US Secretary of State, John Kerry, has submitted the 2013 International Religious Freedom annual report to the US Congress which said there were great challenges around the world.
The report said: “In 2013, the world witnessed the largest displacement of members of religious communities in recent memory. In almost every corner of the globe, millions of Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and others representing a range of faiths were forced from their homes on account of their religious beliefs. In conflict zones, mass displacement has become all too common. Around the world, individuals were subjected to discrimination, violence and abuse, perpetrated and sanctioned violence for simply exercising their faith, identifying with a certain religion, or choosing not to believe in a higher deity at all.”
‘Countries of particular concern’ in the report were listed as Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan – and for the first time, Turkmenistan.
US Secretary of State, John Kerry, said: “When 75 percent of the world’s population still lives in countries that don’t respect religious freedoms, let me tell you, we have a long journey ahead of us. We have a long way to go when governments kill, detain, or torture people based on a religious belief.
“North Korea stands out again in this year’s report for its absolute and brutal repression of religious activity. Members of religious minorities are ripped from their families and isolated in political prison camps. They’re arrested and beaten, tortured and killed. And we’ve seen reports that individuals have been arrested for doing nothing more than carrying a Bible.
“North Korea is not alone. Earlier this month, Chinese officials sentenced Christian pastor Zhang Shaojie to 12 years in prison for peaceful advocacy on behalf of his church community. And just last week, I welcomed the release of Meriam Ishag, a mother of two young children who had been imprisoned on charges of apostasy in Sudan. From South Asia to Sahel, governments have silenced members of religious groups with oppressive laws, harsh punishments, and brutal tactics that have no place in the 21st century.
“In Iran, U.S. Iranian citizen Pastor Saeed Abedini remains imprisoned. The Iranian authorities sentenced him to eight years behind bars simply because of his religious beliefs. We will continue to call for his release and we will continue to work for it. And make no mistake: We will continue to stand up for religious minority communities under assault and in danger around the world, from Jehovah’s Witnesses to Baha’is to Ahmadi Muslims. So we have a long way to go to safeguard these rights.”
The report was submitted as USA President Obama gave the role of US Ambassador-at-large to Rabbi David Saperstein. He will lead the State Department’s Office of International Freedom to monitor worldwide persecution of people for their religion.
The new Ambassador succeeds Pastor Suzan Johnston Cook, after he resigned in October 2013. At the age of 66, he is the first non-Christian to fulfil the role which was first created in 1998.
President Obama said: “I am grateful that Rabbi Saperstein has chosen to dedicate his talent to serving the American people at this important time for our country. I look forward to working with him in the months and years ahead.”
Russell Moore, president of The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, welcomed the nomination.
“I applaud President Obama for making a nomination to the important position of Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, a position that plays a key role in our nation’s responsibility to act on behalf of the persecuted around the world.
“Rabbi Saperstein is a respected thinker and leader who brings gravity to this important task. He has my prayers and my pledge of full cooperation. The downgrade of religious freedom and the persecution of religious minorities around the world must end.”
The White House gives the following details about Rabbi Saperstein’s background: He is director and counsel of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, where he has served since 1974. He is also an Adjunct Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center, where he teaches First Amendment Church-State Law and Jewish Law.
Saperstein serves on a number of boards, including The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the National Religious Partnership for the Environment. He was a member of the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships from 2010 to 2011. Saperstein was a member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom from 1999 to 2001, serving as its first Chair from 1999 to 2000. He received a B.A. from Cornell University, an M.H.L. from Hebrew Union College, and a J.D. from American University.