Bahai News - In Many Lands, the Right to Worship Freely Hasn't a
In Many Lands, the Right to Worship Freely Hasn't a Prayer
WASHINGTON -- Few freedoms are as fundamental to Americans as that of
religion, but as a matter of U.S. foreign policy, the fight for religious
liberties around the world has been a relatively low priority.
That may change.
With the passing of the Cold War and its overarching questions of
security, the fate of the world's faithful, particularly Christians, has
begun to attract attention in this country. In part, religious and
conservative groups have urged Congress and the Clinton administration
Under orders from Congress, the State Department has completed its
first comprehensive review of the treatment of Christians around the world,
expanding its mandate to look at other faiths, including Tibetan Buddhists
in China and the practitioners of traditional religions in the Sudan.
The report, which was released last week and includes 78 countries,
cited Russia for an improved religious atmosphere since the fall of the
Soviet Union but also criticized its parliament for passing legislation
that would protect older denominations like the Russian Orthodox Church
from competition from other religions. Last week, a day after the report
came out, President Boris Yeltsin vetoed the bill.
The review offers detailed accounts of the discrimination, repression
and, in many cases, violent persecution of people trying to do what many
Americans take for granted: praying and reading the Bible. Here are
excerpts from the report. -- STEVEN LEE MYERS
Murder and Mayhem
ALGERIA. Conversions from Islam to other religions are rare. Because
of security worries and potential legal and social problems, Muslim
converts to other religions practice their new faith clandestinely. . . .
In 1994 the Armed Islamic Group, an extremist group that seeks to topple
the Government, declared its intention to eliminate Jews, Christians and
polytheists from Algeria. . . . During 1996 the GIA kidnapped and killed
seven Roman Catholic monks in central Algeria, and the Catholic Bishop of
Oran also was murdered at his home.
BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA. In Bosnia, religion and ethnicity are so
closely intertwined as to be inseparable. . . . There were some
incidents of inter-ethnic violence that resulted in damage to
religious property. For example, in July 1996, a Roman Catholic
church in the Muslim-controlled town of Bugojno was firebombed. It
was reportedly the last Catholic church in the town.
BURMA. Adherents of all religions that are duly registered with
the authorities generally enjoy freedom to worship as they choose.
However, religious publications, like secular ones, remain subject
to control and censorship. Christian Bibles translated into
indigenous languages cannot legally be imported or printed.
Beatings and Bulldozers
CHINA. The Government of China has sought to restrict all actual
religious practice to Government-authorized religious organizations
and registered places of worship. . . . Many groups have been
reluctant to comply due to 1/8their) principled opposition to state
control of religion, unwillingness to limit their activities or
refusal to compromise their position on matters such as abortion. .
. . Some leaders of such groups were detained for lengthy
investigation, and some were beaten.
CUBA. In December 1995, the Cuban Government issued a resolution
preventing any Cuban or joint enterprise from selling computers,
fax machines, photocopiers or other equipment to any church. . . .
Government harassment of private houses of worship continued
throughout 1996, with evangelical denominations reporting evictions
from, and bulldozing of, houses used for these purposes. In the
province of Las Tunas, neighbors of one private house of worship
tried to provoke fights with parishioners, blared music during
religious services and tried to pour boiling water through the
windows during a religious service.
EGYPT. Christians face discrimination based on tradition and
some aspects of the law, and there have been instances of
persecution of Christians in Egypt in recent years. In addition,
Christians have been the target of terrorist groups seeking to
overthrow the Government and establish an Islamic state, and
terrorists have killed dozens of Christians, as well as hundreds of
other citizens, in the past few years, despite Government efforts
to protect the population. . . . There were credible reports that
in 1996 state security officers in Cairo detained, interrogated
and, in at least two cases, physically abused several converts to
GERMANY. Recently, a federal administration court in Berlin
denied Jehovah's Witnesses the status of a "public body" on the
grounds that the church did not offer the "indispensable loyalty"
towards the State, because, for example, it refused to acknowledge
public elections. . . . Scientologists, including American
citizens, have reported discrimination and harassment in Germany.
INDONESIA. There are some restrictions on religious freedom,
including a ban on atheism and some restrictions on the activities
of unrecognized religions. . . . There were several instances of
religion-related mob violence during 1996. In July several
Christian churches were burned in Surabaya. On October 10, rioters
destroyed 24 churches and a Buddhist temple on the East Java coast,
to protest the leniency of a sentence given to a Muslim by an
Indonesian judge for slandering Islam. In the course of the riots a
Protestant minister, his wife and child and a church worker were
burned to death.
IRAN. Non-Muslims may not proselytize Muslims. Muslims who
convert to another faith are considered apostates and may be
subject to the death penalty. Four Baha'is
remain in prison under
death sentences, convicted on charges of apostasy in 1996.
NORTH KOREA. Three Christian churches -- two Protestant and one
Catholic -- have been opened since 1988 in Pyongyang. These appear
to be the only active Christian churches in the country. Many
visitors say that church activity appears staged.
LEBANON. Discrimination based on religion is built into the
system of government. The President is by tradition a Maronite
Christian, the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim and the speaker of the
Chamber of Deputies a Shi'a Muslim. . . . The amended Constitution
of 1990 embraces the principle of abolishing religious affiliation
as a criterion for filling all Government positions, but few
practical steps have been taken to accomplish this.
MOROCCO. Islamic law and tradition call for strict punishment of
any Muslim who converts to another faith, and any attempt to induce a
Muslim to convert is illegal. Ordinarily, foreign missionaries either
limit their proselytizing to non-Muslims or conduct their work quietly.
In 1995, at least seven Moroccans were arrested, and in some cases
sentenced to jail terms, for offenses related to their Christianity.
RUSSIA. Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, the overall
climate for religious freedom in Russia has improved dramatically,
and made possible a large increase in the activities of foreign
missionaries. This has troubled some sectors of Russian society,
particularly nationalists and factions of the Russian Orthodox
Church. During 1996 and 1997, the Russian Orthodox Church used its
political influence to promote official actions that discriminate
against religious groups and sects.
SINGAPORE. The Government banned Jehovah's Witnesses in 1972 on
the grounds that the group opposes military service, and its
roughly 2,000 members refuse to perform military service, salute
the flag or swear oaths of allegiance to the State. In July 1996, a
72-year-old woman was arrested and convicted for possession of
banned Jehovah's Witness literature. She was sentenced to a $500
fine. She refused to pay and was ordered to jail for seven days.
Conversions and Slave Raids
SUDAN. Forced conversion to Islam of Christians, animists and
other non-Muslims takes place as part of Government policy. The
14-year-old civil war between the mainly Islamic north and the
largely animist and Christian south has claimed more than a million
lives. . . . There are reports that many Christians are victims of
slave raids and forced conversion, and that some Christian children
have been forced into re-education camps where they are given Arab
names and raised as Muslims.
©Copyright 1997, The New York Times Company
Page last updated/revised 033100
Return to the Bahá'í Association's Main Web Page