Washington: Amid increasing religious intolerance across the globe, the US today said when a government denies religious liberty, citizens who have done nothing wrong turn into criminals.
“When a government denies religious liberty, it turns citizens who have done nothing wrong into criminals, igniting tension that breeds contempt, hopelessness, alienation,” Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken told reporters at a news conference here to release the annual report on International Religious Freedom for the year 2015.
“Our message is simple. Societies tend to be stronger, wealthier, safer and more stable when their citizens fully enjoy the rights to which they are entitled,” he said.
Far from a vulnerability or weakness, religious pluralism shows respect for the beliefs of every citizen and gives each a tangible reason to contribute to the success of the entire society, Blinken said.
That is why no nation can fulfil its potential if its people are denied the right to freely choose and openly practice their faith, he asserted.
“Now, it used to be that our annual reports focused almost exclusively on the actions of states, but we’ve also seen certain non-state actors, including terrorist organisations like Daesh, al-Qaeda, al-Shabaab, Boko Haram posing a major threat to religious freedom,” Blinken said.
“There is, after all, no more egregious form of discrimination than separating out the followers of one religion from another, whether in a village, on a bus, in a classroom, with the intent of murdering or enslaving the members of a particular group,” Blinken said.
Religious freedom, he underscored, is a core component of maximising that potential for people to express themselves freely to maximise their own potential.
US Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, Rabbi David Nathan Saperstein, said the report highlights the chilling and sometimes deadly effect of blasphemy and apostasy laws in many places of the world, as well as laws that purport to protect religious sentiments from defamation.
“Roughly a quarter of the world’s countries have blasphemy laws, and more than one in 10 have laws or policies penalising the apostasy, and the existence of these laws has been used by governments in too many cases to intimidate, repress religious minorities,” Saperstein said.
“And governments have too often failed to take appropriate steps to prevent societal violence sparked by accusations of blasphemy and apostasy,” he said.
“In Pakistan, the government continued to enforce blasphemy laws, for which a punishment can be death for a range of charges,” Saperstein said.
“Christians as well as Muslims were arrested on charges of blasphemy in the last year. In 2016, after a Hindu convert to Islam was accused of blasphemy, two Hindu youths were shot and one died from his wounds in ensuing communal violence,” he said.