WASHINGTON (AP) _ A U.S State Department report released Thursday found evidence of widespread religious persecution in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan, all under varying degrees of authoritarian rule, and also uncovered religious discrimination in some democratic countries, including Israel and India.
The report, covering 194 countries and territories, is the first of what will become and annual assessment of the state of religious freedom around the world. The most serious violators could eventually face economic sanctions.
The study stressed that religious persecution is not confined to a particular faith. "Throughout the world, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, and other believers continue to suffer for their faith," it said.
While the report did not rank the countries based on the degree to which they limit freedom, the excesses attributed to the Iraqi government stood out.
"(President) Saddam Hussein has for decades conducted a brutal campaign of murder, summary execution and protracted arbitrary detention against the religious leaders and adherents of the Shiite Muslim population," the report said.
It said Iraqi security forces have murdered senior Shiite clerics, desecrated mosques and holy sites, arrested tens of thousands of Shiites and forcibly prevented Shiites from practicing their religion."
Shiites in Afghanistan also suffered persecution and killing at the hands of the Taliban-led government in Kabul. Afghan police also impose "severe physical punishment and imprisonment" for deviations from codes of worship and dress," the report said.
It said Iran is intent on eradicating the Baha'is through prolonged detention and imprisonment, confiscation and desecration of graveyards and other holy places. It added that other religious minorities in Iran also suffer officially sanctioned religious discrimination.
In general, the report made clear that democratic countries are far more tolerant of religious diversity than are countries run by totalitarian or authoritarian regimes. The report credits India, for example, for respecting constitutional provisions guaranteeing freedom of religion.
But it said, tension between Muslims and Hindus in India, and to a lesser extent between Hindus and Christians, "continue to pose a challenge to the concepts of secularism, tolerance and diversity on which the state was founded," the report said. It added that state and local governments only partially respect religious freedom. The report also said there have been numerous reports of human rights abuses carried out by the mostly Hindu security forces against the predominantly Muslim population in the region of Kashmir controlled by India. As for India's rival, Pakistan, the report said discriminatory legislation has encouraged an atmosphere of "religious intolerance, which has led to acts of violence by extremists against members of religious minorities, including Christians, Hindus, Ahmadis and Zikris."
In democratic Israel, the report said the country's 20 percent Arab population does not receive the same quality of education, housing, employment opportunities and social services as Jews.
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