Freedom of Religion Scarce in Iran, China; on List of 8 Nations 'Of Particular Concern'

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Byline: Guy Taylor , THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Declaring that freedom of religion is a core American value, Secretary of State John F. Kerry Monday released his department's annual worldwide religious freedom report, which found worrying and negative trends around the globe.

The freedom to profess and practice one's faith, to believe or not to believe, or to change one's beliefs, that is a birthright of every human being, and that's what we believe, Mr. Kerry told reporters in Washington, in remarks accompanying the release of the International Religious Freedom Report for 2012.

While the report pointed to some examples of progress toward religious tolerance, its main focus was on persecution and abuses carried about by authorities in nearly every corner of the globe. Eight nations officially listed by the U.S. government as Countries of Particular Concern are highlighted for having played host to severe violations to religious freedom during 2012: Myanmar, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan.

The same eight countries made the particular concern list in the State Department's 2011 report. U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Suzan Johnson Cook told reporters that the findings are built on a year-by-year evaluation of the different religious landscapes in individual nations - as well as the evolving postures of different governments.

There are some governments that are not moving whatsoever, said Mrs. Johnson Cook, who joined Mr. Kerry in releasing the report at Foggy Bottom. The Saudi government, she said, does not allow non-Islamic persons to have freedom of religion.

According to the report's executive summary, authorities in Saudi Arabia even beheaded at least one individual for engaging in sorcery in 2012.

Despite considerable political reforms in Myanmar, meanwhile, the report's summary cited local government participation in ethnic and religious violence against the Southeast Asian nation's Muslim community. The report was released the day President Obama hosted Myanmar President Thein Sein at the White House. …