WASHINGTON (AP)–A State Department report released Thursday said Saudi Arabia continues to impose strict limitations on religious freedoms. It also criticized Israel and several European allies for varying degrees of religious intolerance.
The freedom of individuals to believe in, practice, and promote the religion of choice without (government) interference, harrassment, or other repercussions – as long as practices based on, or resulting from, those beliefs do not break the law (e.g. do not encourage or result in fraud, tax evasion, murder, terrorism, acts designed to undermine the government or the constitution, the use of unethical persuasion tactics, etcetera).
The practice of discouraging religious freedom and the freedom to express and/or promote all or certain religious beliefs – with repercussions ranging from discrimination and harassment to prevention and prosecution (by legal and/or illegal means). Does not cover legitimate legal measures designed to prevent and/or prosecute illegal practices such as fraud, tax evasion, murder, terrorism, acts designed to undermine the government or the constitution, the use of unethical persuasion tactics, etcetera.
a) Refusing to acknowledge and support the right of individuals to have their own beliefs and related legitimate practices.
b) Also, the unwillingness to have one’s own beliefs and related practices critically evaluated.
The following do not constitute religious intolerance:
Acknowledging and supporting that individuals have the right and freedom to their own beliefs and related legitimate practices, without necessarily validating those beliefs or practices.
The report said the Chinese government permitted free religious expression only to organizations approved by the authorities.
“Members of some unregistered religious groups were subjected to restrictions, leading in some cases to intimidation, harassment and detentions,” the report said.
The findings were included in the State Department’s fifth annual International Freedom Report.
“Much of the world’s population lives in countries in which the right of religious freedom is restricted or prohibited,” the report said.
“Millions of persons live in totalitarian or authoritarian regimes determined to control religious beliefs and practice,” it said.
In Saudi Arabia, the report said, “Freedom of religion does not exist.” It said the government continued to enforce “a strictly conservative version of Sunni Islam and suppress the public practice of other interpretations of Islam and non-Muslim religions.”
Non-Muslim worshippers, it said, risked “arrest, imprisonment, lashing, deportation and sometimes physical abuse.”
Pakistan, another friendly Islamic country, failed in many respects to protect the rights of religious minorities, the U.S. report said. It added that the government tolerates “societal forces hostile to those who practice a different faith.”
In North Korea, the study said there were reports of executions, torture and imprisonment of religious persons.
Israel was listed among countries with policies that disadvantage certain religions.
The country’s legal system protects against religious discrimination but some non-Jews encountered bias in the areas of education, housing, employment and social services, it said. It noted that Arab schools in Israel receive significantly fewer resources than comparable Jewish schools.
Belgium, France and Germany were said to stigmatize certain religions.
In Belgium, the report noted that the Helsinki Federation for Human Rights asserted that Belgium had not taken any effective measures to counteract the hostility of discrimination suffered by groups depicted as “sects.”
In France, the study noted that the Council of Europe has invited France to reconsider the About-Picard Law, which tightens restrictions on associations and provides for the dissolution of groups, including religious groups, under certain conditions.
The report said some groups in France continue to allege discrimination.
In Germany, federal authorities continued to monitor the Church of Scientology, although the church and its members have not been found to be involved in any criminal activity during the last six years of observation, the report said.