UNITED STATES: U.S. Religious Freedom Day came and went with little fanfare on January 16. The White House marked the anniversary of the passage of the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, in 1786, with the traditional presidential proclamation.
But Elizabeth Shakman Hurd, writing at the Boston Globe, was not in celebratory mood as she called for the closure of the International Commission on Religious Freedom,
“The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is being sued for religious discrimination. And for good reason. The government watchdog agency was created in 1998 to officially promote and protect religious freedom abroad, but it actually suppresses religious freedom, rather than supporting it. It should be shut down.”
Read more here.
INDONESIA: According to the Human Rights Watch World Report 2013, published on February 1, Indonesia also has little to celebrate when it comes to religious freedom:
“Throughout 2012, Indonesian authorities took inadequate action against Islamist militants who mobilized mobs to attack religious minorities, Human Rights Watch said. According to Indonesia’s Setara Institute, which monitors religious freedom, attacks against religious minorities increased from 144 cases in 2011 to 264 cases in 2012. Light prison terms sought against perpetrators sent a message of official tolerance for such mob violence. Dozens of regulations, including ministerial decrees on building houses of worship, also fostered discrimination and intolerance. During 2012, dozens of minority Christian congregations reported that local government officials arbitrarily refused to issue them building permits, even where they had Supreme Court approval.
Senior government officials, including Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali and Home Affairs Minister Gamawan Fauzi, offered “relocation” of affected religious minorities rather than legal protection of their rights. Suryadharma Ali, in September 2012, made highly discriminatory remarks about the Ahmadiyah and Shia communities, suggesting the beliefs of both were heretical.”
Read more here at Human Rights watch.
Reporting from a meeting, “Revealing the Image of Diversity in West Java,” in Bandung, West Java, Arya Dipa at the Jakarta Post writes that lack of religious awareness and government negligence is to blame for intolerance.
“West Java, the most populous province in Indonesia, is known for its deep roots of Islamic culture. [M. Subhi Azhari of the Wahid Institute] said West Java was a province with the highest level of religious intolerance violations in Indonesia.
According to him, there were some factors that characterized the issue of religious freedom in West Java. The first was the criminalization of faiths, including 23 cases in 2012, 15 cases in 2011 and then 10 in 2010.
The second factor was violations relating to the construction of houses of worship and religious activities. In 2010, the number of cases stood at 22, while the number increased in 2011 to 47 cases and dropped to 30 cases in 2012.”
In 2011, a 1,000 strong mob killed three members of an Ahmadi community in West Java. Twelve people were accused of the murders, according to Amnesty International.
PAKISTAN: Ahmadiyah and Shia communities are also subject to persecution in Pakistan. Human Rights Watch reports,
“Members of the Ahmadi religious community continued to be a major target for blasphemy prosecutions and subjected to specific anti-Ahmadi laws across Pakistan. They faced increasing social discrimination as militant groups used provisions of the law to prevent Ahmadis from “posing as Muslims,” forced the demolition of Ahmadi mosques in Lahore, barred Ahmadis from using their mosques in Rawalpindi, and vandalized Ahmadi graves across Punjab province. In most instances, Punjab provincial officials supported militants’ demands instead of protecting Ahmadis and their mosques and graveyards.”
Chief of the Pakistan Ulema Council, Allama Tahir Ashrafi, has proposed five steps to achieving peace between Pakistan’s Muslims sects, according to Mohammad Shehzad at The Friday Times. The steps call for an end to abuse of members of one sect by another, an end to persecution of minorities and a clamp down on the distribution of religious material that incites hatred. It’s unclear whether the steps will benefit Ahmadis, who were declared non-Muslims in Pakistan in 1974.
VIETNAM: Meanwhile, Vietnam is reconsidering its religious laws, writes Canadian lawyer Khanh Vu Duc in the Asia Sentinel this week. Although religious freedom is written into Vietnam’s constitution, freedom can be limited when it impinges on “national defense, national security, public order, safety, morals, and health of the community.“