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The Annual Report
The Annual Report on International Religious Freedom documents the status of religious freedom during the period from July 1, 2009, to June 30, 2010. The Report's primary focus is on the actions of governments, both official actions that contribute to religious repression or tolerate violence against religious communities, and actions that protect and promote religious freedom. Each country report contains sections covering the country's religious demography; government respect for religious freedom (including the legal and policy framework, restrictions on religious freedom, abuses of religious freedom, and improvements and positive developments); societal respect for religious freedom; and U.S. government policy and actions.
Promotion of religious freedom is a core objective of U.S. foreign policy, as codified in the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRF Act). U.S. advocacy for religious freedom is grounded in our commitment to advance respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms worldwide. The vast majority of the world's population has some religious belief or identification. The right to believe or not to believe, without fear of government interference or restriction, is a basic human right. It provides an essential foundation for a society based on human dignity, robust civil society, and sustainable democracy. This principle holds a central place in American culture, values, and history. It is also a global concern, articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The IRF Act also provides the mandate for this report and the principal topics for this Executive Summary: following an introductory overview of challenges to religious freedom, Part I outlines the religious freedom situations in selected countries, Part II addresses U.S. actions in countries that the Secretary of State designated countries of particular concern (CPCs) on January 16, 2009, and Part III highlights efforts to promote interfaith dialogue and understanding.
State-Sponsored Challenges to Religious Freedom
Religious freedom can be restricted in a variety of ways, from the overt to the subtle. The five categories below provide an analytic framework for recognizing the range of limitations on religious freedom.
1) Authoritarian governments. The most severe abuses take place under authoritarian governments. Such governments seek to control all religious thought and expression as part of a more comprehensive determination to control all aspects of political and civic life. These governments regard some religious groups as enemies of the state because they hold religious beliefs that may challenge loyalty to the rulers. Some governments cite concerns about political security as a basis to repress peaceful religious practice.
2) Hostility toward nontraditional and minority religious groups. Serious abuses occur when there is state hostility toward nontraditional and minority religious groups. While not exerting full control over these groups, some governments intimidate and harass religious communities and tolerate societal abuses against them. In severe cases governments may demand that adherents renounce their faith or force them to relocate or flee the country. This report takes careful note of the relationships between religious identity and ethnicity, especially in cases in which a government dominated by a majority ethnic or religious group suppressed the religious expression of minority groups. This report includes a number of instances in which governments were hostile to a religious group because of the group's real or perceived political ideology or affiliation.
3) Failure to address societal intolerance. Some states fail to address forces of intolerance against certain religious groups. In these countries laws may discourage religious discrimination or persecution, but officials fail to prevent attacks, harassment, or other harmful acts against certain individuals or religious groups. Protecting religious freedom requires more than having good laws and policies in place. Governments also have the responsibility to work at all levels to prevent abuses, to bring those who commit crimes of violence or who engage in discrimination contrary to the law to justice, to provide redress to victims when appropriate, and to foster an environment of respect and tolerance for all people.
4) Institutionalized bias. Governments sometimes restrict religious freedom by enacting discriminatory legislation or by taking concrete action that favor one or more religions over others. These circumstances often result from historical dominance by a particular religious group, and can result in institutionalized bias against new or historically repressed religious communities. This report also highlights instances in which government adopts a particular interpretation of a religion resulting in restrictions on adherents of that religion who follow a different interpretation.
5) Illegitimacy. Some governments discriminate against specific groups asserting they are illegitimate and dangerous to individuals or societal order. They describe such groups as "cults" or "sects," thereby perpetuating the stigmatization of the groups and encouraging or implicitly condoning acts of violence against them. This practice is relatively common even in countries where religious freedom is otherwise respected.
Multilateral, Global, and Regional Challenges to Religious Freedom
In addition to these country-by-country concerns, the wide spectrum of efforts to challenge the right to religious freedom extends to multilateral, regional, and global fora. For instance, over the past decade a number of states with majority or significant Muslim populations have worked through the United Nations (UN) to advance the concept of "defamation of religions" by introducing annual resolutions on this subject at the UN Human Rights Council and UN General Assembly. While the United States deplores actions that exhibit disrespect for deeply held religious beliefs, including those of Muslims, we do not agree with the "defamation of religions" concept because it can be used to undermine the fundamental freedoms of religion and expression.
The United States understands the primary concern of the resolution to be the negative stereotyping of, and discrimination against, members of religious groups. The United States, however, believes that rather than banning speech, the best way for governments to address these issues is to develop robust legal regimes to address acts of discrimination and bias-inspired crime; to condemn hateful ideology and proactively reach out to all religious communities, especially minority groups; and to defend vigorously the rights of individuals to practice their religion freely and to exercise their freedom of expression. The United States is working with partners in the UN to find an alternative to address the issue of religious intolerance and discrimination.
The growing trend of forcibly returning individuals from another country to face persecution or abuse in their home country in retribution for their religious activism is also of grave concern to the United States. There were credible reports that the government of China attempted to forcibly return Uighur Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists from other countries because of their religious activities or advocacy on behalf of religious freedom. Similarly, the government of Uzbekistan continued to pursue the extradition of alleged members of religious groups it deemed Muslim extremist from third countries, particularly from Russia, although no actual extraditions occurred during the reporting period.
PART I: STATUS OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN SELECT COUNTRIES
This section summarizes overall conditions during the reporting period in some countries where violations, improvements, or positive developments of religious freedom have been noteworthy. Additional information can be found in the country reports.
The constitution states that Islam is the "religion of the state" and that "no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam." In 2004 the constitution accorded Shi'a and Sunni Islam equal recognition. It proclaims that "followers of other religions are free to exercise their faith and perform their religious rites within the limits of the provisions of law." Respect for religious freedom deteriorated during the reporting period, particularly toward Christian groups and individuals. Residual effects of years of jihad against the former USSR, civil strife, Taliban rule, popular suspicion regarding outside influence and the motivations of foreigners, and weak democratic institutions remained serious obstacles. Intolerance in the form of harassment, occasional violence, discrimination, and inflammatory public statements by members of parliament and television programming targeted members of non-Muslim minority groups, particularly Christians, Hindus, and Sikhs, as well as Muslims perceived by government and societal forces as not respecting Islamic strictures.
Non-Muslim minority groups, particularly Christian, Hindu, and Sikh groups, were targets of intolerant attitudes. Conversion from Islam was understood by Shi'a and Sunni Islamic clergy, as well as many citizens, to contravene the tenets of Islam. Relations among different Muslim sects continued to be difficult, and members of the minority Shi'a community continued to face societal discrimination from the majority Sunni population. In July 2009 President Karzai signed the Shi'a Personal Status Law, a civil law governing family and marital issues for the Shi'a minority. The Ministry of Justice made some amendments to remove the most controversial phrases. President Karzai signed the amended version, which was published in the official gazette.
In an effort to emphasize ethnic and interfaith reconciliation, the government indirectly supported the judicial, constitutional, and human rights commissions composed of members of different ethnic and Islamic religious (Sunni and Shi'a) groups. The Ministry of Women's Affairs and the Ministry of Hajj and Islamic Affairs also cooperated to give women the opportunity to attend mosques.
The authoritarian military regime ruling Burma imposed restrictions on certain religious activities, although it generally permitted adherents of government-registered religious groups to worship as they chose. The government continued to rule by decree and did not respect constitutional provisions prohibiting discrimination based on religion. The government monitored activities of religious organizations and systematically restricted efforts by Buddhist clergy to promote human rights and political freedom. Many of the Buddhist monks arrested in the violent crackdown that followed the prodemocracy demonstrations of September 2007, including prominent activist monk U Gambira, remained in prison serving long sentences.
The government actively promoted Theravada Buddhism, particularly among minority ethnic groups, and applied pressure on students and poor youth to convert to Buddhism. Adherence to Buddhism remains generally a prerequisite for promotion to senior government and military ranks. Christian and Islamic groups continued to struggle to obtain permission to repair places of worship or build new ones. The government refused to recognize the Muslim Rohingya ethnic minority as citizens and imposed restrictions on their movement. The Rohingya experienced the severest forms of legal, economic, educational, and social discrimination, and consequently many Rohingya live as refugees in neighboring countries. Restrictions on Christians and other members of non-Buddhist minority groups also continued throughout the country.
The constitution protects "normal religious activities," but officials have wide latitude to interpret the meaning of "normal." The government restricts legal religious practice to five (Buddhist, Taoist, Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant) state-sanctioned "patriotic religious associations." The government bans some religious groups. Treatment of unregistered religious groups varied significantly across the country. In some areas unregistered religious groups met without interference; in other areas officials disrupted their meetings, and even imprisoned worshipers on charges of "illegal religious activities." Lawyers and other activists who tried to defend the religious freedom of unregistered or banned religious groups faced disbarment, harassment, and imprisonment. Following July 2009 protests in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR), the government increased already tight restrictions on Uighur Muslim religious practices. The government's strong opposition to the Dalai Lama led to severe restrictions on Tibetan Buddhist religious practice. There were credible reports that the government attempted to forcibly return Tibetan Buddhists and Uighur Muslims from countries in the Middle East and South Asia to China because of their religious activities and defense of religious freedom. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees documented the forcible return of three Tibetan Buddhists, including one monk, to China from Nepal, the first confirmed since 2003.
There were, however, some positive developments during the reporting period. Reports suggest a growth in the practice of traditional Chinese religions, such as Chinese Buddhism. The government supported the social service work of registered religious groups and allowed some foreign faith-based groups to provide social services. Although there were no changes in the regulations governing religious registration, there were academic discussions about reforming the registration system. Official media also published articles discussing religious freedom, including the status of unregistered churches. Foreigners were allowed to preach to large audiences in registered religious venues, and Chinese citizens were allowed to participate in the religious gatherings of a Catholic expatriate fellowship.
The constitution recognizes the right of citizens to profess and practice any religious belief; however, in law and in practice, the government placed restrictions on freedom of religion. Many religious groups reported improvements in religious freedom, although significant restrictions remained in place. Most religious groups continued to report increased ability to cultivate new members, hold religious activities, conduct charitable activities, and repair existing places of worship; obtaining permission for construction of new buildings remained difficult. Some members of religious organizations reported that the government harassed them through regular surveillance and occasional detentions. In May 2010 President Castro and the Catholic Cardinal began a series of discussions initially focused on ending ongoing government harassment of the Damas de Blanco, which has been holding marches after attending Mass each Sunday since 2003. In April 2010 police established checkpoints around the church and denied access to some supporters of the group. However, as a result of the high-level discussions, the government relented and the discussions extended far beyond this initial case to include a general conversation about the plight of the country's political prisoners.
The status of respect for religious freedom by the government remained poor, unchanged from the previous year. Members of non-Muslim religious minorities officially recognized by the government generally worship without harassment; however, Christians and members of the Baha'i Faith, which the government does not recognize, face personal and collective discrimination, especially in government employment and their ability to build, renovate, and repair places of worship. The government also sometimes arrested, detained, and harassed Muslims such as Shi'a, Ahmadiyas, Quranists, converts from Islam to Christianity, and members of other religious groups whose beliefs and/or practices it deemed to deviate from mainstream Islamic beliefs and whose activities it alleged to jeopardize communal harmony. Government authorities often refused to provide converts with new identity documents indicating their chosen faith. The government failed to prosecute perpetrators of violence against Coptic Christians in a number of cases, including in Baghoura, Farshout, and Marsa Matruh. The government again failed to redress laws—particularly laws relating to church construction and renovation—and governmental practices, especially government hiring, that discriminate against Christians.
There continued to be religious discrimination and sectarian tension in society during the period covered by this report. For example, on January 6, 2010, in the city of Naga Hammadi, six Copts and one Muslim were killed in an attack on worshippers following Coptic Christmas mass. The government continued to sponsor informal "reconciliation sessions" following some sectarian attacks. This practice generally prevented the criminal prosecution of perpetrators of crimes against Copts and precluded their recourse to the judicial system for restitution. This practice also continued to contribute to a climate of impunity.
In positive steps, the government issued identification documents to some unmarried members of the Baha'i community; it arrested and began prosecuting four alleged perpetrators of a sectarian attack against Copts in Naga Hammadi; and a court in Qena sentenced five Muslims to life imprisonment for murdering two Christians.
The constitution, ratified by the National Assembly in 1997, provides for religious freedom; however, the government has yet to implement the entire constitution. The government requires religious groups to register, and since 2002 it has not approved any registrations beyond the country's four principal religious groups: the Eritrean Orthodox Church, the Evangelical (Lutheran) Church of Eritrea, Islam, and the Roman Catholic Church. The government's record on religious freedom remained poor during the reporting period. The government failed to approve religious groups that fulfilled the registration requirements. The government continued to harass and detain members of unapproved religious groups, arrested persons during religious gatherings, and retained substantial control over the four approved religious groups. The government held religious prisoners in harsh conditions for long periods and without any trial or other hearing. Some of the detainees died in detention because of poor conditions and ill health resulting from extreme interrogation techniques. Reports continued of torture of religious detainees and forced recantations of faith by some adherents of unregistered religious groups held in detention as a precondition of their release.
During the reporting period, there were reliable reports that authorities detained without charges several hundred members of unregistered religious groups. Reports indicated there were more than 2,000 to 3,000 Christians from unregistered groups detained in prison, 10 of whom were Pentecostal leaders and pastors in detention for more than three years without any trial or other hearing. Citizens were generally tolerant of one another in the practice of their religion, with the exception of societal attitudes toward Jehovah's Witnesses and Pentecostal groups.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the government generally respected religious freedom in practice; however, ongoing restrictions, particularly regarding unrecognized religions and sects of the recognized religions considered deviant, were significant exceptions. The central government holds authority over religious matters, but it made no effort to overturn local laws restricting rights otherwise provided for in the constitution.
In some cases the government tolerated discrimination against and the abuse of members of religious minorities by societal groups and private actors. Decrees issued by the Indonesian Council of Ulama , the top Muslim clerical body, included recommendations to ban the Ahmadiyya Muslim minority. These decrees have been influential in enabling continued official and societal discrimination against members of the Ahmadiyya and other minority groups. A joint ministerial decree restricting the activities of the Ahmadiyya remains in place. The Constitutional Court also upheld the 1965 Blasphemy Law, which had been challenged by numerous human rights organizations.
Some hardline groups opposed to religious pluralism used violence and intimidation to close at least 28 churches, and many perpetrators were not brought to justice. Members of minority religious groups continued to experience some official discrimination in the form of administrative difficulties, often in the context of civil registration of marriages and births or the issuance of identity cards.
There were also numerous improvements in religious tolerance, including police in Central Sulawesi protecting churches and prayer houses during services. Religious leaders in Maluku committed to ease religious tensions. Major religious organizations collaborated to establish an early warning system, a forum for anticipating and diffusing religious conflicts, and Christian and Muslim communities continued to hold joint events. The Indonesian government also hosted the first Indonesia-U.S. Interfaith Dialogue, bringing together religious leaders, scholars, students, and interfaith activists from both countries and the region.
The constitution states that all laws and regulations must be based on Islamic criteria, but it provides that non-Shi'a Islamic sects are to be accorded "full respect" and recognizes as "protected" religious minorities the country's pre-Islamic religious groups--Zoroastrians, Christians, and Jews. Government respect for religious freedom continued to deteriorate. The government severely restricted freedom of religion and reports of government imprisonment, harassment, intimidation, and discrimination based on religious beliefs continued during the reporting period. Non-Shi'a Muslims faced substantial societal discrimination, and government rhetoric and actions created a threatening atmosphere for nearly all non-Shi'a religious groups, most notably Baha'is, as well as Sufi Muslims, evangelical Christians, members of the Jewish community, and Shi'a groups that do not share the government's official religious views.
Government-controlled broadcast and print media intensified negative campaigns against religious minorities, particularly Baha'is. Baha'i religious groups reported arbitrary arrest and prolonged detention, expulsion from universities, and confiscation of property. Approximately 45 Baha'i remained incarcerated, and seven members of the Baha'i leadership were sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment for alleged threats to national security. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad continued a virulent anti-Semitic campaign, questioning the existence and scope of the Holocaust. Increasing repression of Sufis included arbitrary arrest, detention, and confiscation of property. The government vigilantly enforced its prohibition on proselytizing by Christian groups through closely monitoring their activities, closing some churches, and arresting Christian converts. Laws based on religious affiliation continued to be used to stifle freedom of expression and association, including through imprisonment of public figures.
The Constitution guarantees freedom of thought, conscience, and religious belief and practice for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Although the government generally endorsed these rights, violence conducted by terrorists, extremists, and criminal gangs restricted the free exercise of religion and posed a significant threat to the country's vulnerable religious minorities throughout the reporting period. Radical Islamic elements from outside the government exerted tremendous pressure on individuals and groups to conform to extremist interpretations of Islamic precepts. Sectarian violence, including attacks on religious leaders and religious places of worship, hampered the ability to practice religion freely. There was a decrease in the overall level of violence as the government became increasingly successful in restoring security, in a generally nonsectarian manner, throughout the country. Since 2003 the government generally has not persecuted any religious group and has called for tolerance and acceptance of all religious minorities. This commitment was publicly reinforced by the prime minister's order to increase security at Christian places of worship after six churches were attacked in July 2009 as well as to form an investigative committee after a wave of killings that targeted the Christian community in February 2010. In addition the prime minister, along with other high-ranking government officials and political party leaders, made numerous public statements in support of the country's religious minority communities. Very few of the perpetrators of violence committed against Christians and other religious minorities in the country were punished; arrests following a murder or other crimes were rare.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion and the government generally respected religious freedom in practice; however, some Muslim leaders continued to charge that the government is hostile towards Muslims, while Christian leaders also complained of perceived discrimination in historically Muslim areas. Muslim human rights activists continued to call for the disbandment of the Anti-Terrorism Prevention Unit, due to its alleged systematic campaign of harassment targeting Muslims. Christian organizations reported that Muslim religious leaders and their families often threatened with violence or death individuals who converted from Islam to Christianity, particularly persons of Somali ethnic origin. There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees in the country.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion; however, other laws and policies restricted this right in practice. The prime minister's Decree on Religious Practice (Decree 92) is the principal legal instrument defining rules for religious practice; it institutionalizes the government's role as the final arbiter of permissible religious activities. During the reporting period, the overall status of respect for religious freedom continued to be mixed, although Protestant, Catholic, and Baha'i communities in some areas enjoyed greater tolerance. The government welcomed visits by the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief. The government also signed an MOU with the Institute for Global Engagement, a Washington-based religious freedom organization, on joint training on religious freedom for government officials and religious leaders.
As during previous reporting periods, officials in urban areas tended to show more acceptance of minority religious practice, with difficulties more frequently encountered in rural areas. Authorities in some of the country's 17 provinces continued to be suspicious of non-Buddhist religious communities and occasionally displayed intolerance for both registered and unregistered minority religious groups, particularly Protestants. Local officials reportedly interfered with the right of Protestants to worship in several locations, particularly in Luang Namtha, Savannakhet, and Saravan Provinces, and Vientiane City. Arrests and detentions of Protestants reportedly occurred during the reporting period in Luang Namtha and Khammouan Provinces. Local officials reportedly pressured Protestants to renounce their faith on threat of arrest or forceful eviction from their villages in Salavan and Luang Namtha Provinces.
The constitution provides for religious freedom but also designates Islam as "the religion of the Federation," defines all ethnic Malays as Muslim, gives the government authority to regulate Islamic religious affairs, and prohibits the propagation of other faiths among Muslims. The country maintains a dual legal system with both secular and Shari'a courts, the latter of which have jurisdiction over the Muslim population in certain civil matters, particularly in areas of family law involving disputes between Muslims and non-Muslims. Shari’a courts sentenced several individuals to be caned for infractions and generally prohibited Muslims from legally converting to another faith. The government maintained a list of 56 Islamic sects that deviate from accepted Sunni principles, and members of these and other banned groups may be subject to detention and "rehabilitation” in centers that teach and enforce government-approved Islamic practices.
Officials at the federal and state levels oversee Islamic activity and sometimes influenced the content of sermons, used mosques to convey political messages, and prevented certain imams from speaking. Religious minorities remained generally free to practice their beliefs, although approval processes for building permits for places of worship were reportedly at times extremely slow. The High Court overturned the government-issued ban on use of the word "Allah" by non-Muslims after an appeal by the Catholic Church, although the ban remains in place pending further appeal. Numerous attacks on religious venues, most of them minor incidents, followed the court ruling, and in response the government quickly condemned all violence and dispatched police to guard religious sites. The Hindu community continued to express concern about the demolition of Hindu temples.
Maldivian law prohibits citizens from practicing any religion other than Islam. Non-Muslim foreigners are allowed to practice their religious beliefs only in private. Visitors must also refrain from encouraging local citizens to practice any religion other than Islam. There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom by the government during the reporting period; freedom of religion remained severely restricted. There were no reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice.
The constitution provides for the freedom to practice one's religion. While Islam is the official state religion--the king is "commander of the (Muslim) believers (amir al-mumineen)" and "defender of the faith (Islam, ad-din)" in the country--non-Muslim foreign communities generally practiced their faith openly. The government continued to respect the right to freedom of religion of the vast majority of Moroccan citizens, with a decline in some aspects during the reporting period. Morocco has expelled or declared persona non grata approximately 150 foreign Christian residents from 19 countries, allegedly for proselytizing. Some Moroccan Christians reported increased government harassment. Moroccan authorities conducted two raids of meetings attended by Moroccan Christians and foreigners; it detained, investigated, and confiscated personal property from the Moroccan citizens and expelled the foreigners. The government prevented a group of Muslims from protesting a law that prohibits Muslims from eating publicly during daylight during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. In positive developments, on July 28, 2009, King Mohammed VI formally acknowledged the Holocaust, and subsequently announced his endorsement of a program designed to educate the Muslim world about the genocide. The Ministry of Islamic Affairs made a public stand for tolerance, dismissing the head of a religious council that publicly advocated a form of intolerance.
The interim constitution promulgated in 2007 provides for freedom of religion; however, it specifically prohibits proselytizing. The government generally respected religious freedom during the reporting period, although on a few occasions it interfered with the practice of a religious group. The interim constitution officially declares the country a secular state; however, the president, in his capacity as head of state, attended major Hindu religious ceremonies over which the king previously presided. Members of minority religious groups occasionally reported police harassment. Authorities stopped Tibetan religious gatherings, especially those with perceived political overtones, and arrested some participants. There was often substantial police presence at religious gatherings. Under political pressure from the Chinese government, authorities forcibly returned three Tibetan Buddhists, including one monk, to China in June 2010. Adherents of the country's many religious groups generally coexisted peacefully and respected places of worship, although there were reports of societal abuses and discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice. Those who converted to a different religious group occasionally faced violence and were ostracized socially.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion, including freedom to change one's religion or belief and freedom to manifest and propagate one's religion or belief through worship, teaching, practice, and observance. The constitution prohibits state and local governments from adopting a state religion or giving preferential treatment to any religious or ethnic community, but allows states to establish courts based on common law or customary law systems. Twelve northern states use Shari'a courts to adjudicate criminal and civil matters for Muslims, and common law and customary law courts to adjudicate cases involving non-Muslims. Violence, tension, and hostility between Christian and Muslim communities increased and involved the targeting of religious symbols and spaces. The government generally respected religious freedom in practice, although local political actors stoked sectarian violence with impunity, occasionally using religion as a catalyst, especially in the Middle Belt region. The boundary between the predominantly Muslim North and Christian South lies in this region, where sectarian violence was particularly acute and heightened tensions between religious groups, even in parts of the country without violence. Religious differences often paralleled and exacerbated differences between ethnic groups. While the law prohibited religious discrimination in employment and other practices, some private businesses continued to discriminate on the basis of religion or ethnicity in their hiring practices. In many communities Muslims or Christians who converted to another religion reportedly faced ostracism by members of their former religion.
North Korea (DPRK)
Although the constitution provides for "freedom of religious belief," genuine religious freedom does not exist, and there was no change in the extremely poor level of respect for religious freedom during the reporting period. The government severely restricted religious freedom, including organized religious activity, except that which officially recognized groups linked to the government supervised tightly. Some foreign visitors to the country stated that services at state-authorized churches appeared staged and contained political content supportive of the regime. The 2009 Korean Institute for National Unification White Paper indicated the regime used authorized religious entities for external propaganda and political purposes, and strictly barred citizens from entering places of worship. Defectors reported the regime increased its investigation, repression, and persecution of members of unauthorized religious groups in recent years. Despite these restrictions, reports indicated contacts appeared to be increasing with religious personnel notably across the border in China. Foreign media and a South Korean NGO reported 23 Christians were arrested in May 2010 for belonging to an underground church in Kuwol-dong, Pyongsong City, South Pyongan Province. Reportedly three were executed, and the others were sent to Yoduk political prison camp.
An estimated 150,000 to 200,000 persons were believed to be held in the "kwan li so"(re-education) political prison camps, some for religious reasons. Prison conditions are harsh; torture and starvation are common. Refugees and defectors who had been in prison stated that prisoners held on the basis of their religious beliefs generally were treated worse than other inmates.
The constitution establishes Islam as the state religion and requires that laws be consistent with Islam. The government took some steps to improve its treatment of members of religious minorities, but serious problems remained. The number and severity of reported high-profile cases against adherents of minority religions increased during the reporting period. Organized violence against members of minorities increased; for example, there was violence against Christians in Gojra, Punjab, and a terrorist attack on Ahmadis in Lahore, Punjab. There were instances when law enforcement personnel abused members of religious minority groups in custody. Security forces and other government agencies did not adequately prevent or address societal abuse against members of religious minorities. Discriminatory legislation and the government's failure or delay in taking action against societal forces hostile to those who practiced a different religious belief fostered religious intolerance, acts of violence, and intimidation against members of religious minorities. Specific laws that discriminated against members of religious minorities included the anti-Ahmadi provisions of the penal code and the blasphemy laws that provide the death penalty for defiling Islam or its prophets.
Some steps taken by the government to respect religious freedom include allocating four reserved seats for religious minorities in the senate, one from each province. The National Assembly's Standing Committee on Minorities formed a subcommittee to review blasphemy laws and prepare recommendations for changes. Federal Minister for Minorities' Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti hosted several events to promote interfaith dialogue and religious tolerance, and took an active role in assisting victims of religiously motivated attacks on Christians and Ahmadis.
Despite these steps, relations between religious communities remained tense and societal discrimination was widespread. Nongovernmental actors, including terrorist and extremist groups and individuals, targeted religious congregations. Extremists demanded that all citizens follow a strict version of Islam and threatened brutal consequences if they did not abide. Extremists also targeted violence against Muslim voices advocating for tolerance and pluralism, including followers of Sufism.
Although the government generally respected freedom of religion for most of the population, authorities imposed restrictions on certain religious minorities and did not always respect the equality before the law of adherents of all religions. Legislation to counter "extremism" has led to greater restrictions on religious freedom, particularly for Jehovah's Witnesses, Muslim readers of Said Nursi's works, and Scientologists. Some courts have declared their literature extremist resulting in bans on those publications and their inclusion in the Federal List of Extremist Materials. Security services have raided their meetings and homes, confiscated their religious literature, and detained them. Societal attitudes toward members of traditionally Muslim ethnic groups were negative in many regions, and there were manifestations of anti-Semitism as well as hostility toward Jehovah's Witnesses and other members of non-Orthodox Christian denominations.
Instances of religiously motivated violence continued, although sometimes it was difficult to determine whether xenophobic, religious, or ethnic prejudices were the primary motivation. Conservative activists claiming ties to the Russian Orthodox Church occasionally disseminated negative publications and held protest meetings against religions considered nontraditional, including alternative Orthodox congregations. Many religious groups had difficulty acquiring land or permits to build houses of worship, and nontraditional denominations frequently complained they were unable to obtain venues for worship. The government's visa rules continued to hamper religious minorities' efforts to bring foreign religious workers into the country.
Freedom of religion is neither recognized nor protected under Saudi law and is severely restricted in practice. The government claims to provide for and protect the right to private worship for all, including non-Muslims who gather in homes for religious services. This right was not always respected and is not defined in law. The public practice of non-Muslim religions is prohibited, and the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (CPVPV) and security forces of the Ministry of Interior continued to raid private non-Muslim religious gatherings. The king's official title is "Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques," reflecting the importance the royal family attaches to upholding Islam within the country as a central pillar of its legitimacy, both domestically and within the global Muslim community. The deep connection between the Al-Saud family and the religious establishment results in significant pressure on the state and society to adhere to the official Saudi interpretation of Islam and conservative societal norms. Some Muslims who do not adhere to this interpretation, notably Shi'a, faced significant political, economic, legal, social, and religious discrimination, including limited employment and educational opportunities, underrepresentation in official institutions, and restrictions on the practice of their faith and on the building of places of worship and community centers.
While overall government policies continued to place severe restrictions on religious freedom, there were incremental improvements in specific areas during the reporting period. These included increased scrutiny of and training for the CPVPV, legal reform to broaden the officially sanctioned interpretations of Shari'a law to include other schools of Sunni jurisprudence, and selective measures to combat extremist ideology. The king's Interfaith Dialogue Initiative launched a large-scale national media campaign to promote tolerance and moderation. There were fewer charges of harassment and abuse by the CPVPV than in previous years, but fear of the CPVPV and police continued to cause many non-Muslims to worship in secret. Although some intolerant statements in textbooks were removed or modified following stated government intention to reform educational materials, textbooks continued to contain overtly intolerant statements against Jews and Christians, and subtly intolerant statements against Shi'a and other religious groups.
Although the Transitional Federal Charter provides for religious freedom, there were limits the government’s respect for this right in practice. The charter establishes Islam as the national religion and strictly prohibits proselytizing for any religion other than Islam. The law provides no effective recourse for violations of religious freedom. The independent regions of Somaliland and Puntland establish Islam as the official religion. The Transitional Federal Government (TFG) generally did not enforce legal protections of religious freedom and has ratified legislation to implement Shari'a law.
There was a decline in the status of respect for religious freedom during the reporting period, primarily as a result of extremist militias taking control over significant territory in the country. Militia groups, particularly those associated with the U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization al-Shabaab, often imposed through violence a strict interpretation of Islam on communities under their control. Al-Shabaab destroyed the tombs of revered Sufi clerics and killed clerics, civilians, and government officials of Sufi orientation. In targeted assassinations, members of these extremist groups killed TFG officials and allies they denounced as non-Muslims or apostates and certain persons identified as Christian. There also were reports that individuals who do not practice Islam experienced discrimination, violence, and detention because of their religious beliefs. There were no public places of worship for non-Muslims in the country.
The Interim National Constitution (INC) provides for freedom of religion throughout the country; however, the INC enshrines Shari'a as a source of legislation in the north, and the official laws and policies of the Government of National Unity (GNU) favor Islam in the north. The constitution of Southern Sudan provides for freedom of religion, and other laws and policies of the Government of South Sudan contributed to the generally free practice of religion in the 10 states of the south. Although the GNU generally did not vigorously enforce its strictest restrictions on religious freedom, it generally did not respect religious plurality and continued to place some restrictions on Christians in the north. Even so, unlike in prior reporting periods, Christian churches in the north reported that they held regular religious services and large holiday celebrations without government interference. The Government of Southern Sudan respected religious freedom, and there were no reports of abuse based on religious belief or practice in Southern Sudan. There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom by either the GNU or the Government of South Sudan during the reporting period. There were some reports of societal abuses and discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice, and religious prejudices remained prevalent throughout the country.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion, but legislation and governmental decrees contradict this right. Government respect for religious freedom remained poor. The government continued to promote secularism and allowed religious practice only under tight controls. The March 2009 Law on Religion tightly controls the process of opening religious institutions, including places of worship and schools, and required all religious organizations to reregister with the government by January 1, 2010. The law limits the number of mosques that may be registered within a given population area and requires registration of all religious education programs. There were reports that some local officials refused to provide non-Muslim religious communities with documents they needed to register, preventing them from registering as legal entities.
The government- affiliated Council of Ulemo 2006 fatwa (religious ruling) against women attending mosque remained in effect. There were reports that officials ordered imams to prevent schoolchildren from attending mosques outside of school hours. Most Muslim and minority religious communities were able to attend places of worship; however, restrictions existed in other forms of religious expression. The government expressed concern with religious practices and groups that it believed represent a foreign ideology or present a threat to social order. The Ministry of Education maintained a dress code that banned the hijab (headscarf) in schools and universities; several students were expelled and at least one teacher was fired at Tajik National University. Law enforcement officials arrested individuals believed to be members of banned religious groups and sentenced many to long prison terms. Government officials used concern about Islamic extremism to justify imposing restrictions on religious freedom of Muslim groups and engaging in surveillance.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion and does not establish a state religion; however, in practice the government continued to restrict the free practice of religion. There were small positive changes in the government's respect for religious freedom during the reporting period, including the registration of the Catholic Church, permission for some religions to host foreign coreligionists and leaders, and permission for some churches to engage in proselytism; however, troubling treatment of some members of registered and unregistered groups continued. All groups must register to gain legal status; unregistered religious activity is illegal and may be punished by administrative fines. Several religious groups remained unable to register, and the government restricted registered groups' ability to own property and print or import religious materials. There were reports of raids and arbitrary detentions involving Jehovah's Witnesses.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion and for the principle of separation of church and state; however, the 1998 religion law restricts many rights only to members of registered religious groups and limits which groups may register. Violators of the law's prohibitions on activities such as proselytizing, importing and disseminating religious literature, and offering private religious instruction are subject to criminal penalties. Respect for religious freedom declined in several respects. The government's campaign against members of unregistered religious groups continued; alleged members were arrested and sentenced to lengthy jail terms. The number of individuals imprisoned for membership in religious groups labeled extremist such as Nur, a Turkish Muslim group, increased. An estimated 114 Nur members were convicted during the reporting period, with sentences ranging from six to 12 years.
The government did not interfere with worshippers at sanctioned mosques and permitted the activities of religious groups traditionally practicing in the country, including the Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, and Russian Orthodox communities. Some minority religious groups remained unregistered because they were unable to satisfy the strict registration requirements set out by the law. These groups, particularly those perceived as engaging in proselytism, experienced raids, harassment, and the detention of their leaders and members; some leaders and members faced criminal charges. Religious groups enjoyed generally tolerant relations, although some minority religious groups continued to face negative coverage in state-controlled media, and neighbors, family, and employers sometimes continued to pressure ethnic Uzbek Christian converts.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion on the condition that the practice of a religion does not violate public morality, decency, or the public order. The government generally respected religious freedom in practice; however, those religious groups that criticized the government, like others who criticized the government, were subject to harassment and intimidation. During the reporting period, Catholic Church leaders noted criticism from government-sponsored media intended to discredit their leadership. In June 2010 following the Gaza flotilla incident, President Chávez called Israel a "genocidal state" but said he was not an "enemy of the Jews." Eleven persons, including several police officers, were arrested for the January 2009 vandalism against the Tiferet Israel synagogue. The suspects remained in prison, awaiting trial, at the end of the reporting period. Like other private sector and nongovernmental entities, the Catholic Church and evangelical communities were subjected to property expropriations. In February 2010 vandals spray-painted anti-Semitic graffiti on downtown Caracas commercial buildings erroneously rumored to be Jewish-owned during the week after their expropriation by President Chávez. In August 2009 the national assembly passed an education law that could prohibit religious education during normal school hours, including in private schools.
The constitution provides for freedom of belief and worship; however, government restrictions remained on the organized activities of many religious groups. Respect for religious freedom and practice improved in some regards, although significant problems remained, including occasional harassment and excessive use of force against members of religious groups by some local government officials. There were also delays in approving registrations of Protestant congregations, as well as reports of harassment of Protestant congregations in some areas. The government has not yet approved a translation of the Bible into H’mong, after five years of pending application. The government continued to discourage participation in unrecognized factions of the Hoa Hao Buddhists and Cao Dai faiths, and it continued to monitor activities of the unrecognized Unified Buddhist church of Vietnam. There were also instances of government participation in, or sanction of, violence against members of religious groups. These included attacks on the Plum Village Buddhist community at Bat Nha and destruction of a crucifix on disputed territory at the Dong Chiem parish. There were reports of harsh treatment of detainees accused of initiating violence during a protest over enforcement of an agreement between the Catholic Church and the government to close a cemetery in Con Dau parish.
There were also areas of improvement. The government permitted the expansion of charitable activities by religious organizations. President Nguyen Minh Triet met with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican, in a continuing effort toward improved dialogue. The Vatican and Vietnam agreed to Vatican appointment of a nonresident Representative for Vietnam, a first step toward full diplomatic relations. New congregations were registered in many of the 64 provinces, and one new religious group and two Protestant denominations were recognized nationally. The Catholic Church, Protestant congregations, and other smaller religious groups reported that their ability to gather and worship generally improved. The government permitted several religious groups to hold large-scale religious services throughout the country, some with more than 100,000 participants.
PART II: U.S. ACTIONS IN COUNTRIES OF PARTICULAR CONCERN
This section highlights actions by U.S. government officials to promote religious freedom and to encourage governments to take positive steps to improve religious freedom conditions in the Countries of Particular Concern (CPCs). The IRF Act requires an annual review of the status of religious freedom worldwide and the designation as CPCs of countries that have "engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom" during the reporting period. Following the designation, a period of negotiation may ensue, in which the United States seeks to work with a designated country to bring about change. Subsequently, depending upon the results of these discussions, the U.S. Secretary of State takes one or more actions, pursuant to the IRF Act.
Options for such actions include application of sanctions or negotiation of a bilateral agreement to improve religious freedom. Sanctions may be waived to further the purpose of the IRF Act or to further national interest. Some of these countries have also seen limited positive developments under circumstances where abuses of religious freedom are generally severe. Additional information can be found in the country reports. The Office of International Religious Freedom, headed by an Ambassador at Large, works throughout the year to promote religious freedom in each CPC.
In addition to its efforts in CPCs, the Department of State monitors religious persecution and discrimination worldwide, implements policies, develops initiatives, funds programs, and actively works bilaterally and multilaterally to foster greater respect for religious freedom. Through diplomacy the United States seeks to promote freedom of religion and conscience throughout the world as a fundamental human right and as a source of stability for all countries.
Burma first was designated a CPC in 1999 and most recently was redesignated on January 16, 2009. As the action under the IRF Act, the Secretary of State designated the existing ongoing arms embargo referenced in 22 CFR 126.1(1), pursuant to section 402(c)(5) of the Act. The U.S. government has a wide array of financial and trade sanctions in place against Burma for its violations of human rights. The Tom Lantos Block Burmese Junta Anti-Democratic Efforts Act further strengthened these sanctions. The United States has opposed all assistance to the government by international financial institutions and urged the governments of other countries to take similar actions.
The U.S. government advocated religious freedom with all strata of society, including government officials, religious leaders, private citizens, scholars, foreign diplomats, and international business and media representatives. Through outreach and travel, when not blocked by regime officials, embassy representatives offered support to and exchanged information with many otherwise isolated local nongovernmental organizations and religious leaders. The U.S. government continued to support the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) effort to convince the Ministry of Immigration and Population to issue temporary registration cards fairly and without bribes or other unreasonable requirements to undocumented Rohingyas.
China first was designated a CPC in 1999 and most recently was redesignated on January 16, 2009. As the action under the IRF Act, the Secretary of State designated the existing ongoing restrictions on exports to China of crime control and detection instruments and equipment, under P.L. 101-246 and the Foreign Relations Authorization Act of 1990 and 1991, pursuant to section 402(c)(5) of the Act. The U.S. Department of State, the U.S. embassy in Beijing, and the consulates general in Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Shenyang, and Wuhan made a concerted effort to encourage greater religious freedom in China. American and Chinese officials discussed religious freedom at the U.S.-China Human Rights Dialogue in May 2010 and visited a faith-based charity.
U.S. officials condemned abuses while supporting positive trends within the country and urged the government to expand the scope of religious freedom for both registered and unregistered religious groups according to citizens' constitutional and internationally recognized rights. U.S. officials protested the imprisonment of, asked to attend the trials of, and requested further information about numerous individual religious prisoners. U.S. officials encouraged the government to address policies that restricted the religious practices of minorities, including Uighur Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists, noting that religious restrictions contributed to tensions in Tibetan regions and in the XUAR.
Eritrea first was designated a CPC in 2004 and most recently was redesignated on January 16, 2009. As the action under the IRF Act, the Secretary of State designated the ongoing arms embargo referenced in 22 CFR 126.1(a), pursuant to section 402(c)(5) of the act. The U.S. ambassador and other embassy officers raised the cases of detention and restrictions on unregistered religious groups in prior reporting periods with officials in the President's Office, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the leaders of the sole legal political party, the People's Front for Democracy and Justice. However, despite repeated attempts, government authorities responsible for religious affairs did not grant U.S. embassy officials opportunities to specifically discuss instances of religious freedom abuse during this reporting period.
Iran first was designated a CPC in 1999 and most recently was redesignated on January 16, 2009. As the action under the IRF Act, the Secretary of State designated the existing ongoing restrictions on U.S. security assistance in accordance with section 40 of the Arms Export Control Act, pursuant to section 402(c)(5) of the Act. The United States has no diplomatic relations with Iran, and thus it does not raise directly with the government the restrictions the government places on religious freedom and other abuses the government commits against adherents of minority religious groups.
The U.S. government raised concerns about and promoted religious freedom in the country through public statements and reports, multilateral forums, support for relevant UN and NGO efforts, and diplomatic initiatives to press for an end to government abuses. The United States calls on other countries with bilateral relations with Iran to use those ties to press the government on religious freedom and human rights. On numerous occasions, the U.S. Secretary of State and State Department spokesman have addressed the situation of the Baha'i and minority communities in the country. The U.S. government encourages other governments to make similar statements.
The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) was first designated a CPC in 2001 and was redesignated on January 16, 2009. The U.S. government does not have diplomatic relations with the DPRK and has no official presence there; however it sought to address religious freedom concerns as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. As the action under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the Secretary of State designated the existing ongoing restrictions to which North Korea is subject pursuant to sections 402 and 409 of the Trade Act of 1974 (the Jackson-Vanik Amendment), pursuant to section 402(c)(5) of the act.
The U.S. government raised religious freedom concerns about the country in multilateral forums and bilaterally with other governments, particularly those that have diplomatic relations with the country. The United States has made clear that addressing human rights would have a significant effect on the prospects for closer U.S.-North Korea ties. State Department officials, including staff from the Office of International Religious Freedom, met regularly with North Korean defectors and with NGOs focused on the country. The U.S. government has granted permission for North Korean government officials to travel to and participate in visits to American faith-based aid organizations that provided humanitarian assistance inside North Korea. Since 2006 the U.S. government has participated in the annual North Korea Freedom Week.
In December 2008 the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution, cosponsored by the United States, that condemned the country's poor human rights record, expressing "very serious concern" at "continuing reports of systemic, widespread, and grave violations of human rights." The resolution called on the country to fulfill its obligations under human rights instruments to which it was a party and urged the government to invite U.N. special representatives to visit and ensure that humanitarian organizations had free access to the country.
The Department of State continued to support programs that documented human rights abuses and increased the availability of outside information in the country. The department provided support to NGOs that seek to build the capacity of South Korea-based NGOs to improve and expand monitoring and reporting of the human rights situation in the country. Radio Free Asia and Voice of America also provided regular Korean-language broadcasting.
Saudi Arabia first was designated a CPC in 2004 and most recently was redesignated on January 16, 2009. The Secretary of State authorized a waiver of actions under the IRF Act to further the purposes of the act, pursuant to section 407 of the act. U.S. government policy is to press the government consistently to honor its public commitment to permit private religious worship by religious minorities, eliminate discrimination against minorities, promote tolerance toward non-Muslims, and combat extremism.
During the reporting period, the U.S. ambassador met with senior government and religious leaders regarding religious freedom and raised with senior officials specific cases of violations. Other senior U.S. officials encouraged the government to honor policies to halt the dissemination of intolerant literature and extremist ideology within the country and around the world, protect private worship for all religious groups, curb harassment of religious groups, and promote tolerance toward all religions. Senior U.S. officials supported provisions calling for religious tolerance, including elimination of discrimination against religious minorities, improved respect for human rights, and improved accountability and transparency in these matters. They also raised specific cases and instances of religious freedom violations with senior Saudi officials.
Sudan first was designated a CPC in 1999 and most recently was redesignated on January 16, 2009. The Secretary of State, under the IRF Act, designated the use of the voice and vote of the United States to oppose any loan or other use of funds from international financial institutions to or for the country. This is in accordance with 1621 of the International Financial Institutions Act, pursuant to section 402(c) (5) of the same act.
The U.S. government encouraged respect for religious freedom in its discussions with the Government of National Unity and urged it to fulfill the promise of religious freedom in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and the Interim National Constitution. U.S. embassy officials met regularly with leaders from many Muslim and Christian groups in Khartoum, Juba, and elsewhere, noting the importance of religious freedom and the extent of U.S. interest and concern.
Uzbekistan first was designated a CPC in 2006 and was redesignated on January 16, 2009. The Secretary of State authorized a 180-day waiver of actions under the IRF Act, pursuant to section 407 of the act to further the purposes of the act. During the reporting period, the U.S. ambassador to Uzbekistan and other senior U.S. officials met with local religious leaders, human rights activists, and government officials to discuss specific issues of human rights and religious freedom. The embassy emphasized the importance of religious freedom by including religious leaders in its official events and by intervening on behalf of religious groups or faith-based foreign aid organizations where possible, taking such actions as contacting government officials and attending trials.
U.S. officials urged the government to allow more freedom of religious expression, mosque registrations, and amnesties of religious prisoners of conscience, consistently emphasizing that religious tolerance and political security are complementary goals. Senior U.S. officials, both in Washington, D.C. and in Tashkent, pursued negotiations with the government aimed at amending its laws on religion, including lowering the 100-member minimum required to form a religious group, repealing the ban on proselytizing, lifting restrictions on the importation and publication of religious literature, and eliminating legal provisions prohibiting the private teaching of religion.
Initiatives Toward Interfaith Tolerance and Understanding
The United States commends the initiatives of governments and civil society actors to foster interfaith dialogue and collaboration. Such efforts, at both the elite and grassroots levels, can lead to improvements in religious freedom and the mitigation of a religion-based conflict. Interfaith engagement can build understanding and connection between diverse communities, provide space for honest discussion of issues of inter-communal interest, and catalyze practical collaboration on shared needs.
The United States has long enjoyed a robust religious pluralism at home and we are increasingly making interfaith and intercultural engagement a priority in our diplomacy. Many of the country chapters in this Annual Report give greater detail on what U.S. embassies and consulates are doing to engage religious issues and actors in host countries. Much of the new material was taken from the State Department’s 2010 Religious Engagement Report, an internal mapping project commissioned by President Obama surveying U.S. collaboration with faith-based and interfaith organizations around the world.
Our interest in encouraging positive interaction between religious communities in the effort to promote religious freedom is shared by many other governments. Below we highlight just a sampling of key interfaith initiatives that took place during the reporting period. More information about most of these initiatives can be found in the country reports.
International interfaith initiatives are growing in many parts of the world, and the Middle East region in particular has seen a growing interest in intrafaith and interfaith dialogue. There have been repeated calls for the promotion of tolerance, dialogue, and coexistence, resulting in joint efforts both within and beyond the region. The Doha Conference on Interfaith Dialogue has convened annually in Qatar since 2002. Jordanian King Abdullah's "Amman Message" of 2004 has promoted a number of interfaith conferences and activities and was an important precursor to further efforts. In Saudi Arabia, the Muslim World League held an intrafaith conference for Muslims, which was followed by the July 2008 Interfaith Conference in Madrid, and then by Saudi King Abdullah's Interfaith Dialogue Initiative in November 2008 at the United Nations.
The October 2007 release of a 21-page letter organized by Jordan's Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad and signed by 138 Muslim leaders from around the world formed the basis for several ongoing initiatives. The letter was addressed to Pope Benedict XVI and other Christian leaders after the pope's controversial Regensburg speech of September 2006 and in effect articulated for the first time a consensus among widely diverse (but not all) members of the Muslim community. The Vatican responded publicly in late November 2007, and in the spring of 2008 Muslims and Christians, primarily Roman Catholics, met to begin a dialogue based on the letter's recognition of their scriptural elements. The first Catholic-Muslim Forum met formally in November 2008. In the meantime, Yale Divinity School organized a three-page reply signed by 300 Christian scholars and leaders representing scores of denominations and institutions. The archbishop of Canterbury and others also issued separate personal responses.
The Vatican has also been involved in the Mecca-based World Muslim League initiative discussed above and in an ongoing dialogue with Shi'a, mostly Iranians. The Holy See has taken a leading role in recent engagement with Islam, accompanied by growing interest from diverse religious groups and regions.
Muslims engaged in dialogue with the Holy See seek greater respect for Islam, particularly in the West, and wish to emphasize that Islam is a religion of peace and disassociate it from violence. The Holy See favors a dialogue that will lead to greater religious freedom and tolerance for differences. In the letter exchange between Prince Ghazi and the Vatican, analysts have noted references from both sides to longstanding areas of concern, such as respect for the dignity of every human person and respect for religious freedom, often expressed in terms of "reciprocity." Other areas of concern include educating the public on the essential elements of both religions, sharing religious experience, and promoting mutual respect instead of violence, especially among the young.
We are encouraged by this growing recognition by governments and religious leaders that freedom and respectful religious coexistence are critical to our shared future. We look forward to broadening these conversations to include the full diversity of faith traditions and to build a world in which all are free to choose and practice their faith and live according to their conscience.