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By Adelle M. Banks
Religion News Service

WASHINGTON (RNS) A federal watchdog panel said Friday (May 2) that 11 countries should be named “countries of particular concern” for their records on religious freedom, including three that are not currently on the State Department’s list.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom urged the inclusion of Vietnam — which was removed from the State Department’s list in 2006 — and Pakistan and Turkmenistan.
Commissioners who traveled to Vietnam in 2007 found “very uneven” progress on the improvement of conditions for religious freedom, said commission Chair Michael Cromartie in a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. “Arrests, detentions, discrimination, and other restrictions continue,” he said.
Cromartie also cited continuing “religiously motivated violence” in Pakistan and “official harassment of religious adherents” in Turkmenistan.
The other countries recommended for the designation of “countries of particular concern” are Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan, which have been on the State Department’s list since 2006.
“Developments of the past decade have strengthened the importance of freedom of religion or belief, as the U.S. government navigates a world threatened by religion-based extremism and religion-imbued conflict,”
Cromartie said in a statement that accompanied the release of the commission’s annual recommendations.
The commission also cited countries on its “Watch List” that require monitoring because of religious freedom violations permitted or implemented by the governments: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, Indonesia and Nigeria.
Commissioners say they continue to be “seriously concerned” about religious freedom in Iraq, which was on their 2007 Watch List, and will be traveling to the region in May. They plan to issue a report on Iraq after the trip.
Copyright 2008 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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