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Dangerous exposure

New religious freedom report focuses on deteriorating situation for religious minorities in the Middle East

Issue: "Finding their way," Oct. 8, 2011

The State Department, in its new report on international religious freedom, zeroed in on the problem with the Arab Spring: its threat to religious minorities in the region. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, presenting the report at the State Department, applauded the democracy movements in the Middle East, but the upheaval has "exposed religious and ethnic minorities to danger," she said. "They cannot change one form of repression for another."

Michael Posner, who oversees the international religious freedom office as assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor, said the agency is particularly concerned about the plight of Christians in Syria, many of whom have fled persecution elsewhere in the Middle East and now are facing persecution again. The report also said the Egyptian government had failed to prosecute "numerous perpetrators of violence against Coptic Christians."

The Jubilee Campaign, an advocacy group for persecuted Christians, welcomed the report but noted that the 2011 report is little changed from the 2010 report. "The report continued to use the word 'alleged' to describe well-documented human rights abuses, such as the kidnapping and forced conversion to Islam of Coptic Christian women and girls in Egypt," noted Ann Buwalda, the executive director of Jubilee. "The report also failed to clearly portray the widespread and violent terrorization of Assyrian Chaldean Christians in Iraq."

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Posner described "a deteriorating human rights situation" in China, particularly in regards to house churches. The State Department re-designated China as a "country of particular concern," a label reserved for the most serious violators of religious freedom, along with Burma, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent government arm that monitors abuses abroad, urged the State Department to add others to the list, like Pakistan and Vietnam.

Emily Belz
Emily Belz

Emily, who has covered everything from political infighting to pet salons for The Indianapolis Star, The Hill, and the New York Daily News, reports for WORLD from New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emzleb.

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