WASHINGTON, Oct 15, (Agencies): The International Religious Freedom Report released by the US Department of State Wednesday showed that much of the aggression against religious minorities around the world stems from groups that identify themselves as Muslim, whether they are attacking a different Islamic sect, or people of a different belief system altogether.
In remarks to the press on the annual report, which is in its 17th year, Secretary of State John Kerry said that non-state actors, such as terrorist groups, now pose the greatest threat to religious freedom around the world. This is in comparison to the last century, he noted, when it was mainly governments that perpetrated acts of religious intolerance. But while he pointed to groups like ISIL, al-Qaeda, and Boko Haram and accused them of “vicious acts of unprovoked violence,” Kerry also stressed that the Obama Administration “does not condone” the reactions of certain governments to terrorist acts, in which religious freedoms are limited as a result.
The report further accused governments in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia of not taking the necessary measures to protect their minority citizens.
It cited the governments of Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, Niger, Pakistan and Burma as the main examples. “In these regions, religious intolerance and hostility, often combined with political, economic and ethnic grievances, frequently led to violence,” the report said.
“Governments stood by, either unwilling or unable to act in response to the resulting death, injuries and displacement.” It continued: “In both principle and action, where people are endangered, threatened, or face discrimination, it is the responsibility of governments to safeguard universal human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to life and the freedom of conscience, belief, practice, worship, and to explain and change one’s faith.” When governments fail in this respect, the report added, “they legitimize and facilitate non-state actors who persecute and discriminate against members of vulnerable religious communities, nurture an environment of intolerance, and weaken the ties that support peaceful and resilient societies”. The following is the US State Department’s 2014 International Religious Freedom Report on Kuwait:
The constitution states that freedom of religion is absolute and provides for freedom of belief and practice of religion. It stipulates, however, that the practice of religion must be in accordance with established customs and not conflict with public policy or morals.
The government enforced a law on national harmony and bans on blasphemy and proselytism by non-Muslims. In July the Court of Cassation upheld a lower court ruling convicting Hamad Al-Naqi, a Shia citizen, to 10 years in prison for posting to his social media account comments deemed insulting to Islam and defamatory of Sunni rulers in the region.
The media reported multiple incidents of individuals detained for practicing black magic and sorcery or possessing items allegedly used in those practices, which are considered inconsistent with Islamic law.
The government did not recognize several Christian groups, as well as religious groups that it deemed not sanctioned in the Holy Quran, such as Bahais, Buddhists, Hindus, and Sikhs. Securing official recognition of religious groups involved a lengthy process, requiring approval from three ministries and providing the public the opportunity to object.
Churches that applied for licenses to build new places of worship have had to wait years for approval, and since 2001 the government granted licenses and approved the construction of fewer than 10 new Shia mosques. The current number of Shia mosques and Christian churches did not meet the needs of their members.
There were reports that authorities, usually in response to complaints from neighbors over crowded streets and parking during worship services, pressured landlords who had leased property to unlicensed churches.
In August the government shut down a local play for allegedly insulting religion when one of the actors improvised several scenes that activists felt demeaned Shia religious practices. There were no reports by religious leaders of harassment or discrimination based on religion, and non-Muslims reported being able to practice their faith freely.
Negative commentary regarding Jews appeared in the media. Anti- Semitic rhetoric often originated from self-proclaimed Islamists or conservative opinion writers. Many hotels, stores, and other businesses patronized by both citizens and non-citizens openly acknowledged non-Muslim holidays such as Christmas, Easter, and Diwali.
The Ambassador and other embassy officers met government officials to advocate for religious freedom, particularly access to adequate worship facilities. The embassy also met with a variety of religious groups and leaders from both recognized and unrecognized religious groups. The embassy nominated young citizens for exchange programs on interfaith dialogue and religious tolerance.