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Pakistan, Iran, Saudi violate religious freedom: US report

Written by: Staff

Washington, May 4 (UNI) The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has urged Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to designate 11 nations, including Pakistan, Burma and Iran, as ''countries of particular concern'' for violations of religious freedom.

The commission, which released its annual report here on Tuesday, has added Afghanistan to its 'watchlist' of countries that violate religious freedom and said Iraq and Afghanistan pose growing threats to the freedom of worship.

The report has recommended 11 countries to be designated as ''countries of particular concern'' by the State Department, for being the worst violators of religious freedom, meaning they could face sanctions.

Those countries are China, North Korea, Vietnam, Burma, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Iran, Eritrea, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

The findings of the commission come in the congressionally mandated group's annual report for 2006. The agency's findings and recommendations go to the White House, the State Department and to Capitol Hill.

In a letter to Ms Rice, included in the report, Commission Chairman Michael Cromartie said the panel is trying to draw attention to ''countries, whose governments have engaged in or tolerated systematic and egregious violations of religious freedom.'' ''The situation in Afghanistan and Iraq serve to underscore the precarious state of this fundamental freedom,'' Mr Cromartie wrote.

The report said Afghanistan and Iraq were two countries where ''the universal right to religious freedom is imperiled.'' ''Religious extremism, even in official circles, is an increasing threat to democratic consolidation in Afghanistan,'' the report added.

Commissioner Preeta Bansal said Afghanistan has been added to the group's watch list, which is made up of countries where the commission has concerns about the future of religious freedom.

''The principal concern of the commission consists of flaws in the country's new Constitution,'' she said, adding, ''the Constitution does not contain clear protections for the right of freedom of religion or belief for individual Afghan citizens.'' Citing an example, she pointed to the recent high-profile case of Abdur Rahman, an Afghan citizen, who was threatened with the death penalty for converting from Islam to Christianity.


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