For the first time in the U.S. annual report on international religious freedom, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, and Eritrea were classified as “countries of particular concern.” In particular the State Department, which released the 2004 report, said Wednesday that Saudi Arabia has engaged in “particularly severe violations” of religious freedom.
According to the report, freedom of religion does not exist in Saudi Arabia and is not protected under the country’s laws. It also says that those who do not adhere to the officially sanctioned strain of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia can face “severe repercussions” at the hands of religious police.
The government of Saudi Arabia, which declares Islam as the official language and requires all citizens to be Muslims, prohibits public non-Muslim religious activities, the department said as reported by Reuters. “Non-Muslim worshippers risk arrest, imprisonment, lashing, deportation, and sometimes torture for engaging in religious activity that attracts official attention.”
Under U.S. law, nations engaged in violations of religious freedom deemed “particularly severe” are designated by the State Department as “countries of particular concern” or CPCs.
Preeta D. Bansal, chairperson for the U.S. Commission on International Freedom, said the group had been advocating the inclusion of Saudi Arabia on the CPC list since legislation was approved in 1999 to evaluate the state of religious freedom around the world.
She said the commission’s stand was based not only on violations of religious freedom within Saudi Arabia’s own borders “but also its propagation and export of an ideology of religious hate and intolerance throughout the world.”
Ambassador John V. Hanford, head of the State Department’s religious freedom office, did however, cite statements by Saudi ruler Crown Prince Abdullah in support of tolerance and moderation and said numerous Saudi textbooks have been revised to delete inflammatory references to religious beliefs outside those officially approved. “But problems exist that push them over the line,” Hanford said.
He also added that despite forward movement over the past year, Saudi was considered to be a CPC.
The report also maintained Myanmar, China, Cuba, Laos, North Korea and Vietnam as “totalitarian regimes” restricting religious freedom in their societies.
The department said that Cuba and the five Asian nations regarded some or all religious groups as enemies of the state and that the practice of religion was often seen by them as a threat to power.