(RNS) An independent religious freedom watchdog panel has welcomed the State Department’s annual religious freedom report and its list of the world’s worst offenders, which had laid dormant for three years.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) was created in 1998, and serves as an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom was created in 1998 as an independent, bipartisan body.Public domain image

The list of “countries of particular concern” had remained unchanged since 2006 — and hasn’t been formally issued by the State Department since 2011 — when Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan were cited.

In April, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended that the list be doubled to include Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Vietnam, Pakistan, Syria, Iraq, Nigeria and Egypt. Turkmenistan was the only new addition to this year’s CPC list, bringing the total to nine countries.

The State Department and the independent USCIRF have often been at odds on who makes the list of worst offenders, and in a statement, USCIRF noted the “disappointing omission” of Pakistan in particular.

“Pakistan represents the worst situation in the world for religious freedom for countries not currently designated by the U.S. government as CPCs,” said USCIRF Chair Katrina Lantos Swett.

Katrina Lantos Swett serves as Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Katrina Lantos Swett serves as chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.Photo courtesy USCIRF

 This image is available for web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

On Sunday (July 27), a violent mob torched at least eight homes in an Ahmadi Muslim neighborhood in eastern Pakistan after a member of the minority sect was accused of posting a blasphemous photo online. A woman, two children and an unborn baby died as a result of the blaze.

Ahmadiyya Muslim Association UK reports that since 1984, 244 Ahmadis have been murdered in Pakistan because of their faith. Ahmadi Muslims are considered heretics in Pakistan, and it is a criminal offense for them to identify as Muslim. Those who do may be subject to harsh anti-blasphemy laws, which include the death penalty among other punishments.

Other religious minorities, including Shiite Muslims, Sufis, Christians, Hindus, Zoroastrians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Baha’is, have also been subject to attack in the Sunni-majority state.

Syria was also left off the CPC list, even as the country’s civil war continues to devolve along sectarian lines. Militants from the Islamic State have persecuted Syria’s Alawite Muslim sect and Christians in Syria and Iraq. The extremist group’s recent ultimatum to Iraqi Christians in Mosul that they convert to Islam or face execution will likely bring further pressure on the State Department to add both countries to its CPC list next year.

USCIRF also welcomed Monday’s nomination of a new ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, Rabbi David Saperstein. If confirmed by the Senate, Saperstein would be the first non-Christian to hold the position since its inception in 1998. The post has been empty since October.



  1. “Unborn baby”

    Ummm….I don’t think so. If there is anything mypolitically correct society has taught me, Is that there is no such thing as an unborn “baby”. Its a mass of tissue that is abortable. By fire or otherwise. No loss.

  2. “A woman, two children and an unborn baby died in the blaze”

    A small correction: The unborn baby did not die in the blaze. A pregnant Ahmadi woman was injured during the attack and later miscarried.

    Upon hearing news of the initial deaths, a statement was released by His Holiness Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, World Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community:

    “This attack was an act of the most extreme cruelty and brutality, whereby innocent people who were sitting peacefully in their own homes were attacked and left for dead.

    It has been falsely claimed that this attack was provoked by a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. This allegation is completely untrue and without any foundation whatsoever. If those who perpetrated this attack truly felt that 1 person had provoked them then they should have sought his arrest but instead they chose to burn alive an elderly lady and her two granddaughters. In truth, this was an entirely unprovoked assault on all forms of human decency which led to the death of 3 people including 2 very young children.

    This attack took place as the local police stood by and watched and took no action. It is yet another example of how the authorities in Pakistan are aiding the persecution of Ahmadi Muslims.

    Let it be clear that we Ahmadi Muslims will never undertake any worldly protest and nor will we ever take to the streets. Our response to all of the sustained persecution that we face is, and will always remain, to bow down before Allah the Almighty and to seek His Help and Mercy.

    This barbaric attack was conducted in the name of Islam, whilst the truth is that such violence has nothing to do with Islam or its teachings. Such merciless attacks can only be deemed as inhumane in the extreme. These types of vicious assaults are nothing but a stain on the pure and peaceful teachings of Islam.

    To kill and to violently oppose is not an act of Islam but it is the act of those people who do not believe in God and do not even possess the most basic human values or decency.

    May Allah grant patience to all those left bereaved and to Ahmadi Muslims throughout the world.” – 28th July, 2014.

  3. One man’s religious freedom
    is another man’s blasphemy.

    Who is guilty of Apostasy?
    All of us. 100% of Humanity.

    So be very careful with religion.
    Whichever one wins dominance, they will have a lot of killing to do.

  4. Instead of merely transcribing press releases, perhaps you should include the fact that the so-called “U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom” (Nothing more than a Clinton sop to Evangelicals) is nowhere near a credible organization, being pretty much populated with Evangelical cranks and various assorted Islamophobes. This self appointed arbiter of “religious freedom” is rife with astounding religious bigotry and bias in both hiring practices and countries on focus. Here, let me do your damn job for you: https://www.aclu.org/blog/religion-belief-national-security-lgbt-rights/look-us-commission-international-religious http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/02/16/AR2010021605517.html?sid=ST2010021700241

    Of course, I realize that mentioning such inconvenient facts gets in the blogs usual agenda of preachy atheism and Muslim bashing.

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