Bahai News - Report paints grim picture of global religious freedom
Wednesday, September 6 2000 01:24  : 6 Elul 5760
Report paints grim picture of global religious freedom
By Marilyn Henry
(September 6) - Israel showed some improvements in religious liberty in
the last year, the State Department said yesterday in its second annual
Report on International Religious Freedom. However, the overall picture
for religious freedom in 194 countries was called grim, and special note
was made of the "threatening atmosphere" confronting the Jewish
community in Iran.
"The sad truth is that religious intolerance remains far too common in
too many places," Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told reporters
at a briefing in New York.
Albright said religious freedom is a human rights issue that is a
central aspect of the American foreign policy. While acknowledging that
each nation has a unique political and legal system, Albright said that
no country's history or culture can exempt it from the need to ensure
There were "significant improvements" in religious freedom in Azerbaijan
and Laos, the report said.
However, there was a marked deterioration in China, where Christians
were at risk, and in Myanmar, where Buddhist monks who promoted human
rights were jailed. In Iran, the government continued to abuse religious
rights, the report said, making special note of the harassment of
members of the Bahai faith.
It also cited the trial and imprisonment of the 10 Jews on charges of
spying for Israel, saying that "the Revolutionary Court deprived the
accused of almost all legitimate means of defense, and its conduct
worsened societal attitudes toward the Jewish community."
Further, it said that the government's anti-Israel policies, "coupled
with a perception among radicalized Moslem elements that Jewish citizens
support Zionism and the State of Israel, create a threatening atmosphere
for the small Jewish community."
"Millions of people around the world continue to suffer for what they
believe and how they worship," said Robert Seiple, the American
ambassador at large for religious freedom.
In its section on Israel, the State Department noted that Israeli law
provides for freedom of worship. However, it noted: "The overwhelming
majority of non-Jewish citizens are Arabs and they are subject to
various forms of discrimination. It is not clear that whatever
discrepancies exist in the treatment of various communities in Israeli
society are based on religion per se."
It cited proportionately greater financial support to religious and
civic institutions in the Jewish sector, against the aid for non-Jewish
The department commended as an "area of improvement" last March's ruling
by the Supreme Court that challenged the allocation of land by the
Jewish National Fund since JNF barred the sale or lease of land to
The report also noted the May court ruling that would permit women to
pray at the Western Wall, and that the Knesset had not yet overturned
However, the department reported that relations between and within
religious groups are strained. Among the Jewish population, the report
cited the exclusive control by Orthodox authorities of marriage, divorce
and burial, and the problems this has created for immigrants from the
former Soviet Union.
The report also noted verbal and physical harassment by the Orthodox
of some Jews for "immodest dress," and it referred to Jewish women who
cannot obtain a religious divorce. "Consequently, there are hundreds of
so-called 'agunot' in the country who cannot remarry or have legitimate
children," the report said.
Copies of the complete report were not available at press time, and it
was unclear how the State Department assessed religious freedom in areas
under Palestinian Authority control.
©Copyright 2000, The Jerusalem Post
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