The surprise bright spot was Libya. The report praised the interim government for doing away with the Moammar Gadhafi-era laws restricting religious freedom and for including the free practice of religion in a draft constitution. In early 2012, the report continued, the Libyan Supreme Court also overturned a law that criminalized “insults against Islam, the state, and religious symbols.”
“They’re in transitions that are important, but we’re looking to them to honor what they said they would do,” Suzan Johnson Cook, the U.S. ambassador at large for international religious freedom, said of the Middle East’s revolutionaries-turned-rulers.
In Myanmar, which the U.S. administration still refers to as Burma, the government “took steps toward overcoming a longstanding legacy of intense religious oppression,” such as easing church construction and permitting adherents of registered religious groups to worship as they chose. However, the report quickly added, the government still closely monitored religious gatherings and refused to recognize the Muslim Rohingya ethnic minority as citizens.
The expansion of blasphemy laws also was a tool of religious repression, particularly in Muslim countries, according to the report. In Pakistan, people who were accused of blasphemy or who publicly criticized blasphemy laws were killed, including the only Christian in the country’s Cabinet.
Saudi Arabia used blasphemy laws to convict an Australian Shiite of Iraqi descent; his sentence of 500 lashes and a year in prison was reduced to 75 lashes and no jail time. Indonesia used similar laws to imprison minorities, including a Christian who was sentenced to five years for distributing books deemed “offensive to Islam.”
The congressionally mandated report reviews the status of religious freedom in 199 countries and territories. It’s available in full at http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/irf/religiousfreedom/index.htm.