religious minoritiesin Iran. Holding annual Congressional oversighthearings on IRFA implementation in both the Houseand Senate would reinforce Congressional interest inthe issue.As religious freedom problems are interwoveninto some of the most difficult foreign policy challengesfacing the United States, both houses of Congressshould ensure that religious freedom issues areincluded in specific country hearings and ambassadorialconfirmation hearings. In addition, Members ofCongress should continue to use appropriations billsand supporting report language to express congressionalconcerns to both our own government and othergovernments. While creating the new Senate HumanRights Caucus is an important step, creating a Senatecaucus on international religious freedom, similar tothe existing House caucus, would also serve an importantfunction.Another example of congressional action is theDefending Freedoms Project, an initiative of theTom Lantos Human Rights Commission, in conjunctionwith USCIRF and Amnesty International USA.Through the project, Members of Congress advocateon behalf of prisoners abroad, work toward theirrelease, and shine a spotlight on the laws and policiesthat have led to their incarceration. The goal of thisCongress has an important role to play to ensure thatreligious freedom remains a priority to the U.S. government.State Department’s IRF Report and USCIRF’s AnnualReport, as well as country-specific religious freedomissues. The National Security Subcommittee of theHouse Oversight and Government Reform Committeefor two years in a row has held a hearing on protectinginternational religious freedom. The Senate AppropriationsSubcommittee on State, Foreign Operationsand Related Programs held a hearing in March 2015 onproject is to help set free these prisoners and increaseattention to and support for human rights and religiousfreedom.With respect to these issues, USCIRF recommendsthat:• Both the House and Senate hold annual oversighthearings on IRFA implementation, as well as hearingson religious freedom-specific issues, and ensure thatUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 21


eligious freedom is raised in country-specific hearingsand ambassadorial confirmation hearings; and• During delegation trips abroad, Members of Congressexamine conditions of religious freedom forall faiths/beliefs, and meet with individuals andorganizations that promote religious freedom andrelated human rights, targeted religious communities,and people detained for their religious beliefsor religious freedom advocacy.Dissenting Statement of Vice ChairJames J. Zogby:I voted against some of the recommendations in thischapter because I cannot support USCIRF calling onCongress to micro-manage the way the State Departmentand the White House National Security Councilorganize their staff and set their priorities.We are united in our commitment to advancereligious freedom but recommending that importantoffices of the Executive Branch play musical chairs withthe positions they currently have in place or that theyadd more chairs to the game both exceeds our mandateand has the potential of making an admittedly cumbersomeand sometime confusing bureaucracy even morecumbersome and confusing.We can advocate that attention be paid to advancingreligious freedom, but it is up to the President andthe Secretary of State - not USCIRF - to decide how theExecutive Branch should configure their offices andexpend their resources in furthering that goal.Additional Statement of Chair KatrinaLantos Swett, with whom Vice ChairRobert P. George and CommissionersMary Ann Glendon, M. Zuhdi Jasser, andDaniel I. Mark join:As I conclude my second term as USCIRF Chair andenter my final year as a Commissioner, I want to thankUSCIRF’s dedicated team for their diligence, hard work,and professionalism. The Annual Report is a task ofherculean proportions, with USCIRF analysts gatheringfacts and data from numerous sources around theworld, vetting the data, and drafting the chapters andrecommendations. Based on those drafts and workingwith staff, Commissioners are able to produce what Ihave consistently referred to as the “gold standard” ofU.S. government reports on religious freedom. As theGovernment Accountability Office found when surveyingnon-governmental organizations, our report ishighly valued and sought after because of its impartiality,factual nature, and inventive and creative ideas forhow the U.S. government could better position itself inthe 21st century to advance religious freedom.In addition, I have had the opportunity to travelwith Commissioners and USCIRF analysts to Bahrain,Egypt, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere.I have been repeatedly impressed by USCIRF staff withtheir knowledge of the issues relating to internationalreligious freedom, their contacts with U.S. governmentofficials and NGOs, their nonpartisan approach tothe issue, and their dedication to help ensure that theUnited States more effectively advances this fundamentalfreedom for all persons everywhere. Our governmentis well served by this team of dedicated public servantsincluding USCIRF’s able Executive Director, AmbassadorJackie Wolcott.Additional Statement of CommissionersEric P. Schwartz and Hannah Rosenthal andVice Chair James J. Zogby:Our chapter on implementation of the InternationalReligious Freedom Act (IRFA) addresses many aspectsof the legislation, but it does not address in great detailthe operations or overall effectiveness of the U.S.Commission on International Religious Freedom itself,which, of course, was created by the IRFA legislation. Webelieve that the Commission has played an importantrole in keeping issues of religious freedom on the policyagenda, and in keeping faith with victims of abusesaround the world. But we also believe there are waysthat the Commission can be more effective in its work.We hope the upcoming reauthorization discussion willprovide an opportunity to explore several importantissues in our efforts to protect religious freedom, suchas whether we are most effectively critiquing, engagingand, where appropriate, complementing the work of theDepartment of State and the Administration, whetherwe can enhance Commissioner-Commission staff relationsand safeguard staff professionalism, independenceand impartiality over time, how we should address newchallenges posed by non-state actors, and how we might22USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


etter engage issues of religious reconciliation even aswe continue to focus on issues of basic rights. We lookforward to considering these and other issues in themonths to come.USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 23


24USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


TIER 12015 COUNTRY REPORTS: CPCS DESIGNATEDBY THE STATE DEPARTMENT ANDRECOMMENDED BY USCIRF–BURMA–CHINA–ERITREA–IRAN–NORTH KOREA–SAUDI ARABIA–SUDAN–TURKMENISTAN–UZBEKISTANUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 25


BURMA26USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


BURMAKey FindingsIn 2014, religious and ethnic minorities in Burmacontinued to experience intolerance, discrimination,and violence, particularly Rohingya Muslims. Bigotryand chauvinism against religious and ethnic minoritiesgrew more pervasive, in some cases provoked byreligious figures within the Buddhist community,while the Burmese government demonstrated littlewillingness to intervene, investigate properly, orprosecute those responsible for abuses in a timely andtransparent manner. While the government, at times,denounced violence and incitement, its lack of strongand consistent leadership to condemn intoleranceenabled abuses to continue relatively unchecked.Throughout 2014, the expansion of Internet availabilityand social media played a role in propagatingexpressions of hatred and spurring violence directedagainst minority populations. The introduction of fourdiscriminatory race and religion bills in 2014 couldwell further entrench such prejudices. Based on thesesystematic, egregious, and ongoing violations, USCIRFcontinues to recommend in 2015 that Burma be designatedas a “country of particular concern,” or CPC,under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA).The State Department has designated Burma a CPCsince 1999, most recently in July 2014.BackgroundIn August 2014, USCIRF conducted a commissioner-levelvisit to Burma, issuing a special report of itsfindings in November 2014. The visit not only confirmedUSCIRF’s concerns about religious freedom violationsagainst religious and ethnic minorities, especiallyRohingya Muslims, but also underscored the appropriatenessof Burma’s designation as a CPC.Burma has undertaken notable political reformsin a relatively short period of time, a process likely toreceive even more scrutiny as the 2015 general electionsapproach. However, these steps have not yetimproved conditions for religious freedom and relatedhuman rights in the country, nor spurred the Burmesegovernment to curtail those perpetrating abuses. Thevast majority of the population – nearly 90 percent –is Buddhist; four percent is Muslim; four percent isChristian; and the remainder is animist or follows otherfaiths or beliefs. Constitutional protections for religiousfreedoms in Burma are not sufficient to protect those ofRather than reformingcurrent laws to strengthenor expand protections forreligious rights, the governmenthas facilitated the developmentof legislation that would furtherimpinge on these freedoms.minority religious faiths from discrimination, violence,or targeted crimes. Rather than reforming currentlaws to strengthen or expand protections for religiousrights, the government has facilitated the developmentof legislation that would further impinge on thesefreedoms. For example, at the prompting of nationalistBuddhists and with the support of the central government,Burma’s 2015 session of parliament opened withconsideration of a package of four race and religionbills that would further restrict religious freedom anddiscriminate against all minority faiths in matters ofconversions, marriages, and births. Critics argue thebills are a means to restrict the rights of Muslims, butthey also restrict the rights of women, the very constituencythe architects of the legislation are purportingto protect. A combined 180 women’s groups and civilsociety organizations in Burma delivered a statement inJanuary 2015 in strong opposition to all four bills. SomeUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 27


of those who have spoken publicly against these billshave been harassed and even received death threats.Politically, the absence thus far of a nationalreconciliation agreement with ethnic minority groupsand lack of meaningful constitutional reform loomsover Burma’s government as it heads into the critical2015 general elections. The 2014 census, Burma’s firstin more than 30 years, largely excluded RohingyaMuslims if they identified their ethnicity as Rohingya,and counts of ethnic minorities were not conducted inlarge parts of Kachin State. President Thein Sein did notmake good on his pledge for the government to releaseall political prisoners by the end of 2013, and has leftunfulfilled a number of other commitments made publiclyto President Barack Obama and others. USCIRFmet with representatives of both an ad hoc religiousaffairs advisory group created by the president and theMinistry of Religious Affairs, and found their contradictoryperspectives on issues of religious freedom tobe concerning.Visits to Burma and expressions of concern by highlevelUN representatives about religious and ethnicminorities were met with rebukes, protests, and evenvitriolic language from Rakhine State and national-levelofficials, as well as Buddhist monks.Buddhist – as well as several injuries and vandalizedproperty, including the burning of a mosque and severalQur’ans inside. The incident was spurred by a blogpost about an alleged rape, later proven to be fabricated,that was circulated online and posted to the Facebookpage of extremist monk U Ashin Wirathu. Notably, theviolence, which led to a city-wide curfew, could havebeen much worse had it not been for the efforts of theMandalay Peace Keeping Committee, a non-governmentalgroup comprised of religious and communityleaders of various faiths, and others who intervenedduring the riots to prevent the situation from deterioratingfurther. USCIRF visited Mandalay and met with thePeace Keeping Committee.Displacement from past inter-communal violencecontinues, including of Rohingya and other MuslimsInter-communal violence inMandalay in July 2014 resulted inthe deaths of two men – one Muslimand one Buddhist – as well as severalinjuries and vandalized property,including the burning of a mosqueand several Qur’ans inside.Religious Freedom Conditions 2014–2015Anti-Muslim Violence and the Plight ofRohingya MuslimsIn northern Rakhine State in January 2014, violencedirected at Rohingya Muslims resulted in the deathsof at least 40 people. The government’s investigationconcluded that only a policeman was killed in theviolence, effectively denying the civilian Rohingyadeaths despite detailed information provided byMédecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and others. MSF’srole in reporting publicly the killings contributedto its nearly year-long expulsion from Burma. Otherinternational organizations have had difficulty tryingto provide assistance to Rohingya Muslims in RakhineState, mostly due to the reactions of frustrated RakhineBuddhists who view such aid to Rohinga Muslimsas one-sided when the entire state faces poverty andlow development.Inter-communal violence in Mandalay in July 2014resulted in the deaths of two men – one Muslim and onethroughout Rakhine State since June 2012 and of bothMuslims and Buddhists in the city of Meiktila sinceMarch 2013. USCIRF’s visit to the camps for internallydisplaced persons in Meiktila revealed that muchprogress remains in finding a durable solution for bothcommunities.Rohingya Muslims in Burma face a unique levelof discrimination, disenfranchisement, and the denialof basic rights. The government denies them citizenship,which precludes them from ever attaining equalstatus in law or practice. They also are denied the rightto self-identify as Rohingya because many, includingthe government, claim that they are illegal “Bengali”immigrants. In fact, a partially implemented pilotverification program in Rakhine State forced RohingyaMuslims to identify as Bengali if they wanted to applyfor citizenship, or face indefinite confinement in campswith limited rights, mobility, and access to services.28USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


BURMAGovernment representatives at both the central leveland within Rakhine State have reacted strongly to theuse of the term Rohingya by the international community,particularly the United Nations. Rohingya Muslimsare also now among those who will be ineligible tovote in the constitutional referendum expected in May2015 and likely the general elections later in the year.More than 100,000 Rohingya are estimated to havefled Burma by boat since 2012, seeking a better life butoften facing trafficking, exploitation, and deplorableliving conditions.Abuses Targeting Ethnic Minority ChristiansPredominantly Christian areas, such as Kachin andChin States, continue to experience discriminatorypractices. Continuing the long-standing practice ofremoving crosses, in January 2015, the government ofChin State ordered the removal of a cross and soughtcharges against a Chin man they accuse of erectingit. Chin groups are among those publicly opposed tothe package of race and religion bills, noting that thereligious conversion bill would give Buddhist stateofficials the power to approve or disapprove religiousconversions even though the vast majority of the state’spopulation is Christian. In January 2015, two KachinChristian women who were volunteering as teacherswith the Kachin Baptist Convention were raped andmurdered in Shan State. At the time of this report’swriting, the police investigation was still ongoing; aninvestigation conducted by the Kachin Baptist Conventiondetermined villagers where the women livedwere not involved. Those in the Kachin communitybelieve the act was carried out by the Burmese army,which has used sexual and gender-based violence asweapons of war in ethnic areas in the past. Some havespeculated the two women may have been targetedbecause of their work as Christian missionaries. TheU.S. government was among the many voices callingon Burmese officials to investigate and bring the perpetratorsto justice.Religious Intolerance and Expressions of HateExpressions of intolerance toward Muslims by seniorpolitical and Buddhist leaders are on the rise in Burma,particularly among those who seek to advance anti-Muslimagendas of hate and discrimination. The growing useof social media to communicate messages of intolerancehas exacerbated tensions and encouraged violence. However,intolerance is not only limited to online platforms orattacks on Muslims; those rejecting anti-Muslim hatredand discrimination have also been targeted. For example,former National League for Democracy (NLD) officialHtin Lin Oo is facing criminal charges of religious defamationand hurting religious feelings for speaking out, inhis capacity as a writer, against religious nationalism andthe use of Buddhism for extremist purposes in a publicspeech at an October 2014 literary event. After drawingthe ire of Buddhist monks for allegedly insulting the faith,NLD relieved him of his position within the party and hewas formally detained and indicted in December 2014. Hefaces three years in jail.U.S. PolicyIn 2014, Burma chaired the Association of SoutheastAsian Nations (ASEAN). Owing to the United States’participation in the ASEAN Regional Forum and theEast Asia Summit, the year saw high-profile visits to thecountry by both President Obama and Secretary of StateExpressions of intolerance towardMuslims by senior political andBuddhist leaders are on the rise inBurma, particularly among thosewho seek to advance anti-Muslimagendas of hate and discrimination.John Kerry, as well as other high ranking U.S. governmentofficials. Human rights and religious freedomissues were regularly raised both publicly and privatelyby the Administration during these visits, includingPresident Obama’s trip in November 2014 and duringthe U.S.-Burma Human Rights Dialogue held in January2015. Ahead of President Obama’s visit, the Administrationannounced it was placing parliamentarian AungThaung on the list of “specially designated nationals”as a means to sanction him for his role in underminingreforms in Burma, including his assumed role in activitiesthat have inflamed religious and ethnic tensions,such as violence against Muslims.USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 29


The United States provides a variety of assistanceprograms to Burma, primarily in the areas of economicand democratic development. Although the U.S. armsembargo on Burma is still in effect, the Obama Administrationhas sought to begin military-to-militarycooperation. In response, the U.S. Congress put in placecongressional oversight of this cooperation throughthe National Defense Authorization Act of 2015, whichrestricts the Department of Defense’s engagement toareas such as human rights training programs andcooperation on humanitarian aid and disaster relief.Moreover, the 2015 Omnibus Spending Bill expresslyprohibits funding under foreign military financing andinternational military education and training. Criticshave suggested that military cooperation with Burma ispremature given that the military is still an entrenchedpart of the government and due to the ongoing militaryincursions into ethnic minority areas in the absence ofa nationwide ceasefire agreement.The U.S. government has designated Burma as aCPC since 1999, most recently in July 2014. The longstandingPresidential action for this designation, theexisting arms embargo referenced above, remains inplace. In USCIRF’s meetings in Naypyidaw during theAugust 2014 trip, parliamentarians inquired about thepossibility of Burma being removed from the CPC list.One of these same parliamentarians also directed thisquestion to the deputy minister for foreign affairs duringa debate in the Upper House in February 2015. However,the discussion centered on accusing the United Statesof trying to control Burma, rather than the steps thecountry could take to improve conditions for religiousfreedom. Although the debate mischaracterized theintent and purpose of the CPC designation, the fact thatit occurred indicates a certain discomfort with the classification.Burma’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, U WunnaMaung Lwin, conveyed a similar uneasiness with internationalscrutiny in his September 2014 address to theUN General Assembly, when he prematurely suggestedBurma has addressed “all major concerns related tohuman rights” and should be removed from the UNHuman Rights Council’s agenda.RecommendationsIn light of the lack of momentum on human rightsrelated reforms in Burma, the United States and theinternational community should continue to press thegovernment of Burma to prioritize religious freedomand related human rights. Respecting the rights anddignity of religious and ethnic minorities, particularlyRohingya Muslims, is critical to the reform process, andthe United States should continue to stress this consistentlyat every level of its engagement with Burma. Inaddition to recommending the U.S. government sustainpressure on the government of Burma at the highest levelsand continue to designate Burma as a CPC, USCIRFrecommends the U.S. government should:• Enter into a binding agreement with the governmentof Burma, as authorized under section 405(c)of IRFA, setting forth mutually-agreed commitmentsthat would foster critical reforms to improvereligious freedom and establish a pathway thatcould lead to Burma’s eventual removal from theCPC list, including but not limited to the following:• taking concrete steps to end violence and policiesof discrimination against religious and ethnicminorities, including the investigation andprosecution of those perpetrating or incitingviolence; and• lifting all restrictions inconsistent with internationalstandards on freedom of religion or belief;• Engage the government of Burma, the Buddhistcommunity and especially its leaders, and religiousminorities on issues of religious freedom,tolerance, inclusivity, and reconciliation to assistthem in promoting understanding among people ofdifferent religious faiths and to impress upon themthe dangers of de-linking political improvementsfrom improvements in religious tolerance andreligious freedom;• Use the term Rohingya, both publicly and privately,in respect for the Rohingya Muslim community’sright to identify as they choose;• Encourage crucial legal and legislative reform thatstrengthens protections for religious and ethnicminorities, including citizenship for the Rohingyapopulation through the review, amendment, orrepeal the 1982 Citizenship Law or some othermeans, and support the proper training of local30USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


BURMAgovernment officials, lawyers, judges, police, andsecurity forces tasked with implementing, enforcing,and interpreting the rule of law;• Continue to support the unconditional release ofall persons detained for the peaceful exercise ofreligious freedom and related human rights;• Continue to use the leverage of the “speciallydesignated nationals” list by the Treasury Department’sOffice of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) withrespect to individuals who have participated inhuman rights abuses, including religious freedomviolations, such as by instigating, carrying out,or supporting publicly anti-Muslim violence anddiscrimination;• Apply section 604(a) of IRFA to deny visas to oradmission into the United State by Burmese governmentofficials responsible for or known to havedirectly carried out particularly severe violations ofreligious freedom; and• Renew beyond May 2015 the designation of aNational Emergency with Respect to Burma pursuantto the International Emergency Economic PowersAct, 50 U.S.C. 1701-1706, based on the ongoingnature of intercommunal violence and humanitariancrises throughout Burma.USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 31


CHINA32USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


CHINAKey FindingsIn 2014, the Chinese government took steps to consolidatefurther its authoritarian monopoly of power overall aspects of its citizens’ lives. For religious freedom,this has meant unprecedented violations against UighurMuslims, Tibetan Buddhists, Catholics, Protestants,and Falun Gong practitioners. People of faith continueto face arrests, fines, denials of justice, lengthy prisonsentences, and in some cases, the closing or bulldozingof places of worship. Based on the alarming increasein systematic, egregious, and ongoing abuses, USCIRFagain recommends China be designated a “country ofparticular concern,” or CPC, under the InternationalReligious Freedom Act (IRFA). The State Department hasdesignated China as a CPC since 1999, most recently inJuly 2014.BackgroundThe Chinese Constitution states that it guaranteesfreedom of religion. However, only so-called “normalreligions” – those belonging to one of the fivestate-sanctioned “patriotic religious associations”associated with the five officially-recognized religions(Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism, and Protestantism)– can register with the government and legallyhold worship services and conduct religious activities.The government and Chinese Communist Party areofficially atheist, with more than 700 million personsunaffiliated with any religion or belief. However, religiousfollowers are strong and reportedly on the rise:more than 294 million practice folk religions, morethan 240 million Buddhism, 68 million Christianity,and nearly 25 million Islam. The Chinese governmentmonitors strictly religious activities, including by thoserecognized by the state, but unregistered groups andtheir members are especially vulnerable. For example,although Christianity is state-sanctioned, the governmentcontinues to engage in severe violations of religiousfreedom against both registered and unregisteredCatholics and Protestants. Some have characterizedthe new wave of persecution against Christians thatswept through China in 2014 as the most egregious andpersistent since the Cultural Revolution. Nevertheless,the number of religious followers, of Christianity in particular,is considered to be growing.In the name of fighting terrorism, Chinese officials’increased religious persecution of Uighur Muslimsin the autonomous region of Xinjiang has gone handin-handwith the growing number of violent episodesthere, creating a perpetual cycle of government repression,violent Uighur reprisals, and deadly force by theChinese police. Both central and regional governmentofficials have undertaken pre-emptive security andpunitive legal measures.The Chinese communist regime, which celebratedits 65th anniversary in October 2014, views ideologiesthat promote freedom of speech, civil society, genuinerule of law, and human rights as directly underminingPeople of faith continue toface arrests, fines, denials of justice,lengthy prison sentences, and in somecases, the closing or bulldozing ofplaces of worship.its control. As a result, all-around repression in Chinaworsened in 2014, including the government’s aggressivenessin controlling Tibet, Xinjiang, and even HongKong, as well as stricter controls on the Internet andsocial media and targeting of human rights defenders,civil society activists, journalists and academics.For example, Pu Zhiqiang, a prominent human-rightslawyer, was charged in June 2014 with creating a disturbance,inciting ethnic hatred, and separatism basedUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 33


on his postings on Sina Weibo, a popular blog service;he was detained just prior to the 25th anniversary ofthe Tiananmen Square incident. Other human rightsdefenders also face arbitrary detention, harassment,intimidation, or imprisonment. Another human rightslawyer, Gao Zhisheng, was finally released in August2014 but remains under constant surveillance and hasbeen denied freedom of movement to seek proper medicalcare or to be reunited with his family, who fled to theUnited States.Religious Freedom Conditions 2014–2015Uighur MuslimsOn May 25, 2014, just days after Uighur suicide bombingsat an Urumqi marketplace killed 39 people and injurednearly 100, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced acampaign against terrorism in Xinjiang that has led to awide-scale crackdown on religious expression. Hundredsor thousands of Uighur Muslims have been detained insecurity sweeps, and many prosecuted on charges of“endangering state security,” which potentially carrythe death penalty. Local authorities’ efforts to suppressso-called “religious extremism” also have resulted inUighur Muslims being detained and sentenced to jailfasted were arrested and detained. Also in 2014, a Chinesecourt sentenced Ilham Tohti, a respected Uighur Muslimscholar, to life in prison for alleged separatism. Centraland regional government authorities conflate religionwith extremism, assigning the terrorist label to all UighurMuslims in an attempt to justify their draconian andextrajudicial actions with what they assert is a legitimatewar against terrorism.Tibetan BuddhistsSince 2008, the Chinese government has imposed harshpolicies of repression on Buddhists across the Tibetanplateau, including harassment, imprisonment, andtorture. In March 2014, Goshul Lobsang died shortlyfollowing his release from prison after suffering extrememalnourishment and brutal torture, such as regularinjections and stabbings; he was imprisoned for his rolein organizing a protest in 2008. Also in 2014, religiousleader Khenpo Kartse was sentenced to two-and-ahalfyears in prison for allegedly protecting a fugitivemonk. The government’s campaign of repression alsohas involved the destruction of religious structuresand restrictions that have forced younger monks out ofmonasteries. Self-immolations have continued, and inCentral and regional government authorities conflate religion withextremism, assigning the terrorist label to all Uighur Muslimsin an attempt to justify their draconian and extrajudicial actionswith what they assert is a legitimate war against terrorism.for religious attire, unofficial publications of Islamicteachings, religious gatherings, and religious activities.In addition, during the year numerous mosques wereraided, “illegal” imams and religious personnel detainedor dismissed, and unofficial Islamic publications confiscated.In 2014, Xinjiang authorities again banned theobservance of Ramadan throughout that region, andreportedly enforced the ban more thoroughly than in pastyears. In some locations, local authorities forbade partyofficials and public servants from holding iftar dinnersbreaking the day’s fast or held festivities unrelated toRamadan as a test to determine if Muslims would complywith the fasting ban; in some cases, individuals whorecent years more than 130 Tibetan Buddhists, includingmonks and nuns, have set themselves on fire in actsof protest. Moreover, the Chinese government continuedits ongoing vilification of the Dalai Lama, includingaccusing him of seeking Tibetan independence, whichhe has repeatedly denied. While there were indicationsthe Chinese government may allow him to visit Tibet, itsinsistence on selecting the next Dalai Lama continuedto strain the relationship.Protestants and CatholicsIn a striking development, at least 400 churches weretorn down or had crosses forcibly removed and/or34USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


CHINAdemolished in 2014, a notable increase over previousyears. Most of these incidents occurred in Zhejiang Provinceand included both underground and state-sanctionedchurches, though incidents were reported in otherplaces as well. In Zhejiang Province, these actions can beattributed to the “Three Rectifications and One Demolition”campaign, the provincial government’s March 2013plan purportedly aimed at building code violations andillegal structures. Many religious believers in Zhejiang,particularly Christians, regarded the campaign asdirectly targeting their religion. The city of Wenzhou,home to China’s largest Christian community, known as“China’s Jerusalem,” saw a particularly high number ofdemolitions. Registered churches in Wenzhou also faceddemolitions, including the Protestant Wuai Church andthe Liushi and Longgangshan Catholic Churches. Ingeneral, conditions faced by registered and unregisteredchurches across the country vary widely and are oftensubject to the inconsistent discretion of local and/orprovincial officials.Leaders and members of both registered and unregisteredchurches have faced increased harassment and(In the past, China has refused to allow papal aircraft tofly through its airspace; it is common practice for sittingpopes to send messages to the countries over which theyfly.) However, shortly thereafter, a Chinese Foreign Ministryspokesperson reiterated calls for the Vatican to cut tieswith Taiwan and to stop interfering in China’s internalaffairs in the name of religion. Moreover, according to a2015 working plan of the State Administration of ReligiousAffairs, China still insists on electing and ordainingbishops completely independent of the Holy See.Falun GongThe year 2014 marked the 15th anniversary of theChinese government’s ban on Falun Gong, a practiceofficials consider to be an “evil cult.” In fact, FalunGong heads the expanded list of cults the governmentissued in 2014. Since the ban, Falun Gong practitionershave been imprisoned and subjected to torture, suchas psychiatric experiments and organ harvestingfrom executed prisoners. In October 2014, Falun Gongpractitioner Wang Zhiwen was released after 15 yearsin prison, but was immediately detained in what theLeaders and members of both registered and unregistered churcheshave faced increased harassment and arbitrary arrests.arbitrary arrests. Typically leaders of house churches aremore vulnerable to these types of charges, but in 2014pastors of sanctioned churches also faced detentionor arrest. The Chinese government generally claimedthese actions were to maintain social order, but therewere multiple reports that Christians and religiousactivists were unfairly targeted. In July 2014, PastorZhang Shaojie of the Nanle County Christian Church,a registered church in Henan Province, was convictedon trumped-up charges and sentenced to 12 years inprison. The government also began classifying housechurch leaders as alleged “cult” leaders.Pope Francis has opened the door for improved relationswith China, reportedly inviting President Xi Jinpingto the Vatican. Additionally, the Chinese governmentgranted the Pope permission to fly through Chinese airspacefollowing his January 2015 trip to the Philippines.Chinese government refers to as a “legal education center.”(In these centers, also referred to as brainwashingcenters, torture reportedly is common.) Although thisextrajudicial detention was temporary, his freedom ofmovement is still restricted, impacting his ability to seekproper medical treatment for the effects of the torturehe endured while in prison. Li Chang, Yu Changxin andJi Liewu are among the countless Falun Gong practitionerswho remain imprisoned. While China in 2014reportedly ended its deplorable system of “re-educationthrough labor,” a form of extrajudicial detention used formany Falun Gong practitioners, other forms of extralegaldetention remain, including secretive “black jails.”Targeting of “Cults”Under Article 300 of China’s Criminal Law, those whoparticipate in so-called “superstitious sects or secretUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 35


societies or weird religious organizations” or othersimilar activity are subject to imprisonment. In 2014, theChinese government took its broadest steps yet to designateand criminalize some groups as ‘‘cult organizations.”On June 3, 2014, the government published a listof 20 “cults” and began a sweeping crackdown againstthese organizations. House churches were targetedbecause they lack any official protection. In September2014, more than 100 Christians were arrested duringa raid on a house church in Foshan City, GuangdongProvince, with eyewitnesses claiming that more than200 officials took part in the raid. As part of the “anticult”effort, China’s government issued a directive to“eradicate” unregistered churches over the course of thenext decade, resulting in unregistered church membersfacing an increased number of arrests, fines, and churchclosures in 2014.Forced Repatriation of North Korean RefugeesThe release in 2014 of the report of the UN Commissionof Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’sRepublic of Korea (COI) brought swift and sustainedinternational condemnation of North Korea’s abysmalhuman rights record. China fared little better in thereport’s findings due to its longstanding position thatNorth Koreans entering China without permission areeconomic migrants ineligible for refugee status. TheCOI found that North Koreans repatriated from Chinaexperience persecution, torture, arbitrary detentions,and other unspeakable atrocities. By undertakingforced repatriations, the COI determined that Chinaviolates its international obligations regarding theprinciple of non-refoulement. At the 69th session of theUN General Assembly in fall 2014, China was one ofthe few countries to side with North Korea during bothdebates and votes on a resolution condemning NorthKorea’s human rights record. The resolution expressedconcern about the violations documented in the COIreport, including religious freedom violations, andnoted the ill-treatment of North Koreans repatriatedfrom other countries.U.S. PolicyThere are several strategic bilateral and multilateralissues that influence the U.S.-China relationship. Forexample, the ongoing maritime territorial disputes inthe East China and South China Seas impact how thetwo countries relate to one another as well as with otherregional stakeholders in East and Southeast Asia. Therelationship is also influenced by the Obama Administration’sAsia “pivot” or “rebalance”, particularly onissues such as trade, the economy, military, and commerce.Mistrust exists on both sides: China is skepticalof U.S. intentions on Taiwan, the Dalai Lama, and theTrans-Pacific Partnership; and the United States is waryof Chinese cyber-espionage, military modernization,and troubling human rights record. As the United Statesseeks to integrate China more fully into a rules-basedglobal economy, China continues to tightly control itsdomestic and foreign markets, and tension between thetwo countries remains in their trade relationship.In a noteworthy example of cooperation betweenthe two powers on a global issue, the United States andChina in November 2014 announced a joint agreementto reduce carbon and other emissions in an unprecedentedclimate change and clean energy plan.The United States approaches foreign assistance toChina as a means to support programs that protect U.S.interests, such as promoting human rights and the ruleof law, supporting environmental protection, addressingpandemic diseases, and assisting Tibetan communities.These programs are primarily administered through theState Department and the U.S. Agency for InternationalDevelopment through its regional mission in Bangkok,as well as other U.S. agencies. The Chinese governmentremains suspicious of any foreign funding, particularlysupport to local non-governmental organizations.The regular meetings of the U.S.-China Strategicand Economic Dialogue (S&ED) provide another avenuefor cooperation and frank discussion between the twocountries. At the sixth session of the S&ED held in July2014, Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly raisedhuman rights concerns in a number of discussions,including the issues of religious freedom and repressionof ethnic minorities in Tibet and Xinjiang, noting thelinkages between human rights and counterterrorism.The United States has raised a number of humanrights issues with China both publicly and privately,including individual cases. However, human rights advocatesurge the United States to do more, and to do so publicly.The United States has publicly expressed concernon several key issues, including: government censorship36USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


CHINAand crackdowns on press freedoms and free speech,including on the Internet and social media, and oftenunder the rubric of fighting terrorism; the denial of rightsto ethnic and religious minorities; excessive detentionsand arrests; and Beijing’s proposed counterterrorism lawand its potential impact on U.S. technology companies.In return, the Chinese government has criticized humanrights in the United States in light of racial tensions andthe release of the U.S. Senate report on torture.China regularly condemns U.S. reports critical of itsreligious freedom and human rights record, includingthe CPC designation assigned by the State Departmentsince 1999. Secretary Kerry re-designated China as aCPC in July 2014, thereby also extended the existingsanctions under section 423 of IRFA relating to exportsof certain items.RecommendationsThe U.S.-China relationship is complex, nuanced, andcontinuously impacted by ever-changing bilateral andglobal dynamics. Navigating diplomacy within this ebband flow is challenging, but this underscores the importanceof delivering a consistent, recurring message onreligious freedom and related human rights in China.In addition to recommending the U.S. government continueto designate China as a CPC, USCIRF recommendsthe U.S. government should:• Continue to raise consistently religious freedomconcerns at the U.S.- China Strategic and EconomicDialogue and other high-level bilateral meetingswith Chinese leaders, encourage Chinese authoritiesto refrain from conflating peaceful religiousactivity with terrorism or threats to state security,and use the U.S.-China Human Rights Dialogue asa mechanism to further high-level discussions andreach concrete agreements;• Urge the Chinese government to release prisonersof conscience who have been detained, sentenced,or placed under house arrest for the peaceful exerciseof their faith, and continue to raise individualprisoner cases;• Initiate a “whole-of-government” approach tohuman rights diplomacy with China in which theState Department and National Security Councilstaff develop a human rights action plan for implementationacross all U.S. government agenciesand entities, including developing targeted talkingpoints and prisoner lists, and providing support forall U.S. delegations visiting China;• Increase staff attention to U.S. human rights diplomacyand the rule of law, including the promotionof religious freedom, at the U.S. Embassy in Beijingand U.S. consulates in China, including by gatheringthe names of specific officials and state agencieswho perpetrate religious freedom abuses;• As permitted by IRFA and to more directly conveyU.S. concerns about severe religious freedom violationsin China, impose targeted travel bans andother penalties on specific officials who perpetratereligious freedom abuses;• Press China to uphold its international obligationsto protect North Korean asylum seekers crossing itsborders, including by allowing the UN High Commissionerfor Refugees (UNHCR) and internationalhumanitarian organizations to assist them and byending repatriations, which are in violation of the1951 Refugee Convention and Protocol and/or theConvention Against Torture; and• Encourage the Broadcasting Board of Governors touse appropriated funds to advance Internet freedomand protect Chinese activists by supportingthe development and accessibility of new technologiesand programs to counter censorship.USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 37


ERITREA38USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


ERITREAKey FindingsSystematic, ongoing, and egregious religious freedomviolations continue in Eritrea. Violations includetorture or other ill-treatment of religious prisoners,arbitrary arrests and detentions without charges, aprolonged ban on public religious activities, and interferencein the internal affairs of registered religiousgroups. The religious freedom situation is particularlygrave for Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians andJehovah’s Witnesses. The government dominates theinternal affairs of the Orthodox Church of Eritrea, thecountry’s largest Christian denomination, and suppressesMuslim religious activities and those opposedto the government-appointed head of the Muslimcommunity. In light of these violations, USCIRF againrecommends in 2015 that Eritrea be designated as a“country of particular concern,” or CPC, under theInternational Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). Sinceof Eritreans are imprisoned for their real or imaginedopposition to the government, and torture and forcedlabor are extensive. No private newspapers, politicalopposition parties, or independent non-governmentalorganizations exist, and independent public gatheringsare prohibited. The government requires all physicallyandmentally-capable people between the ages of 18and 70 to perform national service, including militarytraining and/or service, which is full time and indefinite.The national service requirement does not includea provision or alternative for conscientious objectors.Persons who fail to participate in the national serviceare detained, sentenced to hard labor, abused, and havetheir legal documents confiscated.In 2002, the government increased its control overreligion by imposing a registration requirement on allreligious groups other than the four officially-recognizedreligions: the Coptic Orthodox Church of Eritrea;President Isaias and his circle maintainabsolute authority and suppress all independent activity.Thousands of Eritreans are imprisoned for their real orimagined opposition to the government, and torture andforced labor are extensive.2004, USCIRF has recommended, and the StateDepartment has designated, Eritrea as a CPC, mostrecently in July 2014.BackgroundPresident Isaias Afwerki and the Popular Front forDemocracy and Justice (PFDJ) have ruled Eritrea sincethe country gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993.President Isaias and his circle maintain absolute authorityand suppress all independent activity. ThousandsSunni Islam; the Roman Catholic Church; and theEvangelical Church of Eritrea, a Lutheran-affiliateddenomination. The requirements mandated that thenon-preferred religious communities provide detailedinformation about their finances, membership, activities,and benefit to the country.There are no reliable statistics of religious affiliationin Eritrea. The Pew Charitable Trust estimates thatOrthodox Christians comprise approximately 57 percentof the population, Muslims 36 percent, Roman Catholics4 percent, and Protestants, including EvangelicalUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 39


Lutherans, Baptists, Presbyterians, Jehovah’s Witnesses,Pentecostals, and others, 1 percent.No religious group has been registered sincethe registration requirement was imposed in 2002,although the Baha’i community, Presbyterian Church,Methodist Church, and Seventh-day Adventists haveall submitted the required applications when the registrationlaw was first enacted. As a result of the registrationrequirement and the government’s inaction onapplications, unregistered religious communities lacka legal basis on which to practice their faiths publicly,including holding services or weddings. The government’scampaign against religious activities by personsbelonging to unregistered denominations frequentlytargets Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians andJehovah’s Witnesses, the latter of whom are deniedcitizenship by an October 1994 Presidential Decree.Eritrean security forces routinely arrest followers ofthese faiths, including at clandestine prayer meetingsand religious ceremonies.Religious Freedom Conditions 2014-2015Torture and Other AbusesThe government regularly tortures and beats politicaland religious prisoners, however, religious prisonersare sent to the harshest prisons and receive some of thecruelest punishments. Released religious prisoners havereported to USCIRF and other human rights monitorsthat they were confined in crowded conditions, such asin 20-foot metal shipping containers or undergroundaccorded due process, or allowed family visits. Prisonersare not permitted to pray aloud, sing, or preach, andreligious books are banned.Religious PrisonersThe government continued to arrest and detain followersof unregistered religious communities. Whilethe country’s closed nature makes exact numbersdifficult to determine, recent estimates suggest 1,200to 3,000 persons are imprisoned on religious groundsin Eritrea, the vast majority of whom are Evangelicalor Pentecostal Christians. Reports of torture andother abuses of religious prisoners as described abovecontinue. Known religious prisoners include: the government-deposedEritrean Orthodox Patriarch AbuneAntonios, who protested government interference inhis church’s affairs and has been under house arrestsince 2007; 64 Jehovah’s Witnesses detained withouttrial, including three who have been imprisoned formore than 20 years (see list in appendix); more than180 Muslims detained for opposing the state’s appointmentof the Mufti of the Eritrean Muslim community;and other reformist members of the Orthodox clergy.During the past year, there were reports of deaths ofreligious prisoners who were denied medical care orsubjected to other ill treatment.Repressive EnvironmentThe government controls the internal affairs of the fourrecognized religions, including appointing religiousThe government’s campaign against religious activitiesby persons belonging to unregistered denominationsfrequently targets Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians andJehovah’s Witnesses, the latter of whom aredenied citizenship by an October 1994 Presidential Decree.barracks, and subjected to extreme temperature fluctuations.Evangelicals and Pentecostals released fromprison report being pressured to recant their faith inorder to be freed. Persons detained for religious activities,in both short-term and long-term detentions, arenot formally charged, permitted access to legal counsel,leaders and controlling religious activities. The recognizedgroups are required to submit activity reportsto the government every six months. Since December2010, the Eritrean Department of Religious Affairs hasreportedly instructed these groups to not accept fundsfrom co-religionists abroad, an order with which the40USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


ERITREAEritrean Orthodox Church reportedly said it wouldnot comply. Despite community protests, the Departmentof Religious Affairs also appoints the Mufti of theEritrean Muslim community and hundreds of Muslimswho protested this appointment remain imprisoned.In a reversal of policy, in 2010 the Eritrean governmentbegan requiring all clergy, including those from registeredreligious communities, to participate in nationalmilitary service regardless of their conscientiousobjections to such service. In this reporting period,USCIRF received reports that Eritrean officials visitingthe United States pressured diaspora members onlyto attend Eritrean government-approved Orthodoxchurches in this country.U.S. PolicyRelations between the United States and Eritrea remainpoor. The U.S. government has long expressed concernabout Eritrea’s human rights practices and its activitiesin the region, including its longstanding conflict withEthiopia. The government of Eritrea expelled USAIDin 2005, and U.S. programs in the country ended inin the country. The Commission has not been allowedinto Eritrea to conduct its research, but has beenmeeting with Eritrean diaspora, refugees, experts, andhuman rights activists outside of the country. Its finalreport is due in June 2015.The State Department designated Eritrea a CPCunder IRFA in September 2004. When renewing the CPCdesignation in September 2005 and January 2009, theState Department announced the denial of commercialexport to Eritrea of defense articles and servicescovered by the Arms Export Control Act, with someitems exempted. The Eritrean government subsequentlyintensified its repression of unregistered religiousgroups with a series of arrests and detentions of clergyand ordinary members of the affected groups. The StateDepartment most recently re-designated Eritrea as aCPC in July 2014, and continued the presidential actionof the arms embargo, although since 2011 this has beenunder the auspices of UN Security Council resolution1907 (see below).U.S. policy toward Eritrea is also concentratedon the country’s activities to destabilize the Horn ofThe U.S. government has long expressed concern aboutEritrea’s human rights practices. . .fiscal year 2006. Eritrea receives no U.S. development,humanitarian, or security assistance. Since 2010, thegovernment has refused to accredit a new U.S. ambassadorto the country; in response the U.S. governmentrevoked the credentials of the Eritrean ambassador tothe United States.U.S. government officials routinely raise religiousfreedom abuses when speaking about human rightsconditions in Eritrea. The United States was a co-sponsorof a 2012 UN Human Rights Council resolution thatsuccessfully created the position of Special Rapporteuron the situation of human rights in Eritrea. InJuly 2014, the United States supported the creation ofa Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritreato investigate systematic violations of human rights,recommend how to improve conditions and ensureaccountability, and raise awareness of the situationAfrica. In December 2009, the United States joineda 13-member majority on the UN Security Councilin adopting Resolution 1907, sanctioning Eritrea forsupporting armed groups in Somalia and failing towithdraw its forces from the Eritrean-Djibouti borderfollowing clashes with Djibouti. The sanctions includean arms embargo, travel restrictions, and asset freezeson the Eritrean government’s political and militaryleaders, as well as other individuals designated by theSecurity Council’s Committee on Somalia Sanctions.In April 2010, President Obama announced ExecutiveOrder 13536 blocking the property and propertyinterests of several individuals for their financingof al-Shabaab in Somalia, including Yemane Ghebreab,the former head of political affairs and senioradvisor on Somali issues for the Eritrean president.In December 2011, the United States voted in favor ofUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 41


in 22 CFR 126.1(a), USCIRF recommends that the U.S.government should:• Continue to use diplomatic channels to urge thegovernment of Eritrea to: release unconditionallyand immediately detainees held on account of theirpeaceful religious activities, including OrthodoxPatriarch Abune Antonios; implement theconstitutional guarantees of freedom of thought,conscience, and religion; institute a voluntaryregistration process for religious groups andpromptly register those groups that comply with therequirements issued in 2002; and extend an officialinvitation for visits by the Commission of Inquiryon Human Rights in Eritrea, Special Rapporteur on. . . use diplomatic channels to urge the government of Eritrea to:release unconditionally and immediately detainees held onaccount of their peaceful religious activities, includingOrthodox Patriarch Abune Antonios . . .UN Security Council Resolution 2023, which calls onUN member states to implement Resolution 1907’ssanctions and ensure that their dealings with Eritrea’smining industry do not support activities which woulddestabilize the region.UN resolution 1907 also condemns Eritrea’stwo-percent tax on Eritreans living outside of thecountry, which it noted is used “for purposes such asprocuring arms and related materiel for transfer toarmed opposition groups.” The Eritrean governmentrelies heavily on this tax to boost its poor economyand fund national defense. U.S. government officials,the UN Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group, andEritrean diaspora in the United States and other countriesreport that those who refuse to pay are subject tothreats, intimidation, and coercion, and their familiesin Eritrea are also harassed. In 2011, the United Kingdomsuspended collection of this tax stating that itmay contravene the Vienna Convention on DiplomaticRelations. In 2012 the Eritrean consulate in Ottawa,Canada agreed to stop collecting the tax after Canadianthreats to remove the Eritrean Ambassador. This movecorresponds with Canadian efforts to make it illegal tofinance the Eritrean military in compliance with UNSCResolution 1907. The Netherlands and Germany arealso considering ending the collection of the diasporatax within their territories.RecommendationsIn response to the policies and practices of Eritrea’s government,the U.S. government should press for immediateimprovements to end religious freedom violationsin Eritrea and advance religious freedom throughsanctions and other bilateral and multilateral efforts.In addition to recommending that the U.S. governmentshould continue to designate Eritrea as a CPC and maintainingthe existing, ongoing arms embargo referencedhuman rights in Eritrea, the UN Special Rapporteuron Freedom of Religion or Belief, the UN WorkingGroup on Arbitrary Detention and InternationalRed Cross;• Work to limit the Eritrean government’s ability tolevy and forcibly collect a diaspora tax on Eritreansliving in the United States by imposing visas banson Eritrean officials who violate UN resolution 1907and/or engage in human rights abuses related to thecollection of the diaspora tax in the United States,and partner with other countries with Eritreandiaspora communities to ban similar forced taxes;• Encourage unofficial dialogue with Eritreanauthorities on religious freedom issues by promotinga visit by U.S. and international religiousleaders to facilitate dialogue with all of Eritrea’sreligious communities, and expand the use ofeducational and cultural exchanges, such as theFulbright Program, the International Visitor Program,and lectures by visiting American scholarsand experts;42USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


ERITREA• Work with other nations, especially those withmining interests in Eritrea and large Eritrean diasporacommunities, to draw attention to religiousfreedom abuses in Eritrea and advocate for theunconditional and immediate release of religiousprisoners, including Orthodox Patriarch AbuneAntonios; and• Increase assistance to the Office of the UN HighCommissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and nongovernmentalorganizations to provide support toEritrean refugees with psychosocial needs due totorture and other ill-treatment.USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 43


IRANKey FindingsPoor religious freedom conditions continued to deterioratein 2014, particularly for religious minorities,especially Baha’is, Christian converts, and SunniMuslims. Sufi Muslims and dissenting Shi’a Muslimsalso faced harassment, arrests, and imprisonment. SincePresident Hassan Rouhani assumed office in August2013, the number of individuals from religious minoritycommunities who are in prison because of their beliefshas increased. The government of Iran continues toengage in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violationsof religious freedom, including prolonged detention,torture, and executions based primarily or entirely uponthe religion of the accused. While Iran’s clerical establishmentcontinued to express anti-Semitic sentiments,the level of anti-Semitic rhetoric from governmentofficials has diminished over the past year. Since 1999,the State Department has designated Iran as a “countryof particular concern,” or CPC, under the InternationalReligious Freedom Act (IRFA), most recently in July 2014.USCIRF again recommends in 2015 that Iran be designateda CPC.BackgroundThe Islamic Republic of Iran is a constitutional, theocraticrepublic that proclaims the Twelver (Shi’a) JaafariSchool of Islam to be the official religion of the country.The constitution recognizes Christians, Jews, and Zoroastriansas protected religious minorities, and five seatsin the parliament are reserved for these groups (two forArmenian Christians, one for Assyrian Christians, andone each for Jews and Zoroastrians). Nevertheless, thegovernment of Iran discriminates against its citizens onthe basis of religion or belief, as all laws and regulationsare based on unique Shi’a Islamic criteria. Since the1979 revolution, many members of minority religiouscommunities have fled in fear of persecution. Killings,arrests, and physical abuse of detainees have increasedin recent years, including for religious minorities andMuslims who dissent or express views perceived asthreatening the government’s legitimacy. The governmentcontinues to use its religious laws to silencereformers, including human rights defenders and journalists,for exercising their internationally-protectedrights to freedom of expression and religion or belief.Since his June 2013 election, President HassanRouhani has not delivered on his campaign promises tostrengthen civil liberties for religious minorities. Physicalattacks, harassment, detention, arrests, and imprisonmentcontinued. Even some of the constitutionally-recognizednon-Muslim minorities – Jews, ArmenianSince President Hassan Rouhaniassumed office in August 2013,the number of individuals fromreligious minority communitieswho are in prison because of theirbeliefs has increased.and Assyrian Christians, and Zoroastrians – faceharassment, intimidation, discrimination, arrests, andimprisonment. Some majority Shi’a and minority SunniMuslims, including clerics who dissent, were intimidated,harassed, and detained. Dissidents and humanrights defenders were increasingly subject to abuse andseveral were sentenced to death and even executed forthe capital crime of “enmity against God.”Religious Freedom Conditions 2014–2015MuslimsOver the past few years, the Iranian government hasimposed harsh prison sentences on prominent reformersfrom the Shi’a majority community. AuthoritiesUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 45


charged many of these reformers with “insulting Islam,”criticizing the Islamic Republic, and publishing materialsthat allegedly deviate from Islamic standards.Dissident Shi’a cleric Ayatollah Mohammad KazemeniBoroujerdi continued to serve an 11-year prison sentence,and the government has banned him from practicinghis clerical duties and confiscated his home andbelongings. He has suffered physical and mental abusewhile in prison. According to an October 2014 UN reporton human rights in Iran, some 150 Sunni Muslims arein prison on charges related to their beliefs and religiousactivities. More than 30 are on death row after havingbeen convicted of “enmity against God” in unfair judicialproceedings. Leaders from the Sunni communityhave been unable to build a mosque in Tehran and havesevere religious freedom violations. The governmentviews Baha’is, who number at least 300,000, as “heretics”and consequently they face repression on the grounds ofapostasy. Since 1979, authorities have killed or executedmore than 200 Baha’i leaders, and more than 10,000have been dismissed from government and universityjobs. Although the Iranian government maintainspublicly that Baha’is are free to attend university, the defacto policy of preventing Baha’is from obtaining highereducation remains in effect. Approximately 750 Baha’ishave been arbitrarily arrested since 2005.As of February 2015, there are more than 100Baha’is being held in prison solely because of theirreligious beliefs. These include seven Baha’i leaders –Fariba Kamalabadi, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naemi,. . . President Hassan Rouhani has not delivered on hiscampaign promises to strengthen civil liberties for religious minorities.reported widespread abuses and restrictions on theirreligious practice, including detentions and harassmentof clerics and bans on Sunni teachings in public schools.Iranian authorities have destroyed Sunni religious literatureand mosques in eastern Iran.Iran’s government also continued to harassand arrest members of the Sufi Muslim community,including prominent leaders from the NematollahiGonabadi Order, while increasing restrictions onplaces of worship and destroying Sufi prayer centersand hussainiyas (meeting halls). Over the past year,authorities have detained hundreds of Sufis, sentencingmany to imprisonment, fines, and floggings. InMay 2014, approximately 35 Sufis were convicted ontrumped-up charges related to their religious activitiesand given sentences ranging from three months to fouryears in prison. Another 10 Sufi activists were eitherserving prison terms or had cases pending againstthem. Iranian state television regularly airs programsdemonizing Sufism.Baha’isThe Baha’i community, the largest non-Muslim religiousminority in Iran, long has been subject to particularlySaeid Rezaie, Mahvash Sabet, Behrouz Tavakkoli,and Vahid Tizfahm – as well as Baha’i educators andadministrators affiliated with the Baha’i Institutefor Higher Education. Over the past year, dozens ofBaha’is were arrested throughout the country, includingin Tehran, Isfahan, Mashhad, and Shiraz. Violentincidents targeting Baha’is and their property continued.In February 2014, three Baha’is were stabbedand nearly killed in a religious hate crime. No one hasbeen charged. In April 2014, Iranian authorities begandestroying a historic Baha’i cemetery in Shiraz. InOctober 2014, nearly 80 Baha’i-owned shops in KermanProvince were forcibly closed. In 2014, pro-governmentprint and online media outlets published nearly 4,000anti-Baha’i articles, a significant increase from recentyears. The government’s draft Citizens’ Rights Charter,released in November 2013, includes protections forthe recognized minorities but excludes Baha’is fromany legal protections.ChristiansOver the past year, there were numerous incidents ofIranian authorities raiding church services, threateningchurch members, and arresting and imprisoning46USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


IRANworshipers and church leaders, particularly EvangelicalChristian converts. Since 2010, authorities arbitrarilyarrested and detained more than 500 Christians throughoutthe country. As of February 2015, approximately 90Christians were either in prison, detained, or awaitingtrial because of their religious beliefs and activities.During the reporting period, human rights groupsinside Iran reported a significant increase in the numberof physical assaults and beatings of Christians in prison.Some activists believe the assaults, which have beendirected against converts who are leaders of undergroundhouse churches, are meant to intimidate otherswho may wish to convert to Christianity. In December2014, authorities raided a number of private Christmasservices and arrested more than a dozen churchmembers in Tehran. In October 2014, three Christianconverts – Silas Rabbani, Abdolreza Haghnejad, andBehnam Irani – were sentenced to six years in prison inremote parts of the country for bogus charges of “actionagainst national security” and “creating a network tooverthrow the system.” In December, the sentenceswere dropped against the three and Rabbani and Haghnejadwere released. Irani continues to serve a separatesix year sentence. Christian convert Farshid Fathi, whowas arrested in 2010 and sentenced in 2012 to six yearsin prison for his religious activities, was beaten by securityofficials and injured during a April 2014 raid at EvinPrison. In August, he was transferred to Rajai ShahrPrison outside Tehran and in December he was given anadditional one-year prison sentence in connection withthe April prison raid.Iranian-born American pastor Saeed Abedinicontinues to serve an eight-year prison term after beingconvicted in 2013 for “threatening the national securityof Iran” for his activity in the Christian house churchmovement. While in Evin Prison since September 2012,Pastor Abedini spent several weeks in solitary confinementand was physically and psychologically abused. InNovember 2013, he was transferred to the Rajai ShahrPrison, which is known for its harsh and unsanitaryconditions. In March 2014, prison authorities beat PastorAbedini after which he was hospitalized for nearly twomonths to receive treatment for the injuries sustainedfrom the beatings. In May 2014, Pastor Abedini wasbeaten a second time when he was released from thehospital and returned to prison.Jews and ZoroastriansAlthough not as pronounced as in previous years, thegovernment continued to propagate anti-Semitism andtarget members of the Jewish community on the basis ofreal or perceived “ties to Israel.” In 2014, high-level clericscontinued to make anti-Semitic remarks in mosques,and the government reinstated a Holocaust denialconference, which had been cancelled in 2013. Numerousprograms broadcast on state-run television advanceanti-Semitic messages. Official government discriminationagainst Jews continues to be pervasive, fosteringa threatening atmosphere for the approximately 20,000member Jewish community. In a positive development,as of February 2015, the government no longer requiresJewish students to attend classes on the Sabbath. Inrecent years, members of the Zoroastrian community– numbering between 30,000 and 35,000 people – havecome under increasing repression and discrimination.At least four Zoroastrians convicted in 2011 for propagandaof their faith, blasphemy, and other trumped-upcharges remain in prison.Human Rights Defenders and JournalistsIranian authorities regularly detain and harass journalists,bloggers, and human rights defenders who say orwrite anything critical of the Islamic revolution or theIn the past year, an increasingnumber of human rights lawyerswho defended Baha’is andChristians in court were imprisonedor fled the country.Iranian government. In the past year, an increasing numberof human rights lawyers who defended Baha’is andChristians in court were imprisoned or fled the country.U.S. PolicyThe U.S. government has not had formal diplomatic relationswith the government of Iran since 1980, althoughthe United States has participated in negotiations withIran over the country’s nuclear program as part of thegroup of countries known as the P5+1 (China, France,USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 47


Russia, United Kingdom, United States and Germany).U.S. law prohibits nearly all trade with Iran. The UnitedStates has imposed sanctions on Iran because of itssponsorship of terrorism, refusal to comply with InternationalAtomic Energy Agency regulations regardingits nuclear program, and for severe human rights andreligious freedom violations. According to the StateDepartment, these sanctions are intended to target theIranian government, not the people of Iran.On July 1, 2010, President Barack Obama signedinto law CISADA, the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions,Accountability, and Divestment Act (P.L. 111-195),which highlights Iran’s serious human rights violations,including suppression of religious freedom. CISADArequires the President to submit to Congress a list ofIranian government officials or persons acting ontheir behalf responsible for human rights and religiousfreedom abuses, bars their entry into the United States,and freezes their assets. In August 2012, the Presidentsigned into law the Iran Threat Reduction and SyriaHuman Rights Act of 2012 (H.R. 1905 / P.L. 112-239),which enhances the scope of human rights-relatedsanctions contained in CISADA. Issuing its first sanctionfor human rights abuses since President Rouhani’selection in June 2013, the U.S. Treasury Department onMay 23, 2014 announced sanctions against the formergovernor of Tehran and current head of the Tehran ProvincialPublic Security Council, Morteza Tamaddon, forbeing involved in censorship and other activities limitingthe freedoms of expression and assembly. Duringhis tenure as governor, Tamaddon orchestrated in2011 a series of coordinated arrests and abuses againstChristian converts.During the past year, U.S. policy on human rightsand religious freedom in Iran included a combination ofpublic statements, multilateral activity, and the impositionof unilateral sanctions on Iranian government officialsand entities for human rights violations. During thereporting period, high-level U.S. officials in multilateralfora and through public statements urged the Iraniangovernment to respect its citizens’ human rights, includingthe right to religious freedom. In December 2014,for the 12th year in a row, the U.S. government co-sponsoredand supported a successful UN General Assemblyresolution on human rights in Iran, which passed 78 to35, with 69 abstentions. The resolution condemned theIranian government’s poor human rights record, includingits religious freedom violations and continued abusestargeting religious minorities.During the year, President Obama and Secretaryof State John Kerry used public occasions to call for therelease of Iranian-American pastor Saeed Abedini. Inearly February 2015, the President called for Mr. Abedini’srelease at the National Prayer Breakfast. In January,President Obama met with Naghmeh Abedini, Mr.Abedini’s wife, and stated that securing her husband’srelease was a “top priority.”On July 28, 2014, the Secretary of State re-designatedIran as a country of particular concern. TheSecretary designated the following Presidential Actionfor Iran: “the existing ongoing travel restrictions basedon serious human rights abuses under section 221(a)(1)(C) of the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria HumanRights Act of 2012, pursuant to section 402(c)(5) of theAct.” The previous designation made in 2011 cited aprovision under CISADA as the Presidential Action. TheIran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act doesnot contain a specific provision citing religious freedomviolations as CISADA does.RecommendationsIn addition to recommending that the U.S. governmentshould continue to designate Iran as a CPC, USCIRFrecommends that the U.S. government should:• Ensure that violations of freedom of religion orbelief and related human rights are part of multilateralor bilateral discussions with the Iraniangovernment whenever possible, and continue towork closely with European and other allies to applypressure through a combination of advocacy, diplomacy,and targeted sanctions;• Continue to speak out publicly and frequently at thehighest levels about the severe religious freedomabuses in Iran, press for and work to secure therelease of all prisoners of conscience, and highlightthe need for the international community to holdauthorities accountable in specific cases;• Continue to identify Iranian government agenciesand officials responsible for severe violations of religiousfreedom, freeze those individuals’ assets, andbar their entry into the United States, as delineated48USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


IRANunder the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability,and Divestment Act of 2010 (CISADA);• Call on Iran to cooperate fully with the UN SpecialRapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in Iran,including allowing the Special Rapporteur – as wellas the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religionor Belief – to visit, and continue to support anannual UN General Assembly resolution condemningsevere violations of human rights, includingfreedom of religion or belief, in Iran and calling forofficials responsible for such violations to be heldaccountable; and• Use appropriated funds to advance Internet freedomand protect Iranian activists by supporting thedevelopment and accessibility of new technologiesand programs to counter censorship and to facilitatethe free flow of information in and out of Iran.The U.S. Congress should:• Reauthorize the Lautenberg Amendment, whichaids persecuted Iranian religious minorities andother specified groups seeking refugee status inthe United States, and work to provide the Presidentwith permanent authority to designate as refugeesspecifically-defined groups based on sharedcharacteristics identifying them as targets forpersecution on account of race, religion, nationality,membership in a particular social group, orpolitical opinion.USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 49


NORTH KOREA50USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


NORTH KOREAKey FindingsNorth Korea remains one of the most oppressiveregimes in the world and among the worst violatorsof human rights. The government tightly controls allpolitical and religious expression and activities, andit punishes those who question the regime. Genuinefreedom of religion or belief is non-existent. Individualssecretly engaging in religious activities are subject toarrest, torture, imprisonment, and sometimes execution.North Koreans suspected of contacts with SouthKoreans or with foreign missionaries, particularly inChina, or caught possessing Bibles, reportedly havebeen executed. Thousands of religious believers andtheir families are imprisoned in labor camps, includingthose forcibly repatriated from China. While it ischallenging to document the full scope and scale of thegovernment’s repression of religious freedom, growingits people with the Juche ideology, the Kim family cult ofpersonality, which requires absolute obedience to theKim family and to the overall state. This pseudo-religious,socialist mentality suppresses the expression of individualizedthought, belief, and behavior. North Korea hastraditions of Buddhism and Confucianism, and beforethe Korean War had a sizeable Christian population,earning Pyongyang the nickname “the Jerusalem ofAsia.” Today, reliable figures of religious adherents aredifficult to obtain. Although the constitution purports togrant freedom of religious belief, it requires approvals forthe construction of religious buildings and the holdingof religious ceremonies. North Korea classifies familiesbased on their expressions of loyalty to the state, a systemknown as songbun. Religious believers are assigned to thelowest ratings, making them vulnerable to harassmentand persecution. Anyone caught violating the state’s strictThousands of religious believers and their families areimprisoned in labor camps,including those forcibly repatriated from China.information available through firsthand accounts fromdefectors and refugees makes it clear that the violationstaking place are systematic, ongoing, and egregious.Thus, USCIRF again recommends in 2015 that NorthKorea be designated a “country of particular concern,”or CPC, under the International Religious Freedom Act(IRFA). The State Department has designated NorthKorea a CPC since 2001, most recently in July 2014.BackgroundNorth Korea has long maintained absolute controlthrough systematic repression and the cultivation ofwidespread political fear. The government indoctrinatesreligious regulations faces imprisonment, torture, andeven death. Figures are difficult to ascertain, but estimatessuggest up to 200,000 North Koreans are currentlysuffering in labor camps, tens of thousands of whom areincarcerated for religious activity.In February 2014, the Commission of Inquiry onHuman Rights in the Democratic People’s Republicof Korea (COI) established by the UN Human RightsCouncil released its comprehensive report documentingthe systematic, widespread, and grave violationsof human rights in North Korea. The report concludedthat Pyongyang’s abuses are “without any parallel inthe contemporary world.” It found “an almost completedenial of the right to freedom of thought, conscience,USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 51


and religion, as well as of the rights to freedom of opinion,expression, information, and association.”Religious Freedom Conditions 2014–2015Government Control and Repressionof ChristianityWhile all forms of religion or belief not expressly sanctionedand operated by the state are restricted, Christiansexperience the most severe persecution. The governmentof North Korea imposes extreme consequences on thosecaught practicing Christianity, which it associates withcaught practicing Christianity. Generally, state officialsmonitor closely missionaries during their stay, makingthem especially vulnerable to harassment, and thegovernment is known to sentence to hard labor foreignerswho undertake religious acts. In late May 2014, SouthKorean Baptist missionary Kim Jung-wook was sentencedto life imprisonment in a labor camp for allegedespionage for attempting to establish up to 500 undergroundchurches. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un alsoreportedly ordered the execution of 33 North Koreanswho associated with Kim Jung-wook for allegedlyWhile all forms of religion or belief not expressly sanctioned andoperated by the state are restricted,Christians experience the most severe persecution.the United States and Western ideology and thereforeconsiders particularly threatening. Although Christianityis not explicitly criminalized, in practice Christiansdetained for their religious beliefs are generally treated aspolitical prisoners, receive little to no justice when facingconviction, and endure particularly harsh conditionsduring incarceration. It is estimated that tens of thousandsof Christians in North Korea are currently in prisoncamps facing hard labor or execution.The few state-controlled churches that do exist arewidely considered to be artificial and established forinternational propaganda. The government permits alimited number of Christian churches to operate thatare reserved for the elite and foreigners. Pyongyangcontains one Catholic Church, two Protestant churches,and a Russian Orthodox Church. However, the governmenttightly controls these congregations. For example,the Vatican reported that its invitation to North Korea’sstate-run Korean Catholic Association to attend Massduring the Pope’s August 2014 visit to South Korea wasdeclined by North Korea authorities. Although undergroundchurches exist, state security agents are trainedto infiltrate and target these groups; prisoners are oftentortured to draw confessions that will lead to the infiltrationof underground churches and their followers.The treatment of foreign missionaries in NorthKorea illustrates the government’s response to thoseattempting to overthrow the government. Originalsource information about the purported execution orderis limited, and the fate of the 33 Christians is unknown.Former prisoners have described the atrocious treatmentof those incarcerated in North Korea’s infamouspenal labor camps, known as kwan-li-so. Prisoners areforced to engage in demanding physical labor with littlefood, resulting in malnourishment and chronic illness,and are subject to prolonged periods of severe mental andphysical torture. Individuals accused of engaging in religiousactivities and other political prisoners experiencesome of the harshest conditions because they are singledout as exceptionally dangerous to the state.North Korean Refugees in ChinaIn recent years, China has tightened security along theborder with North Korea, making it even more dangerousfor North Koreans who attempt to flee their countryto escape persecution and famine. Pursuant to China’slongstanding position, North Koreans entering Chinawithout permission are considered economic migrantsand thus not eligible for refugee status determinations.Reportedly, those receiving the worst punishment uponbeing forcibly repatriated to North Korea are individualssuspected of becoming Christian, interacting withmissionaries, or engaging in other religious activities.The UN Commission of Inquiry also found that some52USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


NORTH KOREAChinese officials provide information about those itapprehends to North Korea. In a letter responding tothe COI, China challenged the Commission’s claimsthat North Koreans forcibly repatriated are subjectedto detention and torture, arguing that China has seizedNorth Korean citizens who have crossed the bordermultiple times. Nonetheless, the COI report presentedstrong evidence that returnees risk harsh punishment.International law specifically prohibits the deportationof a person to another state when there are reasonablegrounds to believe that they will be subjected to tortureor persecution upon return.U.S. PolicyThe United States does not have diplomatic relationswith North Korea and has no official presence withinthe country. U.S. officials have publicly stated that theUnited States is open to engagement and substantivedialogue with North Korea, both bilaterally and throughthe Six-Party process, on the issue of denuclearization.own report unequivocally rejecting the COI’s critiquesand recommendations and stating that human rightsare a matter of state sovereignty. It also sent its foreignminister to the opening session of the General Assemblyfor the first time in 15 years and submitted its ownGeneral Assembly resolution on human rights. Followingthe international condemnation and the ineffectivenessof its diplomatic response, in October 2014 thegovernment unexpectedly released American prisonerJeffrey Fowle, who was accused of leaving a Bible in apublic place. In November 2014, North Korea releasedtwo more U.S. prisoners: Matthew Miller and KennethBae, the latter a missionary serving a 15-year sentenceto hard labor for allegedly undermining the government.While Mr. Fowle’s release occurred during theperiod following the opening session of the GeneralAssembly and the high-level side meeting on NorthKorea, Mr. Miller and Mr. Bae’s release took placejust days before passage of the UN resolution by theGeneral Assembly’s human rights committee, whichIndividuals accused of engaging in religious activities andother political prisoners experience some of theharshest conditions because they are singled out asexceptionally dangerous to the state.The U.S. policy of “strategic patience” with North Koreahas opened the door for enhanced engagement withimportant regional stakeholders, such as South Koreaand Japan, as well as Australia and the European Union,including on human rights issues. For example, at theUN in September 2014, Secretary of State John Kerryaddressed a high-level side meeting on human rightsin North Korea with his counterparts from Japan andSouth Korea, among others. However, 2014 saw severaldevelopments that challenged U.S. attempts to achieveimprovements in human rights and religious freedom.First, with the February 2014 release of the COIreport, North Korea denied the report’s claims andsought to blame the United States for orchestratingboth the report and the subsequent UN GeneralAssembly resolution. North Korea continued itspointed attacks against the United States by issuing itsresulted in North Korea threatening nuclear tests. InDecember 2014, following the release of the U.S. Senatereport, North Korea called on the UN to add the issue ofCIA torture to its agenda.Second, North Korea was linked to the late November2014 digital break-in at Sony Pictures Entertainment.The hacking was accompanied by a warningthat company secrets would be revealed if the hackers’demands were not obeyed. Although it denies involvement,North Korea was reportedly linked to the hackas a retaliation for The Interview, the movie about afictional assassination plot on Kim Jong-un. The UnitedStates responded with new economic sanctions targeting10 senior North Korean officials, and Congress isconsidering measures to broaden additional sanctionsagainst North Korea.USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 53


RecommendationsWith the attention the COI report brought on NorthKorea throughout 2014, the government has increasinglyfelt the need to respond to criticisms of its human rightsabuses. The United States has been integral in theseefforts and should pursue further opportunities with theUN or through bilateral or multi-lateral partnerships tocontinue bringing attention to these grave violations.In addition to recommending the U.S. governmentcontinue to designate North Korea as a CPC, USCIRFrecommends the U.S. government should:• Call for a follow-up UN inquiry within five years totrack the findings of the 2014 report by the Commissionof Inquiry on Human Rights in the DemocraticPeople’s Republic of Korea and assess any newdevelopments, and suggest a regularization of suchanalysis similar to and in coordination with theUniversal Periodic Review process;protect North Korean asylum seekers in China,including by allowing the UN High Commissionerfor Refugees (UNHCR) and international humanitarianorganizations to assist them and by endingrepatriations, which are in violation of the 1951Refugee Convention and Protocol and/or the UnitedNations Convention Against Torture; and• Implement fully the provisions of the North KoreanHuman Rights Act, and use authorized funds topromote increased access to information and newsmedia inside North Korea and greater capacity ofNGOs to promote democracy and human rights,protect and resettle refugees, and monitor deliveriesof humanitarian aid.• Include, whenever possible, both the Special Envoyfor North Korean Human Rights Issues and theAmbassador-at-Large for International ReligiousFreedom in bilateral discussions with North Koreain order to incorporate human rights and religiousfreedom into the dialogue, and likewise incorporatehuman rights and religious freedom concerns intodiscussions with multilateral partners regardingdenuclearization, as appropriate;• Coordinate efforts with regional allies, particularlyJapan and South Korea, to raise human rights andhumanitarian concerns, and specific concernsregarding freedom of religion or belief, and press forimprovements, including closure of the infamouspenal labor camps;• Explore innovative ways to expand existing radioprogramming transmitting into North Korea andalong the border, as well as other forms of informationtechnology, such as mobile phones, thumbdrives, and DVDs, as well as improved Internetaccess so that North Koreans have greater access toindependent sources of information;• Encourage Chinese support for addressing the mostegregious human rights violations in North Korea,and raise regularly with the government of Chinathe need to uphold its international obligations to54USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


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SAUDI ARABIA56USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


SAUDI ARABIAKey FindingsDespite the fact that Saudi Arabia remains unique inthe extent to which it restricts the public expressionof any religion other than Islam, there were someimprovements in religious freedom, including furtherprogress on revisions to public school religious textbooks.The government privileges its own interpretationof Sunni Islam over all other interpretations and prohibitsany non-Muslim public places of worship in thecountry. It continues to prosecute and imprison individualsfor dissent, apostasy, blasphemy, and sorcery,and a new 2014 law classifies blasphemy and advocatingatheism as terrorism. In addition, authorities continueto repress and discriminate against dissident clericsand members of the Shi’a community. Based on thesesevere violations of religious freedom, USCIRF againrecommends in 2015 that Saudi Arabia be designatedas a “country of particular concern,” or CPC, under theInternational Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). Althoughthe State Department has designated Saudi Arabia aCPC repeatedly since 2004, most recently in July 2014,an indefinite waiver has been in place since 2006 ontaking an otherwise legislatively mandated action as aresult of the CPC designation.BackgroundSaudi Arabia is officially an Islamic state with approximatelyeight to 10 million expatriate workers of variousfaiths, including at least one to two million non-Muslims.In recent years, the Saudi government has madeimprovements in policies and practices related tofreedom of religion or belief; however, it persists inrestricting most forms of public religious expressioninconsistent with its particular interpretation of SunniIslam. Saudi officials base this on their interpretation ofhadith and state that this is what is expected of them asthe country that hosts the two holiest mosques in Islam,in Mecca and Medina. This policy violates the rightsof other Sunni Muslims who follow varying schools ofthought, Shi’a and Ismaili Muslims, and both Muslimand non-Muslim expatriate workers.While the government has taken some steps toaddress its legitimate concerns of combatting religiousextremism and countering advocacy of violence inThe [Saudi] government privileges itsown interpretation of Sunni Islam over all otherinterpretations and prohibits any non-Muslimpublic places of worship in the country.sermons and educational materials, other governmentactions continue to restrict peaceful religious activitiesand expression by suppressing the religious views andpractices of Saudi and non-Saudi Muslims who do notconform to official positions. Furthermore, the governmenthas not codified the protection of private religiouspractice for non-Muslim expatriate workers in the country,which fosters a sense of insecurity.On January 23, 2015, King Abdullah passed away.He was succeeded immediately by his half-brother,Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud. Invarious remarks, King Salman stated that he wouldcontinue many of his predecessor’s policies, advancea Saudi foreign policy committed to the teachingsUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 57


of Islam, and maintain the country’s Shari’ah legalsystem. He also announced a significant reshufflingof several cabinet-level positions, including appointingnew Ministers of Justice, Education, and IslamicAffairs, and a new head of the Commission for thePromotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (CPVPV),among others.Religious Freedom Conditions 2014–2015Recent ImprovementsUSCIRF has noted some improvements in recent yearsthat include: curtailing the powers of the CPVPV;promoting a “culture of dialogue” and understandingbetween Muslim religious communities inside the Kingdomand advancing inter-religious dialogue in internationalfora; improving conditions for public religiousexpression by Shi’a Muslims in the Eastern Province;continuing efforts to counter extremist ideology insidethe Kingdom; and making further revisions to removeintolerant passages from textbooks and curriculum.Restrictions on Shi’a Muslims and DissidentsSporadic arrests and detentions of Shi’a Muslim dissidentscontinued. For many years, particularly since2011, the government has detained and imprisoned Shi’aMuslims for participating in demonstrations or callingfor reform; holding small religious gatherings in privatehomes; organizing religious events or celebrating religiousholidays; and reading religious materials in privatehomes or husseiniyas (prayer halls). Saudi officialsoften cite security concerns to justify cracking down onreligious minorities and Muslim dissidents. The Shi’acommunity also faces discrimination in education,employment, the military, political representation, andthe judiciary.During the past year, several Shi’a clerics receivedlengthy prison terms or death sentences. For example,in October 2014, Nimr al-Nimr, a prominent Shi’a clericwho has criticized the government, was sentenced todeath by a Specialized Criminal Court. The SpecializedCriminal Court is a non-shari’ah court that tries terrorist-relatedcrimes, although human rights activists alsohave been tried in these courts. Al-Nimr’s brother andlegal advocate, Mohamed, reportedly was arrested afterannouncing the verdict on Twitter. Nimr Al-Nimr hadbeen arrested in July 2012 and was convicted on a rangeof unfounded charges, including “inciting sectarianstrife,” disobeying the government, and supporting rioting.According to reports, days after al-Nimr’s sentencing,a Saudi court sentenced two individuals to deathfor participating in Shi’a protests, saying it imposed thepenalty “as a deterrent to others.” A third person wasjailed for 12 years. In August 2014, Tawfiq al-Amr, a Shi’acleric from the al-Ahsa governorate, was sentenced toeight years in prison, followed by a 10-year travel ban,and barred from delivering sermons. According tohuman rights groups, a Specialized Criminal Court convictedhim on charges of defaming Saudi Arabia’s rulingsystem, ridiculing its religious leaders, inciting sectarianism,calling for change, and “disobeying the ruler.”Al-Amr was arrested in 2011 following a series of publicspeeches calling for reforms in the Kingdom.Dissident Sunni Muslims also encountered repression.For example, in November 2014, Mikhlif al-Shammari,a Sunni Muslim writer and activist, was convictedby a criminal court and sentenced to two years in prisonand 200 lashes for, in part, visiting prominent Shi’a leadersin the Eastern Province and promoting reconciliationbetween Sunni and Shi’a Muslims. The SpecializedCriminal Court previously convicted him in 2013 in aseparate trial on charges of “sowing discord” and criticizingSaudi officials, for which he received a five-yearprison sentence and a 10-year travel ban.Violence against Shi’a MuslimsDuring the past year, Shi’a worshippers were targetedby violent extremists. In November, during Ashura celebrationsin the Eastern Province of al-Ahsa, maskedgunmen shot and killed at least seven Shi’a worshippersand wounded more than a dozen. After a violentgun battle that resulted in the death of two police officersand two gunmen, authorities arrested more than15 suspected perpetrators, including several othersalready in jail on terrorism charges. Authorities linkedthe incident to the armed group ISIL (the Islamic Stateof Iraq and the Levant). At the end of the reportingperiod, an investigation was ongoing. In addition, Ministerof Interior Mohammed bin Naif traveled to the siteof the attack and visited family members of the victims;he also announced that the government would providecompensation to the families of those who were killed.At the funeral for the victims, tens of thousands of58USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


SAUDI ARABIASunni and Shi’a Muslims demonstrated in solidarityagainst sectarianism.Apostasy, Blasphemy, and Sorcery ChargesThe Saudi government continues to use criminal chargesof apostasy and blasphemy to suppress discussion anddebate and silence dissidents. Promoters of political andhuman rights reforms, and those seeking to debate therole of religion in relation to the state, its laws, and society,typically have been the targets of such charges.In February 2015, after the end of the reportingperiod, a General Court reportedly sentenced todeath a Saudi man for apostasy. According to multiplereports, the unidentified man allegedly posted a videoof himself on a social networking site tearing pagesfrom a Quran while making disparaging remarks. Thecourt used this video as evidence to convict him andjustify the death sentence.In May 2014, a Saudi appeals court sentenced bloggerRaif Badawi to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes,and fined him $1 million SR ($266,000 USD) for, amongother charges, insulting Islam and religious authorities.The sentence called for Badawi – the founder and editorof a Web site that served as an online forum for diverseviews to be expressed freely – to be lashed 50 times aweek for 20 consecutive weeks. On January 9, 2015,Badawi received his first set of 50 lashes. Immediatelyafter the flogging was carried out, several governments,including the United States, and numerous internationalhuman rights groups and individuals condemnedthe implementation of the sentence. Badawi has notreceived additional floggings, due in part to the internationaloutrage and in part to a medical doctor’s findingthat he could not physically endure more lashings. AtSaudi Supreme Court in January 2015. Badawi’s lawyer,Waleed Abu al-Khair, was sentenced in July 2014 by aSpecialized Criminal Court to 15 years in jail on varioustrumped-up charges related to his work as a humanrights defender.In June 2014, two Saudi men, Sultan HamidMarzooq al-Enezi and Saud Falih Awad al-Enezi, werereleased from prison after being arrested under the pretextof drug charges and spending more than two yearsin prison without charges. Although formal chargeswere not filed, reports suggested the two men were heldfor committing the capital crime of apostasy for convertingto the Ahmadi interpretation of Islam.Individuals arrested for sorcery – a crime punishableby death – continued to be prosecuted during thereporting period. In June 2014, the Saudi Ministry ofJustice announced that prosecutors had filed 191 casesof alleged sorcery between November 2013 and May2014. In August, authorities reportedly beheaded a Saudiman, Mohammed bin Bakr al-Alawi, in the al-Jawf Provincefor allegedly practicing sorcery. His death sentencehad been upheld by an appeals court and the SupremeJudiciary Council. In February 2014, King Abdullah pardoneda female Indonesian domestic worker, Ati Bt AbehInan, who had been on death row for more than 10 yearsfollowing a 2003 sorcery conviction.Saudi Arabia’s new terrorism law . . . criminalizes as terrorismvirtually all forms of peaceful dissent and free expression,including criticizing the government’s interpretationof Islam or advocating atheism.the end of the reporting period, Badawi continued tolanguish in prison, where he has been held since June2012. Badawi’s case reportedly was referred to theNew Law Classifies Blasphemy, AdvocatingAtheism as Acts of TerrorismSaudi Arabia’s new terrorism law, the Penal Law forCrimes of Terrorism and its Financing, and a series ofsubsequent royal decrees create a legal framework thatcriminalizes as terrorism virtually all forms of peacefuldissent and free expression, including criticizing the government’sinterpretation of Islam or advocating atheism.Under the new law, which went into effect in February2014, a conviction could result in a prison term rangingUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 59


from three to 20 years. The Interior Ministry’s March2014 regulations state that, under the new law, terrorismincludes “[c]alling for atheist thought in any form, orcalling into question the fundamentals of the Islamicreligion on which this country is based.” While SaudiShari’ah courts already permit judges to criminalizevarious forms of peaceful dissent, the new law providesan additional mechanism to classify as terrorism actionsconsidered blasphemous or to be advocating for atheism.Abuses by the CPVPVThe Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Preventionof Vice (CPVPV), which reports to the King andis not subject to judicial review, officially enforces publicmorality and restricts public religious manifestationsand practice by both Saudis and non-Saudis. In recentyears, the public presence of the CPVPV has diminished.Nevertheless, in 2014, members of the CPVPVperiodically overstepped their authority in parts of theUSCIRF found that there were improvements concerningthe removal of intolerant content. USCIRF subsequentlyrequested seven additional textbooks, which it hopesto review in the future. USCIRF had not received thesebooks by the end of the reporting period. The Saudigovernment acknowledged that some of the high schoolleveltextbooks were still in the process of being revised.In recent years, a Saudi royal decree banned thefinancing outside Saudi Arabia of religious schools,mosques, hate literature, and other activities thatsupport religious intolerance and violence towardnon-Muslims and non-conforming Muslims. Nevertheless,some literature, older versions of textbooks,and other intolerant materials reportedly remainin distribution in some countries around the worlddespite the Saudi government’s policy that it wouldattempt to retrieve previously-distributed materialsthat teach hatred toward other religions and, in somecases, promote violence. For example, some of theUSCIRF found that there were improvements concerning theremoval of intolerant content [from Saudi textbooks].country. In 2013, a law was passed limiting the jurisdictionof the CPVPV. Despite the fact that the CPVPV is notallowed to engage in surveillance, detain individuals formore than 24 hours, arrest individuals without policeaccompaniment, or carry out any kind of punishment,its members have been accused over the past year ofbeating, whipping, detaining, and otherwise harassingindividuals. USCIRF continues to call for the dissolutionof the CPVPV.Improvements in Saudi Textbooks, Yet ContinuedDissemination of Intolerant MaterialsDuring the reporting period, USCIRF’s longstandingrequest was largely fulfilled when the Saudi Embassy inWashington, DC provided most textbooks used in publicschools in the Kingdom during the 2013-2014 schoolyear. After an analysis of some of the relevant religioustextbooks that had been cited previously as containinginflammatory language advocating hatred and violence,older books justified violence against apostates, sorcerers,and homosexuals, and labeled Jews and Christians“enemies of the believers;” another high schooltextbook presented the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”– a notorious forgery designed to promote hostilitytoward Jews – as an authentic document. Concernsalso remain about privately-funded satellite televisionstations in the Kingdom that continue to espouse sectarianhatred and intolerance.U.S. PolicyDespite a series of challenges in recent years, U.S.-Saudirelations remain close. For years, the U.S. government’sreliance on the Saudi government for cooperation oncounterterrorism, regional security, and energy supplieshas limited its willingness to press the Saudi governmentto improve its poor human rights and religiousfreedom record. Since 2012, the U.S. government hasnotified Congress of more than $24 billion in proposed60USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


SAUDI ARABIAarms sales to the Kingdom. During the past year, sharedconcerns over Islamist terrorism, particularly advancesby ISIL, and Iranian regional ambitions provided arenewed impetus for increased strategic cooperation.As a result, there are concerns that the United Stateshas been reluctant to jeopardize important bilateralinitiatives by pushing publicly for political and humanrights reforms, despite opportunities that arose duringthe year, such as two high-profile visits to the Kingdomby President Obama. However, in January 2015, the StateDepartment issued a public statement urging the Saudigovernment to cancel the flogging against blogger RaifBadawi and to review his case and sentence.According to the State Department, U.S. policyseeks to press the Saudi government “to respectreligious freedom and honor its public commitmentto permit private religious worship by non-Muslims,eliminate discrimination against minorities, promoterespect for non-Muslim religious belief, and combatviolent extremism.” The U.S. government continues toencourage the Saudi government’s efforts to removeintolerant passages advocating violence in textbooks,and it continues to include Saudi officials in exchangeand U.S. visitor programs that promote religious toleranceand interfaith dialogue. In addition, according tothe U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, as of mid-2014,more than 83,000 Saudi students were studying inAmerican colleges and universities, the highest figureto date.In September 2004, consistent with USCIRF’s recommendation,the State Department designated SaudiArabia a CPC for the first time. In 2005, a temporarywaiver was put in place, in lieu of otherwise legislativelymandated action as a result of the CPC designation, toallow for continued diplomatic discussions between theU.S. and Saudi governments and “to further the purposesof IRFA.” In July 2006, the waiver was left in placeindefinitely when the State Department announced thatongoing bilateral discussions with Saudi Arabia hadenabled the U.S. government to identify and confirma number of policies that the Saudi government “ispursuing and will continue to pursue for the purposeof promoting greater freedom for religious practiceand increased tolerance for religious groups.” USCIRFhas concluded that full implementation by the Saudigovernment of these policies would diminish significantlythe government’s institutionalized practices thatnegatively affect freedom of religion and belief. Themeasures that Saudi Arabia confirmed as state policiesincluded the following:• Revise and update textbooks to remove remainingintolerant references that disparage Muslims ornon-Muslims or that promote hatred toward otherreligions or religious groups, a process the Saudigovernment expected to complete in one to twoyears [no later than July 2008].• Prohibit the use of government channels or governmentfunds to publish or promote textbooks, literature,or other materials that advocate intoleranceand sanction hatred of religions or religious groups.• Control distribution of Saudi educational curriculato ensure that unauthorized organizations do notsend them abroad.• Ensure Saudi embassies and consulates abroadreview and destroy any material given to them bycharities or other entities that promote intoleranceor hatred.• Guarantee and protect the right to private worshipfor all, including non-Muslims who gather in homesfor religious practice.• Address grievances when the right to private worshipis violated.• Ensure that customs inspectors at borders do notconfiscate personal religious materials.• Ensure that members of the CPVPV do not detainor conduct investigations of suspects, implementpunishment, violate the sanctity of private homes,conduct surveillance, or confiscate private religiousmaterials.• Hold accountable any CPVPV officials who commitabuses.• Bring the Kingdom’s rules and regulations intocompliance with human rights standards.On July 28, 2014, the State Department re-designatedSaudi Arabia a CPC but kept in place a waiver ofany action citing the ‘‘important national interest of theUnited States,” pursuant to section 407 of IRFA.USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 61


RecommendationsUSCIRF urges the U.S. government to address religiousfreedom issues actively and publicly with the Saudigovernment and to report openly on the government’ssuccess or failure to implement genuine reforms, inorder to ensure that the Saudi government’s initiativeswill result in substantial, demonstrable progress. Specifically,USCIRF recommends that the U.S. governmentshould:• Continue to designate Saudi Arabia a CPC, no longerissue a waiver, and press the Saudi governmentto take concrete action towards completing reformsconfirmed in July 2006 in U.S.-Saudi bilateral discussions;provide a detailed report on progress andlack of progress on each of the areas of concern;• At the highest levels, press for and work to securethe release of Raif Badawi, his lawyer Waleed Abual-Khair, and other prisoners of conscience, andpress the Saudi government to end state prosecutionof individuals charged with apostasy, blasphemy,and sorcery;• Undertake and make public an annual assessmentof the relevant Ministry of Education religious textbooksto determine if passages that teach religiousintolerance have been removed;• Press the Saudi government to publicly denouncethe continued use around the world of older versionsof Saudi textbooks and other materials thatpromote hatred and intolerance, to include theconcepts of tolerance and respect for the humanrights of all persons in school textbooks, and tomake every attempt to retrieve previously distributedmaterials that contain intolerance;• Press the Saudi government to continue to addressincitement to violence and discrimination againstdisfavored Muslims and non-Muslims, including byprosecuting government-funded clerics who inciteviolence against Muslim minority communitiesor individual members of non-Muslim religiousminority communities;• Press the Saudi government to ensure equal rightsand protection under the law for Shi’a Muslimcitizens;• Press the Saudi government to remove the classificationof advocating atheism and blasphemy asterrorist acts in its 2014 terrorism law;• Include Saudi religious leaders, in addition togovernment officials, in exchanges and U.S visitorprograms that promote religious tolerance andinterfaith dialogue; and• Work with the Saudi government to codifynon-Muslim private religious practice, and permitforeign clergy to enter the country to carry outworship services and to bring religious materials forsuch services.The U.S. Congress should:• Require the State Department to issue a publicprogress report on efforts and results achieved bythe Saudi government to implement religious freedomreforms announced in July 2006.Dissenting Statement ofVice Chair James J. Zogby:I did not disagree with designating Saudi Arabia as a“country of particular concern” (CPC) because as thereport makes clear Saudi Arabia does not allow “publicexpression of any religion of any religion other than Islam.”Where I strongly disagree is with USCIRF’s decisionto call on the Department of State to remove the waiverprovision that defers any action that might be taken as aresult of Saudi Arabia’s CPC status.What I would have preferred was a recommendationthat would have coupled the CPC designation with a fullreview of the progress or lack of progress the Saudi governmenthas made in implementing the 2006 “US-SaudiDiscussions on Religious Practice and Tolerance.”That 2006 discussion paper included 32 specificareas where the Saudi government committed to makereforms. Saudi officials have said that they are makingthese reforms, not because of outside pressures, butbecause these are changes they know they need to maketo move their country forward. Annually we report, inpiecemeal fashion, on some of the progress the governmenthas made in a number of these areas: removal ofboth intolerant literature from their schools and intolerantspeech from their mosques, insuring the right toprivate worship, creating a Human Rights Commission,62USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


SAUDI ARABIAetc. What we are lacking is a comprehensive review ofjust how much progress made and a list of the areas thatstill need to be addressed.What the State Department should do is go backto the 2006 discussion paper and treat its 32 items as acheck list. They should go through it with their Saudiinterlocutors and report, in detail, on progress or lackof progress made in each case. In some instances, suchengagement may provide opportunities for U.S. officialsor USCIRF to offer assistance or new ideas to helpSaudi officials find a way to move forward. In an effortto achieve progress, engagement with Saudi officials isthe preferred and most effective course of action. On theother hand, should we move to end the waiver and enactthe punitive measures that might flow from this action,we would risk shutting off further discussion. This wouldprove to be counterproductive.merits careful discussion of costs and benefits. In thiscase, Commissioners did not subject their decision tosuch careful consideration, and, in the absence of suchdeliberation, we were not prepared to support eliminationof the waiver.Additional Statement of CommissionersEric P. Schwartz and Thomas J. Reese, S.J.:We strongly supported and voted for the CPC designation,but we write to comment on the Commissionrecommendation to urge the Administration to removethe waiver provision, which, pursuant to the IRFAlegislation, effectively constitutes a recommendationto impose sanctions absent a U.S.-Saudi “bindingagreement” to improve religious freedom. To be sure,we believe that both a readiness to impose sanctionsand the imposition of sanctions can send importantsignals to offending governments and help bringcritical pressure to bear in efforts to improve conditionsrelated to human rights and religious freedom.Commissioner Schwartz notes further that, as a WhiteHouse and State Department official, he was in generalquite reliably on the side of those supporting sanctionsas a tool to promote human rights. In short, we shouldimpose sanctions when we have a fair degree of confidencethat, over time, they will strengthen the positionof human rights activists or help to change behaviorof offending governments. But sanctions can also beineffective or sometimes even counterproductive.Policy goals can be frustrated if the sanctions havelittle economic impact, permit a government easily tostoke nationalist or religious fervor against perceivedoutside interference, or are imposed when our influenceis uncertain. Thus, their possible impositionUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 63


SUDAN64USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


SUDANKey FindingsThe government of Sudan, led by President Omar Hassanal-Bashir, continues to engage in systematic, ongoing,and egregious violations of freedom of religion or belief.These violations are the result of President Bashir’spolicies of Islamization and Arabization. The governmentof Sudan prosecutes persons accused of apostasy,imposes a restrictive interpretation of Shari’ah (Islamiclaw) and applies corresponding hudood punishmentson Muslims and non-Muslims alike, and harasses thecountry’s Christian community. President al-Bashir andother National Congress Party (NCP) leaders continue tostate that the country will be governed by Shari’ah law. In2015, USCIRF again recommends that Sudan be designatedas a “country of particular concern,” or CPC, underthe International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). The StateDepartment has designated Sudan as a CPC since 1999,most recently in July 2014.BackgroundMore than 97 percent of the Sudanese population isMuslim. The vast majority of Sudanese Muslims belongto different Sufi orders, although Shi’a Muslims andSunni Muslims who follow the Salafist movement areFor more than 20 years, the 1991 Criminal Code,the 1991 Personal Status Law of Muslims, and state-level“public order” laws have restricted religious freedom forall Sudanese.These laws contradict Sudan’s constitutional andinternational commitments to freedom of religionor belief and related human rights. The 1991 CriminalCode imposes the ruling NCP’s interpretationof Shari’ah law on Muslims and Christians: it allowsdeath sentences for apostasy, stoning for adultery,cross-amputations for theft, prison sentences for blasphemy,and floggings for undefined “offences of honor,reputation and public morality,” including undefined“indecent or immoral acts.” Prohibitions and relatedpunishments for “immorality” and “indecency” areimplemented through state level Public Order laws andenforcement mechanisms; violations carry a maximumpenalty of 40 lashes, a fine, or both.Government policies and societal pressure promoteconversion to Islam. The government is allegedto tolerate of the use of humanitarian assistance toinduce conversion to Islam; routinely grants permitsto construct and operate mosques, often with governmentfunds; and provides Muslims preferential accessFor more than 20 years, the 1991 Criminal Code, the1991 Personal Status Law of Muslims, and state-level “public order” lawshave restricted religious freedom for all Sudanese.also present. Christians are estimated at three presentof the population and include Coptic, Greek, Ethiopian,and Eritrean Orthodox; Roman Catholics; Anglicans;Presbyterians; Seventh-day Adventists; Jehovah’sWitnesses; and several Pentecostal and evangelicalcommunities.to government employment and services and favoredtreatment in court cases against non-Muslims. TheSudanese government prohibits foreign church officialstraveling outside Khartoum and uses school textbooksthat negatively stereotype non-Muslims. Permission tobuild churches is impossible to obtain, and destructionof churches has increased since 2011.USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 65


Religious Freedom Conditions 2014–2015Implementation of Apostasy ProhibitionsConversion from Islam is a crime punishable by death.Suspected converts to Christianity face societal pressures,and government security personnel intimidateand sometimes torture those suspected of conversion.Since 2011, more than 170 persons have been arrestedand charged with apostasy; almost all recanted theirfaith in exchange for having the charges dropped andbeing released from prison.On May 15, 2014, the government of Sudan sentencedMeriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag to death byhanging because, although she said she was raiseda Christian, a family member said she was raised aMuslim and thus was guilty of apostasy for converting.In addition, because the court did not recognize hermarriage to a Christian man, she also was found guiltyof adultery and sentenced to 100 lashes. While imprisonedin the Omdurman Federal Women’s Prison withher two-year-old son, Meriam give birth on May 27 toa baby girl. On June 23, an appeals court cancelled theapostasy charges and death sentence and ordered herongoing. Throughout the reporting period, the lawyerswere harassed and threatened with death for being“un-Islamic.”Application of Shari’ah Law ProvisionsThe government continued to apply the Shari’ah-basedprovisions of the 1991 Criminal Code and Public Orderlaws, although there were fewer reported incidentsduring this reporting period. As in previous years, therewere several known amputation sentences for thosefound guilty of theft. Dozens of Muslim and Christianwomen were flogged or fined for “indecent” dress. Whatconstitutes indecent dress is not defined by law, but isleft to the discretion of arresting officers and prosecutingjudges. Under the guise of protecting morality, the PublicOrder Laws also prohibit the co-mingling of unmarriedmen and women, which is deemed “prostitution.”Destruction and Confiscation of ChurchesThe Sudanese Minister of Guidance and ReligiousEndowments announced in July 2014 that the governmentno longer will issue permits for the building of newOn May 15, 2014, the government of Sudan sentencedMeriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag to death by hanging because,although she said she was raised a Christian,a family member said she was raised a Muslim and thus wasguilty of apostasy for converting.release from prison, finding that she was not an apostate.The next day, she and her family were detained atKhartoum’s airport as they sought to leave the country.From June 27 until July 24, when she was permitted toleave Sudan, Meriam, her American citizen husband,and their two children took refuge at the U.S. Embassyin Khartoum.In October, Meriam’s lawyers challenged the constitutionalityof the prohibition on conversion from Islamcontained in article 126 of the 1991 criminal code. Theyargue that it violates article 38 of the interim constitution,which guarantees freedom of religion or beliefand states that “no person shall be coerced to adoptsuch faith, that he/she does not believe in.” The case ischurches, alleging that the current number of churchesis sufficient for the Christians remaining in Sudan afterSouth Sudan’s 2011 secession. In 2014, Sudanese authoritiesbulldozed the Sudanese Church of Christ. In thelast few years, at least 11 churches have been attackedeither by government officials or societal actors.Throughout this reporting period, the governmentof Sudan continued efforts to confiscate church property.In 2014 and early 2015, both the Bahri EvangelicalChurch and an Anglican church in Khartoum continuedlegal battles to maintain ownership of their churchesand the land they occupy. On December 2, Sudaneseauthorities partially destroyed the Bahri EvangelicalChurch and arrested 37 congregants protesting66USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


SUDANthe action. They were later released. Authorities alsoarrested Rev. Yat Michael and Rev. Peter Yein for “instigatingSudanese citizens against their government;” thetwo clergymen remain detained.U.S. PolicyThe United States remains a pivotal international actorin Sudan. U.S. government involvement was vital toachieving the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA)that ended the North-South civil war and to bringingabout the referendum on South Sudan’s independence,as well as ensuring that its result was recognized. The U.S.government continues multilateral and bilateral efforts tobring peace to Southern Kordofan, Blue Nile, and Darfur,including supporting African Union peace talks.In 1997, President Bill Clinton utilized the InternationalEmergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) tosanction Sudan, based on its support for internationalterrorism, efforts to destabilize neighboring governments,and prevalent human rights and religiousfreedom violations. These sanctions imposed a tradeembargo on the country and a total asset freeze on thegovernment. Since 1997, an arms embargo, travel bans,and asset freezes have been imposed in response to thegenocide in Darfur. With the 1999 designation of Sudanas a CPC, the Secretary of State has utilized IRFA torequire U.S. opposition to any loan or other use offunds from international financial institutions to or forSudan. In an attempt to prevent sanctions from negativelyimpacting regions in Sudan under assault by theNCP government, the sanctions have been amended toallow for increased humanitarian activities in SouthernKordofan State, Blue Nile State, Abyei, Darfur,and marginalized areas in and around Khartoum. InFebruary 2015, the United States allowed the exportationcountrywide of communication hardware andsoftware, including computers, smartphones, radios,digital cameras, and related items, as part of a “commitmentto promote freedom of expression throughaccess to communications tools.”Neither country has had an ambassador to the othersince the late 1990s, after the U.S. Embassy bombingsin East Africa and U.S. airstrikes against al-Qaeda sitesin Khartoum, but successive U.S. administrations haveappointed special envoys to Sudan. The current U.S. SpecialEnvoy to Sudan and South Sudan is Donald E. Booth.In February 2015, Sudanese Foreign Minister AliKharti and Presidential Assistant Ibrahim Ghandourmade separate trips to Washington, DC. After the Ghandourvisit, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State forDemocracy, Human Rights and Labor Steve Feldsteinwas granted permission to travel to Sudan. From February22-26, DAS Feldstein met with Sudanese governmentleaders and representatives of non-governmental organizationsin Khartoum, as well as civil society activists,humanitarian groups, and internally displaced persons(IDPs) in Blue Nile State.The international attention to the Meriam Ibrahimcase and her marriage to a U.S. citizen led to increasedThe international attention to the Meriam Ibrahim case andher marriage to a U.S. citizen led to increased U.S. public advocacy aboutreligious freedom conditions. . .U.S. public advocacy about religious freedom conditionsin Sudan in this reporting period. The White House,Secretary of State John Kerry, the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum,the State Department, and Members of Congressvigorously advocated on Meriam Ibrahim’s behalf. OnMay 14, the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom,and the Netherlands issued a joint statement expressingtheir concern over the apostasy ruling and noting anindividual’s right to change faith. U.S. Embassy officialsobserved her May 15 hearing and offered her refugebefore she could leave the country. DAS Feldstein metwith religious leaders and raised religious freedom concernswith Sudanese officials during his February 2015trip to the country.U.S. government assistance programs in Sudan supportconflict mitigation efforts, democracy promotion,and emergency food aid and relief supplies. The UnitedUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 67


States remains the world’s largest donor of food assistanceto Sudan, providing needed aid, either directly orthrough third parties, to persons from Darfur, Abyei,Southern Kordofan, and Blue Nile.RecommendationsWith the Bashir regime taking steps that would moveSudan toward a more repressive state, the U.S. governmentshould increase efforts to encourage reforms anddiscourage regressive behavior. The normalization ofrelations with Sudan and any lifting of U.S. sanctionsmust be preceded by demonstrated, concrete progress• Create a Commission on the Rights of Non-Muslimsto ensure and advocate religious freedomprotections for non-Muslims in Sudan;• Issue a decree ending the use of corporal punishmentsfor hudood offenses that violate “publicorder” as enumerated in the 1991 Criminal CodeAct and state-level public order laws; and• Hold accountable any person who engages inviolations of freedom of religion or belief, includingattacking houses of worship, attacking ordiscriminating against a person because of theirWith the Bashir regime taking steps that would moveSudan toward a more repressive state,the U.S. government should increase efforts toencourage reforms and discourage regressive behavior.by Khartoum in implementing peace agreements,ending abuses of religious freedom and related humanrights, and cooperating with efforts to protect civilians.In addition to recommending that Sudan continue tobe designated as a CPC, USCIRF recommends the U.S.government should:• Seek to enter into a binding agreement with thegovernment of Sudan, as defined in section 405(c)of IRFA, which would set forth commitments thegovernment would undertake to address policiesleading to violations of religious freedom, includingbut not limited to the following:• End prosecutions and punishments for apostasy;• Maintain all of the provisions respecting thecountry’s international human rights commitmentsand respect for freedom of religion or beliefcurrently in the interim constitution;• Lift government prohibitions on church construction,issue permits for the building of newchurches, and create a legal mechanism to providecompensation for destroyed churches andaddress future destructions if necessary;religious affiliation, and prohibiting a personfrom fully exercising their religious rights.• Work to ensure that Sudan’s future, permanentconstitution includes protections for freedom ofreligion or belief, respect for international commitmentsto human rights, and recognition of Sudan asa multi-religious, multi-ethnic, and multi-culturalnation;• Continue to support national dialogue efforts withcivil society and faith-based leaders and representativesof all relevant political parties;; educaterelevant parties to the national dialogue aboutinternational human rights standards, includingregarding freedom of religion or belief; and workwith opposition parties and civil society to resolveinternal disputes related to freedom of religion orbelief;• Encourage and support civil society groups to monitorimplementation of the Public Order Regime andadvocate for its repeal; and• Urge the government in Khartoum to cooperatefully with international mechanisms on human68USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


SUDANrights issues, including by inviting further visits bythe UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religionor Belief, the Independent Expert on the Situationof Human Rights in Sudan, and the UN WorkingGroup on Arbitrary Detention.USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 69


TURKMENISTAN70USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


TURKMENISTANKey FindingsIn a climate of pervasive government informationcontrol, particularly severe religious freedom violationspersist in Turkmenistan. Police raids and harassmentof registered and unregistered religious groups continued.The country’s laws, policies, and practices violateinternational human rights norms, including those onfreedom of religion or belief, and new administrativecode provisions increased the penalties for most “illegal”religious activities. Turkmen law does not allow acivilian alternative to military service, and at least oneJehovah’s Witness conscientious objector is known tobe detained. In light of these severe violations, USCIRFrecommends in 2015 that the U.S. government againdesignate Turkmenistan as a “country of particularconcern,” or CPC, under the International ReligiousFreedom Act (IRFA). In July 2014, the State Departmentdesignated Turkmenistan a CPC for the first time.USCIRF has recommended CPC designation for Turkmenistansince 2000.BackgroundTurkmenistan has an estimated total population of 5.1million. Official Turkmen data on religious affiliationare not available; the U.S. government estimates that thecountry is about 85 percent Sunni Muslim, nine percentRussian Orthodox, and a two percent total that includesnumber of ethnic Turkmen. The small number of Shi’aMuslims is mostly ethnic Iranians, Azeris, or Kurds onthe Iranian border or on the Caspian Sea. The Jewishcommunity consists of approximately 400 Jews.Turkmenistan is the most closed country in the formerSoviet Union. The country’s first president, SaparmuratNiyazov, who died in late 2006, oversaw one of theworld’s most repressive and isolated states. Turkmenistan’spublic life was dominated by Niyazov’s quasi-religiouspersonality cult set out in his book, the Ruhnama,which was imposed on the country’s religious andeducational systems. After assuming the presidency inearly 2007, President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedovordered the release of 11 political prisoners, includingthe former chief mufti; placed certain limits on Niyazov’spersonality cult; set up two new official humanrights commissions; and registered 13 minority religiousgroups. He eased police controls on internal travel andallowed Turkmenistan to become slightly more open tothe outside world.Since that early period, President Berdimuhamedovhas not reformed the country’s oppressive laws,maintains a state structure of repressive control, andhas reinstituted a pervasive presidential personalitycult. Turkmenistan’s constitution purports to guaranteereligious freedom, the separation of religion fromthe state, and equality regardless of religion or belief.Turkmenistan is the most closedcountry in the former Soviet Union.Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, and evangelical Christians.While most Russians and Armenians belong to theRussian Orthodox Church, a significant number attendunregistered religious meetings as do an increasingThe 2003 religion law, however, contradicts theseprovisions. Despite minor reforms in 2007, this law setsintrusive registration criteria and bans any activityby unregistered religious organizations; requires thatthe government be informed of all foreign financialUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 71


support; forbids worship in private homes; allows onlyclerics to wear religious garb in public; and placessevere and discriminatory restrictions on religiouseducation. The government-appointed Council onReligious Affairs (CRA) supervises religious matters;it controls the hiring, promoting, and firing of SunniMuslim and Russian Orthodox clergy; censors religioustexts; and oversees the activities of all registeredgroups. CRA members include only government officialsand Sunni Muslim and Russian Orthodox Churchrepresentatives. A new demonstrations law enacted inMarch 2015 potentially allows for limited public rallies,including by registered religious organizations. Ralliesmust be at least 200 meters from government buildingsand cannot be funded by individuals or foreign governments,RFE/RL reported.A new Internet law was published in December2014; it is now illegal for citizens to insult or slanderTurkmenistan’s president in web postings, RFE/RL reported. While the law states there are plans toensure free access to the worldwide web for TurkmenInternet users, in 2015 the Turkmen governmentreportedly has engaged in a campaign to dismantleprivate satellite cables.In 2014 and early 2015, Turkmen border guardsreportedly were killed by the Taliban on the Turkmen-Afghanborder. This region of Afghanistan alsoreportedly includes some Turkmen who allegedly areIslamic State sympathizers, giving rise to concern aboutpossible religious radicalism spreading across the borderinto Turkmenistan.fines, for religious and human rights activities. In recentyears, Muslims, Protestants, and Jehovah’s Witnesseswere detained, fined, imprisoned or internally exiled fortheir religious beliefs or activities. Most religious prisonersof conscience are held at Seydi Labor Camp in theLebap Region desert, where they face harsh conditions,including torture. The government of Turkmenistandenies the International Committee of the Red Crossaccess to the country’s prisons.An unknown number of Muslim prisoners of conscienceremain jailed. In February 2015, five prisonersconvicted of “Wahhabism” were sent to Seydi LaborCamp, where reportedly prison guards brutally beatthem. The NGO Forum 18 News Service could notdetermine if the five men were jailed for non-violentreligious practice or for crimes, since in Central Asiathe term “Wahhabi” is commonly used to describe anydevout Muslim. In December 2014, a group of about 10Muslim religious prisoners were transferred from thatlabor camp to the high-security prison in Ovadan-Depe.Reports have faded of a dissident imam who spent yearsin a psychiatric hospital; this news drought also appliesto dozens of other political and religious prisoners,according to the NGO coalition known as “Prove theyare Alive.”On a positive note, in October 2014 two knownreligious prisoners of conscience were released underpresidential amnesty from a labor camp in eastern Turkmenistan,Forum 18 reported. In February 2015, ProtestantUmid Gojayev, imprisoned at Seydi Labor Camp for“hooliganism,” also was freed under amnesty.Government Control over Religious ActivitiesThe secret police, anti-terrorist police units, localgovernment, and local CRA officials continued to raidregistered and unregistered religious communities. Itis illegal for unregistered groups to rent, purchase, orThe government continues to impose harsh penalties . . .for religious and human rights activities.Religious Freedom Conditions 2014–2015Punishments for Religious andHuman Rights ActivitiesIn January 2014, new administrative code provisionsincreased the penalties for most “illegal” religious activities.The government continues to impose harsh penalties,such as imprisonment, forced drug treatment, andconstruct places of worship, and even registered groupsmust obtain scarce government permits. A decree72USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


TURKMENISTANbanned publication of religious texts inside Turkmenistanand only registered groups can legally import suchtexts. In September 2014 in Dashoguz, Jehovah’s WitnessBibi Rahmanova was detained for a month and physicallyabused for distributing religious texts; she receiveda four-year suspended sentence on trumped-up chargesof assaulting a police officer, according to Forum 18.Forum 18 also reported that a Protestant outside Ashgabatwas fined in September 2014 after a relative wasRuslan Narkuliyev was released, Forum 18 reported.Registration of Religious GroupsSince 2005, some small religious groups have beenregistered, such as the Baha’i, several Pentecostalgroups, Seventh-Day Adventists, several Evangelicalchurches, and the Society for Krishna Consciousness.In 2010, Turkmenistan told the UN Human RightsCommittee there were 123 registered religious groups,The government interferes in the internal leadership andarrangements of religious communitiesfound to have electronic versions of religious texts. Thereligion law also bans private religious education.The government continues to deny internationaltravel for many citizens, especially those travelling toreligious events. For the approximately 110,000 mainlyRussian Orthodox who have dual Russian-Turkmencitizenship, it is easier to meet with their coreligionistsabroad and for clerical training. Muslims, however, arenot allowed to travel abroad for religious education,and the government also restricts hajj participation.In 2014, it requested a quota of 650 Turkmen Muslimsto make the pilgrimage to Mecca, according to Forum18. While this number was an increase over the usual188, it is still less than a seventh of the country’s quota.Muslims often must wait up to 11 years to reach the topof the hajj waiting list.Conscientious ObjectorsTurkmen law has no civilian alternative to militaryservice for conscientious objectors. Reportedly such a billwas drafted in 2013 but not enacted. Those who refuse toserve in the military can face up to two years of jail. Until2009 the Turkmen government had given suspendedsentences, but since then conscientious objectors havebeen imprisoned. Jehovah’s Witness conscientiousobjector Soyunmurat Korov is being involuntarily heldin an Ashgabat military hospital. On a positive note, inOctober 2014, six imprisoned conscientious objectorswere amnestied and released by presidential order, and inFebruary 2015, Jehovah’s Witness conscientious objector100 of which are Sunni and Shi’a Muslim and 13Russian Orthodox. Some groups have decided not toregister due to the onerous and opaque process, whilecertain Shi’a Muslim groups, the Armenian ApostolicChurch, some Protestant groups, and the Jehovah’sWitnesses have faced rejection of numerous registrationapplications.Government Interference in Internal ReligiousAffairsThe Turkmen government interferes in the internalleadership and organizational arrangements of religiouscommunities. In early 2013, the President nameda new Grand Mufti. The government also has replacedimams who had formal Islamic theological trainingfrom abroad with individuals lacking such education,as it is official policy not to name imams if they have hadforeign theological training. Local secret police officersreportedly require Muslim and Orthodox clerics toreport regularly on activities.U.S. PolicyFor the past decade, U.S. policy in Central Asia wasdominated by the Afghan war. The United States has keysecurity and economic interests in Turkmenistan due toits proximity to and shared populations with Afghanistanand Iran, and its huge natural gas supplies. Although officiallyneutral and in the Northern Distribution Networkfor the delivery of supplies to U.S. troops and InternationalSecurity Assistance Forces (ISAF) in Afghanistan,USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 73


the country has allowed U.S. flights with non-lethalsupplies to refuel at the Ashgabat International Airport.The United States is training Turkmenistan’s fledglingnavy, and holding exchange programs on Englishlanguage and naval administration. During counterterrorismoperations, U.S. Special Operations Forcesreportedly have been allowed to enter Turkmenistan ona “case-by-case” basis, with the Turkmen government’spermission. The U.S government also has encourageda joint Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-Indiaproject, known as “TAPI,” to construct a major gaspipeline, scheduled to begin in 2015. This project couldhelp stabilize the Turkmen gas export market and createeconomic and political bonds with energy-poor SouthAsian markets.Initiated five years ago by the State Department,the Annual Bilateral Consultations (ABC’s) are a regularmechanism for the United States and Turkmenistan todiscuss a wide range of bilateral issues, including regionalsecurity, economic and trade relations; social and culturalties; and human rights. As part of the ABC process,Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central AsianAffairs Nisha Desai Biswal led an interagency delegationto Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, in January 2014 for the thirdU.S.-Turkmen ABC. While in Ashgabat, Assistant SecretaryBiswal met with senior Turkmenistan officials, but itis not in the public record if she also met with representativesof civil society or religious groups. Religious freedomconcerns traditionally have been raised in these forums.The United States funds programs in Turkmenistanthat support: civil society organizations; training onlegal assistance; Internet access and computer training;capacity building for civil servants, as well as exchangeprograms. In recent years, however, the Turkmengovernment has barred many students from participatingin U.S.-funded exchange programs and in 2013 itordered the Peace Corps to stop its 20-year-operations inthe country. The U.S. government continues to supportthree American Corners that provide free educationalmaterials and English language opportunities inDashoguz, Mary, and Turkmenabat. The American CornersProgram is a worldwide Department of State-sponsoredinitiative that was started over 10 years ago.The State Department announced the designationof Turkmenistan as a “country of particular concern” inlate July 2014 when it released its annual report on internationalreligious freedom. The State Department cited“concerns about the detention and imprisonment ofreligious minorities, the rights of religious groups to register,the lack of public access to registration procedures,and restrictions on importing religious literature.” InSeptember 2014, a waiver of a Presidential action wastied to the designation.RecommendationsThe recent CPC designation positions the U.S. governmentto negotiate commitments to improve religiousfreedom, while establishing a pathway to eventuallyde-list Turkmenistan based on concrete reforms. Inaddition to recommending that the U.S. governmentcontinue to designate Turkmenistan as a CPC, USCIRFrecommends that the U.S. government should:• Negotiate a binding agreement with the governmentof Turkmenistan under section 405(c) of IRFAto achieve specific and meaningful reforms, withbenchmarks that include major legal reform, an endto police raids, prisoner releases, and greater accessto foreign coreligionists; should an agreementnot be reached, the waiver of Presidential actionsshould be lifted;• Ensure that the U.S. Embassy maintains activecontacts with human rights activists and press theTurkmen government to ensure that every prisonerhas greater access to his or her family, human rightsmonitors, adequate medical care, and a lawyer;• Raise concerns about Turkmenistan’s record onreligious freedom and related human rights inbilateral meetings, such as the ABCs, as well asappropriate international fora, including the UNand OSCE; encourage the UN Regional Centre forPreventive Diplomacy for Central Asia (UNRCCA)to enhance the human rights aspect of its work;• Urge the Turkmen government to agree to anothervisit by the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom ofReligion or Belief, as well as visits from the Rapporteurson Independence of the Judiciary and onTorture, set specific visit dates, and provide the fulland necessary conditions for their visits;• Encourage the Broadcasting Board of Governors toincrease radio broadcasts and Internet programs74USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


TURKMENISTANto Turkmenistan on religious freedom, includingthe informative new Islam and Democracy website,as well as information on human rights and basiceducation, to help overcome decades of isolation;• Continue to press for resumption of the U.S. PeaceCorps program; and• Use funding allocated to the State Departmentunder the Title VIII Program (established in theSoviet-Eastern European Research and TrainingAct of 1983) for research, including on human rightsand religious freedom in former Soviet states, andlanguage training.USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 75


UZBEKISTAN76USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


UZBEKISTANof all religious groups and facilitates Uzbek governmentcontrol of religious activity, particularly of the majorityMuslim community. The law criminalizes unregisteredreligious activity; requires official approval ofthe content, production and distribution of religiouspublications; bans minors from religious organizations;and allows only clerics, and not laypeople, to wearreligious clothing in public. Many religious groups areunable to meet registration requirements, which includea permanent representation in eight of the country’s 13provinces. In 2014, a detailed new censorship decreewent into effect banning materials that “distort” beliefsor encourage individuals to change religions.The Uzbek government actively represses individuals,groups, and mosques that do not conform to officially-prescribedpractices or for alleged association withextremist political programs. While Uzbekistan facessecurity threats from groups using violence in the nameof religion, the government has arbitrarily used vagueanti-extremism laws against peaceful religious adherentsand others who pose no credible security threat.In addition, the Uzbek government’s harsh campaignagainst independent Muslims continues. Particulartargets include those linked to the May 2005 protests inThe government has arbitrarily used vague anti-extremism lawsagainst peaceful religious adherents . . .Key FindingsParticularly severe violations of freedom of religionor belief continue in Uzbekistan through governmentefforts to enforce a highly restrictive religion law and toimpose severe restrictions on all independent religiousactivity. The government imprisons individuals who donot conform to officially-prescribed practices or whoit claims are extremist, including as many as 12,000Muslims. Based on these systematic, egregious, ongoingviolations, USCIRF again recommends in 2015 thatUzbekistan be designated a “country of particular concern,”or CPC, under the 1998 International ReligiousFreedom Act (IRFA). While the State Department has sodesignated Uzbekistan since 2006, most recently in July2014, it has also indefinitely waived taking any punitiveaction since 2009.BackgroundWith an estimated total of 28.7 million people, Uzbekistanis the most populous post-Soviet Central Asianstate. According to local data, 93 percent of its populationis Muslim, mostly Hannafi Sunni with about onepercent Shi’a, mostly in Bukhara and Samarkand. Somefour percent is Russian Orthodox. The other three percentincludes Roman Catholics, ethnic Korean Christians,Baptists, Lutherans, Adventists, Pentecostals,Jehovah’s Witnesses, Buddhists, Baha’is, Hare Krishnas,and atheists. An estimated 6,000 Ashkenazi and 2,000Bukharan Jews are in Tashkent and other cities.Uzbekistan’s 1998 Law on Freedom of Conscienceand Religious Organizations severely limits the rightsAndijon of the conviction of 23 businessmen for allegedmembership in the banned Muslim group Akromiya;231 are still imprisoned in connection with the Andijonevents; 10 prisoners have died. The Uzbek governmentcontinues to pressure countries to return Uzbek refugeeswho fled after the Andijon tragedy.USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 77


Religious Freedom Conditions 2014-2015New Surveillance RegimeA new law that went into effect in August 2014 establisheda Preventive Register that lists all previousconvicts for at least one-year of “preventative measures.”It authorizes state agencies to prolong Register listingsbeyond one year and allows local authorities to workwith unofficial informers to “prevent the activity ofunregistered religious groups.”Application of Extremism LawsThe Uzbek government continued its decade-longpolicy of arresting and imprisoning, some for as long as20-year terms, individuals who reject state control overreligious practice or for their suspected religious affiliation.Many are denied due process and are tortured;some are detained in psychiatric hospitals. Observersestimate that upwards of 12,000 Uzbek Muslims are injail on these related charges. In 2013, approximately200 religious believers were arrested, according to theUzbek Initiative Group of Independent Human Rightsalso cannot leave Uzbekistan for an unknown period.In an RFE/RL Uzbek interview, Hamidov reportedlypraised his prison conditions. The other five – RashidSharipov, Akmal Abdullayev, Ahmad Rakhmonov,Ahmadjon Primkulov, and Kudratullo (last nameunknown) – were pardoned only after they repentedand asked President Karimov for forgiveness, thereby ineffect admitting their guilt, according to the independentForum 18 News Service. They were jailed becausethey met to study the writings of Turkish Muslim theologianSaid Nursi. There are unconfirmed reports thatother religious prisoners were amnestied in the run-upto the March presidential election in Uzbekistan.A prominent Uzbek imam, known as ShaykhAbdullah Bukhoroy, a critic of Uzbekistan’s governmentviewed as a radical Islamist, was shot dead in Istanbulon December 10, 2014. In 2014, President Karimov urgedreligious leaders to protect Uzbeks from the influenceof those who wish to establish an Islamic caliphate,according to RFE/RL. The Uzbek government has alsoused state television to justify its overly broad anti-extremismpolicies. For example, in late 2014, Uzbek state. . . [U]pwards of 12,000 Uzbek Muslims are in jail . . .Defenders. The government claims that many detaineesare associated with extremist groups that it labels “Wahhabi”or “jihadist,” but often without evidence of use oradvocacy of violence. These terms can refer to a range ofMuslim individuals or groups, including violent extremists,political opponents, those with foreign education,and others.In 2014, several Muslims, including Tajik citizenZuboyd Mirzorakhimov and Uzbek citizen ZoirjonMirzayev, were sentenced to five-year prison terms afterpolice found Qur’anic verses and allegedly “extremist”sermons on their cell phones; as of July 2014, the Tajikcitizen was held practically incommunicado in a TashkentInvestigation Prison, 10 months after sentencing.In February 2015, the Uzbek government amnestiedsix known Muslim prisoners of conscience, includingHairulla Hamidov, a well-known sports journalist andMuslim commentator. As a release condition, Hamidovhad to write an apology to President Islam Karimov; heTV ran a half-hour show on what it alleged is a newmethod of treason. The program focused on six Uzbekcitizens who were granted refugee status in Norway buthad returned to Uzbekistan and were in detention. Theshow made unfounded allegations not only that the sixwere religious extremists but also homosexuals who hadbelonged to a supposed underground religious extremistorganization reportedly led by an imam in Oslo.Detention ConditionsThe Uzbek human rights group Ezgulik has reportedon torture of female detainees, including many jailedfor religious beliefs. Despite the Uzbek government’sclaims, torture remains endemic in prisons, pretrialfacilities, and police precincts, and reportedly includesthe threat or use of violence, including rape, and theuse of gas masks to block victims’ air supply. Tortureallegedly is used to force adults and children to78USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


UZBEKISTANrenounce their religious beliefs or to make confessions.In early 2013, the International Committee for theRed Cross halted its work in Uzbekistan due to lack ofofficial cooperation. Despite a UN Committee Againsta car from two Baptists who refused to pay court fines forreligious activity.In May 2014, police and tax officials raided a Protestant-rundrug and alcohol rehabilitation center inIn February 2015, the Uzbek government amnestied six knownMuslim prisoners of conscience . . .Torture appeal, Muslim believer Khayrullo Tursonovwas returned by Kazakhstan to Uzbekistan; sentencedto a 16-year term in June 2013, he is now in a TB-infectedcamp. Nilufar Rahimjanova, 37, died in detentionin September 2014 in the women’s labor camp nearTashkent, according to Forum 18 News Service. She wasthree years into a 10-year prison term. Reportedly, shewas jailed to punish her Iran-based husband and herTajikistan-based father, both Muslim theologians.Restrictions on MuslimsThe Uzbek government tightly controls Islamic institutionsand prohibits their independent practice. Inthe Ferghana Valley, the government has confiscatedseveral mosques and banned children from attendance.The government-controlled Muslim Spiritual Boardoversees the training, appointment, and dismissal ofimams, and censors the content of sermons and Islamicmaterials. Despite these restrictions, attendance atregistered official mosques is high, and the country’sformer chief mufti, Muhammad Sodiq MuhammadYusuf, runs a popular website that includes reports onhuman rights outside Uzbekistan.Charges against Non-MuslimsThe government often brands evangelical Protestantsand Jehovah’s Witnesses as “extremists” for practicingreligion outside of state-sanctioned structures, andthey face massive fines, detention, and arrest for “illegalreligious activity.” Authorities raid meetings of registeredand unregistered Christian and Baha’i groups.In three known cases in 2014, local officials supportedimams’ refusals to allow non-Muslim burials in secularstate-owned cemeteries, Forum 18 reported. In May2014, court bailiffs in the Samarkand region confiscatedTashkent, closing the center and evicting 20 residents.Criminal charges for alleged financial crimes werebrought against the center’s founder, Vladislav Sekan; ateacher, Pyotr Tikhomirov, was fined for “illegally” storingreligious texts. Both belong to Tashkent’s Full GospelPresbyterian Church. Sekan, who fled the country withhis family in June 2014, told Forum 18 that he believedthe prosecution was linked to his efforts to unite variousProtestant churches in an alliance. In another incidentin the same month, police raided an Adventist home inSamarkand; they seized religious texts and computers,reportedly in retaliation for a July registration application.The state-controlled media encourages prejudiceagainst minority religious groups and has equatedmissionaries with religious extremists.Restrictions on Religious MaterialsThe Council on Religious Affairs (CRA) censors religiousmaterials. The religion law prohibits the importing,storing, producing, and distributing of unapprovedreligious materials. Members of religious communitiesreportedly destroy their own sacred texts due to fear ofconfiscation during police raids. In 2013, a CRA officialtold Forum 18 that Uzbek law only allows religious textsto be read inside buildings of registered religious groups.In May 2014, a Tashkent court fined a couple for “illegallystoring” religious texts at home and ordered thebooks destroyed. In another case, police ignored a courtorder to return confiscated texts. In July 2014, a Baptistfrom Taskhent was detained after he posted posters withBible verses; a court ordered property destruction and afine. In August 2014 in Navoi, police, without a warrant,searched the home of Baptists while they were worshipping,seized all religious texts from another Baptisthome, and warned them not to store Christian texts. TheUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 79


government also maintains an extensive list of bannedinternational websites, particularly on human rightsand religious freedom.Restrictions on Religious Instruction and TravelReligious instruction is limited to officially-sanctionedreligious schools and state-approved instructors, andonly six registered religious communities have met therequirement to conduct religious education that theymust have eight legally-registered regional branches. In2013, a woman was fined for her 12-year-old son’s “illegal”religious education; he took art lessons from twoProtestants. Private religious education is punished. In2010 Muslim religion teacher Mehrinisso Hamdamovawas sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment for teachingwomen about Islam; as previously reported, shecontinues to need medical attention. The governmentalso restricts international travel for religious purposes,and has a long list of those banned from such travel.U.S. PolicyUzbekistan is Central Asia’s most populous countryand shares borders with the four other former SovietRepublics in Central Asia as well as Afghanistan. It iscentral to the regional rail system built during the Sovietperiod that also connects with Russia. Because of thiscentrality, in recent years, U.S. policy in Uzbekistan hasfocused on the country’s key position in the NorthernDistribution Network (NDN), a supply route for U.S.and international forces in Afghanistan. Uzbekistan isthe NDN hub, but at times has not been cooperative.Uzbekistan’s NDN role will remain important in 2015 asthe withdrawal of U.S. combat forces accelerates.In 2004, Congress prohibited U.S. assistance to theUzbek central government unless the Secretary of Statereports that Uzbekistan is making substantial progressin meeting human rights commitments, establishinga multi-party system, and ensuring free and fairelections. Since 2004, some U.S. aid to Uzbekistan hadbeen withheld due to a lack of progress on democraticreforms. In 2008, Congress adopted a measure blockingUzbek officials from entering the United States if theyare deemed responsible for the 2005 Andijon violence orother human rights violations.In recent years, however, military assistancehas increased. As of 2009, Uzbekistan reportedly hasallowed “case-by-case” counter-terrorism operationson its territory. In 2010, Congress permitted expandedmilitary education and training programs for Uzbekistan.In 2012, the State Department certified on nationalsecurity grounds that military aid to Uzbekistan shouldresume for six months, despite its human rights assessmentciting numerous concerns, such as severe limitationson religious freedom, persistent torture, and noindependent probe into the 2005 Andijon events. Suchaid includes training border troops and possibly providingmilitary supplies. In a January 2015 VOA interview,Deputy Assistant Secretary of State (DAS) for Southand Central Asia Affairs Dan Rosenblum said that as oflate 2014 Uzbekistan had received excess U.S. militarymine-resistant and armored vehicles under the ExcessDefense Articles program to support the country’scounter-terrorism and counter-narcotics efforts.The United States instituted Annual Bilateral Consultations(ABCs) with each Central Asian state in 2009.The most recent U.S.-Uzbekistan ABC was in Tashkent inDecember 2014. The U.S. delegation was led by AssistantSecretary of State for South and Central Asia Affairs NishaDesai Biswal. DAS Rosenblum told the VOA that thehuman rights issues discussed included prison conditions,treatment of prisoners, restrictions on civil societyand media, labor rights, and religious freedom. Accordingto Rosenblum, the ABC for the first time also included anNGO roundtable on prison conditions. He also informedUSCIRF staff that the U.S. delegation called for the releaseof specific religious and political prisoners.Since 2006, the State Department has designatedUzbekistan as a “country of particular concern,” or CPC,for its systematic, egregious, ongoing violations of religiousfreedom. The CPC designation was most recentlyrenewed in July 2014. The State Department continuedits policy of indefinitely waiving any action as a consequenceof CPC designation, stating that this waiver isin the “important national interest of the United States”pursuant to IRFA section 407.RecommendationsIn addition to recommending that the U.S. governmentcontinue to designate Uzbekistan as a CPC, USCIRFrecommends that the U.S. government should:• Work to establish a binding agreement with theUzbek government, under section 405(c) of IRFA,80USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


UZBEKISTANon steps it can take to be de-listed from the CPC list;should negotiations fail or Uzbekistan not uphold itspromises in the agreement, lift the waiver on takingany action in consequence of the CPC designation,in place since January 2009, and impose sanctions,as contemplated in the IRFA legislation;• Use funding allocated to the State Departmentunder the Title VIII Program (established in theSoviet-Eastern European Research and TrainingAct of 1983) for research, including on human rightsand religious freedom in former Soviet states, andlanguage training.• Consider making U.S. assistance, except humanitarianassistance and human rights programs,contingent on the Uzbek government’s adoption ofspecific actions to improve religious freedom conditionsand comply with international human rightsstandards, including reforming the 1998 religionlaw and permitting an international investigationinto the 2005 Andijon events;• Press for UN Human Rights Council scrutiny of thehuman rights situation in Uzbekistan, as well asraise concerns in other multilateral settings, suchas the OSCE, and urge the Uzbek government toagree to visits by UN Special Rapporteurs on Freedomof Religion or Belief, the Independence of theJudiciary, and Torture, set specific visit dates, andprovide the full and necessary conditions for such avisit;• Ensure that U.S. statements and actions are coordinatedacross agencies so that U.S. concerns aboutreligious freedom and related human rights arereflected in its public statements and private interactionswith the Uzbek government, including callsfor the release of religious prisoners; ensure that theU.S. Embassy maintains appropriate contacts withhuman rights activists and press the Uzbek governmentto ensure that every prisoner has greateraccess to his or her family, human rights monitors,adequate medical care, and a lawyer;• Maintain the two-day duration of the Annual BilateralConsultations to allow full discussion of relevantissues, particularly human rights and religiousfreedom;• Encourage the Board for Broadcasting Governorsto ensure continued U.S. funding for the UzbekService of the Voice of America and for RFE/RL’sUzbek Service website, Muslims and Democracyand consider translating this RFE/RL Uzbek Servicematerial into other relevant languages;USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 81


82USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


TIER 12015 COUNTRY REPORTS:CPCS RECOMMENDED BY USCIRF–CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC–EGYPT–IRAQ–NIGERIA–PAKISTAN–SYRIA–TAJIKISTAN–VIETNAMUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 83


CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC84USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLICKey FindingsMilitias formed along opposing Muslim and Christianlines in the Central African Republic (CAR) have engagedin systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations offreedom of religion or belief. For much of 2014, CAR wasengulfed in a religious conflict after a 2013 coup resultedin rampant lawlessness and the complete collapse ofgovernment control. The ethnic cleansing of Muslimsand the sectarian violence in CAR in this reporting periodmeet the International Religious Freedom Act’s (IRFA)definition of particularly severe violations of religiousfreedom meriting “country of particular concern,” orCPC, designation. While IRFA’s language focuses CPCdesignations on governmental action or inaction, itsspirit is to bring U.S. pressure and attention to bear to endegregious violations of religious freedom and broaden theU.S. government’s ability to engage the actual drivers ofpersecution. As such, USCIRF recommends CPC designationfor the Central African Republic in 2015.BackgroundThe Central African Republic has a long history of politicalstrife, coups, and severe human rights abuses. However,severe religious freedom violations and sectarianviolence are new to the majority-Christian country.The rise of religious freedom violations and sectarian violencein the CAR started with the December 2012 politicalrebellion by a coalition of majority-Muslim armed rebels,the Séléka. The Séléka rebel alliance united four northernrebel groups angered by the government’s failure toimplement previous peace deals calling for economicdevelopment for the country’s marginalized northeastand army jobs for former rebel fighters. Large numbersof Chadian and Sudanese foreign fighters and diamondsellers also supported the rebels, hoping to increasetheir access to CAR’s lucrative natural resources. Despitea brief peace agreement, the Séléka took the capital,Bangui, in March 2013 and deposed President FrançoisBozizé. Subsequently, Séléka leader Michel Djotodia proclaimedhimself President. As rulers, Séléka leaders andsoldiers committed crimes against humanity, includingenforced disappearances, illegal detention, torture, andextrajudicial killings of political opponents, many ofwhom ended up in mass graves. The Séléka also, at times,engaged in targeted attacks on churches and Christiancommunities while sparing mosques and Muslims.In June 2013, deposed president Bozizé, former CentralAfrican Armed Forces (FACA) soldiers, and membersof Bozizé’s inner circle met in Cameroon and France toplan his return to power. They recruited existing self-defensemilitias (known as the anti-balaka), FACA soldiers,and other aggrieved non-Muslims to carry out theirplans. As part of their effort to return to power, Bozizéand his supporters framed the upcoming fighting as anopportunity to avenge Séléka attacks on non-Muslims.Christian fears about their rights under a Muslim leaderwere compounded by military aircrafts transportingwounded Séléka to Khartoum and a letter from PresidentDjotodia to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation askingfor support in return for helping to institute Islamicgovernments in CAR and other regional countries.The fighting between the Séléka and anti-balakastarted in September 2013. The situation dramaticallydeteriorated on December 5, 2013, when the anti-balakaattacked Muslim neighborhoods in Bangui. The ensuingfighting led to a large-scale conflict in which civilianswere targeted based on their religious identity. In January2014, at a meeting of Central African and neighboringstates, President Djotida was forced to resign. Two weekslater, Catherine Samba Panza, then mayor of Bangui, wasvoted in as Interim President by the country’s Parliament.Sectarian violence continued to escalate for the first halfof 2014, but slowed after the country’s de facto partitionbetween the Séléka and the anti-balaka and the signing ofthe Brazzaville peace accords on July 23.The fighting now is largely within and between themilitias for land and resource control. However, after overUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 85


a year of violence between Muslims and Christians, thecountry has become religiously divided. Muslims whotook refuge in peacekeeper-protected enclaves remainthere for fear of being attacked by the anti-balaka shouldthey leave. Sporadic killings and skirmishes based on religiousidentity continue. The ethnic cleansing campaignin Muslim areas resulted in 99 percent of the capital’sMuslim residents leaving Bangui, 80 percent of CAR’sMuslim population fleeing to neighboring countries, and417 of the country’s 436 mosques being destroyed in 2014.In an effort to stabilize the country, the AfricanUnion (AU), European Union, and France deployedpeacekeepers to Bangui and outside of the capital in late2013 and early 2014. The AU troops were absorbed intothe enhanced 10,000 troop United Nations MultidimensionalIntegrated Stabilization Mission in the CentralAfrican Republic (MINUSCA) peacekeeper mission onSeptember 15, 2014. Government officials, the police,and judiciary have neither the infrastructure nor theresources to stop the fighting or to bring to justice theperpetrators of violence. CAR transitional authoritiesare in the process of drafting a new constitution.Religious Freedom Conditions 2014–2015Violations by the anti-balakaThe International Criminal Court (ICC) and the UnitedNations both opened investigations into reports of genocidein the CAR in this reporting period. In December2014, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on theCentral African Republic (COI) issued a report finding a“pattern of ethnic cleansing committed by the anti-balakain the areas in which Muslims had been living.” Theanti-balaka began their ethnic cleansing campaign withthe December 5, 2013 attack on Bangui. The COI foundthat, although purportedly fighting to return Bozizé topower, the anti-balaka deliberately targeted Muslims andforcibly transferred them out of their villages. Bozizé isreported to have told supporters to kill Muslims.The anti-balaka have killed hundreds of Muslimcivilians since January 2014. The arrival of French and AUtroops in Bangui and their Séléka demobilization effortsin early 2014 left the Muslim population without protectionand vulnerable to attack. Within months, CAR’swestern and northwestern cities, towns, and villages wereemptied of their Muslim residents. Anti-balaka fightersdeliberately killed Muslims because of their religiousidentity or told them to leave the country or die. Theanti-balaka even killed Muslims fleeing the violence,including those in humanitarian-assisted evacuationconvoys. In March, the United Nations and Chadianpeacekeepers operated convoys to help Muslims safelyleave the country. The program was stopped by transitionalpresident Catherine Samba-Panza, who did notwant the government to be held responsible for the ethniccleansing of Muslims. The UN reports that 99 percent ofthe capital’s Muslim residents have left Bangui, and 80percent of the entire country’s Muslim population hasfled to Cameroon or Chad. Prior to the start of the conflictin December 2012, Muslims comprised 15 percent ofCAR’s population. According to Human Rights Watch,the remaining Muslims live in peacekeeper-protectedenclaves and are vulnerable to attack if they leave.In addition to the targeted killing of Muslims, theanti-balaka systematically destroyed mosques and Muslimhomes and businesses. U.S. Permanent Representative tothe United Nations Samantha Power reported, after hertrip to the Central African Republic in March 2015, that 417of the country’s 436 mosques have been destroyed.Violations by the SélékaThe UN Commission of Inquiry determined that Sélékasoldiers engaged in widespread rape, looting of non-Muslimproperties, targeted killing of Christians, and thesystematic killing of non-Muslim civilians in Bossangoain 2013. During their rebellion and after the March 2013coup, Séléka fighters attacked Christian priests, pastors,nuns, church buildings, and other Christian institutions.The militia specifically looted churches but not mosques,and protected Muslim residents while killing or rapingChristian residents. However, the COI did not find thatthe Séléka engaged in the ethnic cleansing of CAR’sChristian community.U.S. PolicyU.S.-Central African Republic relations historically havebeen limited. USAID does not have a presence in thecountry. U.S. Embassy Bangui has closed multiple timesdue to instability. Current U.S. policy focuses on assistingthe CAR and supporting international efforts to preventmass atrocities and provide security, humanitarianassistance, justice, rule of law, and national reconciliation.The U.S. government supports the transitional86USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLICgovernment, UN peacekeeping mission, and Africanand international mediating efforts.As part of U.S. and international efforts to bringjustice to the CAR, on May 13, 2014, President BarackObama issued Executive Order 13667 sanctioning thefollowing persons for threatening the stability of theCentral African Republic: former president FrançoisBozizé, former transitional president Michel Djotodia,Séléka leaders Nourredine Adam and AbdoulayeMiskine, and anti-balaka “political coordinator” LevyYakite. The sanctions block these individuals’ propertyand financial interests in the United States.In 2014, the United States provided more than $145million in humanitarian assistance, $100 million tosupport international peacekeepers, and $7.5 million inconflict mitigation, interfaith messaging, and humanrights programs. U.S. Permanent Representative to theUnited Nations Samantha Power and Assistant Secretaryof State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfieldtravelled to the Central African Republic in 2014, andthe United States facilitated high-level inter-religiousexchanges in this reporting period all aimed to preventand end mass atrocities, increase interfaith dialogue,and encourage national reconciliation efforts.Future U.S. programming, based on the StateDepartment’s FY2016 budget request to Congress, willfocus on re-establishing and professionalizing a functioningcriminal justice system; supporting efforts toend impunity for serious crimes; training and professionalizingthe CAR’s law enforcement forces and prisonsystem; training the CAR’s military; and building capacityfor military and police from contributing countriesdeploying to the country.U.S. policy in the CAR is led by Special Representativefor the Central African Republic Ambassador W.Stuart Symington and U.S. Embassy Bangui Chargéd’Affaires David Brown, who previously served as aSpecial Advisor on CAR in Washington, D.C. Prior toBrown’s appointment as Chargé in September 2014, theEmbassy had been closed since the start of the conflictin December 2012.RecommendationsIn addition to recommending that the United Statesdesignate the Central African Republic a “countryof particular concern” for systematic, ongoing andegregious violations of freedom of religion or belief,USCIRF recommends that the U.S. government should:• Include issues related to ending sectarian violence,reducing interfaith tensions, and ensuring therights of religious freedom and religious minoritiesin all engagements with CAR authorities, UN officials,and MINUSCA contributing countries;• Continue to speak out regularly against sectarianviolence and gross human rights abuses by theSéléka and the anti-balaka;• Sanction additional Séléka and anti-balaka membersresponsible for organizing and/or engaging insectarian violence, ethnic cleansing, and crimesagainst humanity;• Support rule of law reform and continue fundingprograms to re-establish and professionalize theCAR’s judiciary;• Support and fund the formation of the SpecialCriminal Court, a hybrid court composed of CARjudges and international judges, to prosecutepersons accused of committing ethnic cleansing,crimes against humanity, and other gross humanrights abuses;• Work with CAR transitional authorities, religiousleaders, and other civil society representatives toensure that international standards of freedomof religion or belief are included in the CAR’s newconstitution;• Encourage CAR transitional authorities andinterfaith leaders to undertake initiatives to ensurethat CAR Muslims have a future in the country, byissuing statements that Muslims are full and equalcitizens, including Muslims in constitution draftingand national reconciliation dialogues, and aidingthe rebuilding of destroyed mosques and Muslimproperties;• Continue to support interfaith dialogues and effortsby religious leaders and their U.S. faith-based partnersto rebuild social cohesion; and• Continue to support humanitarian assistance forrefugees and displaced persons, as well as rebuildingprojects.USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 87


EGYPT88USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


EGYPTKey FindingsSince he assumed office in June 2014, President AbdelFattah al-Sisi has made several important public statementsand gestures encouraging religious toleranceand has urged changes to religious curricula, a significantshift in tone and rhetoric from his predecessors.In particular, President al-Sisi delivered a speech tosenior Muslim religious authorities at Al Azhar Universitycalling for reforms; he was the first head of stateto attend a Coptic Christmas Eve mass; and he offeredcondolences in person to Coptic Pope Tawadros afterthe killing of 21 Copts in Libya. In addition, there wasa decrease in the number of targeted, sectarian attackswhen compared to the previous year. Nevertheless, theEgyptian government has not adequately protectedreligious minorities, particularly Coptic OrthodoxChristians and their property, from periodic violence.Discriminatory and repressive laws and policies thatrestrict freedom of thought, conscience, and religionor belief remain in place. Egyptian courts continue toprosecute, convict, and imprison Egyptian citizens forblasphemy, and new government initiatives to counteratheism emerged during the year. While the 2014 constitutionincludes improvements regarding freedomof religion or belief, the interpretation and implementationof relevant provisions remain to be seen, in partdue to the lack of an elected parliament. Based onthese concerns, for the fifth year in a row, USCIRF recommendsin 2015 that Egypt be designated a “countryof particular concern,” or CPC, under the InternationalReligious Freedom Act (IRFA). USCIRF will continueto monitor the situation closely to determine if positivedevelopments warrant a change in Egypt’s status innext year’s annual report.BackgroundDuring the reporting period, Egypt continued its volatilepolitical transition following the July 2013 ousterof former president Mohamed Morsi by the military,led by then-General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. The interimgovernment continued to implement a roadmap toamend the constitution and to hold presidential andparliamentary elections. In January 2014, a new constitutionwas approved overwhelmingly by referendum,and in May, al-Sisi was elected president with nearly97 percent of the vote with a turnout of 47.5 percentof eligible Egyptian voters. Parliamentary elections,originally scheduled for March and April 2015, weredelayed indefinitely after the Supreme ConstitutionalCourt ruled that the law on electoral constituencieswas unconstitutional because it did not guarantee fairrepresentation. Some of the improved religious freedomprovisions in the constitution cannot be implementeduntil a new parliament is seated.Despite President al-Sisi urging religious toleranceand moderation in several public statementsduring the year, including in a January 2015 speechEgyptian courts continue to prosecute,convict, and imprison Egyptian citizensfor blasphemy, and new governmentinitiatives to counter atheism emergedduring the year.at Al Azhar University, the government’s efforts tocombat extremism and terrorism have had a chillingimpact on civil society activities in the country. Amongthe consequences have been severe limits on dissentand criticism of the government, resulting in a poorhuman rights situation overall, including for freedomof religion or belief. Sympathizers and members ofthe Muslim Brotherhood, journalists, and oppositionfigures continue to be harassed, jailed, and given harshprison terms, including death sentences for Broth-USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 89


erhood members and other Islamists, sometimes onlegitimate, but also on unfounded, security charges.Conditions for Coptic Orthodox Christians remainedprecarious, as most perpetrators of attacks in recentyears have not been convicted, including from largescaleincidents that occurred between 2011 and 2013.Small communities of Baha’is and Jehovah’s Witnessesremain banned and anti-Semitism persists instate-controlled and semi-official media.Religious Freedom Conditions 2014–2015Government Control of Islamic InstitutionsThe government increased its control over all Muslimreligious institutions, including mosques and religiousendowments. Egyptian officials have justified this regulationas necessary to counter extremism and terrorism. InFebruary 2015, an administrative court upheld a September2013 decree by the Ministry of Religious Endowmentsthat prevents imams who are not graduates of Al-Azharfrom preaching in licensed and unlicensed mosques.The ruling, which resulted in the closure of thousands ofsmall mosques, bans unlicensed mosques from holdingFriday prayers and requires Friday sermons to followgovernment “talking points.” The government appointsand pays the salaries of all Sunni Muslim imams andmonitors sermons.Coptic Christians, Violence andContinued ImpunityIn January 2015, President al-Sisi became the first Egyptianhead of state to attend a Coptic Christmas Eve massat the St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo,and in February, he met with and offered condolences toCoptic Pope Tawadros at the cathedral after the killingby ISIL of 21 Copts in Libya. While the Coptic communityin general welcomed these and other symbolicgestures, repressive laws and discriminatory policiesagainst Copts remained in place, including blasphemycharges and convictions, limits on building and maintainingchurches, limits on conversion from Islam, andlack of accountability for violent attacks.Over the past year, the number and severity ofviolent incidents targeting Copts and their propertydecreased significantly when compared to the previousyear; however, sporadic violence continued, particularlyin Upper Egypt. In some parts of the country, Egyptiansecurity services increased protection of churchesduring significant religious holidays, which lessenedthe level of fear and insecurity among members ofthe Coptic community. Following the unprecedentedviolence in the summer of 2013, including against Copticchurches and their property, the Egyptian governmentformed a fact-finding commission to investigatethe attacks and pledged to hold accountable thoseresponsible for the violence and to rebuild the dozensof churches that were destroyed. In November 2014, theEgyptian government released an executive summaryof its report, which found 52 churches were completelydestroyed, another 12 damaged, and numerous Christian-ownedproperties destroyed. The report also foundthat 29 people died in sectarian-related killings, withoutany specific details surrounding the deaths. At the endof the reporting period, according to human rightsgroups, 10 percent of the destroyed churches and Christianproperties were in the process of being rebuilt.In December 2014, some 40 perpetrators who werefound responsible for attacks on five churches in Assiut,Upper Egypt, were sentenced to prison terms rangingfrom one to 15 years. Some other cases are ongoing, andperpetrators have yet to be brought to justice. In somecases, police have not conducted adequate investigations,sometimes due to fear of retribution against themby violent extremists. The inability to protect Copts andother religious minorities, and successfully prosecutethose responsible for violence, continued to foster anatmosphere of impunity.Blasphemy Law and Limits onReligious ExpressionArticle 98(f) of the Egyptian Penal Code prohibitscitizens from “ridiculing or insulting heavenly religionsor inciting sectarian strife.” Authorities use this “contempt-of-religion,”or blasphemy, law to detain, prosecute,and imprison members of religious groups whosepractices deviate from mainstream Islamic beliefs orwhose activities are alleged to jeopardize “communalharmony” or insult Judaism, Christianity, or Islam. InJanuary 2015, President al-Sissi issued a decree thatpermits the government to ban any foreign publicationsit deems offensive to religion.Blasphemy cases have increased since 2011, andthis trend continued during the reporting period.90USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


EGYPTWhile the majority of charges are leveled against SunniMuslims, the majority of those sentenced by a courtto prison terms for blasphemy have been Christians,Shi’a Muslims, and atheists, mostly based on flawedtrials. In June 2014, separate courts in Luxor imposedblasphemy sentences of up to six years in prison on fourindividuals, including Coptic Christian Kirollos ShawqiAtallah, who was sentenced to six years for postingphotos on a Facebook page deemed defamatory toIslam. In February 2014, a court sentenced Amr Abdullah,an Egyptian Shi’a, to five years in prison with laboron charges of blasphemy and defaming the ProphetMohammed’s companions for attempting to observe theShi’a Ashura holiday at the al-Hussein mosque in Cairo.Bishoy Armia, previously known as Mohamed Hegazy,a Christian convert who was among the first to legallychange his religion from Islam to Christianity, wassentenced in June 2014 to five years in prison for workingas a journalist and reporting on anti-Christian activitiesin Minya, Upper Egypt. In July, he also was charged with“insulting Islam,” charges that were previously filedagainst him in 2009. In December 2014, an appeals courtdropped some of the charges, however, at the end ofthe reporting period, Armia remained in prison on theblasphemy charge.Egyptian atheists saw a rise in blasphemy chargesover the past year, as well as growing societal harassmentand various Egyptian government campaigns tocounter atheism. In December 2014, Dar al-Ifta, a JusticeMinistry entity that issues religious edicts, publisheda survey claiming that Egypt was home to 866 atheists,supposedly the “highest number” of any country in theMiddle East. Two officials from the office of the GrandMufti – who heads Dar al-Ifta – publicly called this a“dangerous development.” In June 2014, the Ministriesof Religious Endowments and Sports and Youth initiateda national campaign to combat the spread of atheismamong Egyptian youth. In March 2014, a high-levelMinistry of Interior official publicly stated that a specialpolice task force would be formed to arrest a group ofAlexandria-based atheists who expressed their beliefson Facebook and other social media platforms. InJanuary 2015, Egyptian atheist student Karim Al-Bannawas given a three-year prison sentence for blasphemybecause a court found some of his Facebook posts to“belittle the divine.” In March 2014, an Egyptian courtupheld a three-year prison sentence on “contempt-of-religion”charges for Egyptian author Karam Saber forpublishing a book questioning the existence of God.Baha’is and Jehovah’s WitnessesBaha’is and Jehovah’s Witnesses have been banned since1960 by presidential decrees. As a result, Baha’is livingin Egypt are unable to meet or engage in public religiousactivities. Al-Azhar’s Islamic Research Center has issuedfatwas over the years urging the continued ban on theBaha’i community and condemning its members asapostates. In December 2014, the Ministry of ReligiousEndowments held a public workshop to raise awarenessabout the “growing dangers” of the spread of the Baha’iFaith in Egypt. Since Baha’i marriage is not recognized,married Baha’is cannot obtain identity cards, making itimpossible to conduct daily transactions like banking,school registration, or car ownership. In recent years, thegovernment has permitted Jehovah’s Witnesses to meet inprivate homes in groups of fewer than 30 people, despitethe community’s request to meet in larger numbers.Jehovah’s Witnesses are not allowed to have their ownplaces of worship or to import Bibles and other religiousliterature. Over the past year, security officials continuedto harass and intimidate Jehovah’s Witnesses by monitoringtheir activities and communications and by threateningthe community with intensified repression if it doesnot provide membership lists.Anti-Semitism and the Jewish CommunityIn 2014, material vilifying Jews with both historical andnew anti-Semitic stereotypes continued to appear inEgypt’s state-controlled and semi-official media. Thismaterial included anti-Semitic cartoons, images of Jewsand Jewish symbols demonizing Israel or Zionism, comparisonsof Israeli leaders to Hitler and the Nazis, and Holocaustdenial literature. Egyptian authorities failed to takeadequate steps to combat anti-Semitism in the state-controlledmedia. Egypt’s once-thriving Jewish communityis now only a small remnant consisting of fewer than 20people. It owns communal property and finances requiredmaintenance largely through private donations.Egypt’s ConstitutionThere are some encouraging changes in the January2014 constitution that could bode well for religiousUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 91


freedom. Several problematic provisions from the 2012constitution were removed: a provision that narrowlydefined Islamic Shari’ah law; a provision potentiallygiving Al-Azhar a consultative role in reviewing legislation;and a provision that effectively banned blasphemy.In addition, a new provision, Article 235, requires theincoming parliament to pass a law governing the buildingand renovating of churches. This would potentiallylift the longstanding requirement of governmentalapproval for building or repairing churches, which hasserved as a justification for sectarian-related violencetargeting Christians. While Article 64 provides that“freedom of belief is absolute,” like the 2012 constitution,this article limits the freedom to practice religious ritualsand establish places of worship to only the “divine”religions: Islam, Christianity, and Judaism.U.S. PolicyFor many years, U.S. policy toward Egypt has focused onfostering strong bilateral relations, continuing securityand military cooperation, maintaining regional stability,and sustaining the 1979 Camp David peace accords.Successive administrations have viewed Egypt as a keyally in the region. Egypt is among the top five recipientsin the world of U.S. aid. The FY2015 Consolidated AppropriationsAct provides Egypt with $1.3 billion in foreignmilitary financing (FMF) and $150 million in economicsupport funds (ESF), the lowest level in more thanthree decades. During the reporting period, the ObamaAdministration publicly urged the Egyptian governmentto make progress on economic and political reforms,including on human rights concerns, although less so onspecific religious freedom issues than it did in the threeyears following the January 25, 2011 revolution.Public Law 113-235, the FY2015 ConsolidatedAppropriations Act, places conditions on U.S. assistanceto Egypt related to limits on human rights, includingreligious freedom. Specifically, it requires the Secretaryof State to certify that Egypt has taken steps to advancethe democratic process, protect free speech, and protectthe rights of women and religious minorities, amongother things. However, the Act also authorizes theSecretary to provide assistance to Egypt without suchcertification if he or she determines that the assistance isimportant to the national security interests of the UnitedStates. At the end of the reporting period, the Secretaryof State has not made a determination that would waivehuman rights-related certification requirements andallow for the provision of assistance.According to the State Department, officials at alllevels of the U.S. government raised a range of religiousfreedom concerns with Egyptian counterparts duringthe reporting period. When President Barack Obamamet with President al-Sisi in September 2014 on thesidelines of the UN General Assembly, President Obamaraised some human rights concerns, although it wasnot clear if any religious freedom issues were discussed.Despite USCIRF recommending since 2011 that Egyptshould be designated a “country of particular concern,”the State Department has not taken such action.RecommendationsEgypt continues to experience both progress andsetbacks during its transition, the success of whichhinges on full respect for the rule of law and compliancewith international human rights standards,including freedom of religion or belief. In addition torecommending that the U.S. government designateEgypt as a CPC, USCIRF recommends that the U.S.government should:• Ensure that a portion of U.S. military assistance isused to help police implement an effective plan fordedicated protection for religious minority communitiesand their places of worship, and providedirect support to human rights and other civil societyor non-governmental organizations to advancefreedom of religion or belief for all Egyptians;• Press the Egyptian government to undertakeimmediate reforms to improve religious freedomconditions, including: repealing decrees banningreligious minority faiths; removing religion fromofficial identity documents; and passing a law forthe construction and repair of places of worshiponce a new parliament is formed;• Urge the Egyptian government to revise Article98(f) of the Penal Code, which criminalizes contemptof religion, and, in the interim, provide theconstitutional and international guarantees of therule of law and due process for those individualscharged with violating Article 98(f);92USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


EGYPT• Press the Egyptian government to prosecuteperpetrators of sectarian violence through thejudicial system, and to ensure that responsibility forreligious affairs is not under the jurisdiction of thedomestic security agency, which should only dealwith national security matters such as cases involvingthe use or advocacy of violence; and• Place particular emphasis, in its annual reportingto Congress on human rights and religious freedom,on the Egyptian government’s progress on theprotection of religious minorities, prosecution ofperpetrators of sectarian violence, and the abilityof Egyptian non-governmental organizations toreceive outside funding from sources including theU.S. government.Dissenting Statement ofVice Chair James J. ZogbyWith this report, USCIRF is recommending that theDepartment of State designate Egypt as a “country ofparticular concern” (CPC). I strongly disagree. This isthe wrong recommendation, for the wrong country, atthe wrong time.While the overall human rights situation in Egyptis deplorable and a matter of concern, the same cannotbe said for the status of religious freedom in the country.Matters of political repression and the out-of-controlactions of an overzealous judiciary, though quiteserious, are beyond the scope of our Commission unlessthey directly impact issues of religious liberty.As is noted in the opening sentences of USCIRF’sreport, when it comes to matters of religious freedom,there were significant developments in Egypt during thispast year. President al Sisi made unprecedented outreachto Coptic Christians to affirm that they are “equal citizens,”promising to protect their rights. And both the Presidentand the Sheikh al Azhar have called for a “revolutionin Islam” in order to help eliminate extremism. Even nowmajor changes are being made in Egypt’s educationalmaterials and efforts are underway to limit the ability ofextremists to develop congregations of followers. Furthermore,Coptic leaders with whom I have spoken have saidthat they feel more secure than they have in a long time.The above report does include a number of othercases and charges against Egypt. Some of these areserious, but they do not reach the “systematic, ongoing,and egregious” standard required to declare Egypt aCPC. In light of these positive developments, it simplymakes no sense for USCIRF to be asking the StateDepartment to now give Egypt a CPC status when theState Department has not done so before.The challenges facing the government of Egypt atthis time are to: defeat the terrorist threat they are facing,rein in their judiciary, restore rights to civil society,grow the economy, and move quickly to complete their“road map” by electing a new parliament. This will domore to advance religious liberty than imposing the illtimedand uncalled for sanctions that might result froma CPC designation.Additional Statement of CommissionersEric P. Schwartz and Thomas J. Reese, S.J.We abstained on the Commission vote to urge the StateDepartment to designate Egypt as a country of particularconcern. We don’t question whether abuses againstreligious freedom remain serious and substantial, oreven whether a CPC designation is legally defensible.But by its act, the Commission urges the Departmentof State to impose a new, condemnatory measure onEgypt for violations of religious freedom and thereforesend a signal that could be reasonably inferred to meanwe believe the religious freedom situation is deteriorating.This strikes us as a peculiar time for the StateDepartment to send such a message, in light of the factthat President Sisi has made, by the Commission’s ownaccount, “important public statements and gestures”supporting religious tolerance, and at a time in which“targeted, sectarian attacks,” again by our own account,have diminished as compared to last year. We believethat recent developments made it possible for the Commissionto defer from making a CPC recommendationto the State Department, and that is what we would havepreferred. Let us be clear that we are no fans of the Sisiregime, which is guilty of systematic abuses of humanrights that merit the strongest condemnation. But wealso are not fans of making recommendations that,if implemented, would risk sending a confusing andcounterproductive message. Of course, we will continueto monitor the situation in Egypt and hope to seeimprovements. And should conditions deteriorate, we’dbe prepared to reconsider our position.USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 93


IRAQ94USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


IRAQISIL targets all Iraqis who oppose its violent religious ideology,but the smallest non-Muslim minority communities,particularly Yazidis and Christians,suffered especially egregious and large-scale abuses.Key FindingsIraq’s overall human rights landscape, including forreligious freedom, deteriorated significantly in 2014,especially in areas controlled by the U.S.-designatedterrorist group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant(ISIL). In these areas the Iraqi government has littlecapacity to fight ISIL’s advances or to protect religiouscommunities from violent attack. ISIL targets all Iraqiswho oppose its violent religious ideology, but the smallestnon-Muslim minority communities, particularlyYazidis and Christians, suffered especially egregiousand large-scale abuses. While ISIL was the most egregiousperpetrator of religiously-motivated human rightsand religious freedom violations in Iraq in the last year,the Iraqi government also contributed to the deteriorationin religious freedom conditions. Security forcesand Shi’a militias supported by the Iraqi governmentperpetrated grave human rights violations, particularlyagainst Sunni Muslims. Millions of Iraqis are nowrefugees or are internally displaced. Based on theseviolations, perpetrated primarily by non-state actors butalso by the state, USCIRF recommends in 2015 that theU.S. government designate Iraq as a “country of particularconcern,” or CPC, under the International ReligiousFreedom Act (IRFA). USCIRF has recommended CPCdesignation for Iraq since December 2008. Post-SaddamIraq has never been designated as a CPC by the StateDepartment.BackgroundUnder Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi government maintainedreligious peace through intimidation and terrorwhile favoring the Sunni Muslim minority. With thefall of Saddam in 2003, sectarian conflict exploded. TheShi’a Muslim majority took control of the governmentand effectively froze out the Sunni Muslim population.The Iraqi government under Prime Minister Nourial-Maliki often acted in an authoritarian and sectarianmanner, for example, raiding and disbanding peacefulSunni protests, targeting Sunni areas, citizens andpoliticians for security sweeps and arrests, mistreatingSunni prisoners, and marginalizing Sunnis fromgovernment and security positions. This backgroundhelped create the conditions that allowed ISIL to rise,spread, and ultimately control significant areas ofnorthern and central Iraq. Despite al-Maliki’s resignationand replacement in August by new Prime MinisterHaider al-Abadi, Sunni resentment and reports ofabuses against Sunni Muslims by security forces andallied Shi’a militias continue.Over the past decade, many Iraqis, Muslim andnon-Muslim alike, have been victimized by religiously-motivatedviolence. The Iraqi government has provenunable or unwilling to stop this violence or bring perpetratorsto justice, creating a perpetual sense of insecurityfor all religious communities, particularly the smallestones. While the 2005 Iraqi constitution states that itguarantees equality and religious freedom to all Iraqis,USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 95


ights and religious freedom in Iraq and the region. ISILespouses an extreme, violent religious ideology thatallows for no religious diversity. While ISIL targets allIraqis who oppose it, religious minority communitieshave suffered especially egregious, devastating, andDespite al-Maliki’s resignation and replacement in August bynew Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, Sunni resentment and reports of abusesagainst Sunni Muslims by security forces and allied Shi’a militias continue.these guarantees thus far have provided little actualprotection, particularly, but not only, in the past year.Even before ISIL’s rise, the country’s smallest religiouscommunities – which include Catholics, ChristianOrthodox, Protestants, Yazidis, and Sabean Mandaeans– were mere shadows of their already-small formerpresence. Pre-2003, non-Muslims amounted to onlyan estimated 3 percent of Iraq’s population. They havelong faced official and societal discrimination, and theirsmall size and lack of militia or tribal structures havemade it difficult for them to defend themselves againstviolence or protect their rights through the Iraqi politicalsystem. In 2013 the Christian population was estimatedat 500,000, half the size estimated in 2003. Also in 2013,the Yazidis reported that since 2005 their populationhad decreased by nearly 200,000 to approximately500,000, and the Mandaeans reported that almost 90percent of their community had left the country or beenkilled, leaving just a few thousand. The size of thesereligious communities continue to decline as the crisisin Iraq deepens, with Iraqi Christian leaders now statingthat their community only numbers around 250,000-300,000. Between 2003 and 2008, many members ofIraq’s smallest minority communities were driven out ofthe country or fled to northern Iraq, including areas inthe semi-autonomous Kurdistan region (KRG), as wellas other nearby areas that are now under ISIL’s control.The KRG areas have been the safest part of Iraq, butminorities in areas nearby that are disputed betweenthe KRG and the Iraqi central government have reportedpressure from Kurdish officials and political parties tosupport their territorial claims.Religious Freedom Conditions 2014-2015Violations by ISIL and other Non-State ActorsISIL’s rise, spread and ultimately its June 2014 declarationof a so-called “Islamic State,” which cuts across Iraq andSyria, is particularly threatening for the future of humanlarge-scale abuses, including forced expulsion from theirhistoric homelands, forced conversion, rape and enslavementof women and children, torture, beheadings, andmassacres. ISIL’s takeover of northern Iraq could wellmark the end of the presence in that area of its ancientYazidi and Christian communities.In June 2014, ISIL took the northern city of Mosul,overrunning Iraqi forces there, who dropped theirweapons and fled. ISIL issued an ultimatum that allChristians must convert to Islam, leave Mosul, pay a tax,or face death. The Christian community in Mosul datesback more than 1,700 years, with an estimated 30,000living there before the ISIL offensive. In August, ISILcaptured Qaraqosh, the largest Christian town in northernIraq, prompting an estimated 100,000 Christiansto flee, and an assault on the Christian town of al-Koshalso led to an exodus of Christians. Nearly all Christiansare believed to have left ISIL-held territory, with mostfleeing to the KRG region.ISIL’s August 2014 attack on the largely Yazidi townof Sinjar, located in the Nineveh province of northernIraq, led to the massacre of Yazidis, Assyrian Christians,Shi’a and others, and the destruction of religious sitesthat date back centuries. Yazidi contacts told USCIRFthat the Kurdish forces protecting the town abandonedthem during the night when ISIL was approaching, leavingthem defenseless. According to the UN, 200,000 civilians,mostly Yazidis, fled Sinjar town for the mountain,which ISIL forces surrounded. Men, women, and childrenwere stranded on Mount Sinjar with no escape andlittle access to food, water, or shelter, except for limitedairlifts provided by Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga forces.Reportedly, as many as 500 Yazidis were massacred by96USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


IRAQISIL and dozens died of starvation and dehydration. ForYazidis, the ISIL ultimatum was to convert or die; theyare not considered “people of the book” and thereforenot afforded the options to leave or pay a tax. In addition,thousands of Yazidi women and girls, including thosewho had not reached puberty, were kidnapped, raped,sold as sex slaves, or killed. The Kurdish Peshmerga, withthe assistance of U.S. airstrikes, was finally able to breakthrough ISIL’s siege of Mt. Sinjar in December 2014. Peshmergaforces reported finding mass graves in the area.ISIL also has killed Sunni Muslims who disagreewith its extreme ideology. In October 2014, 150 Sunniabuses committed by members of these groups againstSunni civilians. In an October 2014 report, AmnestyInternational named ‘Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, the BadrBrigades, the Mahdi Army, and Kata’ib Hizbullah asperpetrators of human rights abuses, including masskillings of Sunni civilians.U.S. PolicyAfter the U.S. military withdrew from Iraq in December2011, the U.S. presence in the country decreasedsignificantly between 2012 and 2014. However, the riseof ISIL and the formation of a new Iraqi government inISIL’s takeover of northern Iraq could well mark the end of thepresence in that area of its ancient Yazidi and Christian communities.Muslims from the Albu Nimr tribe were found in a massgrave, and in a separate case a few weeks earlier, 70additional corpses from the same tribe were found. ISILhas also killed at least 12 Sunni clerics that rejected theirextremist ideologies or attempted to assist or protectreligious minorities.Non-state actors other than ISIL have also perpetratedreligiously-motivated attacks. As in previousyears, 2014 saw a number of violent attacks targeting thecountry’s Shi’a majority, including pilgrims celebratingimportant holidays. These presumably were carried outby Sunni extremist groups, though the actual perpetratorof specific attacks is rarely known. For example,on May 22, multiple attacks in and around Baghdadkilled at least 35 Shi’a pilgrims traveling to a shrine inKadhimiya and injured dozens.Violations by the Iraqi GovernmentThe Iraqi government, under both former PrimeMinister al-Maliki and current Prime Minister Haideral-Abadi, also has committed human rights abuses,including torture and extrajudicial killings of Sunniprisoners and civilians. In addition, the government isfunding and arming Shi’a militias to fight ISIL, whichoperate outside any legal framework and with impunity.Human rights groups and the United Nations havedocumented summary executions and other severe2014 have led the United States to once again deepenits involvement, including but not limited to, increasedhumanitarian aid, air strikes, and training and assistingIraqi forces.After years of supporting the al-Maliki government,by mid-2014 U.S. officials reportedly felt that al-Malikicould no longer govern Iraq due to his and his government’ssectarian and authoritarian actions, and pressuredal-Maliki to step down to allow a new governmentto form. In August 2014, al-Maliki resigned and Haideral-Abadi was designated as Prime Minister by PresidentFuad Masum.In August 2014, ISIL’s offensive in northern Iraqthat targeted Yazidis and other minority communitiesand threatened U.S. personnel in Erbil led to U.S.airstrikes, the first since the 2011 troop withdrawal.In addition, the U.S. military began airdrops of foodand water to the thousands of people trapped onMount Sinjar. The same month, the U.S. governmentannounced that it would provide Iraqi Kurdistan’sPeshmerga forces with light weaponry and ammunitionand begin sending military advisers and trainersto assist Iraqi government forces. In addition, in August2014, USAID deployed a Disaster Assistance ResponseTeam (DART) to the region to coordinate U.S. humanitarianefforts in responding to the needs of newlydisplaced populations. According to a CongressionalUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 97


Research Service February 2015 report, approximately3,100 U.S. military non-combat personnel have beendeployed to Iraq. The United States is now leading acoalition of 60 countries to combat ISIL’s advance.The Iraqi government, under bothformer Prime Minister al-Maliki andcurrent Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi,also has committed human rightsabuses, including torture andextrajudicial killings ofSunni prisoners and civilians.Many of the countries conduct their own airstrikes,train and provide weaponry to Iraqi and Kurdishforces, provide humanitarian aid, and are workingto cut off ISIL’s funding sources. In September 2014,President Obama appointed retired General John Allenas the U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for the GlobalCoalition to Counter ISIL.In addition, the United States is leading theinternational effort to provide aid for civilians whomISIL forced to flee their homes and are now internallydisplaced or refugees in neighboring countries. TheCongressional Research Service has reported that thetotal U.S. government humanitarian funding to Iraq inFY2014 and FY2015 (as of December 19, 2014) was morethan $213.8 million. The United States also continuesto resettle Iraqi refugees to the United States. Accordingto State Department statistics, 19,769 Iraqis wereresettled to the United States in FY2014, the most fromany single country.In recent years, the U.S. government has madeefforts to help address the problems facing Iraq’ssmallest religious and ethnic minorities. Since 2008,the State Department has designated officials in bothWashington and Baghdad to coordinate its efforts onminority issues. In Washington, that responsibility isnow held by the deputy to the Special Presidential Envoyfor the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL. The UnitedStates also has funded civil society efforts to assist Iraq’sminorities, such as the Support for Minorities in Iraq(SMI) program, which works with minority groups tohelp them better represent themselves in civil society. Inaddition, after the reporting period, Assistant Secretaryof State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor TomMalinowski and Ambassador-at-Large for InternationalReligious Freedom David Saperstein raised concernsabout minority issues and abuses perpetrated by Iraqimilitias on a February 2015 visit to Iraq.RecommendationsIn addition to recommending that the U.S. governmentdesignate Iraq as a CPC, USCIRF recommends that theU.S. government should:• Call for or support a referral by the UN SecurityCouncil to the International Criminal Court toinvestigate ISIL violations in Iraq and Syria againstreligious and ethnic minorities, following the modelsused in Sudan and Libya, or encourage the Iraqigovernment to accept ICC jurisdiction to investigateISIL violations in Iraq after June 2014;• Ensure that the efforts of the Global Coalition toCounter ISIL include steps to protect and assistthe region’s most vulnerable religious and ethnicminorities and, where appropriate, assist Iraqigovernment and KRG security forces in efforts toprovide security to protect likely targets of sectarianor religiously-motivated violence;• Develop a government-wide plan of action to protectreligious minorities in Iraq and help establishthe conditions for them to return to their homes;charge the Ambassador-at-Large for InternationalReligious Freedom with engaging with theInter-Governmental Contact Group on Freedom ofReligion or Belief to coordinate similar efforts byother governments;• Urge the Iraqi government to create structures tooversee and hold to account Shi’a militias, so theydo not violate the human rights of non-combatantSunni Muslims or religious minorities, andto investigate and prosecute perpetrators whenviolations occur;• Include in all military or security assistance to theIraqi and Iraqi Kurdistan governments a requirementthat security forces are integrated to reflectthe country’s religious and ethnic diversity, and98USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


IRAQprovide training for recipient units on universalhuman rights standards and how to treat civilians,particularly religious minorities;• Continue to task embassy officials with engagingreligious minority communities, and work withIraq’s government and these communities andtheir political and civic representatives to help themreach agreement on what measures are needed toensure their rights and security in the country;• Urge the parties to include the protection of rightsfor all Iraqis and ending discrimination as partof negotiations between the KRG and the Iraqigovernment on disputed territories, and press theKRG to address alleged abuses against minoritiesby Kurdish officials in these areas;• Focus U.S. programming in Iraq on promotingreligious freedom and tolerance and ensure thatmarginalized communities benefit from U.S. andinternational development assistance; and• Continue to prioritize the resettlement to theUnited States of vulnerable Iraqi refugees, includingthose who fled to Syria but are now refugees ina third country; interview applicants by videoconferencewhen in-person interviews cannotbe conducted for security reasons; and allocatesufficient resources to the Department of HomelandSecurity and other agencies to expeditiouslyprocess applications and conduct security backgroundchecks to facilitate resettlements withoutcompromising U.S. national security.At present, the Administration is working with theIraqi government to defeat the IS, to rebuild a non-sectarianarmy, and to implement political reforms that willcreate a more inclusive government. Declaring Iraq as aCPC does not contribute to this effort.The second reason I am averse to making this designationis that it was hubris that led the Bush Administrationto invade, occupy, and believe that it could restructurethe governance of the country. The creation of themurderous sectarian militias took place on our watch inthe middle of the last decade, as did the massive sectarian“cleansing” operations that resulted in the dislocation ofone-fifth of the country’s population and the forced exileof two-thirds of Iraq’s Christian community.The question we must ask now ourselves is: did wedo everything in our power, when we left Iraq to insurethat the country was on the path to national reconciliationand inclusive governance? Since the answer isclearly that we did not, it is, at best, insensitive for usto now declare the mess we left behind a “country ofparticular concern.”While the non-state actors in Iraq deserve our condemnation,what the Iraqi government now needs fromus is the political and military support we are providingto defeat the IS and put their house in order.Dissenting Statement ofVice Chair James J. ZogbyI disagree with the decision to name Iraq a “country ofparticular concern” for two reasons.First, the main violators of religious freedom inIraq today are non-state actors from the self-styled“Islamic State” (IS) to the armed sectarian militias thatoperate outside of the control of the central government.Both the IS and the armed sectarian militiashave committed atrocities against those not of theirfaith, and the IS, in particular, has engaged in genocidalbehavior towards Christians and other vulnerablereligious minorities.USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 99


NIGERIAKey FindingsReligious freedom conditions in Nigeria are beingstrained by Boko Haram’s terrorist attacks against Christiansand Muslims, recurring sectarian violence, andescalating interfaith tensions. While the Nigerian federalgovernment does not engage in religious persecution, itfails to implement effective strategies to prevent or stopterrorism or sectarian violence and does not bring tojustice those responsible for such violence. The Nigeriangovernment’s almost exclusively military approach toBoko Haram contributes to ongoing terrorism in thecountry. Boko Haram exploits sectarian fissures tomanipulate religious tensions and destabilize Nigeria.regions. Managing this diversity and developing anational identity has been, and continues to be, aproblem for Nigerians and the Nigeria government,especially between its “Muslim North” and “ChristianSouth.” To address this challenge, the practice has beenfor presidential tickets to include candidates from bothregions and to be religiously balanced. The charter of theruling Peoples’ Democratic Party requires its presidentialcandidates to switch between the north and southevery eight years. Critics argue that President GoodluckJonathan upset the regional alternation when he succeededthe late President Umaru Yar’Adua and continuedto seek re-election in 2011 and 2015. During the 2011Religious freedom conditions in Nigeria are being strained byBoko Haram’s terrorist attacks against Christians and Muslims,recurring sectarian violence, and escalating interfaith tensions.Based on these concerns, in 2015 USCIRF again recommendsthat Nigeria be designated as a “country of particularconcern” or CPC, under the International ReligiousFreedom Act (IRFA). USCIRF first recommended Nigeriabe designated a CPC in 2009; Nigeria was on the Commission’sTier 2 (Watch List) from 2002-2009. The StateDepartment has not designated Nigeria a CPC.BackgroundNigeria’s population of almost 180 million people isequally divided between Muslims and Christians.Religious identity frequently falls along regional, ethnic,political, and socio-economic lines and provides flashpointsfor violence.The return to democracy and elected leadershipended decades of corrupt military rule, but created awinner-take-all fight for presidential power betweenand 2015 presidential elections, many in the north feltthat it was still that region’s turn for the presidency.On March 28, 2015, Nigerians elected oppositioncandidate and northerner Major General (ret.) MuhammaduBuhari as president. It was Nigeria’s first closely-contestedpresidential election between two majorpolitical parties, and led to Nigeria’s first democratictransfer of power between parties. Fears of inter-religiousviolence like that which killed more than 800persons in April 2011 were unrealized.Since 1999, violence between Christian and Muslimcommunities in Nigeria, particularly in the Middle Beltstates, has resulted in more than 18,000 people killed,hundreds of thousands displaced, and thousands ofchurches, mosques, businesses, homes, and otherstructures damaged or destroyed. Years of inaction byNigeria’s federal and state governments have created aclimate of impunity.USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 101


Although the 1999 constitution provides for freedomof religion or belief, it also legally discriminates betweenpersons whose ethnic group is deemed by state-levelofficials to be native to a particular area (“indigenes”)and those considered to be from elsewhere (“settlers”).Indigene and settler identities can fall along religiouslines, leading to ethno-religious violence over who controlslocal governments to determine indigene status anddistribute corresponding education, employment, andproperty benefits. The constitution’s federalism provisionsalso create an overly centralized rule-of-law systemthat hinders effective and timely police responses tosectarian violence and impedes prosecutions.The Nigerian government does not actively perpetratereligious freedom abuses, but does toleratenorthern and southern state laws and practices thatMay 2014, Boko Haram garnered international attentionwith the abduction of more than 270 schoolgirlsfrom the northeastern town of Chibok. The Council onForeign Relations’ Nigeria Security Tracker reports thatfrom May 2011 through December 2014, Boko Haramkilled more than 8,400 persons; another 7,900 werekilled in fighting between Boko Haram and Nigeriansecurity forces. The United Nations reported that by theend of 2014 more than 700,000 Nigerians were internallydisplaced and 142,000 sought refuge in Cameroon,Chad, and Niger.In 2014, Boko Haram attacked Muslim and Christianreligious leaders and religious ceremonies, police,military, schools, “non-conforming” Muslims, andMuslim critics. It bombed St. Charles Catholic Church inKano, a Shi’a Muslim Ashura festival in Potiskum, andThe Nigerian government does not actively perpetratereligious freedom abuses, but does tolerate northern and southern state lawsand practices that result in religious freedom violations.result in religious freedom violations. The criminalcodes of 12 Muslim-majority northern Nigerian statesinclude Shari’ah law penalties and have been appliedagainst Muslims and Christians. In the south, therehave been reports of increased discrimination againstMuslims. States habitually fail to implement announcedprograms or recommendations by government commissionsto end sectarian violence.Religious Freedom Conditions 2014–2015Boko HaramBoko Haram is a U.S.-designated Foreign TerroristOrganization (FTO) engaged in an insurgent campaignto overthrow Nigeria’s secular government andimpose what it considers “pure” Shari’ah law. The groupdeclared an Islamic “Caliphate” in areas it controls inAugust 2014. After the close of this reporting period,Boko Haram pledged its allegiance to the Islamic Stateof Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) on March 8, 2015. BokoHaram opposes Nigeria’s federal and northern state governments,political leaders, and Muslim religious elitesand has worked to expel all Christians from the north. Inthe Kano Central Mosque. The terrorists also attemptedto assassinate presidential candidate Major General(ret.) Muhammadu Buhari and the Emir of Kano. BokoHaram routinely abducted hundreds of Nigerians tobe slave laborers or wives. The terrorists successfullyexploded two bombs in the greater Abuja area in 2014and regularly bombed crowded markets and busstations throughout the north. These attacks killedthousands of innocent civilians. Christian advocacygroups report that Boko Haram ordered Christian mento convert or die and forced abducted Christian womento convert.The Nigerian government’s military efforts againstBoko Haram have been ineffective. From May 2013through November 2014, the Nigerian government operateda state of emergency in Borno, Yobe, and Adamawastates, and deployed a Joint Task Force (JTF) composedof army, air force, police, state security, and intelligenceofficers to the three states to defeat Boko Haram. Inthis time period, Boko Haram expanded the territoryit controlled to an area roughly the size of Belgium andran incursions into neighboring Cameroon, Chad, and102USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


NIGERIAAfrican Union approved an 8,700-troop Multi-NationalJoint Task Force (MNJTF) composed of soldiers fromBenin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria, whichsuccessfully re-captured dozens of towns. Nevertheless,Boko Haram suicide bombings continue to occur almostdaily throughout the north, and the group appears to bereturning to the urban, guerilla campaign that categorizedmuch of its activities in 2012 and 2013.The State Department and Nigeria experts alsohave criticized the Nigerian government for failing toimplement a holistic response to the insurgency thatincludes counter- and de-radicalization programs andeconomic and social development initiatives. In Mayand September 2014, Nigerian National Security AdvisorColonel (ret.) Sambo Dasuki called for a “soft approach”to tackle Boko Haram that would include developmentand counter-radicalization programs for the northeast.In 2014, the Nigerian government announced northeastdevelopment, emergency relief, reconstruction,. . . from May 2011 through December 2014, Boko Haram killedmore than 8,400 persons; another 7,900 were killed in fighting betweenBoko Haram and Nigerian security forces.Niger. As a result of inadequate government protection,civilians in Borno state formed vigilante groups todefend their villages from Boko Haram; at times thesevigilante groups (known as the Civilian Joint Task Force)cooperated with the JTF.Observers note that the military’s heavy-handedtechniques have been counterproductive. They fail toprotect northeastern communities and at the sametime alienate civilians from the central government,fueling recruitment or passive support for Boko Haram.The U.S. State Department, Human Rights Watch,Amnesty International, and Nigeria experts all reportthat security forces’ actions often increased the deathtoll. Security forces are accused of excessive use of force,committing extra-judicial killings, mistreating detaineesin custody, arbitrary arrests, and using collectivepunishments. The Nigerian Security Tracker reportsthat state security officers are solely responsible for anadditional 5,000 deaths from May 2011 through December2014. Nigerian officials deny these abuses and thefederal government has not arrested or prosecuted onesoldier for such abuses.Corruption also hampered the military campaignagainst Boko Haram. Despite a Nigerian military budgetof $5.8 billion, the U.S. State Department and Departmentof Defense report that the funding is “skimmedoff the top” and there is low troop morale in the JTF.Soldiers are poorly trained and equipped, and at timesare reported to run away or not engage a better armedand trained Boko Haram. Several military officers wereprosecuted in this reporting period for failing to engageBoko Haram. The military did secure some successesin this reporting period. In the lead-up to Christmas,security forces successfully protected Christians byincreasing their presence around houses of worship,strategically undertaking helicopter patrols, and banningvehicle movements in Borno and Yobe states. Afterthe close of this reporting period, in February 2015, theand rehabilitation programs, as well as a safe schoolsinitiative. However, to date the Nigerian government hasnot shown a willingness to vigorously implement thesetypes of initiatives as part of a broader campaign todefeat Boko Haram. There is no available evidence thatdevelopment or reconstruction and rehabilitation programsare in effect. Only the safe schools initiative andemergency relief fund to support internally displacedpersons have commenced. Further, the State Departmentreports that the Nigerian federal government doesnot support northern state-level education and employmentinitiatives.Sectarian ViolenceSince 1999, violence between Christian and Muslimcommunities in Nigeria, particularly in the Middle Beltstates, has resulted in more than 18,000 people killed,hundreds of thousands displaced, and thousands ofchurches, mosques, businesses, homes, and otherUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 103


structures damaged or destroyed. Rarely are perpetratorsof sectarian violence held accountable. Withalmost no consequence for violence, incidents regularlytrigger retaliatory attacks. Human Rights Watchestimates that between January 2010 and December2013, 2,000 to 3,000 Muslims and Christians in theMiddle Belt were killed in revenge attacks on eachother’s communities.Recurrent rural violence between predominatelyChristian farmers and predominately Muslim herderscontinued in 2014 with attacks in Bauchi, Benue,Kaduna, Plateau, and Taraba states that killed hundreds,displaced thousands, and destroyed a numberof churches. While land disputes factor into this violence,religion is a significant catalyst in the attacks inthe religiously-balkanized Kaduna and Plateau states.Southern Kaduna state has been especially prone tosectarian violence since the April 2011 elections. Inthe country’s most deadly episode of Muslim-Christianviolence in this reporting period, 147 people wereNorthern State-Level Legal ProblemsTwelve Muslim-majority northern Nigerian states applytheir interpretation of Shari’ah law in their criminal codes.State governments in Bauchi, Zamfara, Niger, Kaduna,Jigawa, Gombe, and Kano funded and supported Hisbah,or religious police, to enforce such interpretations.In January 2014, two Shari’ah courts in Bauchi Stateheld a trial of 12 men accused of breaking national andShari’ah laws on homosexuality. Their cases were heardin secret after an angry mob pelted the defendants withstones following a hearing, demanding their immediateexecution. In March, four were convicted, given 15lashes, and fined $125, and seven were secretly releasedon bail. A Christian suspect was tried in a secular courtand later secretly released. Also in January, in a separatecase, a man was publicly flogged and fined $5,000 afterbeing convicted of homosexuality.Christian leaders in the northern states report thatthose states’ governments discriminate against Christiansin denying applications to build or repair places ofChristian leaders in the northern states report that thosestates’ governments discriminateagainst Christians in denying applications to build or repairplaces of worship, access to education,representation in government bodies and employment.killed and 285 houses and three churches were razedwhen suspected Muslim Fulanis launched attacks onChristian villages in Kaura Local Government Area,Kaduna State in March. No arrests or prosecutions ofperpetrators were reported.As in previous reporting periods, the Nigerianfederal and state government response was ineffective,if present at all. When they did act, it typically involvedtardy military deployments to stop violence, implementationof 24-hour curfews following some episodes,and a series of meetings and peace agreements.Security officers often were accused of excessive use offorce and killing civilians. Starting on March 31, 2014,the Nigerian military executed a major internal securityoperation in Benue, Nasarawa, and Plateau statesto stem the rural violence.worship, access to education, representation in governmentbodies and employment.Southern State-Level Legal ProblemsReports of discrimination against Muslims in southernstates increased in 2014. Hundreds of northern Muslimswere arrested throughout southern Nigeria in 2014 forbeing suspected Boko Haram members; most were laterreleased. Further, northern Muslims in the southeastwere required to register with the local governments.A Lagos High Court upheld a state ban on wearing thehijab in all Ogun state schools.U.S. PolicyNigeria is a strategic U.S. economic and security partnerin Sub-Saharan Africa. Senior Obama Administration104USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


NIGERIAofficials regularly visit the country, including trips bySecretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry andby other senior State Department officials. The UnitedStates is Nigeria’s largest trading partner. Nigeria is thesecond largest recipient of U.S. foreign assistance inAfrica and the United States is the largest bilateral donorto Nigeria; for fiscal year 2016 the State Department isrequesting $607,498,000 for programs to support democraticgovernance, professionalization of the securityservices, counterterrorism initiatives, economic andagricultural production, and health and educationservices. Nigeria’s importance to U.S. foreign policywas demonstrated in 2010 with the establishment of theU.S.-Nigeria Bi-National Commission.Despite strong bilateral ties, the Nigerian-U.S. relationshipdeteriorated in 2014 due to disagreements overhow to stop the Boko Haram insurgency. The UnitedStates has consistently urged the Nigerian governmentto expand its solely military approach to address problemsof economic and political marginalization in thenorth. Additionally, senior U.S. officials frequently warnin private bilateral meetings and in public speechesthat Nigerian security forces’ excessive use of force inresponse to Boko Haram is unacceptable and counterproductive.Nigerian government officials believe thatDespite strong bilateral ties, the Nigerian-U.S. relationshipdeteriorated in 2014 due to disagreements over how tostop the Boko Haram insurgency.the U.S. government is failing to provide it with adequatemilitary support, and prematurely ended a U.S. trainingprogram of its army officers in November 2014 after theUnited States stopped selling helicopters to the countrydue to concerns about human rights abuses.Despite these disagreements, the U.S. governmenthas a large military assistance and anti-terrorism programin Nigeria to stop Boko Haram. The United Statesdesignated Boko Haram as a Foreign Terrorist Organization(FTO) in November 2013. It designated as terroristsBoko Haram leaders Abubakar Shekau, AbubakarAdam Kambar, and Khalid el Barnawi in June 2012, andoffered a $7 million reward for information leading totheir capture in June 2013. It also supported UN SecurityCouncil sanctions on Boko Haram to prohibit armssales, freeze assets, and restrict movement. In May 2014,following the Chibok kidnappings, President BarackObama sent to Abuja a multi-disciplinary team composedof humanitarian experts, U.S. military personnel,law enforcement advisors, investigators, and hostagenegotiation, strategic communication, civilian securityand intelligence experts to advise Nigerian officials andhelp secure the return the kidnapped girls. The Departmentsof State and Defense fund a $40 million GlobalSecurity Contingency Fund to train and equip Cameroon,Chad, Niger, and Nigeria to conduct a regional,cross-border strategy to stop Boko Haram. Nigeriareceives additional security advice and assistancethrough its participation in other partnerships, initiatives,and programs. However, in compliance with theLeahy Amendment, U.S. security assistance to the NigerianJTF is limited due to concerns of gross human rightsviolations by Nigerian soldiers. Finally, both USAID andthe State Department support counter-radicalizationcommunication programs in northeast Nigeria.Throughout 2014 and early 2015, the U.S. governmentsupported efforts to make the 2015 presidential,legislative, and gubernatorial elections free, fair, credible,and violence free. In February 2015, Secretary ofState John Kerry met with President Jonathan and leadopposition presidential candidate Gen. Buhari in Abujaand warned that the U.S. government would deny entryvisas to any individual who instigated electoral violence.The U.S. government provided capacity and technicalassistance to the Independent National Elections Commission;funded electoral violence mitigation, politicalparty development, and civic education programs;supported domestic and international observationmissions; lobbied the media to refrain from sensationalelections reporting and called on the political partiesand candidates to renounce electoral violence.USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 105


Despite problems of sectarian violence, none ofthe Bi-National Commission working groups haveaddressed specifically issues of recurrent inter-religiousviolence and the culture of impunity. However,the State Department and USAID have implementedprograms on conflict mitigation and improvinginterfaith relations in line with USCIRF recommendations.The State Department funds capacity-buildinginitiatives for the Kaduna Interfaith MediationCenter (IMC) to address ethnic and religious violenceacross the country. USAID’s TOLERANCE programworks with the IMC to provide conflict mitigation andmanagement assistance in northern and Middle Beltstates in Nigeria. Additionally, the State Department’sOffice of International Religious Freedom funds theNGO Search for Common Ground to conduct interfaithconflict mediation programs in the Middle Belt and theBureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor supportsan Open Society Foundation interfaith religiouseducation and dialogue program.RecommendationsNigeria has the capacity to improve religious freedomconditions by more fully addressing Boko Haramand sectarian violence, and will only realize respectfor human rights, lasting progress, security, stability,and prosperity as a democracy if it does so. Moreover,USCIRF is concerned that the charged rhetoric used bypolitical and religious leaders could lead to an escalationof violence and a more divided, sectarian Nigeria.For these reasons, USCIRF recommends that the U.S.government designate Nigeria as a CPC. In addition toso designating Nigeria, USCIRF recommends that theU.S. government should:• Seek to enter into a binding agreement with theNigerian government, as defined in section 405(c)of IRFA, and be prepared to provide financial andtechnical support to help the Nigerian governmentcommit to undertake reforms to address policiesleading to violations of religious freedom, includingbut not limited to the following:• vigorously investigating, prosecuting, and bringingto justice perpetrators of all past and futureincidents of sectarian violence and terrorism;• developing effective conflict-prevention andearly-warning mechanisms at the local, state, andfederal levels using practical and implementablecriteria;• developing the capability to deploy specializedpolice and army units rapidly to prevent andcombat sectarian violence in cities around thecountry where there has been a history of sectarianviolence; and• taking steps to professionalize its police and militaryforces in its counter-terrorism, investigative,community policing, crowd control, and conflictprevention capacities by conducting specializedtraining for its military and security forces onhuman rights standards, as well as non-lethalresponses to crowd control and quelling mob orcommunal violence;• Hold a joint session of the U.S.-Nigeria Bi-NationalCommission working groups on good governanceand security to address issues of Nigeria’s recurrentsectarian violence and failure to prosecuteperpetrators;• Impose visa bans on persons who instigate sectarianviolence;• Urge the Nigerian government to create a Ministryof Northern Affairs and provide technical assistanceto this new body to address the socio-economicdisparities in the north that fuel the creationand continuation of Boko Haram;• Advise the Nigerian government in the developmentof de-radicalization and community reintegrationprograms for youth and women enslaved byBoko Haram;• Encourage and support through training andeducation efforts by the Nigerian government toprovide additional security personnel to protectnorthern Christian minorities and clerics and Muslimtraditional rulers who denounce and activelywork to end the Boko Haram insurgency;• Expand engagement with Middle Belt and northernreligious leaders and elders on universal humanrights, including freedom of religion or belief;106USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


NIGERIA• Ensure that U.S-funded education efforts in northernNigeria to increase access to schools and reformtraditional Islamic schools include lessons on thepromotion of freedom of religion or belief, tolerance,and human rights;• Continue to support civil society and faith-basedorganizations at the national, regional, state,and local levels that have special expertise and ademonstrated commitment to intra-religious andinterreligious dialogue, religious education, reconciliationand conflict prevention; and• Support programs and institutions, particularlyin areas where sectarian violence has occurred,that monitor, report on, and counter religiously-inflammatorylanguage and incitement to violence,consistent with the right to freedom of expression.USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 107


PAKISTAN108USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


PAKISTANKey FindingsPakistan represents one of the worst situations in theworld for religious freedom for countries not currentlydesignated by the U.S. government as “countries ofparticular concern.” In the past year, the governmentgrappled with a challenging security environment andinitiated efforts to fight the Pakistani Taliban. However,despite these efforts, Pakistan continued to experiencechronic sectarian violence targeting Shi’a Muslims,Christians, Ahmadi Muslims, and Hindus. Despite positiverulings by the Supreme Court, the government failedto provide adequate protection to targeted groups or toprosecute perpetrators and those calling for violence.Pakistan’s repressive blasphemy laws and anti-Ahmadilaws continue to violate religious freedoms and to foster aclimate of impunity. USCIRF again recommends in 2015that Pakistan be designated a “country of particular concern,”or CPC, under the International Religious FreedomAct (IRFA), as it has recommended since 2002.BackgroundPakistan is an ethnically and religiously diverse countryof over 190 million people. The 1998 census of Pakistanfound that 95 percent of the population identified asMuslim. Of that, 75 percent identified as Sunni, but thatis divided among numerous Sunni sects and denominations.25 percent of the Muslim population identified asShi’a. Two to four million Ahmadis consider themselvesMuslims, but Pakistani law does not recognize them assuch. Non-Muslim faiths constitute roughly five percentof the population, and include Christians, Hindus,Parsis/Zoroastrians, Baha’is, Sikhs, Buddhists, andothers. Shi’a, Christian, and Hindu groups believe theircommunities are larger than the census reported.In 2014, the Pakistani Supreme Court took up theissue of violence against religious minorities on severaloccasions, going so far as to mandate the creation ofspecial police forces and monitoring bodies. Despitecourt oversight and democratic institutions, the Pakistanigovernment engaged in and tolerated systematic,ongoing, and egregious violations of freedom of religionor belief. Pakistan’s legal environment is particularlyrepressive due to its religiously discriminatory constitutionalprovisions and legislation, including its blasphemylaws. The government failed to protect citizens,Pakistan represents one of theworst situations in the worldfor religious freedom . . . .minority and majority alike, from sectarian and religiously-motivatedviolence, and Pakistani authoritieshave not consistently brought perpetrators to justice ortaken action against societal actors who incite violence.In this climate, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharifand his party in parliament made condemnatorystatements against acts of violence and established acommission on religious minorities under the Ministryof Religious Affairs. While prosecutions of perpetratorswere generally rare, this year an anti-terrorcourt did sentence to death an individual for the 2010attacks on an Ahmadi mosque. An anti-terror courtalso remanded four individuals for the mob attack thatkilled a Christian couple in November 2014 over blasphemyallegations. In civilian courts, where the majorityof these cases are heard, militants can intimidatejudges and lawyers and perpetrators of mob attacks arefrequently released on bail.No action was taken to reform repressive laws,with observers noting that the National Assembly spentonly 15 hours out of over 1000 to discuss rising violenceagainst religious minorities. In addition, in contrastto the previous government, the Sharif governmentdecreased the representation of religious minoritiesUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 109


in positions of influence, as the interfaith harmonyministry remained folded into the ministry for religiousaffairs, which primarily deals with hajj participation.The Sharif government continued to recognize theMinorities Day holiday, established by the late ShahbazBhatti, the Minister of Minority Affairs who was assassinatedin 2011, although the level of participation by governmentofficials was low. The trial of Shahbaz Bhatti’smurderers was suspended due to threats to prosecutionwitnesses made in the courtroom by militants.In June 2014, after recurring attacks, the Pakistanimilitary launched military operations against the PakistaniTaliban’s base of operations in North Waziristan.In retaliation, the Pakistani Taliban attacked softtargets, such as Shi’a mosques, churches, and a schoolfor the children of military officers in Peshawar. TheDecember 16 school attack – which killed over 130 children,many execution style, and wounded scores – ledPrime Minister Sharif to launch a National Action Plan,which was supported by the major political parties. The20-point plan, inter alia, created military courts to tryterrorists, emphasized actions taken to stop religiousextremism and to protect religious minorities, and saidan effort would be made to register madrassas.After the reporting period, USCIRF Commissionersmade the first ever Commissioner-level visit to Pakistanin March 2015. Commissioners met with high rankingPakistani officials, including National Security AdviserSartaj Aziz, as well as officials in the Ministries of Interiorand Religious Affairs. Tragically, suicide bombersattacked two churches in Lahore the day the USCIRFdelegation departed Pakistan.Religious Freedom Conditions 2014-2015Targeted Sectarian ViolenceThe Pakistani government’s failure to effectively interveneagainst violence targeting the Shi’a minoritycommunity, as well as against Christians, Hindus andAhamdis, continued during the reporting period. USCIRFfound that from July 2013 to June 2014, 122 incidents ofsectarian violence occurred, resulting in more than 1,200casualties, including 430 deaths. Authorities have notconsistently brought the perpetrators of such violence tojustice. Early attempts in 2014 to negotiate peace with thePakistani Taliban dissolved after repeated attacks, whichspurred a major military offensive. The Pakistani Talibanhas been a major persecutor of religious minorities, aswell as Sunni Muslims who disagree with their ideology,so the military offensive may limit their ability to useviolence. However, the Pakistani Taliban may retaliate,as they have in the past, by targeting Shi’a Muslims andschools. Also, any military gains will likely be short-livedwithout a similar government effort on the civilian sideto ensure arrests and prosecutions of perpetrators andinstigators of religious violence.Shi’a MuslimsDuring 2014, militants and terrorist organizationscontinued to target Shi’a processions and mosques, aswell as social gathering places, with impunity. Police,if present, have failed to stop attackers before peopleare killed, and the government has not cracked downon the groups that repeatedly target Shi’a Muslims. Thegovernment has not successfully prosecuted the leaderof Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a banned terrorist organizationbehind many of the attacks, who is regularly releaseddue to a purported lack of evidence.ChristiansViolence against Christians continued, with few concreteactions taken by federal or provincial officials toensure their protection. For instance, after the 2013 mobattack on the Christian village Joseph Colony in Punjab,the provincial government provided some reparationsbut all of the attackers were released on bail. The onlyperson serving a prison sentence is a Christian falselyaccused of blasphemy, who was sentenced to death.Other attacks against Christians because of allegationsof blasphemy continued (see below).AhmadisDuring 2014, individual Ahmadis continued to bemurdered in religiously-motivated attacks. In May2014, a Canadian-American Ahmadi doctor visitingPakistan to do relief work was murdered in front of hisfamily. In July, three Ahmadis – a grandmother and hertwo grandchildren – were killed in an arson attack by amob. In December, a major Pakistani television stationaired an interview with religious scholars who referredto Ahmadis as “enemies.” Days later, an Ahmadi wasmurdered; the community suspects motivation from thetelevision broadcast. (See more about the unique legal110USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


PAKISTANrepression of Ahmadis below.) In addition, local policerepeatedly forced Ahmadis to remove Qur’anic scripturefrom mosques and minarets.HindusAllegations of kidnappings of Hindu women, followedby forced conversions to Islam and forced marriagesto Muslim men, continued to arise throughout 2014.Hindu women are particularly vulnerable to thesecrimes because Pakistani law does not recognize Hindumarriages. In March 2014, a mob set fire to a Hindu communitycenter in southern Pakistan after allegationsthat a Hindu had desecrated a Qur’an. Four other Hindutemples were attacked that month elsewhere.Forced ConversionsForced conversion of Christian and Hindu girls andyoung women into Islam and forced marriage remainsa systemic problem. The Movement for Solidarity andPeace in Pakistan estimates that hundreds of Christiansand Hindus are victimized each year.Blasphemy LawsThe country’s blasphemy laws, used predominantlyin Punjab province but also nationwide, target membersof religious minority communities and dissentingMuslims. During the reporting period, five individualswere sentenced to death and one to life in prison,their actions had blasphemed Islam. After the reportingperiod, the Punjab Prosecution Department and provincialjudiciary announced that they had reviewed 262blasphemy cases awaiting trial and recommended that50 be reviewed for dismissal because the accused hadbeen victimized by complainants. No religious minoritieswere included in the review.Violence continued to be perpetrated aroundblasphemy allegations. In March 2014, a PakistaniChristian was murdered after being acquitted. In May,a leading human rights attorney, Rashid Rehman, wasmurdered in his office for defending a Muslim accusedof blasphemy. In September, a leading Islamic scholarwas gunned down after allegations of blasphemy. InNovember, a mob killed a Christian man and his pregnantwife accused of blasphemy by throwing them into abrick kiln. Also in November, a policeman killed a Shi’aMuslim with an axe while in custody due to allegedlyblasphemous statements.Blasphemy laws are inherently problematic andconflict with fundamental human rights protections. InPakistan, they are particularly pernicious. The punishmentsare severe: death or life imprisonment. There isno clear definition of blasphemy, which empowers theaccuser to decide if a blasphemous act has occurred.No proof of intent is required, nor must evidence bepresented after allegations are made. Penalties for falseallegations are not part of the blasphemy laws, thoughThe country’s blasphemy laws, used predominantly in Punjab provincebut also nationwide, target members ofreligious minority communities and dissenting Muslims.bringing the total of blasphemy prisoners in Pakistan to38. In October, the Lahore High Court upheld the deathsentence of Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman convictedof blasphemy in 2010 after a dispute with co-workers;she later wrote a letter from her windowless cell to thePakistani President requesting a pardon. Many othershave been charged with blasphemy and await trial.During 2014, charges were brought against the owner ofa major Pakistani television station, as well as a popularPakistan singer-turned imam, when individuals feltthey may exist in other criminal code provisions. Theneed for specific penalties was demonstrated whenUSCIRF asked government officials about instanceswhere false allegations of blasphemy were prosecutedand they were not able to offer a single example.Legal Restrictions on AhmadisAhmadis are subject to severe legal restrictions, bothin the constitution and criminal code, and suffer fromofficially-sanctioned discrimination. 2014 was the 40thUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 111


anniversary of Pakistan’s second amendment, whichamended the constitution to declare Ahmadis to be“non-Muslims.” Other discriminatory penal code provisionsmake basic acts of Ahmadi worship and interactioncriminal offenses. They also are prevented from voting.EducationDiscriminatory content against religious minorities inprovincial textbooks remains a concern. The provincialgovernment of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa announcedplans in October 2014 to restore problematic referencesto jihad that could support violence. More positively,the Sindh provincial Ministry of Education ordered theremoval of all discriminatory passages about religiousminorities. At the end of the year, it was unclear whetherthe positive or negative changes had been implemented.In addition, USCIRF received reports of preferentialtreatment for Muslim students, who can receive extracredit for memorizing the Qur’an, making it easier forthem to obtain government jobs or university placement.This also discriminates against students fromnon-Muslim religions. USCIRF’s 2011 study of Pakistanitextbooks found that an alarming number of Pakistan’spublic schools and privately-run madrassas devaluereligious minorities in both textbooks and classroominstruction. The madrassa education system generallyrelies on very old religious texts and for the most partdoes not educate children about the value of religioustolerance and diversity.U.S. PolicyPakistan plays a critical role in U.S. government effortsto combat al-Qaeda and in supporting U.S. and multinationalforces in Afghanistan. However, with thedrawdown of combat troops from Afghanistan, U.S. governmentreliance on Pakistan for transport of suppliesand ground lines of communication to Afghanistanwill decrease. Regardless, the United States will remainengaged with Pakistan, due to concerns about Pakistanilinks to terrorists and other militants opposed to theAfghan government, the country’s nuclear arsenal, itscontentious relationship with neighboring India, andother issues.Overall U.S.-Pakistan relations have long beenmarked by strain, disappointment, and mistrust. Humanrights and religious freedom have not been among thehighest priorities in the bilateral relationship, althoughU.S. Embassy Islamabad has actively tracked casesand U.S. officials have raised concerns with Pakistaniofficials. The Strategic Dialogue, established between theUnited States and Pakistan in 2010, includes the topics of“economy and trade; energy; security; strategic stabilityand non-proliferation; law enforcement and counter-terrorism;science and technology, education; agriculture;water; health; and communications and public diplomacy,”but not human rights. Although the Dialoguewas dormant for some time due to challenges in thebilateral relationship, by the end of the reporting periodselect bilateral working groups reportedly were meeting.USCIRF has recommended the inclusion of a workinggroup on religious tolerance, so as to create a positiveforum to engage on issues of mutual concern.The aid relationship with Pakistan is complex andchanging. Congress has placed certification requirementson U.S. military assistance to Pakistan focusingon counterterrorism cooperation. The State Departmentnotified Congress that the Obama Administrationwould waive the certification requirements in July 2014.Non-military U.S. aid dramatically increased in recentyears, while military aid has ebbed and flowed overthe decades of engagement. In October 2009, PresidentObama signed the Enhanced Partnership with PakistanAct (also known as the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act) authorizingan additional $7.5 billion ($1.5 billion annuallyover five years) in mostly non-military assistance toPakistan. However, the $1.5 billion amount was only metin the first year, and the appropriated amount has beenapproximately one-third of that each year since. The Actexpired in 2014. The Obama Administration’s FY2015request for aid to Pakistan totaled $882 million.RecommendationsPromoting respect for freedom of religion or belief mustbe an integral part of U.S. policy in Pakistan, and designatingPakistan as a CPC would enable the United Statesto more effectively press Islamabad to undertake neededreforms. The forces that target religious minorities andmembers of the majority faith present a human rightsand security challenge to Pakistan and the United States.USCIRF recommends that the U.S. government should:• Designate Pakistan as a “country of particularconcern,” as required under IRFA, due to the112USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


PAKISTANgovernment’s engagement in and toleration ofparticularly severe violations of religious freedom,and work to reach a binding agreement with thePakistani government on steps to be delisted andavoid Presidential actions; such an agreementshould be accompanied by Congress appropriatingresources for related capacity building throughthe State Department and USAID mechanisms;• Press the Pakistani government to implement theSupreme Court decision to create a special police• Encourage the government of Pakistan to launch apublic information campaign about the historic roleplayed by religious minorities in the country, theircontributions to Pakistani society, and their equalrights and protections; either in parallel or independently,use the tools of U.S. public diplomacy tohighlight similar themes;• Urge the Pakistani government and provincial governmentsto review all cases of individuals chargedwith blasphemy in order to release those subjectedPromoting respect for freedom of religion orbelief must be an integral part of U.S. policy in Pakistan . . . .force to protect religious groups from violenceand actively prosecute perpetrators, both individualsinvolved in mob attacks and members ofmilitant groups;• Recognize the unique governmental offices focusingon religious tolerance at the federal and provinciallevels by including discussions on religioustolerance in U.S.-Pakistan dialogues or by creating aspecial track of bilateral engagement about governmentefforts to promote interfaith harmony;• Urge the reestablishment of the Federal Ministry forInterfaith Harmony and the removal of the commissionon religious minorities from the Ministryfor Religious Affairs, giving both direct access to thecabinet and Prime Minister;• Work with international partners to raise religiousfreedom concerns with Pakistani officials in Islamabadand in multilateral settings, and to encouragethe Pakistani government to invite the UN SpecialRapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief for acountry visit;• Encourage national textbook and curricula standardsthat actively promote tolerance towardsmembers of all religions, both in governmentschools and the madrassa system overseen by thereligious affairs ministry;to abusive charges, as is underway in Punjab, whilestill also calling for the unconditional release andpardoning of all individuals sentenced to prison forblasphemy or for violating anti-Ahmadi laws;• Work with federal and provincial parliamentariansto support the passage of marriage bills recognizingHindu and Christian marriages;• Call for the repeal of the blasphemy law and therescinding of anti-Ahmadi provisions of law; untilthose steps can be accomplished, urge the Pakistanigovernment to reform the blasphemy law bymaking blasphemy a bailable offense and/or byadding penalties for false accusations or enforcingsuch penalties found elsewhere in the penal code;• Ensure that a portion of U.S. security assistance isused to help police implement an effective plan fordedicated protection for religious minority communitiesand their places of worship; and• Provide USAID capacity-building funding to theprovincial Ministries of Minority Affairs, and workwith Pakistan’s government and minority religiouscommunities to help them reach agreement onmeasures to ensure their rights and security in thecountry.USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 113


SYRIA114USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


SYRIAKey FindingsSyria’s religious communities are largely deprived ofreligious freedom, and its history of religious diversitymay be lost. After four years of conflict, religiousdiversity and freedom are victims of the actions of theal-Assad regime, as well as of internationally-recognizedopposition fighters and U.S.-designated terroristgroups, in particular the Islamic State of Iraq andthe Levant (ISIL). The Syrian crisis has evolved into alargely sectarian conflict. By the systematic targetingand massacre of primarily Sunni Muslims, the al-Assadregime created the environment in which ISILcould rise and spread, threatening the entire regionand all religious communities that reject its violentreligious ideology, with the smallest religious minoritycommunities facing an existential threat. The al-Assadregime continues to target Sunni Muslim civilians andother individuals or groups that oppose it, includingindiscriminately shelling civilian areas. Likewise, ISILtargets the regime, its supporters, religious minorities,BackgroundThe Syrian conflict began in March 2011 with peacefulprotests by opponents of the al-Assad regime, mainlySunni Muslims but also religious minorities. The initialprotests were not overtly characterized by religious orsectarian undertones and sought repeal of the abusiveemergency law, space for political parties, and PresidentBashar al-Assad’s resignation. As the protests grew,al-Assad ordered an increasingly violent crackdown andhe and his regime played on sectarian fears by utilizingreligiously-divisive rhetoric. In support of the regimewere U.S.-designated terrorist groups, such as Hezbollahand Shabiha. In opposition to the Assad regime,dozens of domestic and foreign groups, varying widelyin goals, emerged. Some of these groups, including theU.S.-recognized National Coalition of Syrian Revolution& Opposition Forces (commonly known as the SyrianNational Coalition (SNC)), espouse democratic reform.Others, such as ISIL, are motivated by religious ideologiesespousing violence.Now entering its fifth year, the conflict hasbecome largely sectarian.and any Muslims opposing its violent religious ideology.Well over half of Syria’s pre-conflict populationhas fled to neighboring countries or is internally displaced.Moreover, it is not certain how many membersof religious minority communities still live in Syria,a formerly religiously diverse country. Because of theactions of the al-Assad regime and non-state actors,in 2015 USCIRF recommends for the second year thatSyria be designated a “country of particular concern,”or CPC.Now entering its fifth year, the conflict has becomelargely sectarian. Sunni Muslims generally associate allAlawites and Shi’a Muslims with the regime of Presidental-Assad, an Alawite himself, and many Alawites, Shi’aMuslims, Christians, and others believe that they willbe killed by ISIL and other extremist Sunni groups if theal-Assad government falls.Before the conflict, Syria’s total population wasapproximately 22.5 million. Sunni Muslims constituted74 percent; other Muslims, including Alawites, Ismailis,and Shi’a Muslims, were estimated at 13 percent of theUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 115


total population; Druze were about three percent of thepopulation; and various Christian groups, includingSyriac, Armenian, and Greek Orthodox communities,were estimated at 10 percent.Religious Freedom Conditions 2014–2015Violations by al-Assad Regime and AffiliatedGroupsThe regime’s atrocities have been indiscriminate,primarily targeting the Sunni Muslim population andwhere they live, creating an environment where internationally-recognizedand protected human rights,including religious freedom, do not exist. The UN andbeheadings and mass murders, are widespread and welldocumented. Moreover, ISIL and other similar groupsthat control significant areas of Syria have been establishingsystems that resemble governing structures,including creating Shari’ah courts that violate humanrights, in areas they control.Opposition GroupsDuring the reporting year, the SNC did not effectively oradequately represent religious minorities, and internalpolitics hampered its effectiveness and ability to agreeon whether to reopen negotiations with the al-Assadregime. Reports that the Free Syrian Army, its affiliates,The UN and most of the international community,including the United States, have found that the al-Assad regimehas committed crimes against humanity.most of the international community, including theUnited States, have found that the al-Assad regime hascommitted crimes against humanity. The regime andits supporters, including terrorist groups, utilize tacticssuch as extra-judicial killings, rape, torture, chemicalweapons, indiscriminate shelling of civilian sites,including mosques and churches, and withholding foodand other aid to maintain the regime’s power.Violations by ISIL and other Extremist andTerrorist GroupsISIL, al-Qaeda, Khorasan, al-Nusra and numerousother extremist groups and radicalized individualsfrom across the globe are fighting in Syria in oppositionto the regime or in support of the spread of theirextreme, violent religious ideology. ISIL’s declaration ofa so-called “Islamic State” in June 2014 that cuts acrossSyria and Iraq is especially troubling for human rightsand religious freedom. ISIL and other similar groupsand individuals espouse violence and allow no space forreligious diversity, targeting religious minority communitiesthat have existed in Syria for centuries, as wellas Muslims that reject their worldview. ISIL and fouryears of conflict have seriously damaged the country’sreligious diversity. Its gruesome attacks, includingand opposition fighters have committed human rightsatrocities, including massacres of Shi’a Muslim civilians,surfaced in the last year. In addition, oppositionmilitary units on occasion have worked with terroristgroups to secure strategic areas, making it difficult forthe international community to separate Sunni extremistsassociated with ISIL or other U.S.-designated terroristgroups from Sunni Muslims opposing the brutalal-Assad regime.Refugees, Sectarian Spillover, andInternally-Displaced PeopleThe duration of the conflict and the large populations ofrefugees in neighboring countries are causing sectariantensions, and increasing the risk of sectarian violenceand instability, in those countries. Most Syrian refugeesreside in urban or rural areas, rather than officialrefugee camps, creating a significant burden for the hostcountries’ economies and infrastructure. Increasinglyrefugees are facing societal harassment because theyare perceived as taking jobs and using limited resources.As of mid-January 2015, the Syrian crisis had ledto more than 3.3 million registered refugees, mostly inLebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq, and Egypt, according tothe UN refugee agency. Hundreds of thousands more116USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


SYRIAare believed to be unregistered. More than three-quartersof the UN-registered refugees are women andchildren under the age of 17. Tens of thousands of babieshave been born stateless, as they are ineligible forcitizenship in the host countries where they were born.Additionally, Syrian refugees who fled to Iraq are onceagain finding themselves in a dangerous situation withconflict increasing there. In addition to the millions ofrefugees, an estimated 9.3 million people in Syria needbasic assistance, such as food, water and shelter, includingmore than 6.5 million internally-displaced people.U.S. PolicyU.S.-Syria relations have long been adversarial. Underthe Hafez and Bashar al-Assad regimes, Syria has beenon the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism since 1979.With the U.S. military presence in neighboring Iraqbeginning in 2003, U.S.-Syria relations worsened. TheCoalition (formerly the Syrian Opposition Coalition) asthe legitimate representative of the country’s people andits offices in Washington, DC and New York as diplomaticmissions, but it has stopped short of recognizingthe Coalition as the official government of Syria.The United States led in the creation of the Friendsof Syria group, a collective of countries and organizationsthat periodically met outside of the UN SecurityCouncil to discuss the Syrian crisis. The group aroseafter Russia and China vetoed a number of SecurityCouncil resolutions that would have condemned theal-Assad regime’s actions, and it met four times between2012 and 2013. Most recently, China and Russia blockeda May 2014 UN Security Council Referral of Syria to theInternational Criminal Court. The United States alsohas been instrumental in the creation of the 60-nationGlobal Coalition to Counter ISIL. The United States andcoalition members have been engaging in airstrikesThe duration of the conflict and the large populationsof refugees in neighboring countries are causingsectarian tensions, and increasing the risk ofsectarian violence and instability, in those countries.al-Assad regime failed to prevent foreign fighters fromentering Iraq, refused to deport from Syria Iraqis supportingthe insurgency, and continued to pursue weaponsof mass destruction, among other U.S. concerns.For these reasons, in 2004 the U.S. levied economicsanctions under the Syria Accountability Act, whichprohibits or restricts the export and re-export of mostU.S. products to Syria. In 2008, sanctions prohibiting theexport of U.S. services to Syria were added.The regime’s violent response to peaceful protestorsin 2011 led to further sanctions, with the U.S. governmentdesignating groups and individuals complicit inhuman rights abuses and supporters of the al-Assadregime. In 2012, the United States closed its embassyin Damascus, and in March 2014 it ordered the Syrianembassy and consulates in the United States to close.Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict, the UnitedStates has called for the al-Assad regime to step down.The U.S. government has recognized the Syrian Nationalagainst ISIL-held territories in Syria. In addition, theUnited States has provided non-lethal aid and some lightweaponry and funding to some groups fighting againstISIL in Syria. In January 2015, the Pentagon announcedthat several hundred U.S. military training personnelwould be deployed to train and equip vetted Syriansbeginning in spring 2015.The United States is the largest donor to the internationalhumanitarian response to the Syrian crisis.According to a February 2015 Congressional ResearchService report, the United States allocated more than$3 billion to assist in the humanitarian crisis betweenSeptember 2012 and mid-December 2014. As of early2015, the U.S. government had resettled very few Syrianrefugees to the United States, as compared to the scaleof the crisis – only 450 since FY 2011. In December 2014,Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees,and Migration Anne Richard said that the United Statesexpected the resettlement of Syrians to “surge” in 2015USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 117


and beyond. In January 2015, Reuters reported that,according to a State Department official, 1,000-2,000Syrian refugees were likely to be admitted in FY 2015and a few thousand more in FY 2016.RecommendationsAll Syrians, including Sunni, Shi’a and Alawite Muslims,Christians, and the smallest communities, suchas Yazidis and Druze, are living in bleak conditions andface a dire future. The prospect of achieving a post-conflictSyria that values religious diversity, minority rights,and religious freedom is fading, with an entire generationat risk from fighting, prolonged hunger, disease,poverty, and indoctrination into extremist ideologies.In addition to continuing to seek an end to the conflict,USCIRF recommends that the U.S. government shoulddesignate Syria as a CPC and should:• Ensure that religious freedom and diversity aregiven a high priority in diplomatic planning andengagement that seeks to reach a political solutionto the conflict;• Encourage the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL,in its ongoing international meetings, to work todevelop measures to protect and assist the region’smost vulnerable religious and ethnic minorities,including by increasing immediate humanitarianaid, prioritizing the resettlement to third countriesof the most vulnerable, and providing longer-termsupport in host countries for those who hope toreturn to their homes post-conflict;• Ensure that U.S. government planning for apost-conflict Syria is a “whole-of- government”effort and includes consideration of issues concerningreligious freedom and related human rights,and that USCIRF and other U.S. government expertson those issues are consulted as appropriate;• Encourage the Syrian National Coalition to beinclusive of all religious and ethnic groups andprovide training to members on internationalstandards relating to human rights and religiousfreedom;religious and ethnic minorities, and continue to callfor an International Criminal Court investigationinto crimes committed by the al-Assad regime,following the models used in Sudan and Libya;• Initiate an effort among relevant UN agencies,NGOs, and like-minded partners among the GlobalCoalition to Counter ISIL to fund and developprograms that bolster intra- and inter-religioustolerance, alleviate sectarian tensions, and promoterespect for religious freedom and related rights,both in neighboring countries hosting refugees(especially Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Turkey),and in preparing for a post-conflict Syria;• Increase the U.S. refugee ceiling from 70,000 to atleast 100,000, with additional reserves for the MiddleEast region.• Consider issuing an exemption to U.S. immigrationlaw’s “material support bar” provision for Syrianrefugees who supported specific U.S.-backed rebelgroups or provided “support” by force or underduress to terrorist organizations, and properly applyexisting exemptions, so that Syrians who pose nothreat to the United States and are fleeing the al-Assadregime or terrorist groups are not erroneouslybarred from the U.S. refugee program;• Allocate sufficient resources to the Department ofHomeland Security and other agencies to expeditiouslyprocess applications and conduct securitybackground checks to facilitate the resettlement ofSyrian refugees in the United States without compromisingU.S. national security; and• Continue and increase funding and logistical supportto the UN, humanitarian organizations, andrefugee host nations (especially Lebanon, Jordan,Egypt and Turkey), and communities to providehumanitarian aid to refugees and internally displacedpersons, and encourage other countries todo the same.• Call for or support a referral by the UN SecurityCouncil to the International Criminal Court toinvestigate ISIL violations in Iraq and Syria against118USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


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TAJIKISTAN120USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


TAJIKISTANKey FindingsThe government of Tajikistan suppresses and punishesall religious activity independent of state control,particularly the activities of Muslims, Protestants, andJehovah’s Witnesses. Numerous laws that severelyrestrict religious freedom have been implemented inthe country since 2009. The government also imprisonsindividuals on unproven criminal allegations linkedto Islamic religious activity and affiliation. Jehovah’sWitnesses have been banned since 2007. Based on theseconcerns, as it has since 2012, USCIRF again recommendsin 2015 that the U.S. government designateTajikistan as a “country of particular concern,” or CPC,under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA).Previously Tajikistan was on USCIRF’s Tier 2 (formerlyWatch List) since 2009.BackgroundTajikistan is an isolated and impoverished countrythat experienced a five-year civil war in the 1990s,which resulted in as many as 100,000 deaths; theofficial post-war amnesty included many Tajik officialsresponsible for torture. The government is weak andhighly corrupt, and the country’s economy leads theworld in its dependence on remittances from migrantworkers, mostly in Russia. After the Russian economy’sMore than 90 percent of Tajikistan’s estimatedtotal population of 7.9 million is Muslim, most of whombelong to the Hanafi school of Sunni Islam; about fourpercent are Ismaili Shia. Most of the 150,000 Christiansare Russian Orthodox, but there are also Baptists,Roman Catholics, Adventists, Lutherans, and KoreanProtestants plus small numbers of Baha’is, Hare Krishnas,Jehovah’s Witnesses, and fewer than 300 Jews. Thelegal environment in Tajikistan for religious freedomhas deteriorated significantly since 2009, when a seriesof highly restrictive laws were passed and implemented.The 2009 religion law establishes onerous registrationrequirements for religious groups; criminalizes unregisteredreligious activity and private religious educationand proselytism; sets strict limits on the numberand size of mosques; allows state interference with theappointment of imams; requires official permission forreligious organizations to provide religious instructionand communicate with foreign co-religionists; imposesstate controls on the content, publication and importof religious materials; and restricts Muslim prayer tomosques, cemeteries, homes, and shrines.In 2011 and 2012, administrative and penal codeamendments set new penalties, including large finesand prison terms, for religion-related charges, such asorganizing or participating in “unapproved” religiousTajikistan is an isolated and impoverished country [with] . . .a weak and highly corrupt [government] . . .downturn, many Tajik migrant workers returned homein 2014, giving rise to new social tensions. Tajikistanhas good relations with Iran, its second-largest tradingpartner; these two countries also share common languageand heritage.meetings. Alleged organizers of a “religious extremiststudy group” face eight to 12-year prison terms. Inaddition, a 2011 law on parental responsibility bannedminors from any organized religious activity exceptfunerals. The State Department highlighted in its mostrecent International Religious Freedom (IRF) ReportUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 121


that “Tajikistan is the only country in the world in whichthe law prohibits persons under the age of 18 from participatingin public religious activities.”Tajikistan’s extremism law punishes extremist,terrorist, or revolutionary activities without requiringacts that involve violence or incitement to imminentviolence. Trials under these charges lack due processand procedural safeguards. The Tajik government usesconcerns over Islamist extremism to justify actionsagainst individuals taking part in certain religious activities.According to public opinion polls conducted bythe Tajik NGO Sharq Analytical Center, most Tajiks viewpoverty, not extremism, as the country’s main problem.Little data on official bans of groups deemed extremist ispublic, but Tabligh Jamaat is prohibited.Religious Freedom Conditions 2014–2015Restrictions on MuslimsTajik officials monitor mosques and their attendees forviews they deem extremist or statements critical of thegovernment; place restrictions on Muslim religiousdress; control the age and the numbers of hajj (religiouspilgrimage) participants; and indirectly control theselection and retention of imams and the content ofsermons. The law prohibits the wearing of headscarvesin educational institutions, and bans teachers youngerRahmon also instructed the Council of Ulema to adopta standard uniform for imams. The Sharq AnalyticalCenter, reports that these policies have led to a sharpdivision between official and unofficial Muslim clergy,giving rise to popular mistrust of Muslim institutions.Trials and Imprisonment of MuslimsDuring 2014, Tajik law enforcement officials continuedto arrest and prosecute dozens of individuals for allegedlinks to banned Islamic groups or international terroristnetworks. Due to Tajikistan’s flawed judicial system, itis almost impossible to ascertain the accuracy of suchcharges. For example, in December 2014 Tajikistan’s prosecutorssaid that nearly 50 young men from banned Islamistgroups were arrested in the Sogd region for allegedlypreparing to join jihadists in Syria. In February 2015,Tajikistan’s Interior Minster claimed that 200 Tajik labormigrants in Russia had joined militants in Syria, RFE/RLreported, but others could not confirm that figure.The Chairman of Tajikistan’s Council of Ulemaexpressed concern in April 2014 over the increasingnumber of Tajik officials who reportedly have becomeadherents of Salafi or Shi’a Islam. The Sharq AnalyticalCenter reports that Salafism is increasing in popularityamong the Tajik political elite. A Tajik policeman,Captain Sharif Mirov was arrested in May 2014 for[M]ost Tajiks view poverty, not extremism,as the country’s main problem.than 50 from wearing beards in public buildings. In2014, the semi-official Council of Ulema announcedit would start to allow women to attend mosques andwould encourage female students at religious schools tobecome imam-hatibs, to work with female worshippersat mosques with women-only sections.In 2014, the Ministry of Finance and the State Committeeon Religious Affairs (SCRA) began paying the salariesof the imams of cathedral mosques. According tothe Forum 18 News Service, these are the only mosqueswhere the state allows sermons, which are prepared inadvance by the Council of Ulema. President Emomaliallegedly inciting religious hatred by propagating SalafiIslam, reportedly the first such arrest in the country. TheDeputy Head of the SCRA has called Salafis extremistbecause they pray differently and are argumentativeabout Islamic beliefs. In December 2014, the TajikSupreme Court ruled that the Salafi Muslim movementis “extremist,” and ordered Web sites blocked in thecountry, according to the independent Asia-Plus NewsAgency. Salafi Muslims now risk prosecution underthree Criminal Code articles relating to extremism,which carry penalties between five and 12 years in jail,Forum 18 reported.122USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


TAJIKISTANTajikistan has the only legal Islamist politicalparty in the former Soviet Union, the Islamic RenaissanceParty (IRP), which was given such status aspart of the country’s post-civil war peace settlement.Government repression of Islamic practice is oftenintertwined with official efforts to suppress the IRP.In January 2014, Umedjon Tojiev, 34, an IRP memberfrom the northern city of Isfara, died in a prisonhospital under highly suspicious circumstances; hewas arrested in October 2013 on charges of extremism.Center, Central Asia’s first Ismaili center, opened inDushanbe in 2009, and Tajikistan announced that one ofthe world’s largest mosques, funded by Qatar, will open inDushanbe in 2017.Restrictions on Religious MinoritiesJehovah’s Witnesses were banned in 2007 for allegedlycausing “discontent” and for conscientious objection tomilitary service. Jehovah’s Witnesses still face officialharassment. Small Protestant and other groups cannotTajikistan has the only legal Islamistpolitical party in the former Soviet Union.After the reporting period, the IRP suffered a majorelection defeat, garnering only 1.5 percent in Tajikistan’sMarch 1, 2015 vote, leaving it without any seatsin parliament for the first time in 15 years. Five daysafter these much-criticized elections, a Tajik oppositionleader, Umarali Kuvatov, was killed in Istanbul.The IRP and various Tajik human rights groups havereported on the torture of detainees and prisoners.A leading Tajik human rights lawyer, ShukhratKudratov, was sentenced in January 2015, to nine years inprison on false charges of fraud and bribery, according toHuman Rights Watch. He is known for taking on politicallysensitive cases, including victims of police tortureand those accused of “religious extremism;” he also workswith the independent Asia-Plus News Agency.Restrictions on Houses of WorshipTajik law sets strict limits on the numbers of mosquespermitted, and since 2008 the government has closedhundreds of unregistered mosques and prayer rooms anddemolished three unregistered mosques in Dushanbe.The nation’s only synagogue, located in Dushanbe, wasbulldozed in 2008, although the Jewish community laterwas given a building by President Rakhmon’s brother-inlaw,one of Tajikistan’s richest bankers, which it uses forworship but does not own. In July 2013, the SCRA fired theChief Imam in Vossei of the Khatlon Region, UbaydulloKhasanov, after he asked President Rakhmon for land tobuild a new mosque. In contrast, the Aga Khan Culturalobtain legal status under onerous registration requirements.In June 2013, according to the State Department,authorities brought a second administrative caseagainst the pastor of Grace Church in Khujand for an“illegal” chapel, “religious propaganda,” and unregisteredBible studies. In another case, Forum 18 reportedthat in June 2014 an unnamed church was warned tostop allowing children to take part in worship meetingsor face a three-month suspension of church activity.Restrictions on Religious LiteratureThe government must approve the production, importation,export, sale, and distribution of religiousmaterials by registered religious groups, which is ineffect a ban on religious materials by unregistered religiousgroups. The Ministry of Culture has confiscatedreligious texts it deems inappropriate, including fromJehovah’s Witnesses.Restrictions on Religious EducationA state license is required for religious instruction, andboth parents must give written permission for childrento receive instruction. Only central mosques areallowed to set up educational groups. As of 2013, theactivities of seven of the country’s eight madrassas weresuspended, according to the State Department. Tajikauthorities now allow only one madrassa to operate, inTursonzade, near Dushanbe. In December 2014, policein Vahdat near Dushanbe, arrested Komiljon AkhrorovUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 123


and Sayidmumin Rashidov for teaching school-agedchildren at home about the Qur’an and Islam. In January2015, the SCRA issued written warnings to variousProtestant churches, threatening punishment unlessthey stopped allowing children to worship, according toForum 18.Civil Society and Religious IssuesTajik civil society is subject to official pressure, and Tajiknon-governmental organizations have expressed fear ofreporting on religious freedom due to perceived dangersof involvement in that issue. In June 2014, AlexanderSodiqov, a Tajik citizen and University of Toronto graduatestudent who has written blogs that criticized Tajikistan’srestrictive policies on religion, was arrested oncharges of espionage while conducting foreign-fundedresearch in the Ismaili-majority Gorno-Badakshanregion near Afghanistan. After an international outcry,Sodiqov was allowed to leave Tajikistan in September2014, but the espionage charges were not dropped.U.S. PolicyTajikistan is strategically important for the UnitedStates, partly because ethnic Tajiks are the secondlargest ethnic group in Afghanistan, the country’ssouthern neighbor. Since 2010, the United States hasexpanded its cooperation with Central Asian states,including Tajikistan, to allow it to ship cargo overlandvia the Northern Distribution Network, which willbe needed as U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistanwithdraw. In addition, Tajikistan has given U.S. SpecialOperations Forces permission to enter the country ona case-by-case basis during counter-terrorism operations.In 2014, the Tajik government expressed interestin an offer from the U.S. Defense Department of excessU.S. military equipment, for which Tajikistan wouldonly pay transport costs.Since 2010, the United States and Tajikistan havediscussed bilateral policy and assistance issues throughan Annual Bilateral Consultation (ABC). The StateDepartment’s stated priorities in Tajikistan includeincreasing respect for the rights of Tajikistan’s citizensand strengthening sovereignty and stability. AssistantSecretary for South and Central Asian Affairs NishaDesai Biswal led the U.S. delegation to the third ABCsession, held in Tajikistan in June 2014. However, theABC was reduced from two days to one, decreasingthe time to discuss relevant issues. The State Departmentagain visited Tajikistan in December 2014 andraised religious freedom concerns with Tajikistan’sgovernment and met with civil society representatives;higher-level religious freedom discussions occurredin February 2015. The State Department’s annual IRFReports have documented worsened religious freedomin Tajikistan. The U.S. assistance program in Tajikistanpromotes improved legislation relating to civil society,the media, and speech; legal assistance to non-governmentalorganizations; and stronger non-state electronicmedia outlets.RecommendationsIn addition to recommending that the U.S. governmentdesignate Tajikistan as a CPC, USCIRF recommendsthat the U.S. government should:• Press the Tajik government to bring the 2009religion law and other relevant laws into conformitywith international commitments, includingthose on freedom of religion or belief, and criticizepublicly violations by the Tajik government of thosecommitments;• Work with the international community, particularlyduring events on countering terrorismsponsored by the Organization on Security andCooperation in Europe (OSCE), to ensure there isprivate and public criticism of Tajikistan’s repressiveapproach to regulating religion and counteringextremism, including its risk of radicalizing thecountry’s population;• Urge the Tajik government to agree to visits by UNSpecial Rapporteurs on Freedom of Religion orBelief, the Independence of the Judiciary, and Torture,set specific visit dates, and provide the full andnecessary conditions for such a visit;• Maintain two days of the ABC dialogues to allowa full discussion of all relevant issues, particularlyhuman rights and religious freedom;• Ensure that the U.S. Embassy continues to monitorthe trials of individuals charged on account oftheir religious affiliation, maintains appropriatecontacts with human rights activists, and presses124USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


TAJIKISTANthe Tajik government to ensure that every prisonerhas greater access to his or her family, human rightsmonitors, adequate medical care, and a lawyer;• Ensure that U.S. assistance to the Tajik government,with the exception of aid to improve humanitarianconditions and advance human rights, be contingentupon the government establishing andimplementing a timetable of specific steps to reformthe religion law and improve conditions of freedomof religion or belief; and• Use funding allocated to the State Departmentunder the Title VIII Program (established in theSoviet-Eastern European Research and TrainingAct of 1983) for research, including on human rightsand religious freedom in former Soviet states, andlanguage training.USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 125


VIETNAM126USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


VIETNAMKey FindingsThe Vietnamese government continues to control allreligious activities through law and administrative oversight,restrict severely independent religious practice,and repress individuals and religious groups it viewsas challenging its authority, including independentBuddhists, Hoa Hao, Cao Dai, Catholics, and Protestants.This occurs despite some improvements in thearea of religious freedom, such as generally wider spacefor some religious communities to practice their faiths.Notably, the government requires religious organizationsand congregations to register with a state-sanctionedentity in order to be considered legal. Individualsremain imprisoned for religious activity or religiousfreedom advocacy. Based on these severe violations,USCIRF again recommends in 2015 that Vietnam bedesignated as a “country of particular concern,” or CPC,under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA).USCIRF has recommended that Vietnam be named aCPC every year since 2001.BackgroundVietnam’s overall human rights record remains verypoor, including relating to religious freedom. Accuratenumbers of religious adherents in the country aredifficult to ascertain, but the majority of Vietnam’s 90million citizens are Buddhist. More than six millionare Catholic, Vietnam’s second largest religious group,Baha’is, Hindus and followers of other folk religionsand beliefs.The Communist government has moved decisivelyin recent years to repress perceived challenges to itsregime, tightening controls on freedom of expression,association, religion, and assembly. Although the 2013Constitution goes much further than its predecessor inprotecting the right to freedom of religion or belief, otherprovisions create exceptions to those rights. In addition,other laws, decrees, and ordinances collectively restrictreligious practices and create latitude for local officialsto interpret and implement their own policies withoutfederal influence. This inconsistency leads individualsto fear that the open practice of their faiths will result inharassment, attacks, or arrest. In 2013, the governmentimplemented a new decree on religion (Decree 92) thatprovides clearer timetables for registration, but expandsoversight of religious affairs and makes it more difficultfor new religious groups to ever achieve legal status.Moreover, broadly-worded Penal Code provisions, suchas Articles 88 and 258, ensnare countless human rightsdefenders, bloggers, journalists, religious leaders, andother activists whom the government accuses of actingagainst the state. At least 100-200 prisoners of conscienceare detained in Vietnam, some for their religiousactivity or religious freedom advocacy.In 2015, Vietnam is expected to produce a new lawon religion that, as rumored, will supersede the 2004At least 100-200 prisoners of conscience are detained in Vietnam,some for their religious activity or religious freedom advocacy.and roughly one million or more are Protestant. Otherminority religious groups include the Cao Dai, HoaHao, Khmer Krom Buddhists, ethnic Cham Muslims,Ordinance on Beliefs and Religions and Decree 92.The UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion orBelief Heiner Bielefeldt visited Vietnam in July 2014,but had to curtail his visit due to state interference thatUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 127


violated the terms of reference agreed upon in advancewith the Vietnamese government. His findings,released in January 2015, noted that the “. . . autonomyand activities of independent religious or belief communities,that is, unrecognized communities, remainrestricted and unsafe, with the rights to freedom ofreligion or belief of such communities grossly violatedin the face of constant surveillance, intimidation,harassment and persecution.”Religious Freedom Conditions 2014–2015BuddhistsThe Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), thelargest independent Buddhist organization in Vietnam,is not recognized by the state-sanctioned VietnameseBuddhist Sangha, and by choosing to maintain its independenceis considered an illegal entity.Throughout 2014, officials in Da Nang City carriedout efforts to take over the land belonging to the An CuTemple. Similarly, in August, the Lien Tri Pagoda in HoChi Minh City was issued a government notice to close sothat local officials could appropriate the property. Bothlocations have been sites of previous harassment. In January,UBCV monks and laypersons from the Long QuangPagoda in Thua Thien Province were harassed and preventedfrom carrying out a celebratory service, with severalsubject to close police surveillance. Thich Quang Do,Thach Phum Rich and Tra Quanh Tha, remain imprisonedfor allegedly attempting to flee the country and forattempting to assist others in fleeing. The two monks havebeen outspoken critics of the government’s treatmentof the Khmer-Krom and the treatment of fellow monk,Venerable Ly Chanh Da. Laypersons reportedly have alsobeen arrested for their support of Ven. Ly Chanh Da.Cao DaiFollowers of the Cao Dai religion continued to experienceharassment and obstacles to the peaceful practice of theirfaith. Several incidents occurred in Vinh Long Provincewhere police and other government officials disruptedmemorial services and other peaceful gatherings. Policeprevented a member of the Cao Dai clergy from attendinga July 2014 meeting of the Inter-Faith Council of Vietnam.Several followers were harassed and attacked upon leavinga ritual ceremony in Tay Ninh Province.CatholicsFather Phan Van Loi testified before the Tom LantosHuman Rights Commission on March 26, 2014, viavideo conference because government surveillanceand restrictions on his movement prevented him fromtraveling to give testimony in person. He describedthe difficulties, obstacles, harassment, and sometimesimprisonment priests and laypeople face when theyLocal governments refuse to recognize Catholicism as areligion in the three northern provinces of Dien Bien, Son La, and Lai Chau,making it especially challenging for priests andtheir parishioners to practice their faith in these areas.the head of the UBCV, has been arrested numerous times,spent 10 years in exile, and is currently under housearrest. Throughout much of the year, police harassed LêCông Cầu, leader of the UBCV-affiliated Buddhist YouthMovement, subjecting him to harsh interrogation beforearresting him and placing him under house arrest.Khmer-Krom BuddhistsProminent Buddhist monks Venerable Lieu Ny andVenerable Thach Thuol, along with two of their students,speak out about their beliefs. He also referenced thelimitations and outright prohibitions on the CatholicChurch imposed by current laws and governmentdecrees on religion. Local governments refuse to recognizeCatholicism as a religion in the three northernprovinces of Dien Bien, Son La, and Lai Chau, making itespecially challenging for priests and their parishionersto practice their faith in these areas.Catholics continue to experience land confiscations,including parishioners from the Thai Ha Redemp-128USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


VIETNAMtorist Church in Dong Da District, who protested inHanoi to object to the government filling in an existinglake on church property. Similarly, Con Dau parishionersnear Da Nang City were forced to move their parishcemetery and in some cases have been evicted fromtheir homes, disrupting the entire parish community.While some land rights disputes may be, in part, theresult of local-level corruption or development projects,the religious identity of the targeted community and itsstatus as a minority are also often factors.On a positive note, in September, representatives ofthe Joint Vatican-Vietnam Working Group held anothermeeting in Hanoi as part of the group’s efforts to restorediplomatic relations.Hmong ProtestantsDuring 2014, countless Hmong Protestant housechurches continued to be denied registration, effectivelyconsigning them to illegal status. In an ongoingeffort to limit the freedom of Hmong Christians topractice their faith, local authorities continued tointerfere with the way in which Hmong villagers honorand grieve their dead. In addition to destroying storagefacilities which house supplies for Hmong funerals,authorities harassed and attacked villagers attemptingto carry out funerals in accordance with their beliefs.In March 2014, Hoang Van Sang received an 18-monthjail sentence for constructing a new funeral storagefacility. Hmong villagers who marched in protest ofSang’s sentence were stopped by police.Montagnards (Degar)Ethnic minority Montagnards, primarily from Vietnam’sCentral Highlands region, continued to face severeethnic- and religious-based discrimination and violence,prompting some to flee Vietnam. During the year,Montagnards reported the police carrying out beatings,arrests, and forced renunciations of faith. In November,13 Christian Montagnards fled persecution in Vietnamto seek refugee status in Cambodia, only to suffer harshconditions while hiding in the Cambodian jungles. A UNteam was able to meet with the group weeks later afterfirst being blocked by local officials. Since then, dozensmore have fled to Cambodia, and some forcibly returnedto Vietnam by Cambodian officials, including small children.The UN High Commissioner for Refugees and theOffice of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rightsboth have urged the Cambodian government to abide byEthnic minority Montagnards,primarily from Vietnam’s CentralHighlands region, continued to facesevere ethnic- and religious-baseddiscrimination and violence,prompting some to flee Vietnam.their international obligations and allow the VietnameseMontagnards to pursue refugee claims.MennonitesA Mennonite Christian center in Binh Duong Provincewas the site of repeated attacks throughout the year.In June 2014, 76 Mennonite Christians were attackedby more than 300 (some estimate closer to 500) policeand security forces; the church itself was vandalized.In November, nine Mennonites, including two pastors,were arrested and the church vandalized once again.Three church employees were arrested, interrogatedand beaten in early December. One of those arrested,a pastor, was ordered to end his role as pastor or facecriminal charges. The three were eventually releasedbut suffered additional harassment just outside thepolice station, and attacks on the church continued.Hoa HaoEarly in 2014 in An Giang Province, several Hoa Haoworshippers who had gathered for a commemorativeservice were severely beaten. More than 300 police andthugs hired by the government carried out the attack onapproximately 30 Hoa Hao followers; they later seizedelectronic and other equipment used during the ceremonyand arrested 14 of the followers. The attack followsa similar one in the province less than one year earlier atthe independent Hoa Hao Quang Minh Tu pagoda. HoaHao worshippers in Dong Thap Province experiencedan even larger force of police and thugs in February 2014as they attempted to visit Nguyen Bac Truyen, a formerprisoner of conscience who had been recently arrested.USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 129


PrisonersThe ill-treatment and imprisonment of prisoners ofconscience in Vietnam remains a key human rights concern,despite several releases during the year. Amongthem are countless individuals who have been harassed,beaten, detained, arrested, and imprisoned for theirreligious beliefs. Those still imprisoned include: FatherThaddeus Nguyen Van Ly, Mennonite Pastor NguyenCong Chinh, and Catholic intellectual and activist FrancisJang Xuan Dieu, for example.Several prisoners of conscience were released in2014, including prominent dissident Nguyen Van Hai, alsomajor source of clothing, footwear, furniture, and electricalmachinery for the United States. The two are alsopart of the 12-nation negotiations of the Trans-PacificPartnership (TPP), a regional free trade agreement.While the TPP talks are ongoing, the Obama Administrationand some in Congress are concurrently pursuingthe renewal of Trade Promotion Authority (TPA)that could grant the president greater flexibility whennegotiating and approving trade agreements suchas the TPP. Some members of Congress have raisedconcerns with a number of key components in the TPP,including agriculture, automotive markets, workerThe ill-treatment and imprisonment of prisoners of consciencein Vietnam remains a key human rights concern,despite several releases during the year.known as Dieu Cay. He was released in October 2014, coincidingwith the visit of U.S. Assistant Secretary of State forDemocracy, Human Rights, and Labor Tom Malinowskito Vietnam. Upon his release, Hai, like Cu Huy Ha Vu inApril, was forced to leave the country and was immediatelyescorted onto a plane bound for the United Statesbefore he could inform his family of his release. Three others,Bui Thi Minh Hang, Nguyen Van Minh and NguyenThi Thuy Quynh, all well-known human rights defenders,received multi-year prison sentences in August.U.S. PolicyThe year 2015 marks the 20th anniversary of the normalizationof ties between the United States and Vietnam.In 2013, the two countries entered into the U.S.-VietnamComprehensive Partnership, a framework for bilateralcooperation on a number of strategic issues, includingtrade and the economy, science and technology, defenseand security, and human rights, among others. As partof their regular engagement on human rights, the twocountries will conduct a session of the U.S.-VietnamHuman Rights Dialogue in Hanoi in May 2015. On January1, 2014, Vietnam began its three-year term on the UNHuman Rights Council.The United States and Vietnam have a strongbilateral trade relationship, with Vietnam serving as arights, environmental protections, and human rights,among others, that are likely to be heavily debatedduring consideration of TPA.In October 2014, the United States announcedthe partial easing of the arms ban with Vietnam withrespect to maritime security. The State Departmentcited specific human rights improvements in Vietnam,including the release of prisoners of conscience and theregistration of new church congregations. However, criticsnoted that Vietnam is still detaining numerous prisonersof conscience, including individuals imprisonedfor their religious beliefs, and that registration figurespale in comparison to the thousands of congregationsthat either choose to remain independent or are deniedregistration, leaving them no choice but to operateillegally. Notably, Assistant Secretary Malinowski visitedVietnam shortly after the announcement and stressedthe importance of Vietnam continuing to make progresson human rights.The State Department designated Vietnam as a CPCin 2004 and 2005, but removed the designation in 2006because of progress toward fulfilling a bilateral agreementto release prisoners, ban forced renunciations offaith, and expand legal protections for religious groups.USCIRF, however, has found that, the progress achieved130USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


VIETNAMthrough the bilateral agreement has been inconsistentand not fully realized, and that religious freedom violationsin Vietnam have continued, and in some casesworsened. These ongoing violations in Vietnam serveas a cautionary tale of the potential for backsliding inreligious freedoms when vigilance in monitoring suchabuses ceases. Accordingly, USCIRF has continued torecommend CPC designation for the country.RecommendationsThe United States has a strategic interest in furtheringits relationship and engagement with Vietnam, asdoes Vietnam in deepening ties with and support fromthe United States. Given Vietnam’s past receptivity toconstructive engagement on human rights, and specificallyreligious freedom, the United States shouldconsider additional avenues to encourage improvementsto religious freedom conditions, particularly forthose groups and congregations that wish to remainindependent from Vietnam’s communist government.A formal framework with Vietnam that establishes aroadmap toward improved religious freedom conditionscould strengthen the U.S. government’s leverage to seekan end to such violations. Until such time that improvementsare made, USCIRF recommends the U.S. governmentdesignate Vietnam as a CPC, as well as:• Continue discussions with the government ofVietnam on the drafting of the new law on religionto urge that the measure both simplifies registrationrequirements for religious congregations andmakes registration optional, and to ensure thatthose opting not to register have other appropriatemeans by which to operate legally;participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, aswell as in programs that address Internet freedomand civil society development, among others;• Increase the frequency and visibility of U.S. governmentvisits to remote, rural areas in Vietnam,including direct contact and communications withindependent religious communities as appropriate;• Encourage the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi and theU.S. Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City tomaintain appropriate contact, including throughin-person visits, with Vietnamese prisoners ofconscience to ensure that prisoners have regularaccess to their families, human rights monitors,adequate medical care, and proper legal representation,as specified in international human rightsinstruments; and• Ensure the U.S.-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogueestablishes concrete actions and outcomes relatingto religious freedom, including the unconditionalrelease of all prisoners of conscience arrested orotherwise detained for the peaceful practice oftheir beliefs, make those actions and outcomespart of a larger strategy of U.S engagement, andreport to Congress on the trajectory of progress onthese issues.• Encourage the government of Vietnam to acknowledgeand address violations against religious communitiesperpetrated by state and non-state actors,and support the proper training of local governmentofficials, lawyers, judges, and police and securityforces tasked with implementing, enforcing, andinterpreting the rule of law;• Ensure that human rights and religious freedom arepursued consistently and publicly at every level ofthe U.S.-Vietnam relationship, including in the contextof discussions relating to military, trade, or economicand security assistance, such as Vietnam’sUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 131


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TIER 2COUNTRIES– AFGHANISTAN– AZERBAIJAN– CUBA– INDIA– INDONESIA– KAZAKHSTAN– LAOS– MALAYSIA– RUSSIA– TURKEYUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 133


AFGHANISTAN134USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


AFGHANISTANKey FindingsReligious freedom conditions continue to be exceedinglypoor for Sunni Muslims who dissent from governmentaland social orthodoxies, Shi’a Muslims, Hindus,and Sikhs, as well as the tiny Christian and Baha’icommunities. During the reporting period the formalU.S. combat mission came to a close and a new Afghangovernment was established. The Taliban continued terroristattacks in an attempt to demonstrate the government’sinability to protect citizens against violence andintimidation. Taliban agents and sympathizers attackedthree different Christian-based relief agencies for activitydeemed “un-Islamic.” Afghanistan’s legal systemremains deeply flawed, as the constitution explicitlyfails to protect the individual right to freedom of religionor belief, and it and other laws have been applied inways that violate international human rights standards.Based on these concerns, in 2015 USCIRF again placesAfghanistan on Tier 2, where it has been since 2006.BackgroundAfghanistan’s population of around 30 million is comprisedof numerous ethnic groups. According to U.S.government figures, Afghanistan is 42 percent Pashtun,27 percent Tajik, nine percent Hazara, nine percentUzbek, three percent Turkmen, two percent Baloch, andeight percent other groups. Regarding religious breakdown,80 percent of the population identifies as SunniMuslim, 19 percent as Shi’a, and 1 percent as other,including tiny Sikh, Hindu, and Christian communities.Shi’a Muslims generally come from the Hazaraethnic group, which the community believes comprisesbetween 10 and 19 percent of the population. Hazarastraditionally have been harshly discriminated againstand segregated from the rest of society for a combinationof political, ethnic, and religious reasons.Ashraf Ghani, a former World Bank official, waselected president of Afghanistan in a contested tworoundcampaign against Abdullah Abdullah. In a compromiseto form a national unity government, Abdullahwas named as the country’s Chief Executive Officer(CEO). In a new development for this tradition-boundnation, President Ghani’s wife, Rula Ghani, is ChristianLebanese-American by background and has expressedsupport for the French ban on face-covering veils.President Ghani and CEO Abdullah oversee aconstitutional and legal system that restricts religiousfreedom. The Afghan constitution fails to protect theindividual right to freedom of religion or belief, allowsordinary laws to supersede other fundamental rights,and contains a repugnancy clause stating that no lawcan be contrary to the tenets of Islam. Governmentshave interpreted narrowly the repugnancy clause,which limits freedom of religion or belief. The penalcode permits the courts to defer to Shari’ah law incases involving matters that neither the penal code norconstitution explicitly address, such as apostasy andconversion, resulting in those charges being punishableby death. State-backed religious leaders and the judicialsystem are empowered to interpret and enforce Islamicprinciples and Shari’ah law, leading at times to arbitraryand abusive interpretations of religious orthodoxy.Religious Freedom Conditions 2014–2015Official Enforcement of Religious NormsWithin the legal context discussed above, a restrictiveinterpretation of Shari’ah law is prioritized overhuman rights guarantees and has resulted in abuses.One month after coming into office, the Council ofMinisters chaired by CEO Abdullah tasked the Ministryof Interior and the Ministry of Culture to chargethe English-language newspaper Afghan Express withblasphemy for publishing an article that reportedlyquestioned the existence of God. The Council’s statementalso declared that the new government wouldtake strict actions against other articles deemedUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 135


lasphemous. The newspaper issued an apology, citinga technical error. However, its owner and chief editorwere arrested. It is unknown whether they remain injail. This decision seems to be a continuation from formerPresident Karzai’s Council, which would periodicallyissue decrees directing action against activitiesdeemed “un-Islamic.”Repression of Non-Muslim Religious MinoritiesThere were three major Taliban attacks on Christian-basedrelief agencies, which killed relief workersand their children. The Taliban justified two of theattacks by claiming the groups were proselytizingand hosting underground Christian worship sites forAfghans, allegations that were not confirmed. The violencedemonstrated how Afghan Christians are forced toconceal their faith and cannot worship openly. In June2014, Fr. Alexis Prem Kumar, who led Jesuit Refugee Services,was kidnapped. The Taliban released him in February2015. There were no reports of Afghan Christiansarrested by the government during the reporting period,but many have left for India, according to reports. Theone known church in the country continues to operateon the grounds of the Italian embassy.Afghanistan’s small Baha’i community leads a covertexistence, particularly since May 2007 when the GeneralShi’a and other MuslimsThe situation has improved since the end of Taliban rulefor Afghanistan’s Shi’a Muslim community, the largestreligious minority in the country. During the reportingperiod, Shi’a Muslims generally were able to performtheir traditional Ashura public processions and ritualswithout hindrance. Nevertheless, violence continues tobe a threat. For instance in July 2014, Taliban insurgentskilled 14 Shi’a Muslim Hazaras who were travellingon a bus. They were singled out from other passengers,bound, and shot on the side of the road. After thereporting period, 30 Shi’a Hazaras where kidnapped bygunmen. There have also been reports of the Afghangovernment deporting Uighur Muslims to China at therequest of the Chinese government.Women’s RightsViolence and discrimination against women continuedthroughout the reporting period, due in part to theTaliban’s resurgence and in part to the strong influenceof religious traditionalists. President Ghani in Novembertold members of the Afghanistan IndependentHuman Rights Commission (AIHRC) that they couldmonitor his government’s performance on humanrights reforms and he pledged to promote women’srights. Women who seek to engage in public life oftenThe violence demonstrated how Afghan Christians are forced toconceal their faith and cannot worship openly.Directorate of Fatwas and Accounts ruled the Baha’i faithblasphemous and converts to it apostates. Afghanistan’sJewish community is down to one member.Hindus and Sikhs face discrimination, harassmentand at times violence, despite being allowed to practicetheir faith in places of public worship. They have beenrepresented in the parliament through Presidentialappointments. The communities have declined over thepast 30 years, due to instability and fighting; only one ofthe eight Sikh gurdwaras in Kabul is operating. Reportsregularly arise of Afghan authorities and local residentspreventing Sikhs from performing cremation ceremoniesfor their deceased.are condemned as “immoral” and targeted for intimidation,harassment, or violence. However, PresidentGhani’s wife, Rula Ghani, played a visible role duringthe campaign. President Ghani’s proposed “unitycabinet” of 27 members had three women nomineeswho would head the ministries of Higher Education,Information and Culture, and Women’s Affairs. Twoof the three women nominees were reportedly chosenby CEO Abdullah; and one was chosen by PresidentGhani. Although President Ghani did not meet hispromise to name four female cabinet members, histhree nominees exceed the two women in former PresidentKarzai’s cabinet.136USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


AFGHANISTANU.S. PolicyAfghanistan has been the focus of U.S. engagement inSouth Asia for over a decade. U.S. government effortshave focused on building a stable Afghanistan andfighting al-Qaeda and its affiliates. The past year saw twomajor milestones, the peaceful change in governmentand the transition of U.S. and international forces froma combat mission to a training mission, although U.S.forces are still authorized to conduct combat missions.The change in mission came after Afghanistan agreed toa Bilateral Security Agreement, which former PresidentKarzai had resisted but President Ghani signed. As of thiswriting, U.S. forces number around 10,000, drasticallydown from a peak of 100,000. President Obama’s originalgoal to shrink the force to around 5,000 by the end of 2015was put off in response to President Ghani’s request.The United States helped resolve Afghanistan’shighly contested 2014 presidential election, afterallegations of fraud threatened to undermine thetransition. In September 2014, a U.S.-brokered solutionresulted in the creation of a unity government withAshraf Ghani as President and Dr. Abdullah Abdullahas Chief Executive Officer, a new position. The governingcoalition appears stable, but two factors – widespreadcorruption and Taliban attacks – threaten itslongevity. Both President Ghani and CEO Abdullahhave committed to stamp out corruption.President Ghani has actively traveled to neighboringcountries and countries that financially support his governmentin an attempt to restart negotiations with theTaliban. Many observers are concerned by the potentialcompromises that may be made in any peace deal withthe Taliban. Taliban leader Mullah Omar has indicatedhe wants to see the imposition of religious law, whichunder the Taliban interpretation, would severely restrictreligious minorities, dissenting members of the religiousmajority, and women’s rights. U.S. officials have raisedconcerns about women’s rights and minority rights in thepast. However, Afghan law already imposes restrictionson fundamental human rights. It is unclear how muchinfluence the United States and the international communitywould have over a settlement between the Ghanigovernment and the Taliban on these issues.While the number of combat troops is declining,Afghanistan’s reliance on international aid has notchanged. Afghanistan is very dependent on U.S. andforeign aid, a reality unlikely to change in the nearfuture. According to the Congressional Research Service,since the overthrow of the Taliban the United Stateshas provided approximately $93 billion in assistance toAfghanistan, and from that more than $56 billion to trainand equip Afghan forces. The fiscal year 2014 appropriationwas more than $6.1 billion and the FY2015 request isabout $5.7 billion.RecommendationsIn the context of the withdrawal of international forcesand the recent change in government, the threat of violenceby the Taliban and other armed groups is a growingreality for all Afghans, but especially for religiousminorities. To promote religious freedom and createcivic space for diverse religious opinions on matters ofreligion and society in Afghanistan, USCIRF recommendsthat the U.S. government should:• Raise directly with Afghanistan’s president andCEO the importance of religious freedom, especiallyfor dissenting Muslims, Muslim minorities,and non-Muslim religious groups;• Revive the interagency U.S. government taskforceon religious freedom in Afghanistan and ensurereligious freedom issues are properly integratedinto the State and Defense Department strategiesconcerning Afghanistan;• Include a special working group on religious tolerancein U.S.-Afghan strategic dialogues and thetrilateral dialogues with the United States, Afghanistan,and Pakistan;• Encourage the Afghan government to sponsor,with official and semi-official religious bodies, aninitiative on interfaith dialogue that focuses onboth intra-Islamic dialogue and engagement withdifferent faiths; and• Ensure that human rights concerns are integratedin the reconciliation process and that the parties toany peace agreement pledge to uphold the UniversalDeclaration of Human Rights and not just theAfghan constitution.USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 137


AZERBAIJAN138USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


AZERBAIJANKey FindingsDespite societal religious tolerance in Azerbaijan, governmentalrespect for religious freedom continued todeteriorate in 2014, along with a sharp decline in respectfor democratic norms. The past year witnessed a markedincrease in arrests of civil society activists and members ofPre-Soviet independent Azerbaijan was the world’sfirst Muslim-majority secular parliamentary republic.After the USSR collapsed, Azerbaijan gained independencein 1991. The Nagorno-Karabakh war withArmenia ended in a 1994 cease-fire; Azerbaijan lost16 percent of its land and gained 600,000 internallyPre-Soviet independent Azerbaijan was the world’s firstMuslim-majority secular parliamentary republic.religious groups. In addition, the government continued tolevy penalties for violations of the restrictive 2009 religionlaw. Registration requests from religious groups weredelayed or denied and religious groups closed. Peacefulreligious believers, their defenders, and other activistshave been detained, fined, and imprisoned on variouscharges. Based on these concerns, in 2015 USCIRF againplaces Azerbaijan on Tier 2, where it has been since 2013.BackgroundBordering Armenia, Georgia, Iran, and Turkey, Azerbaijanhas a majority Shi’a Muslim population of nine million;some 13 million ethnic Azeris live in northern Iran.According to the State Department, 96 percent of Azerbaijan’spopulation is Muslim, of whom about 65 percentare Shi’a Muslims and 35 percent Sunni Muslims. Theremaining 4 percent of the population includes: RussianOrthodox, Armenian Orthodox, and other Christians(including Lutherans, Roman Catholics, Baptists, Molokans,and Seventh-day Adventists); some 20,000 Jews;Baha’is; and nonbelievers. Among Muslims and RussianOrthodox, religious identity is usually based on ethnicity.Shi’a Muslims, Sunni Muslims, Russian Orthodox,and Jews are officially seen as the country’s “traditional”religious groups.displaced persons. The OSCE Minsk Group, co-chairedby the United States, France, and Russia, mediates thisconflict; clashes in August 2014 led to military fatalitieson both sides.The Aliev family, with roots in the Nakhichivanexclave, dominates Azerbaijan’s politics. Heydar Alievwas the First Party Secretary of Soviet-era Azerbaijanfrom 1969 to 1982, and then president of independentAzerbaijan from 1993 until his 2003 resignation for healthreasons. Aliev named his son, Ilham, as his party’s solecandidate in a much-criticized 2003 presidential election.Term limits were lifted in 2009 and Ilham Aliev hasbeen president ever since. The Azerbaijani government isviewed as corrupt and increasingly authoritarian.During the reporting period, there was a markedincrease in arrests and repression of civil societyactivists and peaceful members of religious groupsin Azerbaijan. In 2014, the parliament also increasedreporting requirements for NGOs and religious groupsto the State Committee for Work with Religious Organizations(SCWRO), purportedly to prevent the spreadof religious extremism and foreign missionary activity.These problematic actions occurred while Azerbaijanchaired the Council of Europe (CoE) Council of Ministersfor six months in 2014. The CoE human rights chief,Nils Muiznieks, criticized Azerbaijan’s government inUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 139


September 2014 for a “totally unacceptable” humanrights situation” that “flies in the face” of CoE standards.In an August 2014 statement by the office of the UN HighCommissioner for Human Rights, experts said they were“appalled” by “criminalization of rights activists” andcalled for their release.Azerbaijan’s 2009 religion law is used to limitreligious freedom and to justify fines, police raids,detentions, and imprisonment. The law’s provisionsinclude: compulsory state registration with complexand intrusive requirements; no appeal for registrationIn October 2014, an Azerbaijani NGO, Islam-IttihadAssociation, won a case at the ECtHR challenging its2003 dissolution. The ECtHR found that the governmenthad violated the Association’s rights to freedom ofassembly and association by closing it down for organizingMuslim pilgrimages and criticizing the statebackedCaucasian Muslim Board (CMB). In November2014, Azerbaijan’s Supreme Court rejected an appeal byBaku’s Fatima Zahra Sunni mosque against state-enforcedlegal liquidation. SCWRO officials claimed in late2014 that Baptists and Adventists will be registered, butAzerbaijan’s 2009 religion law is usedto limit religious freedom . . .denials; religious activities limited to a community’sregistered address; extensive state controls on thecontent, production, import, export, and disseminationof religious materials; and required state-approvedreligious education to preach, teach religion, or leadceremonies. Individuals or groups violating the religionlaw are subject to administrative fines. In 2010, finesfor religious organizations increased 16-fold. In 2012,the CoE’s Venice Commission and the Organizationfor Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) issueda legal opinion finding that Azerbaijan’s religion lawfailed to meet its international human rights commitments.In 2014, the European Court of Human Rights(ECtHR) found that Azerbaijan’s 2009 religion law givesauthorities “unlimited discretionary power” to defineand prosecute “illegal” religious activity.Religious Freedom Conditions 2014–2015Government Control through RegistrationRegistration is mandatory, and religious groups deniedregistration or that refuse to register are deemed “illegal.”Members of unregistered religious communities often faceraids, confiscation of religious texts, and other penalties.Yet even registered religious groups are only allowed toconduct activity at their legal address and subject to otherrestrictions. The State Committee for Work with ReligiousOrganizations claimed in February 2014 that the country’stotal number of registered religious groups was 588.only if they liquidate and apply as new organizations;otherwise they face judicial liquidation.Penalties for Religious Activity or ReligiousFreedom AdvocacyThe Azerbaijani NGO Legal Protection and AwarenessSociety Public Union (LPASPU) has compiled a listof Muslims jailed for the non-violent practice of theirfaith or advocacy for religious freedom. Most weresentenced for publicly protesting what is in effect a banon headscarves in school: 11 members of that group arestill imprisoned, seven were released in 2014; two werepardoned by President Aliev in March 2015. The trial oflawyer Rasul Jafarov, LPASPU leader, began in January2015 although witnesses’ testimony did not support theofficial charges of financial manipulations; he was sentencedto 6.5 years. Leila and Arif Yunus, noted humanrights activists who also drew attention to religious freedom,have been jailed since August 2014; their worseninghealth status is ignored in the penal system.In November 2014, nine Sunni Muslims arrivingto pray in a Sumgait home were detained for severalhours; police claimed to have found weapons. InFebruary 2015, a Baku court sentenced the home’sowner, Zohrab Shikhaliyev (who offered his home forprayer because all local Sunni mosques were closed)to a six-month term on false weapons charges. Islamictheologian Taleh Bagirov, who publicly criticized the140USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


AZERBAIJANnaming of a CMB imam to serve in his mosque, wassentenced in 2013 on fabricated drug charges andreleased in late 2014. The trial of three Muslims – EldenizHajiyev, Ismayil Mammadov and Revan Sabzaliyev– for allegedly reading “illegal” religious literatureand organizing an “illegal” religious group began inBaku in December 2014. If convicted, they face three toRestrictions on Religious MinoritiesMost Protestant denominations do not have legal status,including Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, and Pentecostals,as well as Jehovah’s Witnesses. Two GeorgianOrthodox communities are registered, but Gakh regionauthorities restricted worship services to 30 minutesper day in three Georgian Orthodox churches. The. . . Muslims [are] jailed for thenon-violent practice of their faith . . .five year prison terms. Muslim scholar and CMB pressofficer, Elshan Mustafaoglu, was sentenced on December19, 2014 to four months of pre-trial detention,reportedly on treason charges. He had studied Islamin Iran and took part in the U.S. International VisitorProgram in 2009. Jeyhun Jafarov, former host of a TVshow on Islam, reportedly was arrested on unknowncharges after the reporting period and sentenced tofour months in pre-trial detention.Additional Restrictions on MuslimsAll Muslims in Azerbaijan are subject to official restrictions.All Muslim religious leaders are named by the statebackedCMB and must be citizens educated in Azerbaijan;all mosques must belong to the CMB; and only citizenscan establish Islamic religious communities. By 2014,all Islamic communities that did not belong to the CMBlacked legal status and were vulnerable to police action.Police still enforce a 2008 decree that does not allow prayeroutside of mosques. In 2010, the Ministry of Educationintroduced a school uniform, in effect banning the Islamicheadscarf. In 2013 that ban was extended to universities,leading to petitions and unauthorized protests.In 2014 the government and the CMB stepped upits apparent campaign to close Sunni places of worship.The Lezgin Mosque – one of two Sunni Muslim mosquesopen in Baku – was threatened with closure. In 2014, aSunni mosque near Baku was put under new control; theSCWRO claims the mosque’s first community dissolvedby “choosing” to admit Shi’a members.government has confiscated religious facilities withoutcompensation. It uses Baku’s renovated ArmenianApostolic Saint Gregory the Illuminator’s Church as thearchive for the Presidential Administration Departmentof Administration Affairs. The Culture Ministry runsa concert hall in Baku’s confiscated Lutheran Churchbuilding; in October 2014 it limited rentals of thatbuilding to registered religious groups. Baku’s LutheranChurch and New Life Pentecostal Church (two amongthe few registered non-Muslim religious groups) rentthe building, but the unregistered Greater Grace Churchwas told by officials it no longer can do so.Status of Conscientious ObjectionWhen Azerbaijan joined the CoE in 2001 it promisedto allow alternative service, but has yet to enact sucha law. While the Constitution allows for alternativeservice, other laws set two-year prison terms for thosewho refuse military service. Jailed since October 2013,Jehovah’s Witness Kamran Shikhaliev lost his courtappeal in August 2014 against a one-year term in amilitary discipline unit where he must serve untilAugust 2015.Government Censorship of Religious MaterialsPenalties for first-time violators of official restrictionsand censorship of religious texts include up to two yearsin jail. A “conspiratorial” or organized group or a repeatoffender faces a prison term of between two and fiveyears; in February 2015, a Baku court ordered Jehovah’sWitnesses Irina Zakharchenko and Valida Jabrayilova tobe held for three months in a secret police investigationUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 141


prison; they face up to a five-year term for offering religiousliterature without state permission.Situation in the Nakhichevan ExclaveResidents of the Nakhichevan exclave face moresevere religious freedom restrictions than elsewherein Azerbaijan. Local Sunni Muslims have nowhere topray. In November 2014, up to 200 Shi’a Muslims werearrested; according to Forum 18 News Service, up to 50are detained and up to 50 mosques – particularly thoseofficially seen as close to Iran – reportedly were closed.During the Shi’a Muslim Ashura commemoration, policeoutside mosques prevented children and students fromentering. Many state employees reportedly are afraid toattend mosque. Baha’is, Adventists and Hare Krishnasare banned. The ancient Armenian cemetery near Jugavillage repeatedly has been vandalized since 2005.U.S. PolicyThe United States aims to encourage pro-Westerndemocracy and to help build an open market economyin Azerbaijan. Other goals include promoting regionalstability, primarily resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakhconflict; enhancing energy security, and fostering economicand political reforms. U.S. companies cooperatein offshore oil development with Azerbaijan. Azerbaijansupports the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)operations in Afghanistan by participating in the NorthernDistribution Network and counters transnationalthreats, especially from Iran. U.S. assistance helps buildcapacity for maritime counterterrorism operations,especially in its Caspian Sea area, and provides militarysecurity training courses. U.S. civil society assistance inAzerbaijan focuses on small grants for civil-society andon civic dialogue.Criticism by UN human rights bodies and internationalcivil society groups of Azerbaijan’s humanrights record has sharply increased during the reportingperiod. In response to human rights criticism, in 2014Azerbaijani government officials verbally attackedformer U.S. Ambassador Richard Morningstar andSenate staff who were in Baku and met RFE/RL reporter,Khadija Ismayilova, who was later arrested. In February2015, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European andEurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland went to Azerbaijan tomeet senior government officials to discuss bilateralrelations on trade and investment; energy diversification;security and counter-terrorism; democracy andcivil society, and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Duringthat one-day visit, she also held a brief meeting with civilsociety and announced the start of an ongoing U.S.-Azerbaijanidialogue on civil society and democracy to run inparallel with Council of Europe initiatives.RecommendationsIn order to promote freedom of religion or belief in Azerbaijan,USCIRF recommends that the U.S. governmentshould:• Urge the Azerbaijani government to reform itsreligion law to bring it into conformity with itsinternational human rights commitments, asrecommended by the Council of Europe’s VeniceCommission and the Organization for Security andCo-operation in Europe in 2012;• Urge the Azerbaijani government to cease detentionand imprisonment of members of religious groups,as well as activists, jailed for peaceful religiousactivity or religious affiliations;• Ensure that the U.S. Embassy in Azerbaijanmaintains appropriate contacts with human rightsactivists and press the government of Azerbaijanto ensure that every prisoner has regular access tohis or her family, human rights monitors, adequatemedical care, and a lawyer, as specified in internationalhuman rights instruments;• Encourage public scrutiny of Azerbaijan’s violationsof international religious freedom and relatedhuman rights norms at the UN and Organization forSecurity and Cooperation in Europe, and urge theOSCE to engage these issues publicly;• Urge the Azerbaijani government to agree to visitsby UN Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Religionor Belief, as well as Independence of the Judiciaryand Torture; set specific visit dates; and provide thenecessary conditions for such visits;• Press the government of Azerbaijan to allow religiousgroups to operate freely without registration,and advocate for amendments to the religion law’sregistration process to make it voluntary;142USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


AZERBAIJAN• Specify freedom of religion as a grants categoryand area of activity in the Democracy and ConflictMitigation program of the U.S. Agency for InternationalDevelopment and the Democracy CommissionSmall Grants program administered by theU.S. Embassy, and encourage the publicly-fundedNational Endowment for Democracy to makegrants for civil society programs on tolerance andfreedom of religion or belief; and• Increase U.S. government-funded radio and Internetprograms, particularly in Azeri, of objectiveinformation on relevant issues, such as religiousfreedom, including its role in U.S. foreign policy.USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 143


CUBA144USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


CUBAKey FindingsSerious religious freedom violations continue in Cuba,despite improvements for government-approvedreligious groups. The government continues to detainand harass religious leaders and laity, interfere inreligious groups’ internal affairs, and prevent democracyand human rights activists from participating inreligious activities. Despite constitutional protectionsfor religious freedom, the Cuban government activelylimits, controls, and monitors religious practice througha restrictive system of laws and policies and government-authorizedsurveillance and harassment. Basedon these concerns, USCIRF again places Cuba on Tier 2in 2015. Cuba has been on USCIRF’s Tier 2 since 2004.BackgroundReligious adherence continues to grow in Cuba,although there are no reliable statistics of Cubans’religious affiliations. Sixty to 70 percent of the populationis estimated to be Roman Catholic and five percentProtestant. According to the State Department, variousreligious communities approximate their membershipnumbers as follows: Assemblies of God, 110,000; thefour Baptist conventions, 100,000; Jehovah’s Witnesses,96,000; Methodists, 36,000; Seventh-day Adventists,35,000; Anglicans, 22,500; Presbyterians, 15,500; Muslims,2,000-3,000; Jewish community, 1,500; Quakers,300; and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints(Mormons), 50. An unknown number of Greek and RussianOrthodox, Buddhists, and Baha’is also live in Cuba.The Cuban government controls religious activitiesthrough the Office of Religious Affairs of the CentralCommittee of the Cuban Communist Party and theMinistry of Justice. The government requires religiouscommunities to undergo an invasive registrationprocedure with the Ministry of Justice. Only registeredreligious communities are legally allowed to receiveforeign visitors, import religious materials, meet inapproved houses of worship, and apply to travel abroadfor religious purposes. Local Communist Party officialsmust approve all religious activities other than regularworship services of registered groups, such as repairingor building houses of worship and holding processionsor events outside religious buildings. The governmentalso restricts religious practices by denying, in manycases, access to state media and exit visas, requiringthe registration of publications, and limiting the entryof foreign religious workers. The Cuban governmentin 2014 started restricting bank accounts to one perdenomination or religious association, preventingindividual churches from maintaining their financesindependently. The Office of Religious Affairs continuesto pressure denominations to make their internalgoverning structures, statutes, and constitutions morehierarchical, which would aid government efforts tocontrol religious communities.The government principally targets for arrest orharassment religious communities and leaders deemedtoo independent from government control or those whosupport democracy and human rights efforts. Governmentofficials also regularly restrict the religious rightsof democracy and human rights activists. All religiouscommunities, including those with working relationshipswith the government, are subject to the controlmechanisms listed above.Religious Freedom Conditions 2014–2015Positive DevelopmentsAs in previous years, positive developments continuefor the Catholic Church and major registered Protestantdenominations, including but not limited to Presbyterians,Episcopalians, and Methodists. These religiousdenominations continued to report increased opportunitiesto meet, worship, engage in public processions,receive exit visas, recruit new members, import religiousmaterials, receive contributions from co-religionistsUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 145


outside Cuba, and conduct charitable, educational andcommunity service projects. In October, the Cubangovernment announced that the Catholic Church willbe allowed to build its first new church on the island inmore than 55 years. This follows the building of a newCatholic seminary. Catholic and Protestant Sunday worshipservices continue to be held in prisons throughoutthe island.Continued Targeting and HarassmentThe government continued to harass the ApostolicReformation, an independent and fast-growing religiouscommunity, during this reporting period. Such harassmentincludes: short-term arrests of leaders; government-organizedmob attacks; confiscations, destructionof or threats to destroy church property; harassment andsurveillance of church members and their relatives; fineson churches; and threats to leaders and members of lossof employment, housing, or educational opportunities.Both the Eastern and the Western Baptist Conventionscontinued to report surveillance and harassmentby state officials, including receiving death threats andbeing victims of “acts of repudiation.” The two denominationsalso reported increased threats of churchdestruction or confiscation.In three separate incidents, independent evangelicaland interdenominational pastors were detained forshort periods; several others received police summonsand were questioned about their alleged role in “counter-revolutionary”activities.As in previous reporting periods, the Cuban governmentcontinued to target human rights activistsand particular religious communities. More than 100separate incidents were reported in 2014 of Ladies inWhite members and other human rights and democracyactivists being prevented from attending Sundaymasses. In the majority of cases, these individuals weredetained on their way to mass and released hours later.In other instances, police officers blockaded them fromreaching their respective churches. Individuals reportedbeing beaten and harassed during their detentions.Prior to the Community of Latin American andCaribbean States summit in January 2014, two religiousleaders and human rights activists – Independent EvangelicalChurch Pastor Yordani Santi and Ebenezer BaptistChurch Pastor Mario Felix Lleonart Barasso – wereharassed; Pastor Mario Felix was placed under housearrest until the summit ended. Several times during thereporting period Pastor Mario Felix and his wife werearrested and later released.U.S. PolicyIn December 2014, President Barack Obama announced a“New Course on Cuba” that starts a process of normalizingdiplomatic relations between the countries and significantlylifting trade and travel restrictions. On the morningof the announcement, President Obama and Cuban PresidentRaul Castro spoke on the phone for more than onehour, the first presidential-level communication betweenthe countries since the Cuban revolution. For decades,U.S.-Cuban policies and relations have been dominatedby the U.S. trade sanctions and travel embargo on Cubaimposed in 1960 and reinforced by the 1996 Helms-BurtonAct. The U.S. government’s imprisonment of five Cubansarrested in 1998 for spying (known as the “Cuban Five”),and Cuba’s detention of USAID contractor Alan Gross, alsosignificantly hampered the relationship.The changes to U.S.-Cuba policy announced inDecember include: re-establishing a U.S. Embassy inHavana to be led by an Ambassador to Cuba; immediatelyreviewing the designation of Cuba as a State Sponsorof Terrorism; easing restrictions for passage to Cuba fortravelers from 12 authorized categories; increasing remittancelevels from $500 to $2,000 per quarter; increasingU.S.-led training opportunities for and exportation and/or sale of goods and services to Cuban private businessesand farmers; authorizing U.S. institutions to open bankingaccounts with Cuban financial institutions; allowingthe use of U.S. credit and debit cards in Cuba; increasingthe export to and establishment of telecommunicationsequipment on the island; easing the application of Cubasanctions in third countries; and permitting U.S. citizensto import $400 of Cuban products (with a $100 limit ontobacco and alcohol).In addition to the above changes, the Cuban governmentreleased USAID contractor Alan Gross, whowas imprisoned in 2009 and later sentenced to 15 yearsimprisonment for crimes against the state, as well as a U.S.intelligence officer jailed in Cuba for more than 20 years.The U.S. government released the three remaining membersof the Cuban Five. All the men were returned to theirrespective countries on the day of the announcement.146USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


CUBAA number of Cuban and religious leaders welcomedthe new Cuba policy. In particular, the Catholic Churchhas long advocated for lifting the embargo, and PopeFrancis was a key initiator of and mediator to the U.S.-Cuba discussions.President Obama’s announcement to start a processto normalize U.S.-Cuba relations and review Cuba’splacement on the State Sponsors of Terrorism list metwith both approval and criticism from Congress. Supportersof the new policy argue that Cuban authoritieswill be held more accountable to their own peoplebecause they will no longer be able to blame the embargofor the country’s poor economy, trade and travel will providea new market for U.S. goods, and increased contactwith U.S. citizens will bring person-to-person diplomacythat could lead to changes on the island. Critics of the newpolicy argue that the U.S. government did not get much inreturn for lifting trade and travel restrictions, the Cubangovernment remains repressive, and that any lifting ofsanctions should be conditioned on improved humanrights and democracy conditions on the island.President Obama has said that the United Statesgovernment will continue to strongly press for and supportimproved human rights conditions and democraticreforms in Cuba. For fiscal year 2016, the Administrationis requesting $20 million to support humanitarianassistance to victims of political repression and theirfamilies, strengthen independent civil society, andimprove freedom of expression in Cuba.The Administration notes that as part of theDecember agreement, the Cuban government released53 political prisoners who had long been the focus ofconcern among the human rights community, agreedto allow Internet access, and approved the return ofInternational Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) andUN human rights officials. At this writing, those visitshave yet to take place.This was the third time the Obama Administrationeased U.S. sanctions on Cuba. In April 2009, thePresident lifted restrictions on the number of timesCubans in the United States can travel to Cuba to visitand the amount of money they can send to relatives inthat country. On the same day, President Obama alsoannounced that the United States would begin issuinglicenses for companies to provide cellular telephone andtelevision services in Cuba. In March 2010, PresidentObama announced that technology companies wouldbe permitted to export Internet services to Cuba toincrease freedom of expression and allow human rightsactivists to collect and share information.As part of the new U.S.-Cuba policy, Assistant Secretaryof State Roberta S. Jacobson travelled to Havana inJanuary and March 2015 for U.S.-Cuban migration talks.Migration talks have been ongoing for several years.RecommendationsAs part of the U.S.-Cuba ongoing discussions, USCIRFrecommends that the U.S. government should:• Press the Cuban government to:• stop arrests and harassment of religious leaders;• end the practice of preventing democracy andhuman rights activists from attending religiousservices, a practice which infringes on their religiousfreedom rights;• cease interference with religious activities andreligious communities’ internal affairs;• allow unregistered religious groups to operatefreely and legally; revise government policiesthat restrict religious services in homes or otherpersonal property;• lift restrictions on the building or repairing ofhouses of worship, holding of religious processions,importation of religious materials, andadmittance of religious leaders; and• hold accountable police and other security personnelfor actions that violate the human rights ofnon-violent religious practitioners;• Use appropriated funds to advance Internet freedomand protect Cuban activists by supporting the developmentand accessibility of new technologies andprograms to counter censorship and to facilitate thefree flow of information in and out of Cuba; and• Encourage international partners, including keyLatin American and European countries andregional blocs, to ensure that violations of freedom ofreligion or belief and related human rights are partof all formal and informal multilateral or bilateraldiscussions with Cuba.USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 147


INDIA148USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


INDIAKey FindingsDespite the country’s status as a pluralistic, seculardemocracy, India has long struggled to protectminority religious communities or provide justicewhen crimes occur, which perpetuates a climateof impunity. Incidents of religiously-motivatedand communal violence reportedly have increasedfor three consecutive years. The states of AndhraPradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Chattisgarhi, Gujarat,Odisha, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra,and Rajasthan tend to have the greatest number ofreligiously-motivated attacks and communal violenceincidents. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs)and religious leaders, including from the Muslim,Christian, and Sikh communities, attributed theinitial increase to religiously-divisive campaigning inadvance of the country’s 2014 general election. Sincethe election, religious minority communities havebeen subject to derogatory comments by politicianslinked to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) andnumerous violent attacks and forced conversions byHindu nationalist groups, such as Rashtriya SwayamsevakSangh (RSS) and Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP).BackgroundThe world’s largest democracy with about 1.22 billionpeople, India has a deeply religious, pluralistic society. Acountry with a Hindu majority, India is estimated to havethe world’s third largest Muslim population and over 25million Christians. The country’s religious diversity hasbeen represented at the highest levels of government.Despite these positive factors, India has long struggledwith religious and communal harmony. Communaltensions between Muslims and Hindus have beena longstanding problem. Since 2008 and 2010 terroristattacks, Muslim communities have reported facingundue scrutiny and arbitrary arrests and detentions,which the government justifies by the need to counterterrorism. In addition, for several years, Indian Christians,Christian missionary groups, and Hindus whoconvert to Christianity or another faith have reportedmore frequent harassment and violence, particularlyin states with anti-conversion laws. Religious minoritycommunities frequently accuse the RSS, VHP andother Hindu-nationalist groups and individuals ofintolerance, discrimination, and violence againstthem. In addition, they cite police bias in failing toReligious minority communities frequently accuse the RSS,VHP and other Hindu-nationalist groups and individuals of intolerance,discrimination, and violence against them.Christian NGOs and leaders report that their communityis particularly at risk in states that have adopted“Freedom of Religion Act(s),” commonly referred toas anti-conversion laws. Based on these concerns,USCIRF again places India on its Tier 2 list of countries,where it has been since 2009.investigate sufficiently and arrest perpetrators ofviolence. Moreover, religious minority communitiesvoice concern that high-ranking BJP members protector provide support to these groups. In light of theseconcerns, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statementin support of religious freedom made after the close ofUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 149


the reporting period (discussed more fully below) wasa positive development.The country has experienced periodic outbreaksof large-scale communal violence against religiousminorities, including in Uttar Pradesh in 2013, Odishain 2007-2008, Gujarat in 2002, and Delhi in 1984. Indiahas established special structures, such as Fast-TrackCourts, Special Investigative Teams, and independentcommissions, to investigate and adjudicate crimesstemming from these incidents. However, their impacthas been hindered by limited capacity, an antiquatedjudiciary, inconsistent use, political corruption, andreligious bias, particularly at the state and local levels.As a result, a climate of impunity continues to exist insome Indian states, exacerbating the social and religioustensions among communities.Religious Freedom Conditions 2014–2015Violations against ChristiansChristian communities, across many denominations,report an increase of harassment and violence in thelast year, including physical violence, arson, desecrationof churches and Bibles, and disruption of religious services.The perpetrators are often individuals and groupsassociated with the RSS and VHP and operate with nearimpunity. Reportedly, local police seldom provide protection,refuse to accept complaints, rarely investigate,by an estimated 25 Hindu nationalists for displayingimages of Jesus in the storefront window.Violations against MuslimsThe Muslim community in India also has experiencedincreased harassment and violence. It faces significanthate campaigns perpetrated by Hindu nationalistgroups and local and state politicians that include widespreadmedia propaganda accusing Muslims of beingterrorists; spying for Pakistan; forcibly kidnapping, converting,and marrying Hindu women; and disrespectingHinduism by slaughtering cows. Additionally, the Muslimcommunity reports that its mosques are monitoredand young boys and men are detained indiscriminatelyunder the pretext of countering terrorism. Muslims alsocomplain that most Indian states violate their religiousfreedom by restricting or banning cow slaughter, whichis required for Muslims during Eid al-Adha (Festival ofthe Sacrifice).In addition, in the past year, there have been anumber of violent incidents leading to deaths anddisplacement of Muslims. For example, in January 2015,a mob of more than 5,000 people attacked the majority-Muslimvillage of Azizpur, Bihar after a young Hinduman had been abducted and killed. Three Muslims wereburned alive and about 25 houses set on fire. Police havearrested some perpetrators. In September 2014, policeReportedly, local police seldom provide protection,refuse to accept complaints, rarely investigate, and in a few casesencourage Christians to move or hide their religion.and in a few cases encourage Christians to move or hidetheir religion. The Evangelical Fellowship of India hasdocumented more than 38 incidents targeting Christiansin November and December 2014 alone. Catholiccommunities in India also have documented a numberof incidents, including at least six attacks on churchesand a school between December 2014 and February2015. For example, in December, St. Sebastian CatholicChurch in Delhi was set on fire, Catholic Christmascarolers in Hyderabad were beaten badly by a mob, anda Catholic shopkeeper in Delhi was attacked brutallyarrested nearly 150 people in the state of Gujarat afterviolence left dozens, mostly Muslims, severely injured.Reportedly, the violence broke out after Hindu nationalistsposted on the Internet images of the Hindu GoddessMaa Ambe and Lord Ram superimposed over images ofMecca and the Ka’aba.Violations against SikhsIndia’s Sikh community has long pursued a change toArticle 25 of India’s constitution which states, “Hindusshall be construed as including a reference to persons150USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


INDIAprofessing the Sikh, Jain or Buddhist religion, and thereference to Hindu religious institutions shall be construedaccordingly.” The lack of recognition of Sikhism asa distinct religion denies Sihks access to social servicesor employment and educational preferences that areavailable to other religious minority communities andto scheduled caste Hindus. (This is also true for the otherfaiths listed in Article 25.) Sikhs are often harassed andpressured to reject religious practices and beliefs that aredistinct to Sikhism, such as dress, unshorn hair, and thecarrying of religious items, including the kirpan.Communal ViolenceCommunal violence, which generally occurs in statesthat have large minority communities, has been a longstandingissue in India. According to India’s Union HomeMinistry, in 2013 there were 823 incidents of communalviolence nationwide, leaving 133 dead, and thousandsinjured, some critically. Uttar Pradesh had the highestnumber of incidents (247), followed by the states ofMaharashtra (88), Madhya Pradesh (84), Karnataka (73)and Gujarat (68). According to Muslim and ChristianNGOs that track communal incidents, 2014 statistics, yetto be released by the Ministry, will be likely higher.“postponed” according to Mohan Bhagwat, a RSSleader. Hindu nationalist groups also reportedly givemonetary incentives to Hindus to convert Christiansand Muslims to Hinduism. In early December, hundredsof Muslims reportedly were forcibly “reconverted”to Hinduism in a mass ceremony in Agra, UttarPradesh. Members of the RSS allegedly tricked dozensof Muslims families into attending a meeting by tellingthem they would be provided financial help, but insteada Hindu religious leader performed a Hindu conversionceremony; an investigation is underway. In September2014, Dalit Seventh-day Adventists filed a reportin Uttar Pradesh that they were forcibly converted toHinduism and their church was converted to a Hindutemple. It is not known if a police investigation wasconducted. The nationalist groups also allegedly targetDalits if they are believed to be considering conversionaway from Hinduism.Anti-Conversion LawsSix Indian states – Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh,Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Arunanchal Pradesh, andOdisha – have so-called “Freedom of Religion Act(s),”commonly referred to as anti-conversion laws, andRajasthan’s parliament passed an anti-conversion billbut it was never signed by the state’s Chief Minister.These laws generally require government officials toassess the legality of conversions out of Hinduism onlyand provide for fines and imprisonment for anyonewho uses force, fraud, or “inducement” to convertThese laws generally require government officials toassess the legality of conversions out of Hinduism only andprovide for fines and imprisonment for anyone who uses force,fraud, or “inducement” to convert another.Hindu Nationalist Groups andForced ConversionIn December 2014, Hindu nationalist groupsannounced plans to forcibly “reconvert” at least 4,000Christian families and 1,000 Muslim families to Hinduismin Uttar Pradesh on Christmas day as part ofa so-called “Ghar Wapsi” (returning home) program.In advance of the program, the Hindu groups soughtto raise money for their campaign, noting that it costnearly 200,000 rupees (US $3,200) per Christian and500,000 rupees (US $8,000) per Muslim. After bothdomestic and international criticism, the day wasanother. While these laws purportedly protect religiousminorities from forced conversions, they are onesided,only concerned about conversions away fromHinduism but not towards Hinduism. Observers notethey create a hostile, and on occasion violent, environmentfor religious minority communities because theydo not require any evidence to support accusationsUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 151


of wrongdoing. In 2015, high-ranking members of theruling BJP party, including the party’s president AmitShah, called for a nationwide anti-conversion law.There are reports that some evangelical groups usetactics that are unethical and insulting to Hinduismand Hindus, which exacerbate religious and communaltensions.Redress for Past Large-Scale ViolenceThe Indian courts are still adjudicating cases stemmingfrom large-scale Hindu-Muslim communalviolence in Uttar Pradesh in 2013 and in Gujarat in2002, Hindu-Christian communal violence in Odishain 2007-2008, and Hindu-Sikh communal violence inDelhi in 1984. NGOs, religious leaders, and humanrights activists allege religious bias and corruption inthese investigations and adjudications. A one-memberspecial judicial inquiry commission is still investigatingthe 2013 riots in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh that leftdozens, mostly Muslims, dead and tens of thousands,mostly Muslims, displaced. Cases stemming from the2002 Gujarat violence also continue, including a specialcourt case pertaining to the killing of 68 people, includingformer Congress Party Parliamentarian Ehsan Jafri.More than five years after the Odisha violence, casesare still being adjudicated. In July 2014, the nationalSupreme Court ruled that churches damaged duringthose riots are not entitled to additional compensation,because they receive sufficient foreign funds. Since 1984there has been little progress in prosecuting perpetratorsof crimes during the anti-Sikh riots, which allegedlyoccurred with the support or encouragement of governmentofficials or prominent members of India’s CongressParty. However, in late 2014 the central governmentestablished a committee to determine if a SpecialInvestigation Team should be created to reinvestigatecases that had been previously closed.U.S. PolicySince the end of the Cold War, India and the UnitedStates have enjoyed increasingly closer ties, with Indianow described as a “strategic” and “natural” partner ofthe United States. In 2009, then Secretary of State HillaryClinton launched the U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue,through which the countries discuss a wide range ofbilateral, global, and regional issues, such as economicdevelopment, business and trade, education, technology,counter-terrorism and the environment. Fivestrategic dialogues have been held since 2009, noneincluding issues related to religious freedom. The July2014 dialogue included issues related to gender equalityand urban safety, resulting in USAID, state governmentsof India, and the government of Japan partnering withUN Women to implement the “Safe Cities” program tomonitor gender-based violence, strengthen systems toprevent and respond to it, and build women’s confidencein the justice system.As part of the initiative to build ties between theUnited States and India, the Obama Administration hasmade significant overtures to the Indian government.The first state visit President Barack Obama hosted aftertaking office was for then Prime Minister ManmohanSingh in November 2009. In November 2010, PresidentObama made a three-day state visit to India, and hereturned in January 2015 to be the chief guest at India’sannual Republic Day festivities, becoming the first U.S.President to travel to India twice.During his 2015 visit, and again in February 2015at the U.S. National Prayer Breakfast, President Obamamade notable remarks on India’s religious freedomissues. In his speech at a town hall event in New Delhiand again a few weeks later at the Prayer Breakfast, PresidentObama underscored the importance of religiousfreedom to India’s success, urging the country to not be“splintered along the lines of religious faith” and stating,“Michelle and I returned from India - an incredible,beautiful country, full of magnificent diversity - but aplace where, in past years, religious faiths of all typeshave, on occasion, been targeted by other people offaith, simply due to their heritage and their beliefs - actsof intolerance that would have shocked [Mahatma]Gandhiji, the person who helped to liberate that nation.”In mid-February 2015, at an event honoring IndianCatholic saints, Prime Minister Modi stated publicly,for the first time, that his government “will ensure thatthere is complete freedom of faith and that everyonehas the undeniable right to retain or adopt the religionof his or her choice without coercion or undue influence.”This statement is notable given longstandingallegations that, as Chief Minister of Gujarat in 2002, Mr.Modi was complicit in anti-Muslim riots in that state. Inlight of these allegations, in 2005, the State Department152USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


INDIArevoked a tourist visa he had been granted to visit theUnited States, under a provision in the Immigrationand Nationality Act that makes any foreign governmentofficial who “was responsible for or directly carried out,at any time, particularly severe violations of religiousfreedom” ineligible for a U.S. visa. Prime Minister Modiremains the only person known to have been denied avisa based on this provision.or amend them to conform with internationally-recognizedhuman rights standards; make clearU.S. opposition to laws that restrict freedom ofthought and association; and• Urge the Indian government to publicly rebukegovernment officials and religious leaders that makederogatory statements about religious communities.RecommendationsSince 2004, the United States and India have pursued astrategic relationship based on shared concerns aboutenergy, security, and the growing threat of terrorism, aswell as shared values of democracy and the rule of law.As part of this important relationship, USCIRF recommendsthat the U.S. government should:• Integrate concern for religious freedom into bilateralcontacts with India, including the framework offuture Strategic Dialogues, at both the federal andprovincial level, and encourage the strengthening ofthe capacity of state and central police to implementeffective measures to prohibit and punish cases ofreligious violence and protect victims and witnesses;• Increase the U.S. embassy’s attention to issuesof religious freedom and related human rights,including through visits by the Ambassador andother officials to areas where communal and religiously-motivatedviolence has occurred or is likelyto occur and meetings with religious communities,local governmental leaders, and police;• Encourage the establishment of a program similarto the “Safe Cities” program (described above) ofimpartial government officials, interfaith religiousleaders, human rights advocates, and legal expertsto discuss and recommend actions to promotereligious tolerance and understanding, and protectreligious minorities from intimidation and violence;• Urge India to boost training on human rights andreligious freedom standards and practices for thepolice and judiciary, particularly in states and areaswith a history or likelihood of religious and communalviolence;• Urge the central Indian government to press statesthat have adopted anti-conversion laws to repealUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 153


INDONESIA154USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


INDONESIAKey FindingsAs in previous years, internal pressures continued todiminish Indonesia’s respect for religious freedom andtradition of tolerance and pluralism. Deterioratingreligious freedom conditions in Indonesia in 2014 weresomewhat overshadowed by legislative and presidentialelections, but discrimination and violence againstreligious minorities continued, as well as the harassmentand imprisonment of individuals accused of blasphemy.The announcement of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’sintent to draft a law on religious tolerance that protectsminority religious groups was welcomed, as its creationand passage could represent a major step forward in protectingreligious freedom and living up to Indonesia’s perceivedreputation for tolerance. Yet the prospects for thisunrealized commitment are threatened by the deeplyentrenched legacy of the previous administration’s discriminatorylaws, policies, and practices against religiousminorities and the relative impunity afforded to extremistgroups. Based on these concerns, in 2015 USCIRF againplaces Indonesia on Tier 2, where it has been since 2003.BackgroundThe year 2014 capped off the decade-long presidencyof Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, under whose tenurereligious extremism, and its expression through actsin 2014. The Ministry itself has a history of implementingdiscriminatory practices and laws against non-SunniMuslims, in particular Shi’a and Ahmadi Muslims.Hardline groups that incite violence against religiousminorities or Muslims, with whom they disagree, continueto operate freely and with relative impunity.Anti-Shi’a and anti-Christian attitudes came to thefore during the elections. Extremist groups heightenedrhetoric in support of candidates who would “purgeShiites” from the country. Following a number of rallies,in early December, the extremist group the IslamicDefenders Front (FPI) “rejected” the newly-appointedJakarta governor, Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama,because he is an ethnic Chinese Christian, arguing thatonly a Muslim should be in charge of Jakarta; Ahok is thefirst non-Muslim Jakarta governor in 50 years. In addition,during the campaign, Jokowi’s detractors falselyaccused him of being both a Christian and of Chinesedescent in an attempt to reduce his support amongmajority Muslim voters.President Jokowi and the new Religious Affairs Minister,Lukman Hakim Saifuddin, have already strucka different, more inclusive tone in their statements.However, President Jokowi and Minister Lukman’splanned new legislation protecting religious minoritieshas yet to be introduced. Moreover, it will take time toroll back deep-seated discrimination against religiousHardline groups that incite violence against religious minorities orMuslims with whom they disagree continue tooperate freely and with relative impunity.of violence, grew with little government intervention.Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali, known forhis support of Islamic extremist elements, also left officeminority groups, including Ahmadis, Christians, Shi’a,Sufi, Hindus, Baha’is, and followers of various indigenousand traditional beliefs. Indonesia has the world’slargest Muslim population, 87 percent of its more thanUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 155


250 million people. Approximately 10 percent of thecountry’s population are Christian, three percent ofwhom are Catholic.Indonesia’s federal system and weak oversight givesprovinces wide latitude to enforce negative interpretationsof Indonesian law, ignore court decisions, andapply Shari’ah law in ways that violate constitutionalprotections. Consequently, to see durable and lastingimprovements for religious freedom and minorityrights, the government will need to ensure the broadcoordination and cooperation of the complex layers offederal, provincial, and local officials spread across thisvast chain of islands.congregation in Bogor spent Christmas locked out oftheir church building. After the church lost its permitin response to pressure from hardline groups, localauthorities closed it in 2010. The Supreme Court hassince ordered the church be reopened, but two mayoraladministrations have ignored the order. Extremists,whom local Catholics identified as belonging to FPI andanother similar group, also prevented the celebrationof Mass at St. Charles Borromeo in West Java after firstraiding the property and later sending threatening textmessages to the parish priest.AhmadisFollowers of the minority Ahmadi faith continued toexperience significant restrictions and abuses. A 2008Joint Ministerial Decree bans Ahmadis from spreadingtheir faith and provides the foundation for even harsherdiscriminatory measures and attacks against the community.On June 26, 2014, the Nur Khilafat Mosque, thehouse of worship for Ahmadis in Ciamis district in WestJava, was closed just days prior to the month of Ramadanfollowing the demands of approximately 300 FPI protestors.The following week, the congregation managedto reopen the mosque. More than 100 Ahmadis remainA 2008 Joint Ministerial Decree bans Ahmadis fromspreading their faith and provides the foundation for evenharsher discriminatory measures and attacks against the community.Religious Freedom Conditions 2014–2015Forced Closures of and Violence againstReligious PropertiesLocal government officials continue to harass religiousminorities over religious sites, particularly in West Java.Local authorities justify church closures under a federalgovernment decree requiring prior approval to build ahouse of worship from at least 60 local residents of differentfaiths, the local religious affairs department, andthe government-sponsored Regional Interfaith CommunicationForum. Although the rule is supposed toapply only to new construction, municipal authorities inWest Java also have enforced it against long-establishedchurches. In May 2014, government officials in Rancaekek,West Java issued a notice closing the PentecostChurch. In June, a Pentecostal church in Yogyakarta wasattacked with stones, causing property damage, and anattack on a nearby Catholic prayer service resulted inseveral injuries. Also in June, Christian representativesin Cianjur, West Java filed complaints with the NationalHuman Rights Commission, regarding the closureof seven churches on the pretext of permit violationsbetween December 2013 and January 2014. This wasthe fifth consecutive year in which the GKI Yasmininternally displaced in Mataram, West Nusa Tenggaraafter religious-based violence forced their eviction morethan eight years ago.Shi’a and Sufi MuslimsIn April 2014, an estimated 1,000 or more peopleattended the first-ever Anti-Shi’a Convention. Organizedby the Anti-Shi’a Alliance, the convention featuredseveral high-profile clerics and called for “jihad”against Shi’a Muslims. Participants produced a declarationurging the government to ban the Shi’a faith.Sufi communities continue to face school closures andharassment from extremist groups with no protectionfrom municipal authorities, particularly in Aceh.156USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


INDONESIALocal authorities in the city of Banda Aceh, andelsewhere throughout the province, banned all NewYear’s celebrations, deeming them contrary to Islam.The ban, issued via a fatwa from the Ulema ConsultativeAssembly, is similar to one delivered the previousyear. Wilayatul Hisbah raided cafes, storefronts, andother locations where celebrations and paraphernaliawere suspected.Marriage Act under Judicial ReviewIn August 2014, a group of law graduates and studentsbrought a case challenging the constitutionality of Article2(1) of the 1974 Marriage Act, which, according to someinterpretations, prohibits interfaith marriages. Thatprovision legitimizes only those marriages conducted inaccordance with the laws of the parties’ religion, and hasbeen interpreted by the Ministry of Religious Affairs, andsome religious leaders and local municipalities, to meanthat couples of different faiths cannot obtain marriagelicenses or have their marriages officially recognizedunless one spouse changes religions. The ambiguity andopen interpretation of the Marriage Act adds onerousbureaucratic hurdles for some couples seeking interfaithThe [Shari’ah] bylaw imposes Islamic lawon persons of other faiths, establishes new crimesnot found in the national criminal code, andpotentially forces non-Muslims to be tried in Shari’ah courts.Baha’isLicenses and permits often are difficult to obtain forthose without one of the country’s six official religionson their ID cards. In July 2014, the new Minister of ReligiousAffairs, Lukman Hakim Saifuddin, stated that theBaha’i faith should be recognized as an official religionand adherents should be able to indicate Baha’ism astheir religion on national identity cards. Despite theminister’s encouraging announcement, the Ministryitself thus far has not taken action to add the Baha’i faithto the list of official religions.Shari’ah Law in AcehIn 2014, the local legislature in the province of Acehpassed a new bylaw that strengthened Shari’ah lawand for the first time ever expanded it to non-Muslims,both Indonesians and foreigners; an estimated 90,000non-Muslims reside in Aceh. The bylaw imposes Islamiclaw on persons of other faiths, establishes new crimesnot found in the national criminal code, and potentiallyforces non-Muslims to be tried in Shari’ah courts. Somereligious minorities have expressed concern that they willbe punished under the bylaw for failing to conform to traditionalIslamic guidelines, even though those guidelinesare not recognized by their own religions. Moreover, thebylaw entrenches Sunni Islam as the official religion inAceh, thereby imposing Sunni traditions on all Muslimsin the province, including Shia Muslims, as well asAhmadis, overriding their right to practice their faithsfreely. The new bylaw is enforced by Aceh’s Shari’ah policeforce, known as Wilayatul Hisbah, which has seen itsjurisdiction expand in recent years. Human rights advocatesargue that Wilayatul Hisbah oversteps and unfairlytargets women and the poor. They also have expressedconcern that the growing breadth of crime and punishmentunder the bylaw has coincided with increasedincidents of civilian vigilantism in parts of Aceh.unions and, in practice, compels some individuals to convertto another faith solely to marry, which underminesthe individual freedoms to practice a religion and marry apartner of one’s choice.Blasphemy LawIndonesian laws criminalizing blasphemy and otherforms of perceived religious insults continue to be usedagainst individuals, often on trumped-up charges. Forexample, in 2014, Abraham Sujoko received a two-yearprison sentence and fine for “defamation of religion”under Indonesia’s Electronic Information and TransactionLaw. In December 2014, police opened an investigationof Meidyatama Suryodiningrat, editor of TheUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 157


Jakarta Post, for publishing what some believe to be ablasphemous cartoon criticizing the violence carriedout by the terrorist group ISIL, the Islamic State of Iraqand the Levant.U.S. PolicyAn important U.S. partner in Southeast Asia, Indonesiais geopolitically strategic and often touted as anexample of democracy in a Muslim-majority country.Education and Training, and the U.S. Trade and DevelopmentAgency.In 2010, the United States and Indonesia enteredinto a Comprehensive Partnership, a framework forcooperation on a variety of bilateral and regionalissues, guided by three main pillars of cooperationand six issue-specific working groups, including oneon democracy and civil society. The Partnership haselevated U.S. engagement with Indonesia and providedIndonesian laws criminalizing blasphemy and other forms ofperceived religious insults continue to be used againstindividuals, often on trumped-up charges.Traditionally, Indonesia has been viewed as a leader inthe Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).Indonesia is also a member of the G20, the only ASEANmember in the group. At the November 2014 G20 Summitin Brisbane, Australia, President Jokowi outlinedfour economic priorities: business licensing, tax reform,fuel subsidies, and social infrastructure.The United States provides a variety of assistanceprograms to Indonesia in areas such as education, theenvironment, criminal justice and anti-corruption,counterterrorism, military education and training,and democracy and governance, among others. Themain conduits for this assistance are the State Department,the U.S. Agency for International Development(USAID), the Millennium Challenge Corporation(MCC), and the Peace Corps. For example, MCC’sIndonesia Compact is a $600 million five-year programaimed at reducing poverty and expanding economicgrowth more broadly. In recent years, the U.S. governmenthas shifted its USAID support to programs thatare administered or conducted directly by Indonesianorganizations and institutions, which includes civilsociety and local businesses. In its FY2016 Budget,the State Department noted Indonesia as a possiblecountry of focus under its Countering Violent Extremismprogram; Indonesia was similarly noted in State’sFY2015 Budget. Other specific U.S. funding programsinclude International Narcotics Control and LawEnforcement, Global Health, International Militarya clear pathway for dialogue on key issues of mutualinterest. Thus far, human rights have not featuredprominently in the engagement between the two countriesunder the Partnership, though related issues have,such as civil society consultations and peer-to-peerrelationship-building. Prior to the Partnership, theUnited States and Indonesia co-sponsored a religiousinterfaith conference in Jakarta in 2010; similar dialogueswere held in Bangladesh and at the Vatican.Secretary of State John Kerry attended PresidentJokowi’s inauguration in October 2014. At the first meetingbetween Presidents Obama and Jokowi in November2014 during a summit of the Asia-Pacific EconomicCooperation forum, President Obama praised Indonesiafor playing “an extraordinary role in promoting pluralismand respect for religious diversity.”RecommendationsThrough increased engagement, the United Stateshas both encouraged Indonesia and raised concernsabout human rights conditions in the country,including the treatment of religious minorities.USCIRF encourages the U.S. government to continueto express these concerns both publicly and privately,particularly with respect to rising intolerance andextremism. In addition, USCIRF recommends that theU.S. government should:• Encourage President Jokowi and Minister Lukman tofulfill their commitment to introduce new legislation158USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


INDONESIAprotecting religious minorities and offer to providetechnical assistance, if needed;• Create specific bilateral working groups in theannual Comprehensive Partnership meetings withIndonesia to discuss human rights, religious freedom,and rule of law issues and establish concretemeasures to address them;• Raise in public and private with Indonesian officialsthe need to protect Indonesia’s tradition of religioustolerance and pluralism by arresting and prosecutingindividuals targeting religious groups fordiscrimination and violence;• Urge the Indonesian government, at central,provincial, and local levels, to comply with theIndonesian constitution and international standardsby: overturning the Joint Ministerial Decreeon the Ahmadiyya community and any provincialbans on Ahmadiyya religious practice; amendingor repealing Article 156(a) of the Penal Code andreleasing anyone sentenced for “deviancy,” “denigratingreligion,” or “blasphemy;” and amendingthe Joint Ministerial Decree No. 1/2006 (Regulationon Building Houses of Worship) to allow religiousminorities the right to build and maintain theirplaces of worship;• Prioritize funding for governmental, civil society,and media programs that promote religious freedom,counter extremism, build interfaith alliances,expand the reporting ability of human rightsdefenders, train government and religious officialsto mediate sectarian disputes, and build capacityfor legal reform advocates, judicial officials, andparliamentarians to better fulfill Indonesia’s obligationsunder international human rights law; and• Help to train Indonesian police and counter-terrorismofficials, at all levels, to better address sectarianconflict, religion-related violence and terrorism,including violence against places of worship,through practices consistent with internationalhuman rights standards, while ensuring those officershave not been implicated in past human rightsabuses pursuant to Leahy Amendment vettingprocedures.USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 159


KAZAKHSTAN160USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


KAZAKHSTANtral Asia in regard to freedom of religion or belief. The2011 law, however, sets complex registration requirementswith high membership thresholds and bansunregistered religious activity; it restricts areas ofpermitted religious activity and teaching, distributionof religious materials, and training of clergy. The 2011law also raised penalties for alleged violations. Whilethe religion law declares that all religions have equallegal standing, its preamble “recognizes the historicalrole of Hanafi Islam and Orthodox Christianity,” suggestingpreferred official status. The government alsosupports “anti-sect centers” that promote intoleranceagainst certain religious groups. Religious communitiesare subject to police and secret police surveillance,but due to fear of state reprisals, many hesitateto discuss this issue.Under the 2011 law, all religious organizations wererequired to re-register pursuant to the complicated newrules. Depending on where they operate, groups had toregister with national, regional, and/or local Ministry ofJustice authorities, with different membership numbersrequired (50 for local registration, 500 in at leasttwo regions for regional registration, 5,000 in each ofthe country’s regions for national registration). Many“Before its 2011 religion law, Kazakhstan was seenas one of the most liberal post-Soviet countries . . .”Key FindingsAlthough the government of Kazakhstan promotesreligious tolerance at the international level, religiousfreedom conditions in the country continued to deterioratein 2014. The country’s restrictive 2011 religionlaw bans unregistered religious activity and has beenenforced through the closing of religious organizations,police raids, detentions, and fines. The law’s onerousregistration requirements have led to a sharp drop in thenumber of registered religious groups, both Muslim andProtestant. Based on these concerns, in 2015 USCIRFagain places Kazakhstan on Tier 2, where it has beensince 2013.BackgroundKazakhstan’s population is estimated to be 17.7 million,with about 65 percent Muslim, mostly HannafiSunni. Russian Orthodox Christians are about 25percent of the country’s population, with other groupsunder five percent including Jews, Roman and GreekCatholics, various Protestant denominations, andothers. During the existence of the U.S.S.R., manynon-Kazakh Soviet citizens (mostly Russians) movedto Kazakhstan to expand agricultural output, outnumberingnative Muslim Turkic Kazakhs. After Kazakhstan’sindependence, many of the non-Kazakhs leftand official repatriation brought some one millionethnic Kazakhs to the country, increasing the percentageof Muslims.Before the 2011 religion law, Kazakhstan was seenas one of the most liberal countries in post-Soviet Cen-previously-registered groups could not meet the newthresholds and therefore lost their legal status. After there-registration date of October 2012, the total of registeredreligious groups fell sharply. For example, of 48“non-traditional” religious organizations, only 16 werere-registered. The 11,000 members of the Union of EvangelicalChristian Baptists refuse to register as a matter ofconscience. By 2013, only Muslim groups affiliated withUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 161


the state-backed Muslim Board were registered. Shi’aand Ahmadi Muslims were denied legal status, as weremosques attended mainly by particular ethnic groups.Catholic communities were exempt because of an agreementwith the Holy See.In July 2014, President Nursultan Nazarbayevsigned into law amendments to Kazakhstan’s administrativeand criminal implementation codes. The newadministrative provisions largely repeat the previouspenalties for alleged violations in regard to religion orbelief, while the new criminal provisions place restrictionson convicts. The amended codes took effect onJanuary 1, 2015.Religious Freedom Conditions 2014–2015Registration IssuesKazakh officials continued to obstruct activities ofunregistered religious groups, such as a Protestantchurch in Atyrau, and of certain registered communitiesincluding the registered Hare Krishna groupin Kostanai, the NGO Forum 18 News Service noted.As of late 2014, the historic Din-Muhammad Mosquecommunity – consisting mainly of ethnic Tatars inthe northern city of Petropavl – again is applying forregistration, although it was liquidated and its mosqueconfiscated. In late 2014, Almaty’s Religious AffairsDepartment notified local registered religious groupsthat it is an offense to hold services outside of registeredplaces of worship.The Case of Pastor KashkumbayevOn February 17, 2014, retired Presbyterian PastorBakhytzhan Kashkumbayev of Astana’s GraceChurch received a four-year suspended prison termfor allegedly harming a parishioner’s psychologicalhealth, although the alleged victim said she was notharmed. As of July 2014, however, he faced possiblefurther punishment for allegedly harming a secondreleased from jail and then re-arrested for “terrorism.”During one month of his nine-month term, in a returnto methods observers described as “Soviet-style,” thepastor was injected forcibly with psychotropic drugs.Observers consider the two-year-long criminal prosecutionof the pastor and severe harassment of his familya symbol of the steep decline of respect for religiousfreedom in Kazakhstan.Extremism ChargesCriminal charges of extremism regularly are broughtagainst a range of individuals for peaceful religiousactivity. Court hearings on whether materials are“extremist” are not announced. There is an extensivelist of banned texts on government websites. In February2014, an Astana court banned as “extremist” abook partly written by Salafi Muslim Mohammed ibnAbdul-Wahhab. Christians Vyacheslav Cherkasov andZhasulan Alzhanov were given 10-day prison terms andfined four months’ wages in the Akmola region in October2014 for offering on the street a book called “Jesus:More than a Prophet.” Extremism charges remainpending against atheist writer Aleksandr Kharlamov.He was detained for five months in 2013, including onemonth of psychiatric exams. The Muslim missionarymovement Tabligh Jamaat was banned in 2013, and trialsof alleged members are secret. Forum 18 reported ona campaign against alleged Tabligh Jamaat members: inJanuary 2015 Bakyt Nurmanbetov, Aykhan Kurmangaliyev,Sagyndyk Tatubayev, and Kairat Esmukhambetovwere sentenced to 20-month terms; in late 2014 anotherreceived a three-year term, a trial began of five membersand 20 others were detained.Penalties for Unregistered Religious ActivityThe most common violations of the 2011 religion lawthat result in fines are unlicensed distribution of religioustexts, talking about religion without the requiredIt is an offense to hold services outside of registered places of worship.church member’s health. Just days after USCIRF metwith the pastor’s family in October 2013, he briefly was“missionary” registration, and holding worship meetingswithout registration. The head of the presidential162USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


KAZAKHSTANHuman Rights Commission said in September 2014 that92 administrative cases were opened for unauthorizedreligious activity; as of October 2014 at least 14 werejailed for refusing to pay fines for not applying for statepermits. A Baptist refused to pay three fines in two yearsfor unauthorized worship meetings; he was jailed forbans on 14 texts that courts deemed to “reject fundamentalteachings of Christianity.”Concerns of UN Special RapporteursUN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion orBelief Heiner Bielefeldt visited Kazakhstan for 11 daysCriminal charges of extremism regularly are broughtagainst a range of individuals for peaceful religious activity.five days in 2014 and is banned from exiting the country.There are 25 Council of Churches Baptists who refuseto pay fines for unregistered religious activity and areon the Justice Ministry’s list of debtors unable to leaveKazakhstan. Jehovah’s Witnesses also have been prosecutedfor committing this “offense.” An Almaty-basedImam’s fine of two months’ average wages for leadingan unregistered mosque was overturned in April 2014because, although unregistered, the mosque was affiliatedwith the semi-official Muslim Board.Increased Government Control of MuslimsThe Muslim Board, which is closely tied to the Kazakhgovernment, oversees mosque construction, theologicalexams and background checks for aspiring imams, andhajj travel. It reportedly requires aligned mosques totransfer one-third of their incomes to it and pressuresnon-aligned imams and congregations to join or facemosque closures. Increased official surveillance ofmosques has fueled popular resentment and officialdiscrimination, particularly in western Kazakhstan.Restrictions on Religious MaterialsThere are few bookshops that in the government’s viewmeet the religion law’s strict requirements for sellingreligious texts. For example, only Hanafi Sunni materialscan be sold. Cases against four Council of ChurchesBaptists in the Akmola Region for “illegally” distributingreligious literature were dismissed in April 2014 due totardy filings. In May 2014, a commercial bookseller inthe Atyrau region was fined one month’s average wagesfor the unlicensed selling of Islamic books. Jehovah’sWitnesses failed in all their legal challenges of importin March and April 2014. In a public statement at theend of the visit, he expressed concern “that non-registeredreligious groups can hardly exercise any collectivereligious functions in Kazakhstan.” He also notedthat he had heard “credible stories about police raids…of some non-registered groups, leading to confiscationof literature, computers and other property.” In January2014, Special Rapporteur Bielefeldt and five other UNhuman rights experts (on the promotion and protectionof the right to freedom of opinion and expression;on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and ofassociation; on the situation of human rights defenders;on the independence of judges and lawyers; andon minority issues) expressed concern about religiousfreedom abuses, such as punishments for missionaryactivity, police raids on religious communities, andbans on religious publications, with a particular focuson Jehovah’s Witnesses. Special Rapporteur on Freedomof Assembly and Association Maina Kiai visitedthe country in January 2015 and noted that, althoughthe right to freedom of association is constitutionallyguaranteed, “a web of laws and practices limit the realworldfreedom, . . . [including] of religious associationsto operate.”U.S. PolicyAfter the Soviet Union’s collapse, the United States wasthe first country to recognize Kazakhstan’s independence,and is now the largest direct foreign investorin Kazakhstan’s economy. Key bilateral issues includeregional security, including stabilization efforts forAfghanistan, and nuclear nonproliferation. As the site ofmany Soviet nuclear tests, Kazakhstan plays a leadingUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 163


ole in nuclear security; in 1991, President Nazarbayevclosed down the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site. The twocountries discuss these and other bilateral issues – suchas regional cooperation, democratic reform, rule of law,human rights, civil society, economic development,energy, science, technology, and people-to-peoplecontacts – through the U.S.-Kazakh Strategic PartnershipDialogue (SPD), which was set up in 2012. There areworking groups on key issues.The third SPD was held in December 2014, chairedby Kazakhstani Foreign Minister Erlan Idrissov andthree Yemenis and two Tunisians held for more than adecade at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Baywere flown to Kazakhstan for resettlement in December2014, the Pentagon reported.Recommendations for U.S. PolicyUSCIRF recommends that the U.S. government should:• Urge the Kazakh government to adopt the recommendationsof UN Special Rapporteurs on Freedomof Religion or Belief and on Freedom of AssociationThe most common violations . . . that result in fines [include]unlicensed distribution of religious texts . . .Secretary of State John Kerry. Both sides highlightedcooperation on counterterrorism and peacebuilding.The joint SPD statement noted that the United Stateswelcomed Kazakhstan’s hosting in Astana of the 5thCongress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religionsin June 2015. The main theme of this Congress – heldsince 2003 – is the dialogue between political and religiousleaders “in the name of development and peace.”The statement also took positive note of its creationof a new Consultative and Advisory Body, “DialoguePlatform on Human Dimension,” a government-civilsociety effort to recommend human rights improvements.The joint SPD statement affirmed cooperationon nuclear nonproliferation and security, democracy,and strengthening civil society; no mention was madeof religious freedom.Kazakhstan and the United States also haveentered into a five-year plan to strengthen militarycooperation through capacity-building programs.Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South andCentral Asia Affairs Dan Rosenblum said in a January2015 VOA interview that Kazakhstan’s governmenthad shown interest in receiving excess U.S. militarymine-resistant and armored vehicles. In 2014, Kazakhstanand the United States initialed a draft treaty onmutual legal assistance in criminal matters, which issupposed to be signed in 2015. In a move that may bepart of such expanded law enforcement cooperation,and Assembly issued after their recent visits toKazakhstan regarding legal reform and change ofenforcement policies;• Call on the Kazakh government to use the Congressof Leaders of World and Traditional Religions toinvite a representative array of religious communitiespeacefully residing within Kazakhstan, includingminority religious groups;• Urge the Kazakh government to agree to visits bythe three OSCE Personal Representatives on Tolerance,set a specific date for a joint visit, and providethe full and necessary conditions for such visits;• Ensure that the Strategic Partnership Dialogueincludes discussion of concerns about freedom ofreligion or belief, and include in public statementsand private interactions with the Kazakh governmentadvocacy for the release of religious prisoners;• Ensure that the U.S. Embassy maintains activecontacts with human rights activists and press theKazakh government to ensure that every prisonerhas greater access to his or her family, human rightsmonitors, adequate medical care, and a lawyer;• Encourage the Board for Broadcasting Governors toensure continued U.S. funding for RFE/RL’s UzbekService website, Muslims and Democracy, andconsider translating this material into Kazakh; and164USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


KAZAKHSTAN• Use funding allocated to the State Departmentunder the Title VIII Program (established in theSoviet-Eastern European Research and TrainingAct of 1983) for research, including on human rightsand religious freedom in former Soviet states, andlanguage training.USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 165


LAOS166USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


LAOSKey FindingsThe government of the ruling Lao People’s RevolutionaryParty (LPRP) continued to allow ongoing abusesagainst religious minority groups, abuses that aremost prominent in remote, rural areas. Moreover, thegovernment’s suspicion of Protestant Christianity as a“Western” or “American” construct continued to resultin discrimination, harassment, and arrests of Christiansthroughout the country, particularly in SavannakhetProvince, where there were several reports oflocal officials ordering Christians to renounce theirfaith. The majority Buddhist community experiencesreligious freedom conditions that are generally free,as do some minority religious communities, such asanimists, Baha’is, and Catholics. However, ethnicminorities tend to experience greater incidences of discriminationand harassment on many levels, includingreligious freedom. Based on these concerns, in 2015USCIRF again places Laos on Tier 2, where it has beensince 2009.BackgroundAlthough the Lao constitution protects freedom of religionor belief, conflicting government decrees and policiesroutinely result in religious freedoms limitations.More than two-thirds of the population are Buddhists,while Christians are believed to comprise less than twopercent. Animism, ancestor worship, and other traditionalbeliefs are common among ethnic minorities,and there are several other religious minority groups inthe country.A complicated web of government approvals isrequired for most religious practices and for the constructionof houses of worship. The space to practicereligion in the country has improved in some ways inrecent years, but inconsistently so. Observers have notedreduced numbers of prisoners of conscience. However,some minority religious groups continue to face abusesfor not following the majority Buddhist faith. Overall,the varying and unpredictable application of the law inpractice provides little meaningful protection to mostreligious groups.Moreover, limitations on freedom of religion orbelief take place in a climate where political space islargely limited. Civil society operates in a highly limitedenvironment, and civil society and independentmedia face continued harassment and arbitrary arrestfor exercising their rights to freedom of expression,association, or assembly. The suspicious disappearanceof civil society leader Sombath Somphone is emblematic.Sombath, a well-known human rights defender,has not been seen since he disappeared in December2012 after being stopped and detained by police, andthe government has produced no meaningful informationabout his whereabouts. The government alsotightly controls the print and broadcast media andrecently increased restrictions on expression on theInternet, with new legislation that criminalizes criticizingthe government or ruling party or circulatingfalse information online.Religious Freedom Conditions 2014–2015Legal Restrictions on Religious ActivitiesThe protections for freedom of religion or belief foundin the Lao constitution are contradicted by the 2002Decree on Religious Practice, otherwise known asDecree 92. Rather than strengthening and improvingprotections, particularly for minority religious communities,the Decree permits the government to controland interfere in all religious activities. This includes,for example, registration requirements for all religiousgroups, limits on proselytizing, and controls on theprinting of religious materials. Approval requirementsunder Decree 92 are burdensome, and some religiousgroups have been unable to legally register, resulting innumerous challenges.USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 167


Abuses against MinoritiesDiscrimination against religious minority communities,particularly Christians, remains an ongoing problem inmany parts of the country. Some of these communitiesattempt to operate discreetly to avoid harassment andthreats from local authorities for not being formally recognizedby the government. While suspicion is highestagainst Christianity, government officials in parts of thecountry hold a degree of similar mistrust of all non-Buddhistfaiths. Detailed information about specific abusesagainst religious minority communities is often difficultto obtain, but given the Lao government’s restrictivecontrols of information into and out of the country, thereis no reason to believe that religious freedom abuses arenot occurring.In 2014, one of the most high-profile acts of discriminationagainst Lao Christians occurred in the remotevillage of Saisomboon in Savannakhet Province, whereofficials are known to be intolerant of minority religiousfaiths. A recent convert to Christianity was ill, and whenshe died in June 2014, her family obtained approvalfrom the village chief to hold a Christian funeral. Thisapproval was later revoked, and the family was forced tohold a Buddhist memorial and burial ceremony. Moreover,police arrested the family’s pastor and four otherChristians for allegedly contributing to the woman’sdeath. In August 2014, the five Christians were foundnot guilty of murder. Despite their acquittal, all fiveremained in custody and faced new charges in February2015, when a provincial court convicted them of practicingmedicine without a license in connection with herdeath. Contrary to the charges, the five Christians denyadministering medicine to the woman, stating insteadthat they prayed by her side. All five subsequently havebeen imprisoned and fined.Additionally, in late September 2014, also inSavannakhet Province, a Christian pastor and sixparishioners were arrested following a worship servicein the pastor’s home. Reportedly, local officials inBoukham Village had banned Christian worship gatheringsand used the ban to justify arresting the sevenChristians. The Christians spent a week in custodybefore being released.Also in 2014, the central government banned all celebrationsand observances of the Christmas holiday. Themove was considered by some to be pointedly directedat ethnic minority Hmong Christians, who have beenthe target of government harassment for decades.There also were reports throughout 2014 of Christianfamilies being forced from their homes for refusingto renounce Christianity. Six Christian families left theirhomes in Savannakhet Province following pressure intheir village to convert to Buddhism, and another sixHmong Christian families in Bolikhamxay Provincewere forcibly evicted for refusing to renounce Christianityand convert to animism.U.S. PolicyLaos is among the few remaining communist countriesin the world and takes many of its cues from neighboringVietnam, a fellow communist country and close ally.There are multiple channels of cooperation betweenthe two countries, religion among them. Cooperationon religious issues began in 2002 with the signing of acooperative agreement on religious affairs, and in 2014,Laos and Vietnam re-committed to this arrangementthrough the year 2020.Unlike Vietnam and Cambodia, Lao relations withthe United States were never completely severed duringthe Vietnam War, though relations were downgradedand notably strained during this period, particularlyafter the communist takeover in 1975. The relationshiphas since improved, but the Lao government’s ongoingmistreatment of ethnic Hmong is a source of enduringtensions. Both the Administration and Congressregularly have raised concerns. The Lao government’slasting wariness of the Hmong stems, in part, from theirconnection to the United States: thousands of ethnicHmong were trained and armed by the United Statesand fought to prevent a communist takeover during theVietnam War. Many since have fled to Thailand wherethey live in camps and/or face forced repatriation backto Laos. The United States has resettled approximately250,000 Hmong refugees and continues to encourageLaos to improve transparency about the conditions ofthose forcibly returned from Thailand and to implementpolicies and practices to ensure the Hmong communityno longer fears mistreatment.Since restoring full diplomatic relations with Laosin 1992, the United States gradually has expanded itsengagement with the country. Bilateral relations areconducted through several mechanisms, including the168USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


LAOSU.S.-Laos Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue and othersfocusing on specific sectors, such as trade or investment.This engagement has broadened further in recent yearsthrough U.S. support of the Lower Mekong Initiative(LMI), a partnership agreement between the UnitedStates, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, and Burmato cooperate in areas such as environment, health,education, and infrastructure development, as well aswomen’s and gender issues.The United States provides foreign assistance toLaos in a number of key sectors: public health, theenvironment and climate change, economic growth andtrade, and peace and security, including the removal ofunexploded ordnance (from the Vietnam War period).For fiscal year 2016, the Department of State, the U.S.Agency for International Development, and relatedagencies are requesting funds through the followingaccounts: Development Assistance ($11.1 million); InternationalNarcotics Control and Law Enforcement ($1million); International Military Education and Training($450,000); and Foreign Military Financing ($200,000).The requests also include funds for environment-relatedcapacity-building in the LMI countries.In 2014, the United States officially opened itsnew Embassy in the capital of Vientiane. The previousEmbassy site is being outfitted to house a new AmericanCenter.In 2016, Laos is scheduled to chair the Associationof Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN); the United States isa participant of the ASEAN Regional Forum and the EastAsia Summit. Leading up to and during this period ofamplified regional and international attention on Laos,the United States is in a position to leverage its influentialposition to encourage Laos to improve conditions forreligious freedom and related human rights.RecommendationsUSCIRF recommends that, in addition to integratingconcerns about religious freedom into its bilateralagenda when engaging with central government andprovincial Lao authorities, the U.S. government should:• Initiate a formal human rights mechanism, similarto existing U.S. human rights dialogues with Burmaand Vietnam and the European Union’s WorkingGroup on Human Rights and Governance withLaos, to address regularly and consistently with theLao government issues such as ethnic and religiousdiscrimination, torture and other forms of ill-treatmentin prisons, unlawful arrests and detentions,and the lack of due process and an independentjudiciary;• Continue to engage the Lao government on specificcases of religious freedom violations, including butnot limited to forced evictions and/or forced renunciationsrelating to the practice of one’s faith, andemphasizing the importance of consistent implementation,enforcement, and interpretation of therule of law by both central government and localofficials;• Support technical assistance programs that reinforcethe goals of protecting religious freedom,human rights defenders, and ethnic minorities,including: rule of law programs and legal exchangesthat focus on revising Decree 92; training in humanrights, the rule of law, and religious freedomand tolerance for Lao police and security forces,religious leaders, local officials, and lawyers andjudges; and capacity-building for Lao civil societygroups carrying out charitable, medical, and developmentalactivities;• Continue to inquire consistently into the whereaboutsof Sombath Somphone given that the Laogovernment’s inability to provide any informationfrom its investigation into his disappearance isemblematic of its overall approach to civil societyand individual rights;• Ensure that Lao police and security officialsparticipating in training or technical assistanceprograms are thoroughly vetted, pursuant to theLeahy Amendment, to confirm that they are notimplicated in human rights abuses, and deny U.S.training, visas, or assistance to any unit or personnelfound to have engaged in a consistent patternof violations of human rights, including religiousfreedom; and• Encourage the Broadcasting Board of Governors toprovide adequate funding for the Voice of Americaand Radio Free Asia Lao language broadcasts andincrease efforts to provide uncensored Internet, andother information, into Laos.USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 169


MALAYSIA170USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


MALAYSIAKey FindingsIn 2014, the government, ruling party, and religiousleaders put forth laws, policies, statements, and fatwas(religious edicts) broadening the application of Islamand potentially limiting religious freedom. Religiousgroups deemed “deviant,” such as Shi’a, Ahmadiyya,and Baha’i, are banned. Both civil and Shari’ah courtshave the power to police religious belief and expression;in 2014 the government sought to expand this powerthrough the establishment of a religious police forcepolitics over the last decade. The opposition PakatanRakyat has incrementally chipped away at the grip onpower of the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition,causing both political groups to realign their messagesto attract voters. Both coalitions sought to make strategicgains among key voting blocs, including voters whoare young and technologically savvy, ethnic Chinese,and/or part of the increasing socially-consciousmiddle class. The BN government and its componentpolitical parties have put forth policies and statementsReligious groups deemed “deviant,” such asShi’a, Ahmadiyya, and Baha’i, are banned.and by amending the Sedition Act to restrict speech toprevent perceived insults to Islam. Moreover, the dualsystem of civil and Shari’ah courts creates legal ambiguity,and Shari’ah court jurisdiction over family andconversion cases places non-Muslims at a disadvantage.A ban on the use of the word “Allah” by a non-Muslimnewspaper was upheld in 2014, and non-Muslim religiousmaterials containing that word were confiscated.Collectively, these trends have resulted in diminishedlegal protections for religious minorities, non-Muslimsand non-Sunni Muslims alike. Based on these concerns,in 2015 USCIRF again places Malaysia on Tier 2, whereit has been since 2014. USCIRF will continue to monitorclosely these troubling trends for religious freedom.Developments will influence how USCIRF will report onMalaysia in next year’s annual report and may negativelyimpact its status.BackgroundThe intersection of the political sphere with religiousandethnic-based interests has defined Malaysianasserting a more exacting interpretation of Islam thatincreasingly discriminates against religious and ethnicminorities. National and state-level efforts to addressthe perceived liberalization of Islam, particularly bynon-Muslims and non-Sunni Muslims, have resultedin increased fatwas and even stronger appeals amongIslamic political parties, both ruling and opposition, totheir more conservative base.In May 2014, Prime Minister Najib Razak warnedof the threats posed by “human rightism,” includinghumanism, secularism, liberalism, and human rights.According to Najib, this “new religion” is to be considered“deviant” for straying from the sanctity of Islam;Najib specifically noted that Sunni Islam is the onlyIslam in Malaysia, a comment directly targeting banned“deviant” sects and religious groups, such as Shi’a,Ahmadiyya, and Baha’i. Such groups continue to facecrackdowns; for example, more than 100 Shi’a Muslims,including women and children, were arbitrarily arrestedin Perak in March 2014 for attending a religious ceremony.By year’s end, 25 prominent figures, includingmany former public officials, released an open letterUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 171


calling on leaders to debate the relationship betweenIslamic law and the constitution.The commingling of politics, religion, and ethnicityhas a negative effect on religious freedom in Malaysia.The Malaysian constitution protects the right to freedomof religion, but also establishes Islam as the religion ofthe Federation and defines all ethnic Malays as Muslims.The majority of the population, approximately 61percent, are Muslim. Twenty percent practice Buddhism,nine percent Christianity, six percent Hinduism,and the remainder follow minority religious faiths, suchas Confucianism, Taoism, Shi’ism, and the Ahmadi andBaha’i faiths. Civil courts routinely cede jurisdiction toShari’ah courts over family or conversion cases involvingMuslims. Muslims are allowed to proselytize tonon-Muslims, but not vice versa. Apostasy, considereda sin by Islamic authorities, has been criminalized inprogressed with its controversial proposal to establish aformal religious police force at both JAKIM and statelevelreligious departments. The new personnel willhave authority to enforce Islamic laws against Muslimsonly. The move is the latest in a series of steps in recentyears to expand JAKIM’s powers.Malaysia’s vaguely-worded Sedition Act is frequentlyused as a means to suppress political and religiousdissent. In November 2014, Prime Minister Najibannounced that the government would strengthenthe law to cover any insults to Islam; the amendmentsare expected in the spring of 2015. Approximately 40people were investigated or charged under the Act in2014, including civil society activists, religious leaders,politicians, journalists, and academics. Among themwas human rights lawyer Erik Paulsen, who in February2015 was charged with sedition for criticizingApostasy, considered a sin byIslamic authorities,has been criminalized insome states as a capital offense.some states as a capital offense. Those considered tohave strayed from Sunni Islam, including individualsfrom “deviant” sects or those who seek to convert fromIslam, can be forced into “rehabilitation” centers by thegovernment or state-level Shari’ah courts, and/or facefines or prison sentences.The role of the federal Department of IslamicDevelopment Malaysia (JAKIM) in advancing Islamicaffairs includes the authority to establish policies,monitor religious groups, and set guidelines for andmaintain the official list of banned sects. In order tooperate legally and be eligible for government funding,religious organizations and groups must register withthe Home Ministry.Religious Freedom Conditions 2014-2015Policing Belief and ExpressionIn addition to the aforementioned restrictions onapostasy and proselytization, both civil and Shari’ahcourts in Malaysia have the power to punish blasphemyand religious insult. In 2014, the prime minister’s officeJAKIM for promoting extremism. Critics of the Act havenoted that its use is one-sided. For example, in October2014, the government refused to bring sedition chargesagainst Ibrahim Ali, a former member of parliamentand the founder and head of Perkasa, a Muslim rightsgroup closely tied to BN. In 2013, Ibrahim had calledfor Bibles to be burned and has also said that the use ofthe word “Allah” in the Bible is a religious provocationagainst Muslims.Ban on the Use of the Word “Allah”The legal battle over the use of the word “Allah” bynon-Muslims continued in 2014, with supporters of theban asserting that Allah is exclusive to Islam. In June2014, the Federal Court sided with the 2013 Court ofAppeals decision that upheld a ban on the use of theword Allah by the Malay-language edition of The Herald,a weekly newspaper published by the Catholic Churchin Malaysia. Soon thereafter, the central governmentissued a statement confirming that the court’s decisiononly applied to The Herald newspaper. Nevertheless,172USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


MALAYSIAconcerns remain that the ban could still be applied toBibles and other materials, and lawyers have noted thatclarifying statements from the government have no legaleffect. Pursuant to an appeals request from the CatholicChurch, the Federal Court in January 2015 determinedthat an additional review of its June 2014 decision wasnot merited.Confiscation of BiblesThe years-long debate over the use of the word Allahhas coincided with the confiscation of tens of thousandsof Bibles across the country. For example, inJanuary 2014, the Selangor Islamic Department (JAIS)confiscated more than 300 Malay-language Biblescontaining the word Allah from the Selangor officeof the Bible Society of Malaysia. Within days of theFederal Court’s June 2014 decision confirming the ban,the Attorney General determined that the seizure wasnot appropriate and the Bibles should be returned.However, the Selangor Islamic Religious Council(MAIS) refused to do so until November 2014 and onlyafter surreptitiously stamping each Bible with a warningthat they were prohibited from use by Muslimsanywhere in the country and prohibited from use byanyone, including Christians, in the state of Selangor.In December 2014, police in Johor confiscated 31 hymnalscontaining the word Allah from a Catholic priest,and later questioned the priest for allegedly causingdisharmony or ill-will on religious grounds.Impact of Dual Court SystemThe rise of Islamic law and the Shari’ah court system inMalaysia has created legal ambiguity for Muslims andnon-Muslims alike. The dual court system of Shari’ahcourts and civil courts has resulted in a complicated,overlapping web of jurisdictions. These dueling jurisdictionsundermine the ability of civil courts to effectivelyand consistently implement rulings. For example, thoseseeking to convert from Islam to another faith mustapply through the Shari’ah court system and await thecourt’s approval of their application. Both civil courtsand Shari’ah courts can take jurisdiction in childcustody battles in which one parent is Muslim and theother non-Muslim, with the possibility of conflictingjudgments. Non-Muslims have no standing in Shari’ahcourts, creating an inherent disadvantage. In two separatehigh-profile cases, two husbands who convertedto Islam after marriage abducted and converted theirMalaysia’s vaguely-worded Sedition Act is frequently used as ameans to suppress political and religious dissent. . . . Approximately 40 peoplewere investigated or charged under the Act in 2014,including civil society activists, religious leaders, politicians,journalists, and academics.respective children. Although higher courts in the civilsystem granted custody to the non-Muslim mothers,both husbands have failed to return the children to theirmothers, and police and other authorities thus far haverefused to act on the court orders.U.S. PolicyThe United States and Malaysia have benefitted froma deepening relationship in recent years, with an eyetoward longer-term bilateral and regional goals. In April2014, President Barack Obama and Prime Minister NajibRazak entered into a Comprehensive Partnership, whichwas formally announced during President Obama’sstate visit to Malaysia, the first such visit by a U.S.president in nearly 50 years. The Partnership is aimedat strengthening bilateral cooperation on key issues,including trade and investment, education, and securityand defense.The two countries are also part of the 12-nationnegotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP),a regional free trade agreement. While the TPP talksare ongoing, the Obama Administration and some inCongress are concurrently pursuing the renewal ofTrade Promotion Authority (TPA), which could grantUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 173


The rise of Islamic law and the Shari’ah court system inMalaysia has created legal ambiguity for Muslims and non-Muslims alike.The dual court system of Shari’ah courts and civil courts hasresulted in a complicated, overlapping web of jurisdictions.the president greater flexibility when negotiating andapproving trade agreements such as the TPP. Others inCongress have raised concerns over some TPP components,including agriculture, automotive markets,worker rights, environmental protections, and humanrights, among others, which are likely to be heavilydebated during consideration of TPA. Congressionaldeliberation of both TPP and TPA provide crucialopportunities for robust dialogue about human rightsconcerns in a number of countries, Malaysia amongthem.Malaysia is known for its efforts to prevent radicalismand violent extremism from taking root within itsborders, particularly with respect to ISIL (the IslamicState of Iraq and the Levant), and is often praised forits moderation and pluralism. However, human rightsadvocates note that a moderate, pluralist approach isnot applied when it comes to the tolerance of religiousand ethnic minorities among its own people. Criticsalso point out that by expanding the Sedition Act andby allowing the conviction against Malaysian oppositionleader Anwar Ibrahim to stand, Prime MinisterNajib has eroded his country’s reputation as moderateand tolerant. The BN-led government has a long historyof politically targeting Anwar. Having already spentseveral years in prison following a conviction on chargesof corruption and sodomy, Anwar is currently servinga five-year prison term following the court’s February2015 decision to uphold an earlier sentence; he will bebanned from elected office for an additional five yearsthereafter. Indeed, in February 2015, a spokespersonfor the National Security Council expressed the UnitedStates’ disappointment with Anwar’s conviction, notingspecific concerns with rule of law and judicial fairness.Beginning January 1, 2015, Malaysia began itsone-year term as chair of the Association of SoutheastAsian Nations (ASEAN), as well as its two-year term asa non-permanent member of the UN Security Council.President Obama is expected to visit Malaysia inNovember 2015 for ASEAN and East Asia Summit meetings,and other high-level U.S. government delegationswill visit throughout the year. The United States shouldtake advantage of these bilateral and multilateral opportunitiesto initiate serious conversations with Malaysianleaders about the disturbing trends in religious freedomconditions in that country.RecommendationsRestrictions of freedom of religion affecting non-Muslimand non-Sunni Muslim religious minorities are centralto Malaysia’s mounting human rights challenges. Assuch, any visit by Prime Minister Najib to Washington,DC, in 2015 should prominently feature discussionsabout improving religious freedom and related humanrights in Malaysia. In addition, USCIRF recommendsthat the U.S. government should:• Raise concerns regarding the conflation of religionand politics and the increasing limitation on rightsfor religious and ethnic minorities in the lead-up toand during the visits of President Obama and SecretaryKerry to Malaysia related to ASEAN and otherhigh-level gatherings;• Ensure that human rights and religious freedomare pursued consistently and publicly at every levelof the U.S.-Malaysia relationship, including in theComprehensive Partnership and other discussionsrelating to military, trade, or economic and securityassistance, such as Malaysia’s participation in theTrans-Pacific Partnership, as well as in programsthat address freedom of speech and expression andcivil society development, among others;• Press the Malaysian government to bring all lawsand policies into conformity with international174USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


MALAYSIAcommitments, especially with respect to freedom ofreligion or belief and freedom of religious expression,including the rights to use the word “Allah,”and to possess religious materials;• Urge the Malaysian government to cease the arrest,detention, or forced “rehabilitation” of individualsinvolved in peaceful religious activity, such as Shi’a,Ahmadi, and Al-Arqam groups, among others; and• Encourage Malaysian elected leaders to addressthe human rights shortcomings of the parallelcivil-Shari’ah justice systems, in order to guaranteethat all Malaysians, regardless of ethnicity or religion,enjoy freedom of religion or belief.USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 175


RUSSIA176USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


RUSSIAKey FindingsAmid a sharp increase in human rights abuses,serious violations of freedom of religion or beliefcontinue in Russia. The government continues to bringcriminal extremism charges against peaceful religiousindividuals and groups, particularly Muslim readers ofTurkish theologian Said Nursi and Jehovah’s Witnesses.Hundreds of Muslims are jailed, reportedly on falsecharges; many are denied due process and mistreatedin detention. Increased legal restrictions on civil societyhave negative implications for religious groups. Risingxenophobia and intolerance, including anti-Semitism,are linked to violent and lethal hate crimes that oftenoccur with impunity. Religious freedom violations arepervasive in the North Caucasus. There are growingreligious freedom concerns in Russian-occupied Crimeaand Russian-separatist regions of eastern Ukraine. Forthese reasons, in 2015 USCIRF again places Russia onTier 2, where it has been since 2009.BackgroundIn 1991 the Russian Federation, the core of the formerUSSR, became the Soviet Union’s sole legal successor.Russia is the world’s largest country in terms of landSt. Petersburg and Siberia. Religious groups of under 5percent each include Buddhists, Protestants, RomanCatholics, Jews, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-daySaints (Mormons), Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hindus,Baha’is, Hare Krishnas, pagans, Tengrists, Scientologists,and Falun Gong adherents. While the 2010 censusestimated there are 150,000 Jews, the Federation ofJewish Communities of Russia cites 750,000.Russia’s 1997 religion law sets onerous registrationprocedures and empowers state officials to impederegistration or obstruct the construction or rental ofworship buildings. Russia’s weak and arbitrary legalsystem means that government respect for freedomof religion or belief varies widely, often depending ona religious group’s relations with local officials. Thereligion law’s preface, which is not legally binding,singles out Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and OrthodoxChristianity as the country’s four “traditional” faiths.The Russian constitution guarantees a secular stateand equal legal status for all religions. Yet the MoscowPatriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church (MPROC)– which claims 60 percent of Russians as adherents – isespecially favored; it has agreements with various stateagencies and receives the most state subsidies of anyThe 1997 [religion] law sets onerous registration procedures andempowers state officials to impede registration orobstruct the construction or rental of worship buildings.mass, with a population of 142.5 million. It is 81 percentethnic Russian, with 160 various other ethnicities. A2012 poll by the independent Levada Center reports74 percent of Russians view themselves as Orthodoxwhile 7 percent identify as Muslim. Most Muslims livein the Volga region, the North Caucasus, in Moscow,religious group. “Non-traditional” religious groups donot receive state subsidies. Officials often refer negativelyto religious and other minorities, abetting anintolerant climate.The major threat to religious freedom remains themuch-amended Russian anti-extremism law, whichUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 177


defines extremism in a religious context and does notrequire the threat or use of violence. If any Russiancourt rules any print or Web-based text extremist, it isadded to the Justice Ministry’s Federal List of ExtremistMaterials and banned throughout Russia; as of February2015, that list totaled 2,634 items, including Jehovah’sWitnesses’ texts, writings of Turkish theologianReligious Freedom Conditions 2014–2015Possible New Legal Restrictions onReligious GroupsAlthough the 2012 “foreign agents” law exemptsreligious groups, in May 2014, President VladimirPutin requested a new bill to increase scrutiny offoreign-funded religious groups. After the reportingThe major threat to religious freedom remains the much-amendedRussian anti-extremism law, which defines extremism in areligious context and does not require the threat or use of violence.Said Nursi, and a video of police-confiscated relics ofthe Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church. Possessionof banned material can lead to fines; distribution,preparation, or storage of large amounts of these materialscan result in a four-year prison term. February2014 criminal code amendments increased the jail orforced labor terms for “extremism”-related offenses andeased surveillance criteria.A 2013 blasphemy law sets fines of up to U.S.$15,000 and jail terms of up to three years for publicactions in places of worship that disrespect or insultreligious beliefs. Outside of houses of worship, suchacts entail up to a year of jail and fines of up to U.S.$9,000. A 2012 public protest in Moscow’s main Orthodoxcathedral over the MPROC’s close Kremlin tiesserved as the official impetus for the passage of thislaw. Increasing legal restrictions on civil society alsoimpact religious groups. A 2012 law on “unauthorized”public meetings, with onerous fines, was used againsta Protestant pastor for holding a religious service.Another 2012 law requires foreign-funded NGOsengaged in vaguely-defined political activity to registeras “foreign agents” or face fines or two years’ imprisonment.The treason law was amended in 2012, threateningwith 20-year prison terms those Russian citizenswho provide financial, material, technical, consultative,or other help to a foreign state or an internationalor foreign organization. In a statement likely meant tostoke Russian fears of Germans, the Kaluga governor inJanuary 2015 compared the local registered LutheranChurch to an enemy element.period there were reports that the Justice Ministry wasdrafting a bill that would authorize the state to requestdocuments on religious activities and subject religiousgroups to unannounced inspections.In January 2015, the Russian parliament approvedon the first reading a draft law that would allow thegovernment to identify and ban “undesirable” foreignand international organizations, including religiousones. In addition, President Putin recently called for anew agency to supervise inter-ethnic and inter-religiousrelations by increasing control over all religious groups,ensuring a uniform policy, and increasing religiousleaders’ responsibilities. It is unclear how this new agency’smandate would differ from that of the Ministry ofJustice’s 2009 Religious Expert Council, which underwentmajor personnel changes in March 2015.Extremism ChargesSurveillance, investigations, and prosecutions of Muslimsand Jehovah’s Witnesses for alleged extremismcontinued during 2014, although many cases apparentlywere not linked to such activities. For example,a Yekaterinburg court upheld in 2014 a fine against amosque for owning banned texts; its imam was warnedagainst “extremist” activity. In addition, in late 2014, sixMuslims in Perm and a Muslim in Rostov-on-Don werefined, in two separate cases, as alleged Nursi followers.Protracted “extremism” cases against alleged leadersof a Nursi women’s group in Krasnoyarsk and against16 members of the banned Jehovah’s Witness communityin Taganrog were repeatedly postponed. The178USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


RUSSIARussian Supreme Court in November 2014 confirmedthe liquidation of the Jehovah’s Witness community inSamara and one month later, it banned as “extremist”the Jehovah’s Witness international Web site. Evenbefore a court verdict, charges of extremism oftenIn June 2014, the ECtHR found against Russia intwo cases involving a Jehovah’s Witness and a Pentecostal,ruling that lack of registration status shouldnot result in banning a religious group. The ECtHRrequested Russia to bring its religion law into line withSurveillance, investigations, and prosecutions of Muslims andJehovah’s Witnesses for alleged extremism continued . . .involve house arrest, travel restrictions, and lengthypre-trial detention.In February 2015, after the reporting period, BagirKazikhanov, a Muslim from Ulyanovsk, was sentencedto a 3.5-year prison term for the “organizationof extremist activity” in the first known convictionunder the recently-increased penalties, accordingto the NGO Forum 18 News Service. Also after thereporting period, the Orenburg Regional Court inFebruary 2015 overturned a lower court’s 2012 ban of50 of 65 Muslim religious texts. The lower court’s bangave rise to protests and numerous Muslims were finedfor distributing these texts. In the last four months of2014, many such texts were cited in charges in at least18 administrative cases in 14 Russian regions broughtagainst individuals or groups for owning “extremist”religious texts.Legal Status IssuesDespite a 2009 European Court of Human Rights(ECtHR) finding that the 15-year existence rule forregistration violated the European Convention onHuman Rights, the Church of Scientology still is deniedregistration, as is an Armenian Catholic parish in Moscow.State officials obstruct construction or rental ofworship buildings, particularly for allegedly “non-traditional”groups such as the Church of Jesus Christ ofLatter-day Saints (Mormons), non-Moscow PatriarchateOrthodox, the Hare Krishna and Old Believers.Muslim groups in many urban areas, including inMoscow, encounter obstacles in obtaining permitsto open mosques. In Kaliningrad, Muslims and Jewsface official opposition to the construction or return ofhouses of worship.international obligations and domestic case-law. Asof late 2014, the Duma was considering religion lawamendments which would end the 15-year registrationwaiting period, but problematically for the first timewould also require registration of all small religiousgroups as well as large organizations.Penalties for Public Religious ActivitiesIn 2014, there were 23 known cases of fines for holdingpublic religious activities without prior state permission,mostly against Jehovah’s Witnesses and some Protestants,Forum 18 reported. In Sochi, a Protestant leaderis appealing a fine for praying in a rented café; a Baptistpreacher in Smolensk will appeal his fine for handingout religious texts in a public park, while a Baptist inOrel was fined for hymn singing in a public playground.Violent Hate Crimes against Personsand PropertyChauvinist groups have stepped up violence againstdefenders of religious minorities and migrants, especiallyin Moscow and St. Petersburg. Moscow policehave assisted some victims, but inconsistently andoften ineffectively. Local officials often fail to investigatehate crimes against ethnic and religious minorities,mainly Muslim Central Asians and Jews. As of September2014, fourteen have died and 77 been injuredin hate crimes in 14 regions of Russia, according to theRussian NGO the SOVA Center for Information andAnalysis; 31 received at least 13 sentences in 11 regionsfor racist violence. Moreover, 31 religious sites in 21Russian regions had been vandalized as of September2014, according to SOVA.USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 179


Violations in the North CaucasusHuman rights violators operate with almost totalimpunity in the North Caucasus. In Dagestan, its mostviolent region, alleged members of Salafi groups arebanned, targeted and sentenced as suspected insurgents.Lawyers and religious rights activists are also thetargets of violence in Dagestan. In one recent incident,defense lawyer and member of the “Memorial” HumanRights Center, Murad Magomedov, was brutally beatenin February 2015, the independent Russian news agencyCaucasus Knot reported.Chechnya’s Kremlin-appointed president, RamzanKadyrov, oversees mass violations of human rights,including religious freedom. He and his militia practicecollective “justice,” distort Chechen Sufi traditions, andrun a repressive state, including forcing women to wearIslamic headscarves. Kadyrov also is accused of murders,torture, and disappearances of critics and human2014, the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Crimea(the Muftiate), called on the Russian-installed localgovernment to investigate disappearances and othercrimes and prosecute perpetrators. In June 2014, a Molotovcocktail was thrown at the Chukurcha Jami mosquein Simferopol; no one was arrested. Two weeks after hetook part in a peaceful protest, the corpse of CrimeanTatar activist, Reshat Ametov, was found in March 2014;no one has been held responsible.After its takeover, Russia required that all religiouscommunities in Crimea that had been registered withthe Ukrainian state (some 1,500 groups) must registerunder Russia’s more stringent requirements by January2015. This deadline was later extended to January 2016.Large groups that function throughout Crimea mustregister with the Russian federal government, whilelocal groups must register with local Russian authoritiesin Crimea. A Jewish group in Yalta has registered underChechnya’s Kremlin-appointed president, Ramzan Kadyrov,oversees mass violations of human rights,including religious freedom. He and his militia practice collective “justice,”distort Chechen Sufi traditions, and run a repressive state,including forcing women to wear Islamic headscarves.rights activists in Russia and abroad. In January 2015,Kadyrov presided over a protest by some 800,000 Chechensagainst the Charlie Hebdo cartoons; he publiclyaccused Western powers of being behind these cartoonsto assist ISIL’s recruiting.Russia’s Illegal Annexation of CrimeaIn March 2014, Russia illegally annexed the UkrainianBlack Sea peninsula of Crimea, which has some twomillion people and a key Russian naval port. PresidentPutin sought to justify this invasion as due to the sharedOrthodox “culture, civilization, and human values” ofRussia and Ukraine. The MPROC claims some 35 millionfollowers or almost 70 percent of all Orthodox Christiansthroughout Ukraine, mostly in its central, easternand southern regions. Almost all of the 300,000 MuslimCrimean Tatars, however, oppose Russian occupationand have been subject to particular persecution. In Junethe new Russian rules, but 150 registration applicationsare still under consideration after initial rejection,Forum 18 reported. As of the end of the reportingperiod, only two centralized religious organizations(one Orthodox diocese and the Muftiate) and 12 localcommunities have been registered – about one percentof those that had Ukrainian registration. In March 2015,the Russian-installed vice prime minister of Crimea saidthat the 330 mosques in Crimea will be supervised bya single Muslim Spiritual Directorate. He claimed thatthis will prevent Muslim radical groups from trying togain control of new mosques.By late 2014, clergy without Russian citizenshipwere forced to leave Crimea, particularly Greek andRoman Catholics and Kiev Patriarchate Orthodox.Russia’s Federal Migration Service is not extendingresidence permits for foreigners working for Crimean180USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


RUSSIAreligious groups. Almost all Turkish Muslim imamsand religious teachers were ordered to leave, endinga 20-year program. The Federal Migration Service inCrimea told Forum 18 that only registered religiousgroups can invite foreigners to work in the region.Ukrainian Catholic priests who are not Crimea nativescan work for only three months before they must leavefor a month and re-apply. Five of ten Kiev PatriarchateCommittee formed a working group to produce a newdraft religion law by April 15, 2015.Russia’s Separatists in the DonbasIn those Donbas regions of eastern Ukraine controlledby Russian-backed separatists, Protestant andKievan Patriarchate communities are the targets ofviolence, church damage, property confiscations, andPresident Putin sought to justify [the Crimea] invasionas due to the shared Orthodox “culture, civilization, andhuman values” of Russia and Ukraine.priests were forced to leave Crimea. In June 2014, theleader of the Salvation Army in Crimea fled the region,as did Reform Rabbi Mikhail Kapustin of Simferopolin March 2014, after he denounced Russian actionsand his synagogue was defaced. In April 2014, vandalsdefaced Sevastopol’s monument to 4,200 Jews killedby Nazis. The Kiev Patriarchate’s Crimea diocese,with about 200,000 members, has seen mob and arsonattacks on its churches. The MPROC in Ukraine officiallyviews other Orthodox churches, particularly thestrongly pro-Ukraine Kiev Patriarchate, as “schismaticnationalist organizations.”Russian criminal and administrative codes nowapply in Crimea. In October 2014, Crimea’s Russian-installedacting Prime Minister Sergei Aksyonov issued amoratorium on raids, searches and literature confiscationsuntil January 1, 2015. Previously, Russian-installedofficials had raided many libraries, schools, Muslimhomes, mosques and madrassas, and Jehovah’s WitnessKingdom Halls, and issued fines for possession ofIslamic and Jehovah’s Witness texts, Forum 18 noted.During the moratorium, fewer raids and confiscation ofreligious texts were reported.On October 15, 2014, acting Prime MinisterAksyonov presented a draft law “on freedom of conscience,religious associations as well as on preventionof religious extremism.” The bill would limit missionaryactivity and restrict production of religious textsto registered religious groups. However, Crimea’sSupreme Council rejected the draft law and its Culturediscrimination. For example, eight Ukrainian Orthodoxchurches in the Luhansk region were damagedand in separate incidents, a Protestant orphanagewas raided and a rehabilitation center seized. A4000-man pro-Russian armed group known as theRussian Orthodox Army (ROA) (once headed by aformer Russian military intelligence officer) reportedlyhas been involved in such actions. In July 2014,the ROA reportedly held hostage for ten days GreekCatholic priest Father Tikhon Kulbaka. In May 2014,Russian-backed militants reportedly held captive fora day Roman Catholic priest Father Pawel Vitka. InJune 2014, Russian militants reportedly tortured todeath two Protestant pastors in Sloviansk. A RussianOrthodox philanthropist, Konstantin Malofeev, fundsa Moscow-based charity that allegedly supports armedDonbas rebels. In July 2014, the Ukrainian governmentinvestigated Malofeev on these allegations; the UnitedStates and the European Union have sanctioned him.U.S. PolicyIn a key foreign policy initiative, President Obamasought to “reset” U.S.-Russia relations in 2010 to reversewhat he called a “dangerous drift” in bilateral relationsby engaging the Russian government on common foreignpolicy goals and by engaging directly with Russiancivil society groups. The reset goals included promotingeconomic interests, enhancing mutual understanding,and advancing universal values. Arms control andforeign policy concerns took priority, but 16 workingUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 181


groups in a new U.S.-Russia Bilateral Commission alsoaddressed civil society issues.U.S.-Russian relations began to decline in September2011, when then-Prime Minister Putin announcedhe would again run for the presidency in March 2012.The day before Putin’s March 2012 inauguration, tens ofthousands took to the Moscow streets; over 1,000 protestorswere detained after clashes between the Moscowpolice and protestors. In October 2012, the Kremlinexpelled the U.S. Agency for International Developmentand banned its Russia programs.In December 2012, the U.S. Congress normalizedtrade with Russia by repealing the Jackson-VanikAmendment, but also passed the Magnitsky Act sanctioningRussian officials responsible for gross humanrights violations, including the 2009 death of lawyerSergei Magnitsky in a Moscow prison; President Obamasigned the Act later that month. In response, the Russiangovernment denied Americans the opportunity to adoptRussian children, issued a list of U.S. officials prohibitedfrom entering Russia, and posthumously convictedMagnitsky. In April 2013, the White House made publicthe names of 18 Russians sanctioned under the MagnitskyAct for egregious human rights abuses, particularlyMagnitsky’s death. There is also an unpublishedlist of sanctioned officials, reportedly including RamzanKadyrov, as USCIRF had recommended. Since then theU.S. State Department has continued to add relevantRussian officials to the Magnitsky list for U.S. visa bansand asset freezes.The Russian annexation of Crimea in March2014 marked a new low in Russia’s foreign relations,The United States has issued numerous sanctionsagainst Russia, including banning various bilateralcommercial transactions. It also has imposed sanctionsagainst specific Russian officials and their proxiesinvolved in the Crimean annexation and militarysupport for separatists in the Donbas region of easternUkraine.RecommendationsUSCIRF recommends that the U.S. government should:• Urge the Russian government to reform itsextremism law to comply with internationalhuman rights standards, including by addingcriteria related to the advocacy or use of violence,and to ensure that the law is not used againstmembers of peaceful religious groups or disfavoredcommunities;• Press the Russian government to ensure that newlaws, such as the expansion of the foreign agentslaw, do not limit the religious activities of peacefulreligious communities; also encourage the Russiangovernment to implement ECtHR decisions relatingto religious freedom;• Under the Magnitsky Act, continue to identifyRussian government officials responsible for severeviolations of religious freedom and human rights,freeze those individuals’ assets, and bar their entryinto the United States;• Raise religious freedom concerns in multilateralsettings, such as the OSCE, and urge the RussianThe Russian annexation of Crimea inMarch 2014 marked a new low inRussia’s foreign relations,including with the United States.including with the United States. The United Statessuspended its role in the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Commission,but the White House invited Russian FederalSecurity Bureau director Aleksandr Bortnikov to a February2014 summit on countering violent extremism.government to agree to visits by the UN SpecialRapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief andthe OSCE Representatives on Tolerance, set specificvisit dates, and provide the full and necessary conditionsfor such visits;182USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


RUSSIA• Call for the release of religious prisoners andensure that the U.S. Embassy maintains appropriatecontacts with human rights activists; press theRussian government to ensure that every prisonerhas regular access to his or her family, human rightsmonitors, adequate medical care, and a lawyer;• Encourage the Board of Broadcasting Governorsto increase U.S. funding for the Voice of America’sRussian and Ukrainian Services as well as for RFE/RL’s Russian and Ukrainian Services and considertranslating into Russian the RFE/RL Uzbek Website, Muslims and Democracy;• Use funding allocated to the State Departmentunder the Title VIII Program (established in theSoviet-Eastern European Research and TrainingAct of 1983) for research, including on human rightsand religious freedom in former Soviet states, andlanguage training; and• Regarding Russia’s illegal military occupation ofCrimea and its support of rebels in the Donbas,ensure that violations of freedom of religion orbelief and related human rights are part of multilateralor bilateral discussions with the Russian government,and continue to work closely with Europeanand other allies to apply pressure throughadvocacy, diplomacy, and targeted sanctions.USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 183


TURKEY184USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


TURKEYKey FindingsTurkish secularism historically has been particularlydetrimental to the smallest religious minority communitiesand their ability to perpetuate their faiths.Per the 1982 constitution, the state has pervasivecontrol over religion and denies full legal status to allreligious communities. Other concerns exist, includingthe listing of religious affiliation on national identitycards, societal discrimination, anti-Semitism, andreligious freedom violations in the Turkish-occupiednorthern part of Cyprus. In addition, the overall landscapefor democracy and human rights has deterioratedsignificantly in the last two years, with troublingimplications for freedom of religion or belief in Turkey.For these reasons USCIRF again places Turkey onTier 2 in 2015.BackgroundTurkey’s 1982 constitution provides for freedom ofbelief, worship, and the private dissemination of religiousideas and prohibits discrimination on religiousgrounds. The Turkish constitution is based on theFrench model of laïcité, which requires the absence ofreligion in public life and in government. Therefore,state control through the Diyanet (the Presidency ofReligious Affairs) and all other faiths are subject tostate control through the Vakiflar (the General Directoratefor Foundations). Additionally, the 1923 Treatyof Lausanne, a peace treaty between Turkish militaryforces and several European powers, contains specificguarantees and protections for Greek and ArmenianOrthodox and Jewish communities that are notafforded to other minority groups. Turkey’s non-Muslimreligious minority communities are small, comprisingless than 1 percent of the country’s currentpopulation, but are diverse and are historically andculturally significant.Following his 2011 re-election as Prime Ministerand his August 2014 election as President, RecepTayyip Erdoğan pledged to revise the constitution.A parliamentary constitution drafting commissionestablished after the 2011 election disbanded overdisagreements unrelated to religious freedom, andsince August 2014 no new actions to revise the constitutionhave been implemented. Nevertheless, despitethe significant constitutional impediments to fullreligious freedom protections, the Turkish governmenthas shown that improvements on property rights and[N]o religious community, including the Sunni Muslim majority,has full legal status and all are subject to state control thatlimits all groups’ rights to own and maintain places of worship,train clergy, and offer religious education.no religious community, including the Sunni Muslimmajority, has full legal status and all are subject tostate control that limits all groups’ rights to own andmaintain places of worship, train clergy, and offerreligious education. Turkish policies subject Islam toreligious dress are possible without a new constitutionwhen sufficient political will is present. This will,however, remains lacking on other issues, such as thelong-promised reopening of the Greek Orthodox HalkiSeminary, which has been closed since 1971.USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 185


Religious Freedom Conditions 2014–2015Interference in Internal Religious AffairsThe Turkish government continues to require that onlyTurkish citizens can be members of the Greek OrthodoxChurch’s Holy Synod. Although the Prime Minister in2010 approved dual citizenship for 25 Metropolitans,others were denied. The government’s role in decidingwhich individuals may be part of the Greek OrthodoxPatriarchate represents interference in its internalaffairs. The government also has interfered in the selectionprocess of the Armenian Patriarchate’s leadership.Generally, Turkey denies religious minority communitiesthe ability to train clergy in the country. The GreekOrthodox Theological School of Halki remains closed,as it has been since 1971, despite promises and publicThere have been some positive developments in thelast year. In February 2014, 425,000 square feet of landin Istanbul was returned to the Holy Savior ArmenianHospital Foundation. In January 2015 the Turkishgovernment approved the construction of a new SyriacChristian church in Yeşilköy district of Istanbul – thefirst such approval since the founding of the TurkishRepublic in 1923. As USCIRF heard from Syriac religiousleaders during a February 2014 trip to Turkey, the oneexisting Syriac church in Istanbul is not sufficient for the18,000 Syriac Christians living there.Additionally, in the last year the Turkish governmenthas increased financial subsidies to minority religiouscommunities to help pay utility bills, including electricityand water. According to the Turkish government,The Greek Orthodox Theological School of Halki remains closed,as it has been since 1971, despite promises and public statements ofsupport for its reopening by President Erdoğan and former President Gül.statements of support for its reopening by PresidentErdoğan and former President Gül. The ArmenianOrthodox community also lacks a seminary, however,there are 16 Armenian Orthodox parish schools.Religious Minority PropertiesThe Turkish government throughout its history hasexpropriated religious minority properties. Beginning in2003 and especially since the issuance of a 2011 decree,the government established a process to return someproperties or pay compensation when return is not possible.The Turkish government reports that since 2003,more than 1,000 properties – valued, at more than 2.5billion Turkish Lira (1 billion U.S. Dollars) – have beenreturned or compensated for. Hundreds more applicationsare still being processed. Nearly 1,000 applicationsreportedly were denied due to lack of proof of ownershipor for other reasons. For example, the Turkish governmentreports that some applications are duplicatesbecause different religious communities are claimingthe same property. However, some communities allegebias, consider the process very slow, and claim that compensationhas been insufficient.387 non-Muslim places of worship recognized by thegovernment are eligible for the subsidies. Additionally,the Turkish government reports that recognized placesof worship are exempt from property and environmentalsanitation taxes. The Turkish government alsoreported to USCIRF that in 2014 it had restored morethan a dozen Christian and Jewish houses of worshipand heritage sites, and said that other restorations wereongoing or planned. For example, in 2014, Izmir’s GreaterCity Municipality restored a Greek Orthodox Churchin Bornova and the 19th century Greek Orthodox AgiosVoukolos Church. A liturgy service was celebrated in thelatter church in August 2014 for the first time since 1922.The Beit Hillel Synagogue in Bornova was also restored,although reportedly the Jewish community does not controlthe property and services are not allowed. After thereporting year, in March 2015, the third largest synagoguein Europe, the Great Synagogue of Edirne located in thenorthwest region, was reopened and a service was heldfor the first time in nearly 50 years.Since 2008, there had been an ongoing dispute overthe Turkish government’s attempted seizure of some186USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


TURKEYterritory of the 1,600-year-old Mor Gabriel Monastery,the Syriac Patriarch’s residence from 1160 to 1932. InSeptember 2013, the government announced that itwould return Mor Gabriel to the appropriate SyriacFoundation and it has handed over the deed for 244,000square meters (over 60 acres) of land. A case concerningan additional 320,000 square meters (nearly 80 acres)claimed by the community is pending before the EuropeanCourt of Human Rights.EducationThe constitution makes religious and moral instructioncompulsory in public primary and secondary schools,with a curriculum established by the Ministry of NationalEducation. Non-Muslim children can be exempted,although there are reports of societal and teacher discriminationagainst children who opt out. Additionally,after complaints by religious minority communities, theMinistry of Education reported that it has made an effortto revise textbooks to not portray minorities in a derogatorymanner. Alevis have complained that they are notallowed to have their children opt out of Sunni Islamiccourses. In September 2014, the European Court ofHuman Rights ruled that Turkey’s compulsory religiouseducation for Muslim students violates the right of Aleviparents to have their children educated consistent withtheir own convictions. The court ruled that Turkey shouldinstitute a system whereby pupils could be exemptedfrom religion classes without parents having to disclosetheir religious or philosophical convictions. The decisionbecame final in February 2015 after the Court’s GrandChamber denied Turkey’s request for review.Religious DressPursuant to Turkish secularism, the government has longbanned religious dress, including the wearing of headscarves,in state buildings, public and private universities,the parliament, courts, and schools. In the past,women who wore headscarves, and their advocates, wereexpelled from universities and lost public sector jobs,such as in nursing and teaching. In September 2013, theTurkish government lifted the headscarf ban for womenin public institutions and universities. In September 2014,the headscarf ban was lifted in public middle schools andhigh schools. However, the ban still exists in areas thatrequire a uniform, such as military and police offices,and in some courts. In addition, under Turkish law, onlythe titular head of any religious group may wear religiousgarb in public, but there have been no recent reports ofgovernment or local police enforcing this law in practice.AlevisAlevis comprise 15 to 25 percent of Turkey’s total population.Although the Turkish government and manyAlevis view them as heterodox Muslims, many SunniMuslims do not accept that definition and considerthem non-Muslims. Some Alevis identify as Shi’a Muslim,while others reject Islam and view themselves asa unique culture. Alevis worship in “gathering places”(cemevi), which the Turkish government does not considerlegal houses of worship and thus cannot receivethe legal and financial benefits associated with such status.In December 2014, the European Court of HumanIn September 2014, the European Court of Human Rights ruledthat Turkey’s compulsory religious education forMuslim students violates the right of Alevi parents tohave their children educated consistent with their own convictions.Rights ruled that Turkey discriminates against the Alevicommunity by failing to recognize cemevis as officialplaces of worship. In the judgment the court “invited”the Turkish government to submit a proposal to resolvethe longstanding issue of not recognizing cemevis ashouses of worship.Anti-SemitismRepresentatives of the Jewish community in Turkeyhave told USCIRF that their situation is better than thatof Jews in other majority Muslim countries and in partsUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 187


of Western Europe. They are able to worship freely andtheir synagogues generally receive government protectionwhen needed. Nevertheless, they remain concernedabout rising anti-Semitism in society and in the mediaand occasional derogatory comments by governmentofficials. During the summer of 2014, the Jewish communityreported that it faced increased harassment anddiscrimination that it viewed as related to the Israel-Gazaconflict, and was increasingly fearful of violence.The Ergenekon Conspiracy and Violenceagainst Religious MinoritiesJustice remains elusive in several high-profile pastcases of violence against religious minorities. In January2015, three suspects in the 2007 killing of threeProtestant Christians at a Bible publisher in Malaytawere released after having been held for more than fiveyears without a final court decision. Early in 2014, fiveother suspects had been released. Only one suspectremains in jail. The suspects reportedly were membersof the “Ergenekon” conspiracy, in which secularist“deep state” officials and elites allegedly plotted tooverthrow the AKP government and to carry out violenceagainst religious minorities.Cases concerning the 2007 killing of Hrant Dink– the founder and editor of the weekly Agos and anadvocate for democracy and Turkish-Armenian reconciliation– also continue. Two individuals, Ogun Samaston national identity cards violates the European Convention,all individuals are still required to do so. Somereligious groups, such as the Baha’is, are unable to statetheir religion because it is not on the official list of options.While a 2006 law allowed individuals to leave the religionsection blank or change the religious designation, somecommunities have reported that they face intimidation orharassment when choosing either of these options.Northern part of the Republic of CyprusTurkey has occupied nearly one-third of the northernpart of Cyprus since 1974. As in past years, minoritycommunities continued to be denied access to their religiousplaces of worship and cemeteries that are withinthe boundaries of Turkish military zones or bases during2014. In May 2014, the European Court of Human Rightsordered Turkey to pay 90 million Euros (100 million U.S.dollars) in compensation for its 1974 illegal invasion andoccupation of the northern part of Cyprus.U.S. PolicyTurkey is an important strategic partner of the UnitedStates; it is a NATO ally and there is a U.S. airbase inIncirlik, Turkey. The U.S.-Turkey relationship includesmany matters, most importantly regional stabilityand security due to Turkey’s shared borders withSyria, Iraq, and Iran, and the emergence of the IslamicState of Syria and the Levant (ISIL). The United StatesDespite the 2010 European Court of Human Rights’ rulingthat the requirement to list religious affiliation on national identity cards violatesthe European Convention, all individuals are still required to do so.and Yasin Hayal, were convicted in 2011 and 2012of involvement in his killing; 19 other suspects wereacquitted. In October 2014, Istanbul’s 5th High CriminalCourt overturned the acquittal of the 19 individuals,on the grounds that it overlooked possible links to a“criminal organization.”National Identity CardsDespite the 2010 European Court of Human Rights’ruling that the requirement to list religious affiliationcontinues to support Turkish accession to the EuropeanUnion (EU), encouraging Turkey to continue thereforms necessary to complete the membership process,and arguing that a Turkey that meets EU membershipcriteria would be good for the United States,for the EU, and for Turkey. In addition, in the past, theUnited States worked to criminalize the sources ofmaterial support for the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK)by designating the PKK a Foreign Terrorist Organizationand supported the Turkish military against188USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


TURKEYthe PKK in northern Iraq. However, in 2014, relationsbetween Turkey and the United States soured over anumber of issues, including, differences in their Syriapolicies and approaches to dealing with the ISIL threat,anti-democratic moves in Turkey, and the Israeli-Palestinianconflict during the summer. Nevertheless,the United States and Turkey continue to be partners,especially regarding the Syrian and Iraq crises.Since President Jimmy Carter, every U.S. presidenthas called consistently for Turkey to reopen theGreek Orthodox Theological School of Halki under theauspices of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and to takespecific steps to address concerns of the ethnic Kurdishpopulation and other minority communities. The U.S.government also cooperates with Turkey to assist inthe advancement of freedom of expression, respect forindividual human rights, civil society, and promotion ofethnic diversity. Like every country except Turkey, theUnited States does not officially recognize the “TurkishRepublic of Northern Cyprus.” However, the UnitedStates government does discuss religious freedom withTurkish Cypriot authorities and supports internationalefforts to reunify the island.RecommendationsIn its engagement with Turkey, the U.S. government,at the highest levels, should continue to raise religiousfreedom issues with Turkish government counterparts.Specifically, USCIRF recommends that the U.S. governmentshould urge the Turkish government to:• recognizing Alevi cemevis as official places ofworship; and• instituting a system whereby pupils can beexempted from religion classes without parentshaving to disclose their religious or philosophicalconvictions;• Fulfill private- and publicly-stated promises thatthe Greek Orthodox Halki Seminary would bereopened, and permit other religious communitiesto open and operate their seminaries;• Permit religious communities to select and appointtheir leadership in accordance with their internalguidelines and beliefs;• Publicly rebuke government officials who makeanti-Semitic or derogatory statements about religiouscommunities in Turkey; and• Ensure that, with respect to the northern part ofthe Republic of Cyprus, Turkish military authoritiesand Turkish-controlled local authorities endall restrictions on the access, use, and restorationof places of worship and cemeteries for religiousminorities.• Revive the multi-party constitutional draftingcommission with the goal of drafting a new constitutionconsistent with international human rightsstandards on freedom of religion or belief;• Fully implement the Universal Declaration ofHuman Rights and the International Covenant onCivil and Political Rights by withdrawing reservationsthat negatively impact religious freedom, andinterpret the 1923 Lausanne Treaty so as to provideequal rights to all religious minority communities;• Comply with decisions made by the EuropeanCourt of Human Rights, including by• removing the space listing religious affiliation onofficial identification cards;USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 189


OTHER COUNTRIES MONITORED– BAHRAIN– BANGLADESH– BELARUS– CYPRUS– KYRGYZSTAN– SRI LANKA190USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


BAHRAINUSCIRF has concluded that the Bahraini governmenthas made demonstrable progress in rebuilding mosquesand religious structures it destroyed during unrest inthe spring of 2011. Nevertheless, more needs to be doneto implement recommendations from the BahrainIndependent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) to redresspast abuses against Shi’a Muslims and further improvereligious freedom conditions. In addition, Shi’a Muslimscontinued to be detained and arrested arbitrarilythroughout the year. In December 2014, a USCIRF staffmember traveled to Manama; in addition to visitingalmost all of the destroyed religious sites identified in theBICI report, he met with U.S. Embassy personnel, civilsociety representatives, members of religious communities,human rights groups, and human rights defenders.BackgroundBahrain is a diverse country and Bahraini citizens havea deep sense of their culture and history going backcenturies. With a population of approximately 1.3 million,approximately half are Bahraini citizens and half areexpatriate workers, primarily from South Asian countries.community, Hindus, and Sikhs, as well as a small Baha’icommunity that it recognizes as a social organization.Most Bahrainis acknowledge that their society has beenhistorically tolerant of all faiths and religiously pluralisticto a degree that is notable in the region.Progress and Concerns Related toAccountability for Past AbusesOf the more than 4,600 public and private workers dismissedin 2011 as a consequence of the unrest, the vastmajority were Shi’a Muslims. According to non-governmentalinterlocutors, only 80-90 cases remain unresolved.In a February 2014 BICI follow-up report, theBahraini government stated that only 49 cases remainunresolved. A March 2014 agreement between the Bahrainigovernment and the International Labor Organization(ILO) included a commitment to resolve allremaining cases. Among those that have been resolved,hundreds were not reinstated in their original jobs, butin lower level jobs and some in different private companies.According to interlocutors, the most importantelement of the ILO agreement is to ensure mechanismsUSCIRF has concluded that the Bahraini government has madedemonstrable progress in rebuilding mosques andreligious structures it destroyed during unrest in the spring of 2011.Almost half of the expatriate workers are non-Muslim(approximately 250,000-300,000). The religious demographyof Bahraini citizens is estimated at 60-65 percent Shi’aand 30-35 percent Sunni, with approximately 1-2 percentnon-Muslims, including Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Jews,and Baha’is. Compared to other countries in the region,Bahrain is among the most tolerant of non-Muslim religiousminority communities. The government officiallyrecognizes several Christian denominations, a tiny Jewishthat would prevent future discriminatory dismissalsand improve transparency in recruiting and hiring.The government created the Civilian SettlementOffice to compensate families of victims who werekilled and individuals who were physically harmed inthe 2011 unrest, as well as an Office of the Ombudsmanin the Ministry of Interior to ensure compliance withstandards of policing and to receive reports of misconduct.However, the government still has not adequatelyUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 191


held high-level security officials accountable for seriousabuses, which included targeting, imprisoning, torturing,and killing predominantly Shi’a demonstrators.Bahraini courts have tried, prosecuted, and convictedMost Bahrainis acknowledge that theirsociety has been historicallytolerant of all faiths andreligiously pluralistic to adegree that is notable in the region.only a few lower-level police officers, with little or notransparency about the trials, convictions, and length ofprison terms. The government has stated that there areongoing investigations of commanding officers relatedto the 2011 abuses, but has not disclosed details.Ongoing Abuses and DiscriminationIn 2014, Shi’a Muslims continued to be detained andarrested arbitrarily. In December 2014, Shi’a cleric andprominent opposition leader Ali Salman was arrestedand charged with several security-related crimes thatcould carry prison terms ranging from three years tolife. Human rights defenders have said the chargesare baseless, and UN experts have criticized them asviolations of the freedoms of expression, association,and religion. At the end of the reporting period, Salmanremains in detention. In April 2014, the governmentforced Shi’a cleric Hussain Mirza Abdelbaqi Najati toleave the country after revoking his Bahraini citizenshipin November 2012. According to the UN SpecialRapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, theauthorities expelled Najati on account of “religiouslymotivated discrimination.”Furthermore, government and pro-governmentmedia continued to use inflammatory, sectarian rhetoric.New media laws that would curb anti-Shi’a incitement,as recommended in the BICI report, have not beenpassed. According to interlocutors, members of the Shi’acommunity still cannot serve in the active military, onlyin administrative positions, and there are no Shi’a in theupper levels of the Bahrain government security apparatus,including the military and police.Progress in Rebuilding Shi’a Mosques andReligious StructuresWhile the Bahraini government did not meet itsend-of-2014 deadline, it made significant progress inrebuilding the destroyed structures over the past year.In early 2014, the government increased to approximately$8 million the amount to rebuild Shi’a mosquesand religious structures, nearly twice what it pledged in2012. It also moved the deadline from 2018 to the end of2014 to complete the construction of the 30 destroyedstructures identified in the BICI report. As of December2014, 14 mosques had been rebuilt, eight by the governmentand six by the Shi’a community, and 13 others wereapproximately 80-90 percent complete. The governmenthelped secure legal permits for the six structures builtby the Shi’a community, however, despite indicating awillingness in the past, officials have not committed toreimbursing the community.There has been no progress on three of the 30 sitesdue to ongoing procedural and legal hurdles. Of the 27completed or nearly complete, one mosque – the MohamadAl Barbaghi mosque, which is religiously and historicallysignificant to the Shi’a community – is nearly completed,but was rebuilt some 200 meters from its originalsite. The government says this was for security reasons,since the original mosque site is next to a major highway,but some members of the Shi’a community continue toinsist that the mosque can only be built on the originallocation. In the past, Bahraini officials have committed toan ongoing dialogue with the Shi’a community to resolvethe remaining disputed cases, although representativesfrom the Shi’a community do not believe the governmentis fully committed to the negotiations.RecommendationsUSCIRF urges the United States government to continueto press the Bahraini government to implement fullythe BICI recommendations, including those related tofreedom of religion and belief and accountability forpast abuses against the Shi’a community. In addition,USCIRF continues to encourage the Bahraini governmentto reimburse the Shi’a community for expendingits own funds to rebuild six mosques and religious structuresthat were demolished in 2011.192USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


BANGLADESHIn 2014, societal discrimination, harassment, intimidation,and occasional violence against religious minoritycommunities, especially the Hindu minority population,continued in Bangladesh. In addition, illegal landappropriations, commonly referred to as land-grabbing,and ownership disputes remain widespread, with adisproportionate number of religious minorities beingtargeted. Additionally, while the government has madesome progress in complying with the Chittagong HillTracts Peace Accord, the ruling Awami League andother political parties use religiously-divisive languageand, on occasion, act in ways that exacerbate rather thandiminish religious and communal tensions. In September2014, a USCIRF staff member travelled to the countryto assess the religious freedom situation.BackgroundOn January 5, 2014, Bangladesh held its parliamentaryelection, which was not free or fair, with more than halfof the seats uncontested. The main opposition party,the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), and 18 otherpolitical parties boycotted the election. Post-electionviolence occurred in 16 out 64 districts in Bangladesh,with most attacks attributed to individuals and groupsassociated with the BNP and the main religious partyJamaat-e-Islami (Jamaat). The worst attacks occurredin minority-dominated villages. Dozens of Hinduproperties were looted, vandalized, or set ablaze, andDozens of Hindu properties werelooted, vandalized, or set ablaze,and hundreds of Hindusfled their homes.hundreds of Hindus fled their homes. Christian andBuddhist communities also were targeted. PrimeMinister Sheikh Hasina made public statements insupport of religious minority communities after theviolence, but reports emerged that police and securityforces dispatched by the government to affected areasdid not actively stop the violence and, in some cases,participated in it.According to the country’s 2011 census, approximately90 percent of the population is Sunni Muslim.Hindus are 9.5 percent of the total population, and allother faiths, including Christians and Buddhists, areless than one percent.Murder of Bloggers and Chargesof BlasphemyAfter the reporting period, two self-professed secularbloggers were brutally murdered in separate incidentson public streets in Dhaka. Avijit Roy, an Americancitizen of Bangladeshi dissent, was hacked to death onFebruary 26, 2015; Roy’s wife was critically injured. Onesuspect was arrested and charged in early March 2015.On March 30, 2015, Washiqur Rahman also was hackedto death; four men have been arrested and charged.During the reporting period, three self-professedatheists were released from detention; they had beenarrested and charged with “offending religious sensitivities”in April 2013 after they blogged about Bangladesh’s1971 War Crimes Tribunals. In 2013, individualsassociated with Jamaat reportedly gave the governmenta list naming 84 other individuals they wanted to seeinvestigated for blasphemy.Property ReturnsIn 2011, the Vested Property Return Act established anapplication process for families or individuals to applyfor the return of, or compensation for, Hindu propertyseized prior to Bangladesh’s independence fromPakistan in 1971. However, Hindu communities andNGOs complain that the Act is too narrowly defined, theapplication process too cumbersome and convoluted,USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 193


and only a small percentage of eligible properties havebeen returned.Land GrabbingRepresentatives of minority communities told USCIRFthat land-grabbing is a significant concern and iswidespread throughout Bangladesh. Land-grabbingaffects all communities, although religious minorities,particularly Hindus, appear disproportionately targetedLand-grabbing affects all communities,although religious minorities,particularly Hindus, appeardisproportionately targeted fordisplacement from land they haveclaimed for generations.for displacement from land they have claimed for generations.Reportedly, local police and political leaders,including some members of the national parliament, areoccasionally involved in land-grabbing and/or shieldingpolitically-influential individuals from prosecution.Land-grabbing is most frequent near roads or in industrialzones where land is at a premium; therefore, it isdifficult to determine if minorities are targeted due totheir religious faith, their vulnerable status as minorities,or the value of the property.Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord(CHT Accord)The CHT Accord is a political agreement and peacetreaty between the Bangladeshi government and thepolitical party representing the ethnic and indigenouspeople of the area, of whom nearly 50 percent are followersof Theravada Buddhism. According to informationprovided to USCIRF by the Bangladeshi government,out of 72 articles of the CHT Accord, 48 have been fullyimplemented, 15 have been partially implemented, andnine have yet to be implemented. However, individualsrepresenting the area assert that only 25 articles havebeen fully implemented. In February 2015, the HomeMinistry restricted access to the area by foreign visitorsand both national and international organizations,apparently to limit reporting on disputes between thelocal people and the military.Rohingya MuslimsThe Bangladeshi government considers the estimated30,000 Rohingya Muslims residing in two government-runcamps in Cox’s Bazaar near the Bangladesh-Burmeseborder as refugees from Burma, while theestimated 200,000 to 500,000 Rohingya Muslims livingoutside of the camps elsewhere in Bangladesh are treatedas illegal immigrants. In February 2014, Bangladeshadopted a national strategy to respond to the RohingyaMuslim population in the country, which includesproviding more humanitarian assistance and engagingBurma. In November 2014, Prime Minister Hasinaannounced that the two refugee camps, which aresupported by the UNHCR, would be moved to improvethe current living conditions of the refugees, which shedescribed as inhumane. While UNHCR welcomed theannouncement, it also indicated that the move would becostly and could lead to fear and tension in the Rohingyacommunity. UNHCR reports that the Rohingya Muslimsliving outside the camps receive no support from theagency and live in deplorable conditions.RecommendationsIn its engagement with Bangladesh, USCIRF recommendsthat the U.S. government should: urge PrimeMinister Hasina and all government officials to frequentlyand publicly denounce religiously-divisivelanguage and acts of religiously-motivated violenceand harassment; assist the Bangladeshi government toprovide local government officials, police officers andjudges with training on international human rightsstandards, as well as how to investigate and adjudicatedreligiously-motivated violent acts; and urge the governmentof Bangladesh to investigate claims of land-grabbing,rescind the order restricting NGO access to theChittagong area, and revoke its blasphemy law.194USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


BELARUSin the city of Gomel, a city court fined four Baptistsin January 2014; their fines were upheld one monthlater. Use of houses of worship and any public exerciseof religion requires state permission, which is rarelygranted for disfavored groups, particularly Protestants.Orthodox and Catholic communities are less affected,partly due to the state’s more positive view of them, butalso because they are more likely to occupy historicchurches. The New Life Church, a 1,000-member Pentecostalcongregation in Minsk, has struggled since 2002The government strictly controlsforeign . . . Catholic priestsUSCIRF continues to monitor the situation in Belarus,where the government tightly regulates religious communitiesthrough an extensive security and religiousaffairs bureaucracy, which has driven some groupsunderground. Officials are particularly hostile towardsreligious groups viewed as political opponents, such asProtestants. The government strictly controls foreigncitizens who conduct religious activity, particularlyCatholic priests. While close cooperation between thestate and the majority Orthodox Church has led to religiousfreedom violations, citizens reportedly do not sufferreligious discrimination in access to public services.There is no legal provision for conscientious objection tomilitary service, and the religious rights of prisoners –even those on death row – are routinely denied.Government controlA government agency, headed by the Plenipotentiaryfor Religious and Ethnic Affairs, oversees an extensivebureaucracy to regulate religious groups; each of thecountry’s six regions employs multiple religious affairsofficials, as does Minsk city. Officials from local IdeologyDepartments and the Belarusian secret police(which retains the Soviet-era title of Committee for StateSecurity (KGB)) are also involved in religious controls.The 2002 religion law, which includes compulsory stateregistration of all communities and geographical limitson religious activity, is central to a wide web of regulationswhich tethers all registered religious groups.Religious meetings in private homes must notoccur regularly or involve large numbers. After a late2013 police raid on a Baptist Sunday worship meetingto keep control of its private church property, a renovatedcow barn that authorities claim cannot officiallybe used as a church.Unregistered religious activity is usually treated asan administrative offense punishable by a fine. Sinceregistration is compulsory, the religion law makes noprovision for those which do not wish to register, such asthe Council of Churches Baptists and a similar Pentecostalgroup. A religious group found to have violatedthe religion law must correct the alleged violation withinsix months and not repeat it for one year or face closure.There is no legal avenue for religious groups to challengesuch warnings, as the Belarus Constitutional Courtnoted in April 2007. After that court’s decision, Jehovah’sWitnesses have often tried, but failed, to establish thelegal right to challenge such rulings.Actions against Foreign Religious LeadersIn his annual report released in January 2014, thePlenipotentiary for Religious and Ethnic Affairs, LeonidGulyako, accused unnamed foreign Catholic priestsworking in Belarus of holding services outside regions ofUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 195


official registration, failing to understand the state languages(Russian and Belarusian), and drunken driving.He also threatened not to prolong their visas, accordingthe U.S. government should publicly raise Belarusianreligious freedom violations at appropriate internationalfora, such as the OSCE and the UN, particularly the needto reform the religion law.Unregistered religious activityis usually treated as anadministrative offense.to Forum 18 News Service. The Belarusian Catholiccommunity called these accusations “slanderous.” Thenumber of foreign Catholic priests (who are mostly fromPoland) declined from 126 to 113 between September2014 and January 2015. Polish priest Fr. Roman Schulz’spermit to remain in his Mogilev parish was extendedby six months, until June 2015, only after members ofthe parish protested. The government also has refusedto allow a Baptist seminary to invite religious lecturersfrom the United States. A court warned two Jehovah’sWitnesses that as foreigners they had no right to speakpublicly about their faith.Fr. Vladislav Lazar of the Descent of the Holy SpiritCatholic parish in Minsk Region’s Borisov was arrestedfor espionage in May 2013. He was held six monthsalmost incommunicado at the Minsk KGB secret policeinvestigation prison before being transferred to housearrest in December 2013. During his imprisonment, Fr.Lazar was denied a Bible, prayer book, rosary, and familyvisits; he was finally allowed one visit from the ApostolicNuncio to Belarus. The investigation against Fr. Lazarseems to have been dropped in June 2014 due to lack ofevidence, but no official announcement was made; hehas been allowed to return to work in his parish.RecommendationsSince Ukraine was invaded by Russian forces in 2014,Belarus has hosted several high level internationalmeetings on the crisis. These meetings have includedState Department representatives, even though theUnited States has not had an ambassador in Belarussince 2008. With such increased U.S. governmentengagement with Belarus, USCIRF recommends theState Department raise concerns about religious freedomand related human rights with them. In addition,196USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


CYPRUSFor several years, USCIRF has monitored religious freedomconditions in Cyprus, reporting only on the northernregion since 2011, in accordance with U.S. HouseResolution 1631 that called on USCIRF “to investigateand make recommendations on violations of religiousfreedom in the areas of northern Cyprus under controlof the Turkish military.” However, recent efforts by theUnited Nations and the Swedish government have led tonotable improvements regarding religious freedom andbi-communal harmony. A UN-backed Swedish initiativebrought together the Republic of Cyprus government,Turkish Cypriot authorities, Archbishop ChrysostomosII, and Grand Mufti Dr. Talip Atalay to advance interfaithunderstanding, religious freedom, and access toreligious sites.Eased Movement of Religious Leadersand LaityIn October 2013, longstanding restrictions were liftedthat prevented the Archbishop of the Greek OrthodoxChurch of Cyprus in the south and the Muslim GrandMufti in the north from crossing the Green Line.The Archbishop led two services at Apostolos AndreasMonastery in the northern part of Cyprus, attended by5,000 Greek Cypriots from the area under the effectivecontrol of the government of the Republic of Cyprus, andthe Grand Mufti led a service at the Hala Sultan Tekkemosque in the government-controlled area, attendedby hundreds of northern Turkish Cypriot Muslims. InFebruary 2014, after the first-ever joint statement bythe island’s five religious leaders (the Archbishop ofthe Church of Cyprus, the Grand Mufti of Cyprus, theMaronite Archbishop, the Armenian Archbishop, andthe Patriarchal Latin Vicar), religious leaders and laitywere permitted several more cross-area movementsfor worship, some for the first time since 1974. Betweenmid-December 2013 and late June 2014, the UN facilitatedan unprecedented level of engagement, including48 religious services and commemorative events and 98bi-communal harmony civil society events, with morethan 20,000 people crossing from both sides. In severalinstances, the Greek Orthodox Archbishop and the MuslimGrand Mufti participated in religious events andRecent efforts by theUnited Nations and theSwedish government have led tonotable improvements regardingreligious freedom andbi-communal harmony.ceremonies together, further strengthening religiousand bi-communal harmony.Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots indigenous tothe island can generally cross the Green Line with noapproval process needed. Nevertheless, a UN-facilitatedapplication process to visit religious sites is requiredon occasion, and reports continue that individuals orgroups still are periodically restricted from crossing theGreen Line. Under European and Republic of Cyprusnational law, however, Turkish settlers and other personswithout proper documentation cannot cross intothe government-controlled areas. The Grand Mufti, notbeing a citizen of the Republic of Cyprus, is subject tothese regulations; however, as noted above the Republicof Cyprus did make exceptions for him in the last year.Access to Houses of WorshipWhile there have been improvements in north-southrelations relating to religious freedom, access to housesof worship remains a work in progress. Since USCIRF’sFebruary 2011 visit, an increasing number of Christianreligious services were successfully conducted in placesof worship in the Turkish-occupied part of the Republicof Cyprus.USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 197


Between January 2013 and May 2014, the Republicof Cyprus reported to USCIRF that Turkish Cypriotauthorities rejected 15 applications for permission forservices in the north. For the same period, representativesof Turkish Cypriot authorities based in Washington,DC reported to USCIRF that the north approved 33applications. In addition, between January 2013 and May2014 the Republic of Cyprus reported to USCIRF that theTurkish military denied two applications for access toreligious sites located in Turkish military bases or zones.For the same period, representatives of Turkish Cypriotauthorities based in Washington, DC reported to USCIRFthat 17 such applications were approved. In the government-controlledRepublic of Cyprus, all but two mosquesare open only on Fridays and cannot be accessed forworship or repair work on other days. The two mosquesin Larnaca and Limassol are open on weekdays duringregular business hours, making two of the five requiredprayers for Muslims impossible. In the north, religiousminority communities must seek permission to worshipin churches other than eight that require no such permission.The application process in the north was easedfollowing USCIRF’s 2011 visit to the island.Official Discrimination and HarassmentIn the Turkish-occupied part of Cyprus, plain-clothedpolice monitor, videotape, or question religious minoritiesregularly, including at their houses of worship,although USCIRF is not aware of individuals beingdetained or arrested. Reportedly, officials in the southfrequently harass and discriminate against individualsthought to be non-Greek Orthodox, including thoseattending mosques. Small religious communities inthe south, such as Buddhists, Baha’is, and Jehovah’sWitnesses have faced problems securing licenses tobuild places of worship. Additionally, there are reportsthat textbooks originating from both the north and thesouth include negative information about each other’sreligious community. In the south, non-Greek Orthodoxstudents may be exempted from religious classes, butreportedly some who opt out experience social harassment.In the north, religious education is required andthere is no exemption allowance; therefore minorityreligious communities run their own schools, largely outof homes. There also have been some reports, includingby Amnesty International, of the Republic of Cyprusdetaining or deporting asylum seekers fleeing religiouspersecution, including Baha’is from Iran.Religious and Cultural HeritageMany of the 500-plus churches and cemeteries in thenorth have been or are nearly destroyed from years ofneglect or intentional damage by the Turkish military,looters of priceless religious artifacts, and desecrators.Some churches now are used as mosques, communityhalls, sporting venues, stables for animals, or storage. Inthe south, dozens of mosques are also in extremely poorcondition from neglect or intentional damage. UnderUN auspices, the joint Technical Committee on CulturalHeritage reached an agreement in 2012 on restoringand repairing a number of churches in the north andmosques in the south. Notably, at least two mosquesin the south and four churches in the north have beenrestored. Additionally, the restoration of ApostolosAndreas Monastery has begun, with completion slatedfor April 2016.RecommendationsThe Swedish initiative presents a unique opportunity toaddress longstanding issues impacting religious freedomand bi-communal harmony. The U.S. governmentshould urge the Republic of Cyprus and Turkish Cypriotauthorities to: implement the recommendations suggestedby the United Nations and the Swedish embassy,including creating and/or expanding bi-communalharmony dialogues among political officials, religiousleaders and laity, and civil society in both the north andthe south; while respecting Republic of Cyprus nationallegislation and EU regulations, remove any restrictionson religious leaders and laity crossing the Green Linefor religious worship or to visit religious sites; permitunrestricted access to houses of worship; train teacherson religious and cultural sensitivities; ensure thattextbooks do not contain negative information aboutreligious groups; and eliminate official harassment ordiscrimination towards religious minority communitiesin the north and the south, including those communitiesnot considered native to the island.198USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


KYRGYZSTANThe Kyrgyz government restricts religious freedomthrough its 2008 religion law and other laws and policies,and draft October 2014 amendments would sharplyThe 2008 religion lawimposes burdensomeregistration requirementsincrease these controls. USCIRF has been monitoringconditions in Kyrgyzstan for a number of years. AUSCIRF staff member visited the country in October2014 to assess the religious freedom situation.BackgroundOver 80 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s population is SunniMuslim. There is also a very small Shi’a community. Fifteenpercent of the population is Christian, mostly RussianOrthodox; there are about 11,000 Protestants anda small number of Catholics. The Jewish, Buddhist andBaha’i communities are estimated at 1,000 each. Thecountry’s large ethnic Uzbek community (up to 40 percentof the south Kyrgyz population) mostly adheres totraditional Hanafi Sunni Islam. The Kyrgyz constitutionpurports to provide for religious freedom for all citizens.In February 2014, President Almazbek Atambayev saidit had been a “mistake” to remove state agencies fromregulating religious practice. In September 2014, theKyrgyz Supreme Court Constitutional Chamber ruledthat activities of a registered religious group cannot belimited geographically.2008 Religion LawKyrgyzstan’s 2008 religion law imposes burdensomeregistration requirements for religious organizations,including having 200 resident citizen founders and atleast 10 members, of whom at least one must have beenin Kyrgyzstan for 15 years. International organizations,including the Organization for Security and Cooperationin Europe (OSCE), the Council of Europe’s VeniceCommission, and the UN Human Rights Committee,have noted the law violates international standards; itsflaws include strict registration requirements, criminalpenalties for unregistered religious activities, vaguerestrictions on “fanaticism and extremism,” and limitationson missionary activities and the dissemination ofreligious materials.Proposed 2014 AmendmentsOn October 9, 2014, draft amendments to the religionlaw and administrative code suddenly were distributedto a roundtable arranged by the State Committeeon Religious Affairs (SCRA) with the United NationsDevelopment Program (UNDP) in Bishkek. The SCRAledgovernment working group that wrote the drafts,the UNDP, local human rights groups, and clergy fromthe state-backed Muslim Board, the Russian OrthodoxChurch, and several Protestant churches took part. Atthe roundtable USCIRF staff encouraged the involvementof international legal specialists in the drafting.SCRA promised to hold a second roundtable; the draftswere issued the night before the session.Religious Freedom Prospects in 2015These amendments, if enacted in 2015, would markedlychange the environment for religious freedom in Kyrgyzstanand could warrant a change in Kyrgyzstan’s tierstatus in next year’s USCIRF annual report. The amendmentswould sharply increase SCRA authority; privilegeIslam and the Russian Orthodox Church, and defineother religious groups as “non-traditional;” require500 founders for all religious groups to re-register byDecember 31, 2015; require an annual SCRA license forany official or worker in a religious group or religiouseducational institution; and further limit sites wherereligious texts can be distributed. Another set of draftUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 199


proposals would increase the maximum administrativecode fines for religious offenses to the equivalent of 14months’ average salary.Increased State Control of Muslim Boardand Banning GroupsA February 2014 Presidential Decree increased statecontrol over the semi-autonomous Muslim Board,directing it to “improve the system” to elect imamsand the Chief Mufti; to include government officials ininternal exams for imams; to organize material rewardsfor those Muslim clergy who have excelled in meetinginternal criteria; and to check with local and nationalgovernment law enforcement agencies to ascertain ifclerical candidates are members of extremist organizations,Forum 18 reported. The Muslim Board was alsoinstructed to choose the Mufti, imams, regional imams,religious judges and members of the Council of Ulemaonly from the Hanafi school of Islam that the governmentdeems “traditional” for Kyrgyzstan’s Muslims.Unlike elsewhere in Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan also hasprograms for local members of Tabligh Jamaat, an internationalMuslim proselytizing movement.In March 2014, a Bishkek court banned the UzbekIslamic religious movement Akromiya as an extremistorganization. Lists of prohibited religious organizationsreportedly are coordinated with intergovernmentalregional security organizations, in particular, theShanghai Cooperation Organization and the CollectiveSecurity Treaty Organization.Registration IssuesIn 2014, nearly 700 of the country’s unregisteredmosques were identified as “illegal,” Forum 18reported. Ahmadi Muslims have not been able to holdrefusal to register Ahmadi Muslims. The Church ofScientology’s registration was denied in 2014. Jehovah’sWitnesses are registered in one city but are deniednational registration despite numerous attempts. InJune 2014, Russian Orthodox Bishop Feodosy wasforced to leave the country after the SCRA refused torenew his missionary registration, alleging he was athreat to public security and sowed religious discord,allegations that members of his community denied.In a potentially positive development, in September2014, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Courtruled that a religious organization cannot be limited tocarrying out its activity only in the place where it has itslegal address. The Constitutional Chamber also foundthat it is unconstitutional for local councils to approvethe list of 200 founders of a religious group required forlegal status. The Jehovah’s Witnesses who brought thecase think this will, if implemented, help stop harassmentof their community.Other Legal IssuesOther restrictions in current Kyrgyz religion law includerestricting conscientious objection to military serviceto young men who belong to registered religious groups.In addition, SCRA authority to censor religious materials– increased by 2012 amendments to the religion law– seem particularly to apply to non-traditional Muslim,Protestant, and other minority religions.RecommendationUSCIRF recommends that the U.S. government urgeKyrgyzstan to seek expert advice from the UN SpecialRapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief as well asrelevant OSCE entities on the October 2014 draft religionlaw and include international legal experts in a secondIn 2014, nearly 700 unregistered mosques were identified as “illegal.”worship meetings since July 2011, when the SCRArefused to re-register them in Bishkek and threeother cities. In July 2014 the Supreme Court rejectedan appeal of two lower courts’ support of the SCRA’sroundtable. The United States should also publicly raiseKyrgyzstan’s religious freedom violations at appropriateinternational fora, such as the OSCE and the UN.200USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


SRI LANKADuring 2014, the now former Rajapaksa governmentpermitted extremist monks and laity affiliated with SinhaleseBuddhist nationalist groups to perpetrate numerousattacks against religious minority communities inSri Lanka. In September 2014, a USCIRF staff membervisited the country and heard multiple reports that officialsin the previous government tacitly supported thesegroups and their actions against Muslims, Christians,and Hindus. Interlocutors also reported that some localpolice harassed religious minorities at their houses ofworship, did not stop religiously-motivated attacks andsometimes participated in them, and did not adequatelyprotect minorities. In March 2015, USCIRF CommissionerEric Schwartz and USCIRF staff travelled to SriLanka to reassess the situation following the January2015 election. While some religious freedom concernsremain, USCIRF is encouraged by the new government’sstatements and actions to promote religious freedom,national reconciliation and unity.BackgroundSri Lanka is a religiously pluralistic country, with a populationestimated, as of 2012, to be 70 percent Buddhist,12.6 percent Hindu, 9 percent Muslim, and 7.5 percentChristian. Until 2009, the country was ravaged by a26-year civil war with the Liberation Tigers of TamilEelam (LTTE), an ethnically-based movement seekingan independent state. During the war, both sides failedto prevent communal violence involving SinhaleseBuddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and Christians. Both theformer Rajapaksa government and the LTTE are allegedto have committed war crimes, and the former governmentrefused calls for investigations into these allegationsfor years.On January 9, 2015 Maithripala Sirisena was swornin as Sri Lanka’s new president after defeating MahindaRajapaksa, who held the office since 2005. Sirisena, wholeft the Rajapaksa government to run in opposition, putforward a platform that included fighting governmentalcorruption and nepotism, as well seeking nationalreconciliation and harmony. In a February 2015 speechPresident Sirisena stated, “While protecting the country’smain religion Buddhism, we also protect the rightsand freedom of Hindu, Muslim, and Catholic people inpracticing their religion and create consensus amongthem to build up this country.” Sri Lankan officialsrepeated those sentiments about tolerance and respectfor religious freedom to a USCIRF mission to Sri Lankain March 2015, and indeed, USCIRF has found thatreports of abuses diminished significantly in the firstmonths of 2015.Violence against Religious MinoritiesIndividuals associated with Buddhist nationalistgroups, particularly Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) and SinhalaRavaya, perpetrated violence against religiousminority communities during 2014. In the largestincident, a mob of an estimated 500 Buddhist nationalistsattacked Muslims in the towns of Aluthgama,Beruwala and Dharga in the southwestern Kalutaradistrict in June 2014. At least four people were killed,dozens severely injured, an estimated 10,000 peoplefled the area, and mosques and Muslim-owned shopsand homes were destroyed. Officials in the Rajapaksagovernment who were associated with BBS wereOfficials in the Rajapaksa governmentwho were associated with BBS wereaccused of complicity in the attackaccused of complicity in the attack, for example, byshutting down media Web sites so they could not showthe extent of the violence or that local police were notstopping it. Moreover, former President Rajapaksamade remarks at the UN Human Rights Council thatUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 201


seemed to blame the Muslim victims. However, thethen-government did provide assistance to affectedpeople and began to rebuild destroyed properties.Numerous other violent incidents against Muslims alsooccurred throughout the year.Dozens of attacks against Christian churches andindividuals were reported. For example, in January2014, a mob attacked the Assembly of God and Calvarychurches in Hikkaduwa. Local police reportedly werewarned in advance but arrived after the attack. Eighteenindividuals, including seven Buddhist monks,were arrested and are facing trial. In February 2014 aBuddhist nationalist mob of more than 200 individuals,including several Buddhist monks, attacked anddamaged the Holy Family Church in Kandy district,injuring its pastor and his family. Dozens of similarattacks against Christian churches and individuals werereported in 2014.Hindu communities also faced intimidation andharassment. While Hindus generally do not face thesame level of violent persecution as the other minoritycommunities, local police reportedly conduct surveillanceof Hindu individuals and temples suspected ofsupporting the LTTE or advocating for an internationalwar crimes tribunal.Intolerant PropagandaIn 2014, BBS propaganda cast religious minority communitiesin a negative light, exacerbating religious tensions.For example, Buddhist nationalist monks accusedMuslims of seeking to wipe out Buddhism in the countryby secretly sterilizing Buddhist women. Additionally,BBS pressured the former government to ban Muslimheadscarves and halal slaughter. BBS used similar propagandacampaigns against Christians, and called forthe country to adopt a nationwide anti-conversion lawand ban missionary groups.Governmental Restrictions onHouses of WorshipA 2008 circular, still being implemented, issued by theMinistry of Buddha Sasana and Religious Affairs causesproblems for Christian communities viewed as new tothe country, such as Evangelical and Pentecostal denominationsand Jehovah’s Witnesses. The circular requiresreligious communities to register houses of worshipwith the Ministry and seek advance approval of newconstruction. While the requirements appear to applyto all religious groups, reportedly they are only enforcedagainst Christians and Muslims. In addition, minoritiesThe circular requiresreligious communities toregister houses of worship withthe Ministry and seek advanceapproval of new construction.complain that the registration process is opaque andslow; that registration results in monitoring and harassmentby local police; and that they are often forced toregister as NGOs and not religious groups. Unregisteredhouses of worship have been closed. For example, theNational Evangelical Christian Alliance of Sri Lankareported that 30 churches were forced to close in 2014.Discrimination in Public SchoolsDuring USCIRF’s 2014 and 2015 visits, Muslim, Christianand Hindu communities reported discrimination ingovernment-run schools. Teachers and administratorsharass non-Buddhist students, including by throwingout of class Muslim girls who cover their hair. Reportedlyteachers quiz minority students about Buddhism and, ifa student cannot answer, the parents are fined and/or thestudent barred from school until s/he shows knowledgeof Buddhism. Religious education is a required course,and religious knowledge is assessed on the nationaluniversity entrance exam. If a school has more than 15non-Buddhist students, it is supposed to provide a religiouseducation class on the relevant religion, taught by amember of that religion, and assess that knowledge on theuniversity entrance exam. However, these requirementsare often not met, forcing non-Buddhist students to eithertake the class on Buddhism or skip the religious section ofthe national test, which lowers their scores and adverselyaffects their entrance to university.Religious PoliceIn April 2014 the former government formed a specialpolice unit purportedly to handle complaints by202USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


eligious communities. However, the unit of approximately500 officers was comprised almost exclusively ofBuddhists, raising concerns among religious minoritiesthat the then-government and its BBS allies woulduse the unit to curtail their rights and intimidate andharass them.Religious Freedom Prospects in 2015Since President Sirisena took office in January, he hastaken several steps to improve religious unity andreligious freedom. For example, he created three newministries to handle religious affairs for the Muslim,Christian, and Hindu communities respectively. Additionally,the new Ministry of Christian Affairs appointeda special coordinator for Charismatic, Evangelical andPentecostal Christian churches. The special police unitcreated by the former government has been disbanded,according to officials and religious communities withwhom USCIRF met in March 2015.President Sirisena’s public statements on theneed for national unity, reconciliation, harmony, andimproved religious freedom have been encouraging, aswere the comments by government officials with whomRecommendationsUSCIRF recommends that the U.S. government should:strongly encourage the positive movement that hasoccurred in recent months; encourage the Sri Lankangovernment to allow a transparent and independentinvestigation into alleged war crimes, including targetedattacks on religious minorities; ensure that a portion ofU.S. humanitarian aid to Sri Lanka is used to help protectminorities from religiously-motivated violence; assistthe Sri Lankan government to train local governmentofficials, police officers, and judges on internationalreligious freedom standards and on how to investigateand prosecute violent attacks; and urge Sri Lankan governmentofficials to provide minority students an equalopportunity to learn their faiths in public schools and torescind policies and practices – often driven at local levels– that restrict religious communities’ ability to buildhouses of worship or practice their faith.President Sirisena’s public statements onthe need for national unity,reconciliation, harmony, and improvedreligious freedom have beenencouraging, as were thecomments by government officialswith whom USCIRF met in March 2015.USCIRF met in March 2015. Additionally, while the Presidentcontinues to oppose an international investigationinto alleged war crimes by the former government andthe LTTE at the end of the civil war, he has made publicstatements in favor of accepting United Nations supporton these issues, including advice on how a Sri Lankaninvestigation should be conducted. Finally, and perhapsmost importantly, reports of abuses against religiousminorities have diminished in the first months of 2015,though concerns remain.USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 203


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APPENDIX 1COMMISSIONER BIOGRAPHIESDr. Katrina Lantos Swett, ChairDr. Katrina Lantos Swett established the Lantos Foundationfor Human Rights and Justice in 2008 and servesas its President and Chief Executive Officer. This humanrights organization is proudly carrying on the uniquelegacy of the late Congressman Tom Lantos who, as theonly survivor of the Holocaust ever elected to Congress,was one of our nation’s most eloquent and forceful leaderson behalf of human rights and justice. In additionto managing the Lantos Foundation, Dr. Lantos Swettteaches human rights and American foreign policy atTufts University. She also taught at the University ofSouthern Denmark while her husband, former CongressmanRichard Swett, was serving as the U.S. Ambassadorin Copenhagen.Her varied professional experiences includeworking on Capitol Hill as Deputy Counsel to theCriminal Justice Sub-Committee of the Senate JudiciaryCommittee for then Senator Joe Biden and as aconsultant to businesses, charitable foundations, andpolitical campaigns.Dr. Lantos Swett also has experience in broadcasting,having co-hosted the highly regarded political talkshow “Beyond Politics” for many years on WMUR TV,New Hampshire’s only network affiliated televisionstation. As co-host, she interviewed state, national, andinternational figures, including Prime Minister BenjaminNetanyahu, Vice President Al Gore, First LadyHillary Clinton, Members of the United States Congress,and George Stephanopoulos on the issues of the day.From 2003-2006 Dr. Lantos Swett served as theDirector of the Graduate program in Public Policy atNew England College. She is also a member of the Boardof HRNK Human Rights in North Korea and the TomLantos Institute in Budapest. She has served on numerousBoards in the past, including the Christa McAuliffePlanetarium Foundation, the Institute for Justice SectorDevelopment, the Granite State Coalition AgainstExpanded Gambling (co-Chair), and the NH Citizen’sCommission on the State Courts. She has also beenactive in Democratic politics for over three decades. In2002, she was the Democratic nominee for Congress inNew Hampshire’s 2nd District, and she was chosen as aPresidential elector in 1992. She has been a member ofthe New Hampshire Democratic Party (NHDP) ExecutiveCommittee and served as Vice-Chair of the NHDPFinance Committee.Under Dr. Lantos Swett’s leadership as Presidentand CEO, the Lantos Foundation has quickly becomea distinguished and respected voice on many keyhuman rights concerns ranging from rule of law inRussia and Internet freedom in closed societies tothe on-going threat of anti-Semitism and Holocaustdenial. The Foundation also supports human rightsdefenders around the globe through its Front LineFund and runs the Lantos Congressional Fellows programin conjunction with Humanity in Action. Eachyear the Lantos Foundation awards the Lantos HumanRights Prize to an individual who has demonstrateda commitment to standing up for decency, dignity,freedom, and justice. Past recipients have included HisHoliness the Dalai Lama, Professor Elie Wiesel, andPaul Rusesabagina.Dr. Lantos Swett graduated from Yale University in1974 at the age of 18 and earned her Juris Doctor at theUniversity of California, Hastings College of the Law in1976. She received her Ph.D. in History from the Universityof Southern Denmark in 2001. Dr. Lantos Swetthas been married for 31 years to former Congressmanand Ambassador Richard Swett and they are parentsof 7 children and 2 grandchildren. She resides in Bow,New Hampshire.Dr. Lantos Swett was appointed to the Commissionon March 26, 2012 by Senate Majority LeaderHarry Reid (D-NV) and reappointed to a second termin 2014.USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 205


Dr. Robert P. George, Vice ChairRobert P. George is McCormick Professor of Jurisprudenceand Director of the James Madison Program inAmerican Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University.He has been a Visiting Professor at Harvard LawSchool, and is a Senior Fellow of the Hoover Institutionat Stanford University.He has served on the President’s Council on Bioethicsand as a presidential appointee to the United StatesCommission on Civil Rights. He has also served onUNESCO’s World Commission on the Ethics of ScientificKnowledge and Technology (COMEST), of which heremains a corresponding member.A graduate of Swarthmore College and HarvardLaw School, Professor George also earned a master’sdegree in theology from Harvard and a doctorate inphilosophy of law from Oxford University, which heattended on a Knox Scholarship from Harvard. He holdshonorary doctorates of law, letters, science, ethics,divinity, humane letters, civil law, and juridical science.He is the author of Making Men Moral: Civil Libertiesand Public Morality and In Defense of NaturalLaw, among other books. His articles and review essayshave appeared in the Harvard Law Review, the YaleLaw Journal, the Columbia Law Review, the Reviewof Politics, the Review of Metaphysics, the AmericanJournal of Jurisprudence, and Law and Philosophy. Hehas also written for the New York Times, the Wall StreetJournal, the Washington Post, First Things magazine,National Review, the Boston Review, and the TimesLiterary Supplement.Professor George is a former Judicial Fellow at theSupreme Court of the United States, where he receivedthe Justice Tom C. Clark Award.His other honors include the United States PresidentialCitizens Medal, the Honorific Medal for theDefense of Human Rights of the Republic of Poland, theBradley Prize for Intellectual and Civic Achievement,the Phillip Merrill Award for Outstanding Contributionsto the Liberal Arts of the American Council of Trusteesand Alumni, a Silver Gavel Award of the American BarAssociation, the Paul Bator Award of the Federalist Societyfor Law and Public Policy, and the Canterbury Medalof the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relationsand is Of Counsel to the law firm of Robinson & McElwee.Dr. George was appointed to the Commission onMarch 22, 2012 by Speaker of the House John Boehner(R-OH) and was reappointed in 2014 for a second term.Dr. James J. Zogby, Vice ChairDr. James J. Zogby is the founder and president of theArab American Institute (AAI), a Washington, D.C.-based organization which serves as the political andpolicy research arm of the Arab American community.He is also Managing Director of Zogby Research Services,which specializes in public opinion polling acrossthe Arab world.Since 1985, Dr. Zogby and AAI have led ArabAmerican efforts to secure political empowermentin the U.S. Through voter registration, education andmobilization, AAI has moved Arab Americans into thepolitical mainstream.For the past three decades, Dr. Zogby has beeninvolved in a full range of Arab American issues. Aco-founder and chairman of the Palestine HumanRights Campaign in the late 1970s, he later co-foundedand served as the Executive Director of the American-ArabAnti-Discrimination Committee. In 1982, heco-founded Save Lebanon, Inc., a relief organizationwhich provided health care for Palestinian and Lebanesevictims of war. In 1985, Zogby founded AAI.In 1993, following the signing of the Israeli-Palestinianpeace accord in Washington, he was asked by VicePresident Al Gore to lead Builders for Peace, an effort topromote U.S. business investment in the West Bank andGaza. In his capacity as co-president of Builders, Zogbyfrequently traveled to the Middle East with delegationsled by Vice President Gore and late Secretary of CommerceRon Brown.Dr. Zogby has also been active in U.S. politics formany years. Since 1995 he has played a leadership rolein the National Democratic Ethnic Coordinating Committee(NDECC), an umbrella organization of leaders ofEuropean and Mediterranean descent. In 2001, he wasappointed to the Executive Committee of the DemocraticNational Committee (DNC), and in 2006 was alsonamed Co-Chair of the DNC’s Resolutions Committee.A lecturer and scholar on Middle East issues, U.S.-Arab relations, and the history of the Arab Americancommunity, Dr. Zogby has an extensive media profile inthe U.S. and across the Arab World. He currently serves206USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


as Chairman of the Editorial Advisory Committee forSkyNewsArabia. Since 1992, Dr. Zogby has also writtena weekly column published in 14 Arab and South Asiancountries.He has authored a number of books, including:Looking at Iran (2013), Arab Voices (2010), What EthnicAmericans Really Think (2002), and What Arabs Think:Values, Beliefs and Concerns (2001).In 1975, Dr. Zogby received his doctorate from TempleUniversity’s Department of Religion. He was a Post-DoctoralFellow at Princeton University in 1976, and has beenawarded numerous grants and honorary degrees.Dr. Zogby is married to Eileen Patricia McMahon.Dr. Zogby was appointed to the Commission onSeptember 6, 2013 by President Obama.Ambassador Mary Ann Glendon,CommissionerMary Ann Glendon is the Learned Hand Professor ofLaw at Harvard University, and former U.S. Ambassadorto the Holy See. She writes and teaches in the fields ofhuman rights, comparative law, constitutional law, andpolitical theory.Glendon is a member of the American Academy ofArts and Sciences since 1991, the International Academyof Comparative Law, and the Pontifical Academyof Social Sciences which she served as President from2004-2014. She is also a past president of the UNE-SCO-sponsored International Association of LegalScience. She served two terms as a member of the U.S.President’s Council on Bioethics (2001-2004), and hasrepresented the Holy See at various conferences includingthe 1995 U.N. Women’s conference in Beijing whereshe headed the Vatican delegation.Glendon has contributed to legal and social thoughtin several articles and books, and has lectured widely inthis country and in Europe. Her widely translated books,bringing a comparative approach to a variety of subjects,include The Forum and the Tower (2011), a seriesof biographical essays exploring the relation betweenpolitical philosophy and politics-in-action; Traditions inTurmoil (2006), a collection of essays on law, culture andhuman rights; A World Made New: Eleanor Rooseveltand the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (2001),which the New York Times reviewer said should be thedefinitive study of the framing of the UDHR; A NationUnder Lawyers (1996), a portrait of turbulence in thelegal profession, analyzing the implications of changesin legal culture for a democratic polity that entrusts crucialroles to legally trained men and women; Seedbedsof Virtue (co-edited with David Blankenhorn) (1995);Rights Talk (1991), a critique of the impoverishment ofpolitical discourse; The Transformation of Family Law(1989), winner of the legal academy’s highest honor, theOrder of the Coif Triennial Book Award; Abortion andDivorce in Western Law (1987), winner of the ScribesBook Award for best writing on a legal subject; The NewFamily and the New Property (1981), and textbooks oncomparative legal traditions.Her prizes and honors include the NationalHumanities Medal, the Bradley Foundation Prize, andhonorary doctorates from numerous universities includingthe Universities of Chicago and Louvain.Glendon taught at Boston College Law School from1968 to 1986, and has been a visiting professor at theUniversity of Chicago Law School and the GregorianUniversity in Rome.She received her bachelor of arts, juris doctor, andmaster of comparative law degrees from the Universityof Chicago. During a post-graduate fellowship for thestudy of European law, she studied at the UniversitéLibre de Bruxelles and was a legal intern with the EuropeanEconomic Community. From 1963 to 1968, shepracticed law with the Chicago firm of Mayer, Brown &Platt, and served as a volunteer civil rights attorney inMississippi during “Freedom Summer” 1964.A native of Berkshire County, she lives in ChestnutHill, Massachusetts.Ambassador Glendon was appointed to the Commissionon May 23, 2012 by Senate Minority LeaderMitch McConnell (R-KY) and reappointed to a secondterm in 2014.Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser, CommissionerM. Zuhdi Jasser, M.D. is the President of the AmericanIslamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD) based in Phoenix,Arizona. A first generation American Muslim, Dr. Jasser’sparents fled the oppressive Baath regime of Syria in themid-1960’s for American freedom. A devout Muslim, heand his family have strong ties to the American Muslimcommunity having helped lead mosques in Wisconsin,Arkansas, Virginia and Arizona.USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 207


In the wake of the 9/11 attacks on the United States,Dr. Jasser and a group of American Muslims foundedAIFD which promotes Muslim voices for liberty andfreedom through the separation of mosque and state inorder to counter the root cause of Islamist terrorism--theideology of political Islam (Islamism) and a belief in thesupremacy of the Islamic state. AIFD’s primary projectsinclude the Muslim Liberty Project, the AmericanIslamic Leadership Coalition and Save Syria Now!An internationally recognized expert on Islamism,Dr. Jasser is widely published on domestic and foreignissues related to Islam, Islamism, and modernity. He hasspoken at hundreds of national and international eventsincluding testimony to the U.S. Congress on the centralityof religious liberty in countering Muslim radicalizationwithin the “House of Islam”. He is a contributingwriter to a number of books and the author of The Battlefor the Soul of Islam: An American Muslim Patriot’sFight to Save His Faith (Simon & Schuster, 2012).Dr. Jasser earned his medical degree on a U.S. Navyscholarship at the Medical College of Wisconsin in 1992.He served 11 years as a medical officer in the U. S. Navy,achieving the rank of Lieutenant Commander. His toursof duty included Medical Department Head aboard theU.S.S. El Paso, Chief Resident at Bethesda Naval Hospital,and Staff Internist for the Office of the AttendingPhysician to the U. S. Congress. He is a recipient of theMeritorious Service Medal.Dr. Jasser is a respected physician currently inprivate practice specializing in internal medicine andnuclear cardiology. He is a Past-President of the ArizonaMedical Association. He and his wife Gada and theirthree children reside in Arizona.Dr. Jasser was appointed to the Commissionon March 22, 2012 by Senate Minority Leader MitchMcConnell (R-KY) and was reappointed to a secondterm in 2014.Dr. Daniel I. Mark, CommissionerDr. Daniel Mark is an assistant professor of politicalscience at Villanova University in Pennsylvania. Heteaches political theory, philosophy of law, Americangovernment, and politics and religion. At Villanova, heis a faculty associate of the Matthew J. Ryan Center forthe Study of Free Institutions and the Public Good. Healso holds the rank of Battalion Professor and serves asthe university representative to the performance reviewboard for Villanova’s Navy Reserve Officers’ TrainingCorps unit. He is the faculty adviser to the mock trialteam and to the men’s club lacrosse team, and he is amentor in the university’s Faith and Learning ScholarsProgram. Dr. Mark serves on the Jewish Religion andCulture Lecture Committee and the Graduate Committeeof the Department of Political Science.In addition, Dr. Mark is an assistant editor of Interpretation:A Journal of Political Philosophy; a fellowof the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, NJ; and acontributor to Arc of the Universe: Ethics and Global Justice.He has been published recently in US News & WorldReport, Investor’s Business Daily, and the PhiladelphiaInquirer, and he recently appeared on CNN, Al JazeeraAmerica, and CBS radio in Philadelphia.He holds a BA (magna cum laude), MA, and PhDfrom the Department of Politics at Princeton University.He wrote his dissertation under the direction of ProfessorRobert P. George on the subject of “Authority and LegalObligation.” There, he participated in the Program inLaw and Public Affairs and the Penn-Princeton BioethicsForum. He was also affiliated with the James MadisonProgram in American Ideals and Institutions and servedas coordinator of its Undergraduate Fellows Forum.Dr. Mark works with the Tikvah Fund in New Yorkand the Hertog Foundation in Washington, DC, and hehas taught at the Straus Center for Torah and WesternThought at Yeshiva University. He speaks frequently forwide a variety of groups, including the Archdiocese ofDenver, the Eastern University Philosophical Society,the Neumann Forum, the Love and Fidelity Network,the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the US MilitaryAcademy (West Point), the American Enterprise Institute,the Jewish Heritage Center, Chabad at Dartmouth,and the Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School. Beforegraduate school, Dr. Mark spent four years as a highschool teacher in New York City, and he received theNew Jersey Department of Education Commissioner’sDistinguished Teacher Candidate Award while earninghis teaching certification.For the 2015-16 academic year, Dr. Mark will be onsabbatical from Villanova University as a visiting fellowin the Department of Politics at Princeton Universityunder the sponsorship of the department’s James MadisonProgram in American Ideals and Institutions.208USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


Dr. Mark was appointed to the Commission on May9, 2014 by Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH).Rev. Thomas J. Reese, S.J., CommissionerRev. Thomas J. Reese, S.J. is a Senior Analyst for theNational Catholic Reporter, a position he has held since2014. Previously, he was a Senior Fellow at the WoodstockTheological Center from 2006 to 2013 and from 1988 to1998. He joined the Center as a Visiting Fellow in 1985.He was Editor-in-Chief of America magazine from 1998to 2005 and an associate editor from 1978 to 1985. As anassociate editor, he covered politics, economics, and theCatholic Church. Rev. Reese entered the Jesuits in 1962and was ordained in 1974. He received a B.A. and anM.A. from St. Louis University, an M.Div. from the JesuitSchool of Theology at Berkeley, and a Ph.D. in PoliticalScience from the University of California, Berkeley.Rev. Reese was appointed to the Commission onMay 14, 2014 by President Obama.Hon. Hannah Rosenthal, CommissionerHannah Rosenthal is the CEO and president of theMilwaukee Jewish Federation. Prior to joining the MilwaukeeJewish Federation, Hannah served as: SpecialEnvoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, U.S. StateDepartment; Executive Director, Chicago Foundationfor Women (CFW); Executive Director, Jewish Councilfor Public Affairs (JCPA); and Executive Director, WisconsinWomen’s Council.In these positions, Rosenthal has demonstratedan ability to build relationships within and betweencommunities, creating unique connections with local,national and international influencers. She has beenhonored for her achievements throughout her career,with distinctions including: the National Council forJewish Women Building Bridges Award (2013); Pearls forTeen Girls, Women Inspired to Lead (2013); RUMI ForumPeace and Dialogue Award for extraordinary contributions(2012); National Council for Jewish Women Faithand Humanity Award for advancing human rights andadvocacy (2011); 2010 – Forward Fifty’s Top 5, nationalJewish weekly’s list of the world’s most influential Jews(2010); Haiti Holocaust Committee award for advocacyfor historical memory (2010); and Women to Watch,Jewish Women International’s list of outstanding leaders(2005). Hannah has also received the Wisconsin StateCivil Rights Award and the Wisconsin CommunityAction Advocacy Award.Rosenthal currently represents the at-large communityon the United States National Commission forthe United Nations Educational, Scientific, and CulturalOrganization (UNESCO), and on the Committee onHolocaust Denial and State-Sponsored Anti-Semitism ofthe United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.As an agent for change, Rosenthal was responsiblefor a significant new approach to combating anti-Semitismin her most recent position with the State Department,and successfully led CFW through its transitioninto an advocacy organization. She is leading the reorganizationof the Milwaukee Jewish Federation followingthe agency’s strategic reimagining process.Rosenthal is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madisonand studied for the rabbinate in Jerusalemand California. She has long been active in public policyin Wisconsin, serving in support roles to a WisconsinState Representative and a Wisconsin Member of Congress,as well as heading a Wisconsin state agency and aregional federal agency. Rosenthal also is a former memberof the Madison Jewish Federation Board of Directors.Ms. Rosenthal was appointed to the Commission onJune 17, 2014 by the Honorable Nancy Pelosi.Hon. Eric Schwartz, CommissionerEric Schwartz became dean of the Hubert H. HumphreySchool of Public Affairs at the University ofMinnesota in October 2011, after serving for 25 yearsin senior public service positions in government, at theUnited Nations and in the philanthropic and non-governmentalcommunities.Prior to his arrival in Minnesota, he was U.S. AssistantSecretary of State for Population, Refugees, andMigration, having been nominated by President Obamaand confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 2009. Workingwith Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, he served as theDepartment of State’s principal humanitarian official,managing a $1.85 billion budget, as well as State Departmentpolicy and programs for U.S. refugee admissionsand U.S. international assistance worldwide.From 2006 through 2009, he directed the ConnectU.S. Fund, a multi-foundation – NGO collaborativeseeking to promote responsible U.S. engagement overseas,and which included the Hewlett Foundation, theUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 209


Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Open Society Institute,the Ford Foundation, the Atlantic Philanthropies andthe Mott Foundation.From August 2005 through January 2007, he servedas the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s DeputySpecial Envoy for Tsunami Recovery. In that capacity,he worked with the Special Envoy, former PresidentClinton, to promote an effective recovery effort. Beforethat appointment, he was a lead expert for the congressionallymandated Mitchell-Gingrich Task Force onUN Reform. Prior to that, in 2003 and 2004, he served asthe second-ranking official at the Office of the UN HighCommissioner for Human Rights in Geneva.From 1993 to 2001, he served at the National SecurityCouncil at the White House, ultimately as SeniorDirector and Special Assistant to the President forMultilateral and Humanitarian Affairs. He managedresponses on international humanitarian, human rightsand rule of law issues, as well as United Nations affairs,including peacekeeping.From 2001 through 2003, he held fellowships at theWoodrow Wilson Center, the U.S. Institute of Peace andthe Council on Foreign Relations. During this period,he also served as a contributor to the Responsibilityto Protect Project of the International Commission onIntervention and State Sovereignty.From 1989 to 1993, he served as Staff Consultant tothe U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Subcommitteeon Asian and Pacific Affairs. Prior to his workon the Subcommittee, he was Washington Director ofthe human rights organization Asia Watch (now knownas Human Rights Watch-Asia). He holds a law degreefrom New York University School of Law, where he was arecipient of a Root-Tilden-Snow Scholarship for commitmentto public service through law; a Master of PublicAffairs degree from the Woodrow Wilson School of Publicand International Affairs Princeton University; and aBachelor of Arts degree, with honors, in Political Sciencefrom the State University of New York at Binghamton.Between 2001 and 2009, he also was a visiting lecturer ofpublic and international affairs at the Woodrow WilsonSchool, teaching both undergraduate and graduateseminars, taskforces and workshops.He was appointed to the Commission on April 25,2013 by President Obama and reappointed in 2014.210USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


APPENDIX 2ERITREAN PRISONER LIST 2015Jehovah’s Witness Prisoner List 2015NAMEAGE ATARREST SEX LOCATIONDATE OFARRESTREASONPaulos Eyassu 41 Male Sawa Camp 9/24/1994 Conscientious ObjectionIsaac Mogos 38 Male Sawa Camp 9/24/1994 Conscientious ObjectionNegede Teklemariam 40 Male Sawa Camp 9/24/1994 Conscientious ObjectionAron Abraha 40 Male Sawa Camp 5/9/2001 Conscientious ObjectionMussie Fessehaya 42 Male Sawa Camp 6/2003 Conscientious ObjectionAmbakom Tsegezab 38 Male Sawa Camp 2/2004 Conscientious ObjectionBemnet Fessehaye 43 Male Sawa Camp 2/2005 Conscientious ObjectionHenok Ghebru 30 Male Sawa Camp 2/2005 Conscientious ObjectionWorede Kiros 57 Male Sawa Camp 5/4/2005 Religious ActivityYonathan Yonas 28 Male Sawa Camp 11/12/2005 Religious ActivityKibreab Fessehaye 36 Male Sawa Camp 12/27/2005 Conscientious ObjectionBereket Abraha Oqbagabir 46 Male Sawa Camp 1/1/2006 Conscientious ObjectionYosief Fessehaye 25 Male Sawa Camp 2007 Conscientious ObjectionMogos Gebremeskel 68 Male Adi-Abieto 7/3/2008 UnknownBereket Abraha 67 Male Meitir Camp 7/8/2008 UnknownErmias Ashgedom 24 Male Meitir Camp 7/11/2008 UnknownHabtemichael Mekonen 73 Male Meitir Camp 7/17/2008 UnknownTareke Tesfamariam 63 Male Meitir Camp 8/4/2008 UnknownTesfai Teklemariam 61 Male Meitir Camp 8/8/2004 UnknownGoitom Aradom 70 Male Meitir Camp 8/8/2008 UnknownHabtemichael Tesfamariam 66 Male Meitir Camp 8/8/2008 UnknownTewoldemedhin Habtezion 55 Male Meitir Camp 8/9/2008 UnknownTeferi Beyene 73 Male Meitir Camp 9/23/2008 UnknownBeyene Abraham 62 Male Karen Police Station 10/23/2008 UnknownAsfaha Haile 80 Male Meitir Camp 12/2/2008 UnknownTsehaye Leghesse 75 Male Karen Police Station 12/23/2008 UnknownTsegezeab Tesfazghi 65 Male Meitir Camp 12/23/2008 UnknownTsehaye Tesfamariam 73 Male Meitir Camp 1/5/2009 UnknownYoab Tecle 63 Male Meitir Camp 4/23/2009 UnknownYoel Tsegezab 38 Male Meitir Camp 8/26/2008 Conscientious ObjectionNehemiah Hagos 28 Male Meitir Camp 8/26/2008 Conscientious ObjectionSamuel Ghirmay 32 Male Meitir Camp 3/2009 Conscientious ObjectionTeklu Gebrehiwot 39 Male Meitir Camp 6/28/2009 Religious MeetingUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 211


NAMEAGE ATARREST SEX LOCATIONDATE OFARRESTREASONIsaias Afeworki 29 Male Meitir Camp 6/28/2009 Religious MeetingIsaac Milen 24 Female Meitir Camp 6/28/2009 Religious MeetingFaiza Seid 29 Female Meitir Camp 6/28/2009 Religious MeetingTesfazion Gebremichael 72 Male 5th Police Station 7/20/2011 UnknownHagos Woldemichael 62 Male Meitir Camp 4/21/2012 Preaching at a FuneralAraia Ghebremariam 60 Male Meitir Camp 4/21/2012 Preaching at a FuneralTsegabirhan Berhe 51 Male Meitir Camp 4/21/2012 Preaching at a FuneralDaniel Meharizghi 37 Male Meitir Camp 4/21/2012 Preaching at a FuneralYoseph Tesfarmaiam 50 Male Around Keren 5/2012 Conscientious ObjectionWogahta Dawit 29 Female Mai-Serwa 7/3/2013 Religious ActivityGebru Berane 64 Male 2nd Police Station 4/14/2014 Religious MeetingTekle Gebrehiwot 58 Male 2nd Police Station 4/14/2014 Religious MeetingThomas Tesfagabir 32 Male 5th Police Station 4/27/2014 Religious MeetingMordochai Estifanos 20 Male 5th Police Station 4/27/2014 Religious MeetingMehari Tewolde * Male 5th Police Station 4/27/2014 Religious MeetingMichael Gashazghi 22 Male 5th Police Station 4/27/2014 Religious MeetingLiya Hidry * Female 5th Police Station 4/27/2014 Religious MeetingNigisti Asfaha 48 Female 5th Police Station 4/27/2014 Religious MeetingWintana Shiwaseged 25 Female 5th Police Station 4/27/2014 Religious MeetingMikaal Taddessee 23 Female 5th Police Station 4/27/2014 Religious MeetingEmnet Woldai 35 Female 5th Police Station 4/27/2014 Religious MeetingSalem Ghebrehiwot 19 Female 5th Police Station 4/27/2014 Religious MeetingSenait Berhane * Female 5th Police Station 4/27/2014 Religious MeetingBereket Habteyesus 22 Male 2nd Police Station 5/26/2014 Conscientious ObjectionMelaku Kahsai * Male 2nd Police Station Unknown Unkown212USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


APPENDIX 3PAKISTANI PRISIONER LIST 2015Individuals with pending death sentences or in the process of appeal in PakistanNAME(S) RELIGION SEX LOCATIONDATE OFSENTENCE SECTION ALLEGATION SENTENCEMohammadZulfiqar Ali* Male Lahore 7/14/2014 Writing blasphemousmessages on walls in 2008Death and1 million Rs.DeathShafqatEmmanuelShuguftaEmmanuelChristian Male Toba Tek Singh 4/4/2014 295-B, C, D Sending blasphemoustext messages onJune 18, 2013Christian Female Toba Tek Singh 4/4/2014 295-B, C, D Sending blasphemoustext messages onJune 18, 2013Savan Masih Christian Male Joseph Colony,Punjab3/27/2014 295-C Blasphemy Death and200,000 Rs.Muhammad * Male Sadiqabad 1/24/2014 295-C Claiming to be a prophet DeathAsgharHazrat Ali Shah * Male Barenis Village,Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa12/15/2012 295 Blasphemy Death and 10years in prisonSoofiMohammadIshaqDeathMuslim Male Talagang/Chakwal 1/20/2012 295-A, C Claiming to be a prophet Death andFined Rs.200,000Abdul Sattar * Male Larkana 6/22/11 * Blasphemy Death & finedRs. 50,000Rafiq * Male Jalalpur Peerwala 2/2/11 * Blasphemy DeathMalikMuhammadAshrafMuslim Male Central Jail(Adiala)Rawalpindi2/17/10 295-C,298-ADerogatory remarksagainst the ProphetDeathsentencependingMalik Ashraf Muslim Male Pind Dadan Khan 3/9/10 * Blasphemy Death(Punjab)Ms. AasiaNoreen (Bibi)Christian Female District JailSheikhupura6/19/09 295-C Derogatory remarksagainst the ProphetDeath, Rs.100,000 fine,appealpendingMuhammad * Male Sialkot, Punjab 6/18/08 * Blasphemy DeathShafeeq LatifLiaqat Muslim Male District JailFaisalabad3/21/06 295-C Blasphemy Death & lifeimprisonment,confined incentral jailFaisalabadMuhammadShafiqMuslim Male District JailSahiwalAbdul Hameed Muslim Male District JailSahiwalAnwarKennethWajihul Hassanaka MurshidMasihChristian Male New CentralJail Multan(Multan Jail)Christian -convertMaleDistrict JailSheikhupura3/17/06 295-B, C Passing derogatoryremarks about Prophetand burning Quran3/3/06 295-A,B&C Proclaimed himself aprophet of Islam, builtmodel of Kaaba in yard6/15/01 295-C Distributing pamphletcontaining Bible verses3/3/99 295-A, C,298 & 298-AWriting/passingderogatory remarksDeath, 6months jail,fine Rs.500,000-appealpendingDeath &35 years, finedRs. 80,000Death and Rs.500K fine,Death, appealpendingUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 213


Individuals sentenced to life in prison for violation of blasphemy lawsNAME RELIGION SEX LOCATIONMalik Mohammad * Male Karachi districtFarooqsessionsPENALDATE OFSENTENCECODESECTION ALLEGATION05/08/2014 * Tearing up abanner inscribed withMuhammed’s nameSENTENCELife in prisonSajjad Masih Christian Male Station City Gojra 07/13/2013 295-C Blasphemy Life - appealpendingManzarul Haq ShahJahan* Male Kasur 03/17/2012 295-C Blasphemy Life and Fined200,000Muhammad Mushtaq Muslim Male New Central 8/1/11 295-B Disgracing Qur’an Life - appealalias MastaJail MultanpendingImran Ghafoor Christian Male District JailFaisalabad7/1/11 295-A, B Burning pages ofQur’an in front of hisLifeMuhammad Ishaq * Male Uch Sharif,MohallahQadirabadMuhammad Safdar Muslim Male New CentralJail MultanMuhammad Shafi Muslim Male New CentralJail MultanMuhammad Aslam(son)* Male New CentralJail MultanImran Masih Christian Male District JailFaisalabadAbdul Kareem Muslim Male District JailSahiwalInayat Rasool Muslim Male District JailSahiwalAsif Muslim Male District JailSahiwalArif Mahdi Muslim Male New CentralJail MultanImran Muslim Male District JailFaisalabadShamas ud Din Muslim Male District JailSahiwalMaqsood Ahmad Muslim Male District JailSahiwalMuhammad Shahzad MuslimMale District JailSahiwalMuhammad Yousaf Muslim Male District JailSahiwalRehmat Ali Muslim Male District JailFaisalabadshop1/5/11 * Blasphemy Life10/1/10 295-B Blasphemy Life - appealpending4/8/10 * Vandalizing poster Life, Rs. 200,000with Qur’an verses fine, appealedon it4/8/10 * Vandalizing posterwith Qur’an verseson itLife, Rs. 200,000fine, appealpending1/1/10 295-A, B Blasphemy 10 years rigorous,life and fined100,000/appealpending6/21/07 295-B Blasphemy Life - appealpending6/23/06 295-B Putting Qur’an in canal Life - appealwaterpending6/18/06 295-B Burning the Qur’an Life - appealpending4/18/06 295-B Disgracing Islamic Life - appealbooklets.pending7/1/05 295-B Blasphemy - after Life imprisonmentproperty dispute7/1/05 295-A, C Writing blasphemous Life and 150,000letterRs fine - appealpending6/28/05 295-C Put Qur’an on floor Life, fined Rs.20,000 - appealpending3/24/03 295-B Assisting MuhammadLife - appealYousaf - burning pendingQur’an3/24/03 295-B Burning the Qur’an Life - appealpending* 295-A, B Blasphemy Life214USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


APPENDIX 4AZERBAIJANI PRISIONER LIST 2015Prominent Muslim leaders and teachers caught up in a government campaign againstindependent and/or prominent activists, including some who were part of the officialAzerbaijani Islamic establishmentNAME1 Tale Kamil Bagirov(Bagirzade)2 Abdul NeymatSuleymanovDATES OFARREST31 Mar201312 Aug20113 Jeyhun Jafarov 10 Mar20154 ElshanMustafaogluDec 2014ARTICLES OF THE PLACE OFCRIMINAL CODE DETENTION234.1 Labor Camp#12228.1, 233, 234.1,234.4.3, 283.2.1Accusations oftreasonReportedlyaccused of treasonPrison #8STATUSOn 24 March 2013, a week before his arrest,Bagirov gave a speech at a mosque, blaming theauthorities for corruption and false arrests, callingon religious followers not to be afraid of “theoppression of a dictator,” and posting the speechto social media. On 1 November 2013, SabunchuDistrict Court sentenced him to a two year term; InAugust 2014, his prison term was extended by fourmonths; he is still imprisoned as of this writing.Suleymanov is a leader of the Jafari Heylyat (Life ofJafar) Muslim religious congregation in Baku. Hewas arrested in an official sweep against popularMuslim leaders. He was sentenced to an 11-yearterm in 10 August 2012 by Baku Court of GraveCrimes. Baku Court of Appeals upheld the sentenceon 23 January 2013.Jafarov, 42, has led hajj groups to Mecca; led aseries on Space TV on religion; translated booksby late Iranian Ayatollah Mohammadreza MahdaviKani; and led the Evolution Translation Center.On 4 March, he returned with his brother from an8-day visit to Iran. After their return, Jafarov wasordered to the Ministry of National Security (MNS)secret police on 10 March 2015 and arrested.On 12 March 2015, Baku’s Sabail District Courtordered him held in pre-trial detention in the MNSsecret police Investigation Prison in Baku for fourmonths. He was told he is under investigationunder Criminal Code Article 274 (“Treason”) with aterm ranging from 12 years to life.On 17 December 2014, the MNS detained theologianElshan Mustafaoglu. Two days later, thecourt arrested him for four months. According tosome reports, he is charged with treason. Untilhis arrest, he was press spokesman for the CaucasusMuslim Board, which has not commented onhis arrest.USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 215


Religious activists arrested with journalist Nijat Alieyev, editor of www.azad.xeber.az, aMuslim website. Alieyev, other journalists, and young activists were arrested in 2012–2013for campaigning against the arrests of religious believers as well as for distributing discswith religious materials, including sermons by imprisoned Muslim leaders Abdul Suleymanovand Tale Bagirov.NAME5 ValehMammadagaAbdullayev6 Gorkhmaz HuseynJamalovARTICLES OFTHE CRIMINALCODEDATES OFARREST9 Dec 2013 167.2.2.1, 281.2,283.2.318 Jan 2013 167.2.2.1, 281.2,283.2.3PLACE OFDETENTIONBaku InvestigativePrison (KurdakhaniDetention Center)Baku InvestigativePrison (KurdakhaniDetention Center)7 Ali Etibar Aliyev 9 Dec 2013 167.2.2.1, 283.2.3 Baku InvestigativePrison (KurdakhaniDetention Center)8 ElimkhanGurbankhanHuseynov9 Samir KhanpashaHuseynov10 Safar RovshanMammadov11 Elvin NuraddinNasirov12 Jeyhun ZabilSafarli13 Emin YadigarTofidi22 May 2012 167.2.2.1, 283.2.3 Baku InvestigativePrison (KurdakhaniDetention Center)23 May 2012 167.2.2.1, 228.1,228.4, 283.2.3Baku InvestigativePrison (KurdakhaniDetention Center)9 Dec 2013 167.2.2.1, 283.2.3 Baku InvestigativePrison (KurdakhaniDetention Center)20 May 2012 167.2.2.1, 234.4.1,234.4.3, 281.2,283.2.320 May 2012 167.2.2.1, 234.4.1,234.4.3, 281.2,283.2.3Baku InvestigativePrison (KurdakhaniDetention Center)Baku InvestigativePrison (KurdakhaniDetention Center)16 Jan 2013 167.2.2.1, 283.2.3 Baku InvestigativePrison (KurdakhaniDetention Center)STATUSAbdullayev was sentenced to 8 years in jailunder a decision issued by Baku Court ofGrave Crimes Judge Zeynal Agayev on 9December 2013.Jamalov was sentenced to 7 years in jail under adecision issued by Baku Court of Grave CrimesJudge Zeynal Agayev on 9 December 2013.Aliyev was sentenced to 4 years in jail under adecision issued by Baku Court of Grave CrimesJudge Zeynal Agayev on 9 December 2013.Huseynov was sentenced to 7 years in jailunder a decision issued by Baku Court ofGrave Crimes Judge Zeynal Agayev on 9December 2013.Huseynov was sentenced to 6 years in jailunder a decision issued by Baku Court ofGrave Crimes Judge Zeynal Agayev on 9December 2013. Baku Court of Appealsupheld the decision on 27 June 2014.Mammadov was sentenced to 3 years and 4months in jail under a decision issued by BakuCourt of Grave Crimes Judge Zeynal Agayevon 9 December 2013. Baku Court of Appealsupheld the ruling on 27 June 2014Nasirov was sentenced to 9 years in jail under adecision issued by Baku Court of Grave CrimesJudge Zeynal Agayev on 9 December 2013.Safarli was sentenced to 9 years in jail under adecision issued by Baku Court of Grave CrimesJudge Zeynal Agayev on 9 December 2013.The Baku Court of Appeals upheld the rulingon 27 June 2014.Tofidi was sentenced to 3.5 years in jail under adecision issued by Baku Court of Grave CrimesJudge Zeynal Agayev on 9 December 2013.Baku Court of Appeals upheld the ruling on 27June 2014.216USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


Religious activists arrested in the Masalli region along with journalist Araz Guliyev, editor ofwww.xeber44.com, a website critical of Azerbaijani religion policy. The defendants assistedGuliyev’s journalist activity. In 2012, six Muslims from Masalli were arrested on various falsecharges, including stoning people during a local folk festival.NAMEDATES OFARRESTARTICLES OFTHE CRIMINALCODEPLACE OFDETENTION STATUS14 Rza Gorkhmaz Agali 9 Dec 2012 233, 315.2, 324 Prison #14 On 5 April 2013, Agali was sentenced to 7years in prison under a decision issued byLankaran Court of Grave Crimes Judge NizamiGuliyev. Shirvan Court of Appeals Judge KamranAkbarov upheld this ruling on 9 January2014.15 Suraj Valeh Agayev 15 Sept 2012 233, 315.2, 324 Prison #5 On 5 April 2013, Agayev was sentenced to5 years in jail under a decision issued byLankaran Court of Grave Crimes Judge NizamiGuliyev. Shirvan Court of Appeals Judge KamranAkbarov upheld this ruling on 9 January2014.16 Nijat Yaser Aliyev 18 Sept 2012 233, 315.2, 324 Prison #16 On 5 April 2013, Aliyev was sentenced to4.5 years in jail under a decision issued byLankaran Court of Grave Crimes Judge NizamiGuliyev. Shirvan Court of Appeals Judge KamranAkbarov upheld this ruling on 9 January2014.17 Khalid NofalKazimov14 Sept 2012 233, 234.4.3,315.2, 324Prison #6On 5 April 2013, Kazimov was sentencedto 8 years in jail under a decision issued byLankaran Court of Grave Crimes Judge NizamiGuliyev. Shirvan Court of Appeals Judge KamranAkbarov upheld this ruling on 9 January18 Namig AlisaKishiyev2014.18 Sept 2012 233, 315.2, 324 Prison #5 On 5 April 2013, Kishiyev was sentenced to4.5 years in jail under a decision issued byLankaran Court of Grave Crimes Judge NizamiGuliyev. Shirvan Court of Appeals Judge KamranAkbarov upheld this ruling on 9 January2014.19 Ziya Ibrahim Tahirov 9 Sept 2012 233, 315.2, 324 Prison #5 On 5 April 2013, Tahirov was sentenced to7 years in jail under a decision issued byLankaran Court of Grave Crimes Judge NizamiGuliyev. Shirvan Court of Appeals Judge KamranAkbarov upheld this ruling on 9 January2014.USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 217


Cases of those arrested for participation in the 5 October 2012 “Freedom for hijab”public protest. On 10 December 2010, Azerbaijan’s Education Ministry offered that schooluniforms had to be worn, thereby in effect banning the hijab (Islamic headscarf.) A May2011 mass protest was violently dispersed; a second protest in October resulted in massarrests. There are reports that government provocateurs initiated a confrontation withpolice that lead to violence and arrests.NAME20 Tarlan FaiqAgadadashov21 Rovshan HuseynAllahverdiyev22 Nasimi YusifHasanov23 Ilham BahmanHatamov24 David Tarlan KarimovDATES OFARRESTARTICLES OFTHE CRIMINALCODEPLACE OFDETENTION STATUS5 Oct 2012 233, 315.2 Prison #16 Agadadashov was sentenced to 5.5 yearsin jail under a 22 April 2013 decision of theNarimanov District Court. The Baku Court ofAppeals upheld this ruling on 19 December2013.5 Oct 2012 233, 315.2 Prison #16 Allahverdiyev was sentenced to 5.5 years ofimprisonment under a 22 April 2013 decisionof the Narimanov District Court. The BakuCourt of Appeals upheld this ruling on 19December 2013.6 Oct 2012 228.1, 234.1 Prison #16 Hasanov was arrested in connection with hisparticipation in the “Freedom for hijab” protestbut unlike other defendants was not chargedwith taking part in an unauthorized publicdemonstration. He was sentenced to 4 years injail on 27 July 2013.5 Oct 2012 233, 315.2 Prison #14 Hatamov was sentenced to 5.5 years in jailunder a 22 April 2013 decision of NarimanovDistrict Court. Baku Court of Appeals upheldthe ruling on 19 December 2013.5 Oct 2012 233, 315.2 Prison #16 Karimov was sentenced to 6 years in jail undera 22 April 2013 decision of Narimanov DistrictCourt. Baku Court of Appeals upheld thisruling on 19 December 2013.25 Anar Asgar Gasimli 5 Oct 2012 233, 315.2 Prison #14 Gasimli was sentenced to 5.5 years in jail undera 22 April 2013 decision of Narimanov DistrictCourt. The Baku Court of Appeals upheld thisruling on 19 December 2013.26 Aydin JanbakhishMammadov5 Oct 2012 233 Prison #17 Mammadov was sentenced to 2 years and 3months in jail under a 4 June 2013 decisionof Narimanov District Court. Baku Court ofAppeals upheld this ruling in July 2013.27 Elshad Fikrat Rzayev 23 Feb 2013 233, 315.2 Prison #16 Rzayev was sentenced to 6 years in jail undera 3 June 2013 decision of Narimanov DistrictCourt. The Baku Court of Appeals upheld thedecision in August 2013.28 Telman Shirali Shiraliyev5 Oct 2012 233, 315.2 Prison #16 Shiraliyev was sentenced to 6 years in jail undera 22 April 2013 decision of Narimanov DistrictCourt. Baku Court of Appeals upheld the decisionon 19 December 2013.29 Ramil Rahim Valiyev 5 Oct 2012 167.2.1, 233, 315.2 Prison #5 Valiyev was sentenced to 6.5 years in jail undera 3 June 2013 decision of the Narimanov DistrictCourt. Baku Court of Appeals upheld thedecision in August 2013.218USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


Imam and members of the Sunni Lezgin Mosque in Baku’s Old City who work in theBurhan bookshop. As of August 2014, the Lezgin mosque community was told it mustvacate its mosque so it can be renovated; In February 2015, Imam Qarayev and fourothers were arrested on charges of selling texts that had not been officially approved.NAMEDATES OFARRESTARTICLES OFTHE CRIMINALCODEPLACE OF DETEN-TION30 Mubariz Qarayev Feb 2015 167.2.1 Pre-trial detention atMNS secret police31 Habibulla Omarov 26 Feb 2015 167.2.2.1 Pre-trial detention atMNS secret police32 Salim Qasimov 26 Feb 2015 167.2.1 Pre-trial detention atMNS secret police33 Eyvaz (last name 26 Feb 2015 167.2.1 Pre-trial detention atunknown)MNS secret police34 Azad Gafarov 26 Feb 2015 167.2.2.1 Pre-trial detention atMNS secret policeSTATUSImam of the Sunni Lezgin Mosque in Baku’sOld City, and owner of Burhan Muslim bookshop.Arrested with several other bookstoreworkers.Bookstore worker.Bookstore worker.Bookstore worker.Bookstore worker.Two readers of Turkish theologian Said Nursi, whose texts are banned in AzerbaijanNAME35 Zakariyya IsakhMammadovARTICLES OFPRETRIAL THE CRIMINALDETENTION CODE14 Apr 2014 168.1, 167.2.2.1,299.0.236 Shahin Hasanov 14 Apr 2014 168.1, 167.2.2.1,299.0.2PLACE OFDETENTIONMNS DetentionFacilityMNS DetentionFacilitySTATUSAccused of conducting private religiousclasses on banned Turkish theologian SaidNursi.Accused of conducting private religiousclasses on banned Turkish theologian SaidNursi.Jehovah’s Witnesses detained for distributing religious texts not approved by the statePRETRIALARTICLES OFTHE CRIMINAL PLACE OFNAMEDETENTION CODEDETENTION STATUS37 Valida Jabrayilova 17 Feb 2015 167.2.2.1 MNS jail, Baku Charged with distributing religious texts notapproved by the state.38 Irina Zakharchenko 17 Feb 2015 167.2.2.1 MNS jail, Baku Charged with distributing religious texts notapproved by the state.Jehovah’s Witness jailed for conscientious objection to compulsory military serviceNAMEDATE OFARRESTARTICLES OFTHE CRIMINALCODEPLACE OFDETENTION39 Kamran Shikhaliyev 10 Oct 2013 335.1 Disciplinary battalion,SalyanOther casesSTATUSConscientious objector to compulsory militaryservice, Jehovah’s Witness. In April 2014Jalilabad Military Court sentenced him to oneyear in prison. On 16 July 2014 Shirvan AppealCourt denied his appeal.NAMEDATE OFARRESTARTICLES OFTHE CRIMINALCODEPLACE OFDETENTION STATUS40 Zohrab Shikhaliyev 13 Nov 2014 228.1 Prison #1 A Sunni Muslim given a six month jail term forhosting a public prayer room in his home byJudge Azer Ismayilov at Sumgait City Court.USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 219


Religious freedom/Human rights defendersNAME41 Leyla Yunus(Leyla IslamYunusova)42 Arif Yunus(Arif SeyfullaYunusov)43 Rasul AgahasanJafarovARTICLES OFDATES OF THE CRIMINALARREST CODE30 Jul 2014 274, 178.3.2,192.2.2, 213.2.2,320.1, 320.230 Jul 2014 274, 178.3.2 Baku InvestigativeFacility(Kurdakhani prison)2 Aug 2014 192.2.2, 213.1,308.2, 179.3.2,31344 Intiqam Kamil Aliyev 8 Aug 2014 179.3.2, 192.2.2,213.1, 308.2PLACE OFDETENTION STATUSBaku Detention Facility Yunus runs the Institute of Peace and Democracy.She has worked on numerous projectsrelating to human rights, religious freedom,political persecution, corruption, human trafficking,gender issues, violations of propertyrights, monitoring of court proceedings,peace initiatives, and more. She has studiedthe cases of more than 100 political prisonersand revealed their illegal arrest to be entirelypolitically motivated.A historian, academic, and expert on Islam, heis the husband of Leyla Yunus. He worked atthe Institute of Peace and Democracy.Baku Detention Facility(Kurdakhani prison)Baku Detention Facility(Kurdakhani Prison)Jafarov is a lawyer at the Institute forReporters’ Freedom and Safety. In 2010, heco-founded the Human Rights Club. A monthafter presenting a list of political prisoners to asession of the Parliamentary Assembly of theCouncil of Europe (PACE), and immediatelyfollowing the arrest of Leyla Yunus, Jafarov wastaken into custody. On 16 April 2015 he wassentenced to 6.5 in prison by the Baku GraveCrimes Court.Head of the Legal Education Society, Aliyevhas been involved in human rights advocacyfor nearly 20 years, including on religiousfreedom issues. As a lawyer, he has filed over300 complaints with the European Court ofHuman Rights. During a 2014 speech at aPACE session, he criticized the governmentfor political prisoners, attacks on independentNGOs, false charges, arrests of governmentcritics, and mass violations of property rights.He was sentenced to 7.5 years in prison anddeprived of holding any position for 3 years byBaku Court on Grave Crimes.220USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


Criminal Code Articles:28.2 – the criminal liability shall be instituted only forpreparation of semi-serious, and serious crimes;167.2.1 – import, sale, and distribution of religious literature,religious items and other informational materialsof a religious nature with the aim of reproduction, saleand distribution without appropriate authorization;167.2.2.1 – import, sale and distribution of religious literature,religious items and other informational materialsof a religious nature with the intent to reproduce, selland distribute without appropriate authorization, committedwith advance agreement by a group of persons oran organized group;168 – creation of a group carrying out activity under thepretext of spreading a religious faith and carrying outreligious activity and by this illegally harming socialorder, or harming the health of citizens or violating therights of citizens irrespective of the form of infringement,as well as distracting citizens from performanceof duties established by law, as well as leadership of sucha group or participation in it;168.2 – implementation of religious activities and thusinfringing rights of the citizens (involving minors incommitment of these acts);178.3.2 – fraud, with a large amount of damage;179.3.2 – assignment or waste, through plunder of propertyentrusted to the guilty party by another person, in alarge amount;180.3.1 – robbery by an organized group;182.2.2 – Extortion, is requirement to transfer another’sproperty or right on property or commitment of otheractions which is admitted as in property nature underthreat of application of violence, distribution of data,dishonoring a victim or his close relatives, as well asby threat of destruction of property belonging to them,repeatedly;192.2.2 – illegal business committed through derivationof income in a large amount;204.3.1 – manufacturing or selling of counterfeit moneyor securities by an organized group;204.3.2 – manufacturing or selling of counterfeit moneyor securities in a large amount;213.1 – evasion of taxes or obligatory state social insurancepayments in a large amount;214.2.1 – preparation of a crime committed withadvance arrangement by a group of persons, an organizedgroup, or a criminal community or organization;213.2.2 – tax evasion, in large amounts;214.2.3 – preparation of a crime committed with theapplication of firearms or objects used as a weapon;218.1 – creation of a criminal organization in order tocommit semi-serious or serious crimes, as well as amanagement of such organizations, structural divisionsincluded, and also the creation of organizers’ associations,heads or other representatives of the organizedgroups with plans to develop and conditions for committingof semi-serious or serious crimes;218.2 – participation in criminal community (criminalorganization) or in association of organizers, heads orother representatives of the organized groups;221.3 – hooliganism, committed with a weapon or use ofitems as weapons;228.1 – illegal purchase, transfer, selling, storage,transportation or carrying of firearms, accessories to it,supplies (except for the smooth-bore hunting weaponsand ammunition), and explosives;228.4 – acquiring, selling, or carrying a weapon;228.2.1 – illegal purchase, transfer, selling, storage,transportation or carrying of fire-arms, accessories toit, supplies (except for the smooth-bore hunting weaponand ammunition to it), explosives on preliminaryarrangement by group of persons;228.3 – illegal purchase, transfer, sale, storage, transportation,or carrying of firearms, accessories, supplies(except for smooth-bore hunting weapons and ammunition),or explosives, and facilities, committed by anorganized group;228.4 – illegal purchase, selling or carrying of gas weapons,cold steel, including throwing weapon, except fordistricts where carrying of a cold steel is an accessory ofa national suit or connected to hunting;233 – organization of actions promoting infringement ofa social order or active participation in such actions;234.1 – illegal purchase or storage without a purpose ofselling of narcotics or psychotropic substances exceedingan amount necessary for personal consumption;234.4.1 – illegal purchase or storage without intent to sellof narcotics or psychotropic substances in a quantityexceeding the amount necessary for personal consumption,committed with preliminary arrangement by agroup of persons or an organized group;234.4.3 – illegal purchase or storage without intent to sellUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 221


of narcotics or psychotropic substances in a quantityexceeding the amount necessary for personal consumption,in a large amount;263.1 – violation of traffic rules and rules of operation ofvehicles;274 – treason against the State;299.1 – payment of money to a witness or victim, withintent to influence them to give false testimonies; to anexpert with intent to influence him/her to give a falsereport or testimony; or to a translator with the intent toinfluence them to translate incorrectly;274 – deliberate action committed by a citizen of theAzerbaijan Republic to the detriment of the sovereignty,territorial integrity, state security or defensibility ofthe Azerbaijan Republic: changeover to enemy side,espionage, distribution of state secrets to foreign state,rendering assistance to a foreign state, foreign organizationor their representatives resulting in hostile activityagainst the Azerbaijan Republic;278 – actions towards the violent capture of power orviolent deduction power that infringes on the Constitutionof the Azerbaijan Republic, as well as actionsdirected taken towards violent changes of constitutionalgrounds of the states;281.2 – public appeals for the violent capture of authority,violent deduction of authority, violent change toconstitutional grounds, or infringement of the territorialintegrity of the Azerbaijan Republic, as well as distributionof materials of such content, committed by a groupof persons;283.1 – actions directed to incite national, racial orreligious hatred or humiliation of national advantage, oractions directed to restrict citizens’ rights, or establishthe superiority of citizens on the basis of their nationalor racial belonging or creed, committed publicly or withthe use of mass media;283.2.1 – actions directed to incite national, racial orreligious hostility, or humiliation of national advantage,as well as actions directed to restrict citizens’ rights, orestablish the superiority of citizens on the basis of theirnational or racial belonging or creed, committed publiclyor with the use of mass media committed with theapplication of violence or with the threat of violence;283.2.3 – actions directed to incite national, racial, orreligious hostility, or humiliation of national advantage,as well as actions directed to restrict citizens’ rights,or establish the superiority of citizens on the basis oftheir national or racial belonging or creed, committedpublicly or with the use of mass media, committed by anorganized group;299.0.2 – violating legislation on holding religious meetings,marches, and other religious ceremonies;308.2 – abuse of power committed with the intent ofaffecting the results of an election or referendum;312.2 – the presentation of a bribe to official for commitmentof obviously illegal actions (inaction) by him orrepeated presentation of a bribe;313 – service forgery, that is submission by an officialperson of official documents containing clearly falsedata, or amending such documents to invalidate theircontents, committed as a mercenary or through otherpersonal interest;315.2 – resistance or use of force against a representativeof authority;320.1 – forging of official documents;320.2 – use of forged documents;324 – actions insulting the state flag or state emblem ofthe Republic of Azerbaijan;335.1 – evasion of military service by causing harm tohealth or in another way;222USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


APPENDIX 5DEFENDING FREEDOMS PROJECTPRISONER LISTDefending Freedoms Project Prisoners ListThe Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, in conjunctionwith the U.S. Commission on InternationalReligious Freedom and Amnesty International USA, in2012 launched the Defending Freedoms Project with theaim of supporting human rights and religious freedomthroughout the world with a particular focus on prisonersof conscience.Specifically, Members of Congress “adopt” prisonersof conscience, standing in solidarity with thesebrave men and women, while committing to advocatefor their release.The individuals below have been imprisoned fortheir religious beliefs or actions or their religious freedomadvocacy. They are part of a longer list of prisonersof conscience, detained for other reasons, who areincluded in the Defending Freedoms Project.CHINAGao ZhishengGao Zhisheng (m, currently under house arrest) isone of the most respected human rights lawyers inChina. He has defended activists and religious minoritiesand documented human rights abuses in China.This award-winning lawyer has handled a number ofhigh-profile human rights cases, including those ofChristians in Xinjiang and Falun Gong practitioners. InAugust 2006, after numerous death threats and continuedharassment, Gao disappeared. In 2006, Gao wasconvicted of “subversion,” and was sentenced to threeyears in prison. He was incarcerated in December 2011for allegedly violating the conditions of his suspendedthree-year sentence. Gao was released from prison onAugust 7, 2014, and he is now kept under house arrest.Chen ZhenpingChen Zhenping (f) is a Falun Gong practitioner whowas detained in August 2008 for “using a hereticalorganization to subvert the law.” She is currently servingan eight-year prison sentence in Henan ProvincialWomen’s prison. Repeated attempts by her lawyer tovisit her since her imprisonment have all been blockedby the authorities. Her family has not been able tosee her since March 2009. She has been subjected toregular beatings, been forcibly injected with drugs,and given electric shocks on sensitive parts of her body.Since her imprisonment, authorities have blockedvisits from her lawyer, and since November 2009, theyhave denied information on Chen’s wellbeing.Guo QuanGuo Quan (m) is a former professor who has been inprison since 2008 under a ten-year sentence for callingfor political reform. In 2008, Guo played a leading role ina campaign to protect the rights of demobilized militaryofficers. He also published criticism about the government’sresponse to the Sichuan earthquake and exposedinternational human rights violations committed bythe Party. He wrote letters to the government throughout2007 calling for reforms and in December 2007, heannounced that China People’s Livelihood Party, anopposition party established by Guo, was renamed asthe “New People’s Party of China.” On December 6, 2007,Quan was stripped of his associate professorship at NanjingNormal University and relocated to the universitylibrary to serve as a data management officer.On November 13, 2008, he was taken into custodyby Nanjing police, who also raided his home, where Guoand his wife hosted regular Protestant “house church”activities. His family was informed that he was beingcriminally detained on suspicion of “inciting subversionof state power.” On June 10, 2009, Guo’s case wasrecorded on the docket of the Suqian Municipal IntermediatePeople’s Court in Jiangsu province, and his trialwas held on August 7, 2009. On October 16, 2009, thecourt convicted Guo of “subversion of state power” andsentenced him to a ten-year prison term. Guo’s wife andUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 223


son fled to the United Sates on January 23, 2012, wherethey are appealing for international help in winning hisearly release.Alimujiang YimitiAlimujiang Yimiti (m) is a Uyghur Christian who convertedfrom Islam in 1995. He and his wife, Gulinuer,were the leaders of a house church ministry in Kashgar,Xinjiang in the Uyghur Autonomous Region of China.Targeted for his minority faith and ethnicity, on January12, 2008, the Kashgar police detained Alimujiangon “suspicion of inciting subversion of state power”and “leaking state secrets overseas.” He was formallyarrested on those charges on February 28, 2008. Later,the charges were changed to “divulging state secrets toforeign individuals” based on a private conversation theUyghur Christian pastor held with an American Christianfriend.In 2009, he was sentenced during secret trials to15 years in prison and 5 years deprivation of politicalrights. In September 2008, the United Nations HumanRights Council Working Group on Arbitrary Detentionstated that ‘the deprivation of liberty of Mr AlimujiangYimiti is arbitrary, being in contravention of […] theUniversal Declaration of Human Rights’ and that he ‘isbeing kept in detention solely for his religious faith’. Forthe past several years, Yimiti’s wife has petitioned policeofficers, government officials, and state agencies, but theofficers refused to see them, even barring Alimujiang’slawyers from visiting him in prison. Yimiti’s qualityof life in prison is poor; he was hospitalized in 2009,but prison authorities claimed that it was for a routinehealth check, even though witnesses claimed that therewere signs of brutality. Moreover, on January 23, 2013,prison authorities informed his wife that her monthlyvisits were being reduced to once every three months,without providing a reason.Pastor Yang RongliPastor Yang Rongli (f) has been serving a seven-anda-half-yearprison term since 2009 for leading the50,000-member Linfen Church in Shaanxi province.Yang is a 1982 graduate of the Linfen Normal College’sChinese department. Because of her excellent academicrecord, she was retained by the college to teach. She alsoworked as an editor and reporter. She and her husband,Wang Xiaoguang, were the leaders of the Jindengtai(Golden Lampstand) Church, a house church in Linfen,Shaanxi province. In 1998, they became the church’sfull-time clergy and in the following two decades, thechurch grew to 50,000 members. On September 13, 2009at 3 a.m., the local Fushan county government dispatchedmore than 400 police officers and plainclothespolice, led by government officials, to the meeting siteof the Fushan Christians and the Gospel Shoe Factory,where they brutally beat Christians staying in a dormitory.More than 100 people were seriously injured.On September 23, armed police surrounded the mainJindengtai church building, and on September 25, Yangand six other church leaders were arrested while travelingto the provincial capital of Taiyuan to petition thegovernment. On November 25, the Yaodu District Courtconvicted Yang and her husband of “illegal occupationof farmland” and “gathering a mob to create a trafficdisturbance.” Yang was sentenced to a seven-year prisonterm and fined 30,000 yuan (US$4,755); her husband wassentenced to a three-year term and fined 10,000 yuan(US$1,585). Yang is currently suffering from diabetes,high blood pressure, and hepatitis, and despite her aliments,she has been denied medical assistance.Tenzin Delek RinpocheTenzin Delek Rinpoche (m) is a Tibetan Buddhist leaderfrom Garze, Sichuan. Delek has advocated for the protectionand preservation of Tibetan culture, religion,and way of life. Over the years, he has built monasteries,provided education for children in remote rural areas,established Buddhist institutions, and promoted socialactivism in Tibet. In the 1980s, his Holiness the DalaiLama recognized him as a reincarnated Lama, a titlegiven to those are permitted to teach the Dharma, for hiscommitment as a Buddhist monk. On April 7, 2002, thegovernment claimed that Delek was involved in bombblast that occurred on April 3rd in Chengdu, the capitalof China’s Sichuan. The evidence linking him to thiscrime was based on a confession made by a relative ofDelek’s during a torture session. However, the relativelater retracted his statement, claiming that Delek wasnot involved in the attack. Despite this claim, Delek wascharged with of “inciting Splittism,” and for his allegedactions in the event he was sentenced to death in December2, 2002. However, due to international pressure, on224USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


January 26, 2005, Delek’s sentence was commuted tolife in prison. In efforts to free Delek, 40,000 Tibetans, inNovember 2009, signed a petition asking for a re-trial.Additionally, during that same month, 70 Tibetans werearrested for their participation in a hunger strike that wasconducted county seat of Lithang. The case has stirredinternational controversy for its procedural violationsand lack of transparency.According to the Tibetan Center for Human Rightsand Democracy, Delek is in poor health with a worseningheart condition and having suffered nervousbreakdowns. He carries a walking stick as a result of hisfeet becoming injured in prison.Kunchok TsephelKunchok Tsephel (m) is an official in a Chinese governmentenvironmental department and the founderof the first Tibetan literary website, Chodme or ButterLamp. This website, with assistance from poet KyabchenDedrol, was founded in 2005 for the purpose of promotingTibetan literature and culture in China. The Chinesegovernment actively monitored the website since itsbeginnings, and on several occasions, authorities haveshut down public access to the website. In March 2008,the Chinese authorities began to crackdown in the TibetAutonomous Region following the anti-governmentprotests in Lhasa and other areas; since the onslaught,over 40 Tibetans have been taken into custody for theirworks on issues contrary to the party’s position. OnFebruary 26, 2009, Chinese authorities targeted anddetained Kunchok. While being held in their custody,officers searched his home and seized his computer, cellphone, and other personal belongings. For nine months,the government failed to inform Kunchok’s familyabout his arrest and condition. Then on November 12,2009, his family was summoned to attend the trial at theIntermediate People’s Court of Kanlho, only hear that hehad been sentenced to 15 years in prison on the chargesof disclosing state secrets. Kunchok trial was conductedbehind closed doors and he was denied access to alawyer.Many believe that published content on his website,especially information regarding the 2008 protests thatoccurred across the Tibetan plateau, led to his arrestand conviction.Lobsang TseringLobsang Tsering (m) is a monk from Kirti monastery inTibet who was detained by the Chinese police in August2012. In December, the police announced that theyhad accused Lobsang of inciting the self-immolation ofeight Tibetans, even though five of the self-immolationsnever occurred. While under arrest, the Supreme Courtof China, on December 5, 2012, stated that “criminalsbehind the scenes who plan, incite, aide, abet... andhelp those perpetrating self-immolations will be investigatedfor criminal liability in the crime of intentionalmurder.” On January 31, 2013, Lobsang was chargedwith the “intentional homicide” of eight Tibetans inNgaba, and as a result, he was sentenced to death with atwo year reprieve.Lobsang was denied the right to a fair trial, accordingto Xinhua, a state run news agency, acknowledgedthat Lobsang was not represented by a lawyer during thecourt proceedings. Additionally, despite a claim madeby a judge who told the Global Times that: “authoritiesobtained sufficient evidence showing it [the allegedcrimes] had been instructed by ‘forces from abroad.”According to Xinhua, the only documented form of evidencepresented by the court was two confessions madeby Lobsang and his nephew, Lobsang Tsering, who wasalso arrested and tried under the same charges as hisuncle. In their statements, they admitted to encouragingTibetans to self-immolate under the instructions of theDali Lama. Many question the accuracy of these confessionsbecause Chinese authorities are known to usetorture to extract information out of detainees, and it isfeared this may have happened in this case.Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the Panchen LamaGedhun Choekyi Nyima, the Panchen Lama (m) hasbeen held by Chinese authorities in a secret locationsince 1995 when he was six years old, allegedly to keephim safe from “Tibetan Nationalists.” China refuses allrequests, both domestic and international to see Nyima.The Panchen Lama is a high ranking spiritual leaderin the Tibetan Buddhist hierarchy and is passed downby reincarnation. The Dalai Lama selected GendunChoekyi Nyima in 1995 to be the next Panchen Lama,while Chinese authorities decreed Gyaltsen Norbu tobe the next. As the Panchen Lama traditionally is heldresponsible for the selection of the Dalai Lama, TheUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 225


Chinese authorities believe it is important to control thePanchen Lama’s fate.According to Chinese government claims, he isattending school and leading a normal life somewherein China. Chinese officials have stated that GedhunChoekyi Nyima is a “perfectly ordinary boy” who is in“protective custody,” growing up in an “excellent stateof health.” However, no outside party has been allowedto visit Nyima because state officials claim to keep hiswhereabouts undisclosed in order to protect him.Bishop James Su ZhiminBishop James Su Zhimin (m) was an unregisteredBishop in the city of Baoding in the Chinese provinceof Hebei. In 1996, the bishop was arrested during a religiousprocession for conducting unregistered religiousactivities. In November 2003, his family discoveredhim by chance at a hospital in Baoding, surroundedby police and public security. He has not been heardor seen from since, despite repeated internationalinquiries. In all, he has spent 40 years in prison, withoutcharge, without trial. Before being arrested in 1996,Bishop Su Zhimin was held off and on for 26 years eitherin prison or forced labor camps. The Chinese governmentdeemed him as “counterrevolutionary” because,since the 1950s, he has refused to join the PatrioticAssociation, the national Chinese Catholic Churchwhich has detached themselves from the Pope’s authority.To this day, if one attempts at identifying or memorializinghim or holding public events in his honor havemet with hostile police action.Wang ZhiwenWang Zhiwen (m, currently under house arrest) is aformer Peoples Republic of China Ministry of Railwaysengineer, who was seized from bed on July 20, 1999for his involvement and leadership in Falun Gong.Falun Gong promotes the practice of meditation andslow-moving qigong exercises with a moral philosophy.The movement was banned two days after Wang’s arrest,and those who continue to practice are now consideredto be dissidents of the state. On December 26, 1999,Wang was sentenced by the Beijing No. 1 IntermediatePeople’s Court to 16 years in prison and four years deprivationof political rights on the charges of, “organizingand using a heretical organization to undermine implementationof the law,” “organizing and using a hereticalorganization to cause death,” and “illegally obtainingstate secrets.”On October 18th, 2014, he was released from aChinese prison after serving 5,475 days in jail. Whileincarcerated, Wang developed diabetes and high bloodpressure, and suffered from a stroke immediately priorto his release. Upon Wang’s release from prison, hewas immediately sent to what his family describes as a“brainwashing center” for 10 days, and on the 24th ofOctober he was released to house arrest. Wang Zhiwen’sfamily is still pursuing his release from in-home detention,so that he is allowed to leave the country.Li ChangLi Chang (m) is a former high-ranking governmentalofficial in the Ministry of Public Security, belonged tothe Chinese Communist Party for over 39 years beforebecoming a member of Falun Gong. Falun Gong isthe practice of meditation and slow-moving qigongexercises with a moral philosophy. The practice is notaccepted by Party and those who practice it are consideredto be dissidents.Li originally joined the organization to improvehis health, but over time he become more involved andeventually took a leading position in the Falun DafaResearch Society, considered to be vocal point for all ofFalun Gong operations. Li is linked to organizing a sit-inprotest on April 25, 1999 at the housing compound forthe highest-level Communist Party leaders. The protestreceived a significant amount of attention, and consequently,the Party started to take a hard line against itsmembers.Li Chang put under house arrest for three monthson July 20, 1999, two days before the banning of FalunGong in China. On October 19, 1999 Li was arrestedformally and brought to trial on December 26, 1999.He was sentenced to 25 years in prison and five years ofdeprivation of rights and charged for “Organizing andusing a heretical organization to cause death,” “Illegallyobtaining state secrets,” and “Organizing and using aheretical organization to undermine implementation ofthe law.” The courts decided to commute his sentenceto 18 years, since he confessed to his involvement withFalun Gong. He is currently being held at Qianjin Prisonin Tianjin and is expected to be released in 2017.226USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


Ilham TohtiIlham Tohti (m) is a Uyghur economics professor atBeijing’s Minzu University, where he was known forhis research on Uyghur-Han relations as well as hisactivism for the implementation of regional autonomylaws in China.In 2006, Tohti founded UighurOnline, a Chinese-languagewebsite devoted to fostering understandingbetween Uighur and Han people, China’s dominantethnic group. In 2008, authorities shut down his websiteciting the websites links to Uyghur “extremists” abroad.After the July 5, 2009 ethnic rioting between Uyghursand Han in Ürümqi, Tohti’s whereabouts were unknownafter he had been summoned from his home in Beijing.Tohti was subsequently released on August 23, 2009after international pressure and condemnation.Tohti was again arrested in January 2014, afterpolice raided his apartment and confiscated his laptops,books, and papers. In September 2014, after a twodaytrial, Tohti was found guilty of “separatism” andsentenced to life imprisonment in addition to all of hisassets being frozen.Adopted by Representative Lynn Jenkins (R-KS),Alimujiang YimitiAdopted by Representative Lynn Jenkins (R-KS), AlimujiangYimiti (m) is a Uyghur Christian from XinjiangProvince now serving a fifteen-year prison term. Hishome is in Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang, and he and hiswife have two young sons. While working at a Britishagri-food company, Alimujiang was the leader of a housechurch in the city of Kashgar. On September 13, 2007,the Kashgar Religious Affairs Bureau ruled that “AlimujiangYimiti since 2002 has illegally engaged in religiousinfiltration under the guise of work, spreading Christianityamong the Uyghur people, distributing Christianpropaganda and growing [the number of] Christianbelievers.” On January 12, 2008, the Kashgar policecriminally detained Alimujiang on “suspicion of incitingsubversion of state power” and “leaking state secretsoverseas.” He was formally arrested on those charges onFebruary 20, 2008. On September 12, 2008, the UnitedNations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruled inits No. 28 document that Alimujiang’s arrest and detentionhad been arbitrary. In a secret trial on 6 August, theKashgar Intermediate People’s Court sentenced Alimujiangto fifteen years in prison for the crime of “leakingstate secrets to foreigners.” On March 16, 2010, theXinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Higher People’sCourt, without holding a hearing and barring lawyersfrom court, upheld the Intermediate Court’s sentenceand added a five-year sentence of deprivation of politicalrights.Adopted by Representative Mark Meadows(R-NC), Zhang ShaojieAdopted by Representative Mark Meadows (R-NC),Zhang Shaojie (m) is a Three-Self church pastor fromNanle County in China’s central Henan and formerNanle County Three-Self leader, was detained on Nov.16, 2013, after a series of land disputes with local authorities.Zhang and more than 20 members of his congregationwere charged with “gathering a crowd to disrupt thepublic order.” Zhang was also charged with fraud; thefabricated charge was based on help he gave to anotherdetainee when her son was killed. On July 4, 2014, Zhangwas sentenced to 12 years in prison. His final appeal wasrejected on August 21, 2014.ERITREAEritrean Patriarch Abune AntoniosEritrean Patriarch Abune Antonios (m) was deposed bythe government in 2006 and placed under house arrestafter he protested the Eritrean Department of ReligiousAffairs’ interference in his church’s affairs. In January2005, the Patriarch’s annual Nativity message was notbroadcast or televised and the Eritrean Holy Synod metin August 2005 with the main purpose of removing allexecutive authority from the Patriarch. He was allowedto officiate at church services but prohibited from havingany administrative role in church affairs. Amongthe accusations brought against the Patriarch, were hisreluctance to excommunicate 3,000 members of theMedhane Alem, an Orthodox Sunday School movementand his demands that the government release imprisonedChristians accused of treason. In January 2006,he was officially removed from his position as headof the Eritrean Orthodox Church and spiritual leaderof more than two-million persons and placed underhouse arrest. On May 27, 2007, the government installedBishop Dioscoros of Mendefera as the new Patriarch.That same day, Abune Antonios was forcibly removedUSCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 227


from his residence and transported to an undisclosedlocation. Since then, he has been prevented fromcommunicating with the outside world and reportedlydenied medical care.IRANBehnam IraniBehnam Irani (m) is an evangelical Christian leaderfrom Iran who led a 300-member Church of Iran inKaraj, a city less than 15 minutes outside the capital ofTehran.In 2011, Irani was sentenced to six years imprisonmentfor his Christian activities after a raid on a housechurch in Karaj. In September 2014, Mr. Irani was hitwith 18 additional charges, including “Mofsed-e-filarz”,which means “spreading corruption on Earth”, a crimepunishable by death. However, in October 2014, thischarge was dropped and Irani was sentenced insteadto six years imprisonment due to his alleged “actingagainst national security” and forming “a group to overthrowthe government.” In total, Pastor Irani is expectedto serve a total of twelve years in prison and is thereforedue for release in 2023.Mr. Irani has faced numerous health problemswhile in prison, including severe bleeding due to stomachulcers and colon complications. Mr. Irani is marriedand has a daughter and son.The Baha’i SevenThe Baha’i Seven are former Baha’i leaders in Iran whohave been deprived of the rights accorded to prisonersunder Iran’s own laws and regulations. Prior to theirarrests in 2008, the seven were members of an ad hocnational-level group that attended to the spiritual andsocial needs of Iran’s Baha’i community. In September2010 they were told that their sentences had beenreduced to 10 years after an appeal court acquitted themof some of the charges, including espionage, but theyhave never been given a written copy of either of thecourt verdicts. It was first reported on 18 March, 2011that the 20-year sentence had been reinstated.Jamaloddin KhanjaniJamaloddin Khanjani (m) was a successful factoryowner who, because he was Baha’i, lost his businessafter the 1979 Islamic revolution. Khanjani’s volunteerservice to his religious community included membershipon the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’isof Iran in 1984, a year in which four of its nine memberswere executed by the government. Khanjani wasarrested and imprisoned at least three times before thismost recent incarceration in 2008. He has four childrenand six grandchildren. His wife, Ashraf Sobhani, passedaway on March 10, 2010 while Khanjani was still inprison. On January 5th, 2015, Khanjani was transferredto a hospital in Tehran for health treatment.Afif NaeimiAfif Naeimi (m) is an industrialist who was unable topursue his dream of becoming a doctor because as aBaha’i he was denied access to university. Born in Yazd,he lived part of his youth with relatives in Jordan afterthe death of his father. He was long active in volunteerBaha’i service, teaching classes for both children andadults and serving as a member of the Auxiliary Board,an appointed position with the function of inspiring,encouraging and promoting learning among Baha’is.Behrouz TavakkoliBehrouz Tavakkoli (m) was a social worker who losthis government job in the early 1980’s because of hisBaha’i belief. Prior to his most recent imprisonment, heexperienced intermittent detainment and harassmentand three years ago, was jailed for four months withoutcharge, spending most of that time in solitary confinementand developing serious kidney and orthoticproblems. Mr. Tavakkoli was elected to the local Baha’igoverning council in Mashhad while a student at the universitythere and later served on a similar council in Saribefore such institutions were banned in the early 1980’s.Vahid TizfahmVahid Tizfahm (m) is an optometrist and owner of anoptical shop in Tabriz, where he lived until early 2008when he moved to Tehran. He was born and spent hisyouth in the city of Urumiyyih and went to Tabriz at ageeighteen to study to become an optician. He later alsostudied sociology at the Advanced Baha’i Studies Institute,an affiliate of the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education.Since his youth, Mr. Tizfahm has served the Baha’icommunity in a variety of capacities – for a time as amember of the Baha’i National Youth Committee and228USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


later as part of the Auxiliary Board, an advisory groupthat serves to uplift and inspire Baha’i communities.Adopted by Representative Suzanne Bonamici(D-OR), Fariba KamalabadiAdopted by Representative Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR),Fariba Kamalabadi (f) is a developmental psychologistand mother of three who was arrested twice previouslybecause of her involvement with the Baha’i community.On one of those occasions she was held incommunicadofor 10 days. As a youth, Mrs. Kamalabadi was denied theopportunity to study at a public university. In her mid-30s, she embarked on an eight-year period of study andultimately received an advanced degree from the Baha’iInstitute of Higher Education, an alternative institutionestablished by the Baha’i community of Iran to serveyoung people who were barred from university.Adopted by Representative Jan Schakowsky(D-IL), Mahvash SabetAdopted by Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL),Mahvash Sabet (f) is a teacher and school principal whowas dismissed from public education for being a Baha’i.Before her arrest, she served for 15 years as directorof the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education, whichprovides alternative higher education for Baha’i youth.She began her professional career as a teacher and alsoworked as a principal at several schools. In her professionalrole, she also collaborated with the NationalLiteracy Committee of Iran. After the Islamic revolution,like thousands of other Iranian Baha’i educators, shewas fired from her job and blocked from working inpublic education.Adopted by Representative Lynn Jenkins(R-KS), Saeid RezaieAdopted by Representative Lynn Jenkins (R-KS), SaeidRezaie (m) is an agricultural engineer who has run asuccessful farming equipment business for more thantwenty years. During the early 1980’s, when persecutionof Baha’is was intense, he moved first to northern Iranand worked as a farming manager and then to Kermanto work as a carpenter, in part because of the difficultiesBaha’is faced in finding formal employment oroperating businesses. His two daughters, both in theirtwenties, were among a group of fifty-four young Baha’isarrested in Shiraz in 2006 while working on a projectaimed at helping underprivileged young people. In2006, before his latest incarceration in 2008, Mr. Rezaiewas arrested and detained for a period that includedforty days in solitary confinement.Sima EshraghiSima Eshraghi (f) – A member of the Baha’I communityin Iran, she was summoned by the Mashhad Revolutionarycourt in November of 2010 and was transferredto Vakilabad Prison. Sima was sentenced to five yearsin prison. She has two children and one of her children,Sina Aghdaszadeh, was recently released on bail by theMashhad Intelligence Office after two months in custodyand is currently awaiting trial.Adopted by Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN),Ayatollah Mohammad Kazemeini BoroujerdiAdopted by Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN),Ayatollah Mohammad Kazemeini Boroujerdi (m) is aShi’a cleric who advocates for the separation of religionand state and has spoken out on behalf of the rights ofIran’s religious minorities as well as those of its Shi’aMuslim majority. In October 2006, he was arrested andimprisoned without charge. He and seventeen of hisfollowers were tried by a special court with jurisdictionover Shi’a clerics and sentenced to death on spuriouscharges, including “enmity against God” and spreadingpropaganda against the regime. After an appeal,the death sentence was withdrawn and AyatollahBoroujerdi was sentenced to eleven years in prison. Hecurrently is serving his prison term, and the governmenthas banned him from practicing his clerical duties andconfiscated his home and belongings. He has sufferedphysical and mental abuse while in prison.Adopted by Representative Trent Franks (R-AZ),Saeed AbediniAdopted by Representative Trent Franks (R-AZ), SaeedAbedini (m) is a father and husband from Idaho whocurrently is imprisoned in Evin Prison. Saeed is a dualnational of the United States (via naturalization) and Iran(by birth). He has broken no codified Iranian law, buthas been sentenced to eight years in prison for practicinghis Christian faith. In the last year, he has been arrested,given a sham trial before a notoriously biased judge,USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 229


threatened with death, beaten, and denied life-savingmedical treatment. [Also adopted by RepresentativesRaul Labrador (R-ID) and Henry Waxman (D-CA)]Adopted by Representative Jeff Duncan (R-SC),Farshid FathiAdopted by Representative Jeff Duncan (R-SC), FarshidFathi (m) is a Christian pastor who ran a network ofhouse churches in Tehran. Iranian officials arrested himon December 26, 2010. Pastor Fathi currently is serving a6-year sentence in Iran’s notorious Evin prison. Farshidleft Iran to attend seminary in Turkey and then pursuedadditional training in London with his wife beforereturning to Iran. Farshid reportedly is imprisonedalongside Saeed Abedini (see above). Though his crimeis being a Christian and spreading his faith, Iranianauthorities have cast his Christian activity as “politicaloffenses,” arguing that his Christian activities wereequivalent to “actions against national security.” He alsowas charged with possessing religious propaganda. Attrial, the regime offered as evidence that Pastor Fathihad Bibles printed in Farsi, unlawfully distributed them,and possessed Christian literature. The regime alsomade it difficult for his lawyers to present a defense bydenying them full access to the case until just a few daysbefore trial.KAZAKHSTANBakhytzhan KashkumbayevBakhytzhan Kashkumbayev (m) led the PresbyterianGrace Church in Astana. He has been jailed since May2013. For a period of time he was detained in a psychiatrichospital where he was forcibly administered psychotropicdrugs, a notorious Soviet form of punishment.While he was released from the psychiatric hospital, hewas rearrested on charges of extremism. These seriouscharges carry a possible prison term of three to sevenyears, with grave implications for both Pastor Kashkumbayevand the Grace Church. The Pastor was arrestedon May 17, 2013 on charges of “intentional inflictionof serious harm to health” to parishioner LyazzatAlmenova but her mother called for the case againstthe pastor to be dropped. The pastor’s pre-trial detentionwas extended on October 7 until November 17 andhe was then supposed to be transferred from prison tohouse arrest. Finally, after the Pastor’s very brief reunionin prison with his family he was re-arrested and chargedwith acts of “propaganda of terrorism or extremism orpublic calls to commit an act of terrorism or extremismas well as the distribution of material of the contentindicated.” Pastor Bakhytzhan Kashkumbaev wasreleased on Feb. 17, 2014 after spending nine months injail awaiting trial. He was convicted of the charge andreceived a four-year suspended sentence. Although fourother charges were dropped, some fear that new chargescould be filed. Pastor Kashkumbaev was freed aftercourt proceedings and returned to the home he shareswith his wife, Alfiya. He plans to appeal the conviction.PAKISTANAdopted by Representative Joseph Pitts (R-PA),Asia BibiAdopted by Representative Joseph Pitts (R-PA), AsiaBibi is a Catholic mother of five and was a farmhandfrom the village of Ittan Wali in Sheikhupura Districtof Punjab province. In June 2009, an argument arosewith her fellow labors over whether the water shebrought was “unclean” because she was Christian andthey Muslim. Later coworkers complained to a clericthat Bibi made derogatory comments about ProphetMuhammad. Police investigated her remarks, whichresulted in her arrest and prosecution under Section 295C of the Pakistan Penal Code for blasphemy. She spentmore than a year in jail. On November 8, 2010, a districtcourt in Nankana Sahib, Punjab, sentenced her to deathfor blasphemy, the first such sentence for blasphemyhanded down against a woman. The death penalty ispermissible under Pakistani law. On October 16, 2014,the Lahore High Court dismissed her appeal and upheldher death sentence. Her lawyers plan to appeal to theSupreme Court.SAUDI ARABIAHamad al-NaqiHamad al-Naqi (m) is a Shia Muslim who in Februaryand March 2012 allegedly made a series of posts onTwitter critical of the Prophet Muhammad, his wife, hisfollowers, and the rulers of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.Several members of the National Assembly of Kuwaitcalled for his death. Al-Naqi pled not guilty, arguing thathe had not posted the messages, and that his accounthad been hacked. In June 2012, Al-Naqi was found guilty230USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015


of “insulting the Prophet, the Prophet’s wife and companions,mocking Islam, provoking sectarian tensions,insulting the rulers of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain andmisusing his mobile phone to spread the comments”and sentenced to ten years in prison. Al-Naqi wasattacked within weeks of entering prison and has beenheld in solitary confinement for safety reasons. His lawyersappealed his sentence but, in July 2014, Kuwait’s topcourt upheld his ten-year sentence.Dr. Medani previously served as head of the Officeof the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)office in the West Bank and Gaza, Chief of Mission ofthe OHCHR in Zagreb, Croatia, legal advisor to theSpecial Representative of the U.N Secretary-General inIraq as well as Afghanistan, and a Regional Representativefor the OHCHR in Beirut, Lebanon. He holds aPh.D. from the University of Edinburgh in comparativeCriminal Law.VIETNAMFrancis Jang Xuan DieuFrancis Jang Xuan Dieu (m) is a Catholic intellectualand activist. Dieu is well known in Vietnam for hisefforts to advocate for increased child education accessand awareness of political prisoners in Vietnamese jails.In August of 2011, Dieu was arrested along with a groupof other Vietnamese Catholics and charged with tryingto “overthrow the people’s administration.” He was sentencedto 13 years in prison, plus five years under supervision.Dieu’s family has been denied access to Dieu.Adopted by Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ),Father Nguyen Van LyAdopted by Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ), FatherNguyen Van Ly has spent over 15 years in prison for thecauses of religious freedom, democracy, and humanrights. Initially arrested in September 1977 and sentencedto 20 years in a labor camp near Hue, he was later releasedbut prohibited from engaging in religious activities. Hewas returned to jail in 2001 when he submitted testimonyto the U.S. Congress and the U.S. Commission on InternationalReligious Freedom opposing a U.S.-Vietnam BilateralTrade Act. On March 30, 2007, in a broadcasted showtrial, authorities muzzled him while he tried to defendhimself. He is a one of the founders of Bloc 8406 and pasteditor of an underground publication.Adopted by Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA),Nguyen Van LiaAdopted by Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA),Nguyen Van Lia (m) is a longtime adherent of Hoa HaoBuddhism, a religious group often suppressed by thegovernment, and the co-author of several Hoa HaoBuddhist religious instruction texts and books. He ischarged with violating article 258 of the penal code for“abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon theinterests of the state,” a crime that could result in a sentenceof up to seven years. According to state media, hepossessed printed materials, CD’s, and DVD’s criticizingthe Vietnamese government’s religious record. He hadpreviously met with the U.S. Consulate and USCIRF officialsin Saigon. He was sentenced to a five-year term onDecember 13, 2011 on the charge of “abusing democraticfreedoms.”Adopted by Representative Ted Poe, (R-TX),Duong Kim Khai DuongAdopted by Representative Ted Poe, (R-TX), Duong KimKhai Duong (m) is a pastor for the Mennonite Church inVietnam, a long-time advocate for aggrieved farmers, ademocracy activist and member of Viet Tan, an organizationadvocating for democracy. Since the early 1990’s,he has been detained or arrested thirteen times, oftenwhile trying to organize prayer sessions. He was jailedin 2004 for starting an “illegal” religious group. Upon hisrelease in 2006, he founded the Mennonite Cattle ShedCongregation in order to advocate for religious freedomand social justice, particularly to provide assistanceto farmers so they could petition the government forredress in land disputes or corruption cases in BenTre and Dong Thap provinces. He also joined Viet Tanduring this period. Pastor Duong Kim Khai was arrestedon August 10, 2010 on the charge of “attempting tooverthrow the government.” The condition of his healthand place of detention were kept from his family byauthorities until October 12, 2010, when it received writtenconfirmation of his arrest. On May 30, 2011, he wassentenced to a six-year prison term (later reduced to fiveyears) followed by five-year term of house arrest. In 2011,the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruledthat the Hanoi government’s detention and convictionof Pastor Duong Kim Khai and six other land activistswere in violation of international law.USCIRF | ANNUAL REPORT 2015 231


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