The British Orthodox Church

within the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate

US 2012 Religious Freedom Report just published

The 2012 Annual Report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom,  covering the period 1 April 2011 to 290 February 2012, has just been published. The full text can be accessed online at http://www.uscirf.gov/images/Annual%20Report%20of%20USCIRF%202012(2).pdf

Of particular interest are the reports dealing with Egypt and Eritrea.  Whilst the period under review covered the Egyptian Revolution and overthrow of President Mubarak, there were no significance developments in Eritrea. Yet, both countries raise significant concerns. For Egypt the report found:

“Over the past year, the Egyptian transitional government continued to engage in and tolerate systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief. Serious problems of discrimination, intolerance, and other human rights violations against members of religious minorities, as well as disfavored Muslims, remain widespread in Egypt. Violence targeting Coptic Orthodox Christians increased significantly during the reporting period. The transitional government has failed to protect religious minorities from violent attacks at a time when minority communities have been increasingly vulnerable. This high level of violence and the failure to convict those responsible continued to foster a climate of impunity, making further violence more likely. During the reporting period, military and security forces used excessive force and live ammunition targeting Coptic Christian demonstrators and places of worship resulting in dozens of deaths and hundreds of injuries. The government also continued to prosecute, convict, and impose prison terms on Egyptian citizens charged with blasphemy. Implementation of previous court rulings – related to granting official identity documents to Baha‘is and changing religious affiliation on identity documents for converts to Christianity – has seen some progress but continues to lag, particularly for Baha‘is. In addition, the government has not responded adequately to combat widespread and virulent anti-Semitism in the government controlled media.”

In Eritrea, the report found:

“Systematic, ongoing, and egregious religious freedom violations continue in Eritrea. These violations include: torture or other ill-treatment of thousands of religious prisoners; arbitrary arrests and detentions without charges of members of unregistered religious groups;  a prolonged ban on public religious activities; revocation of citizenship rights of Jehovah‘s Witnesses; interference in the internal affairs of registered religious groups; and inordinate delays in responding to registration applications from religious groups.”

Abba Seraphim welcomed the report and said it was of particular help in supporting those seeking asylum, whose personal  stories of intimidation and persecution were the specific outcomes of failures by the states in question. Whilst his particular concern was directed towards Orthodox Christians; he highlighted that religious persecution was an evil into which all societies could fall and those who love truth and justice must defend the rights and freedom of all, even those holding un-Orthodox beliefs. “We cannot demand religious freedom as an inalienable human right if we seek to limit those rights for groups whose beliefs we reject. Sadly, there are instances in countries where Orthodoxy is the dominant faith, of severe restrictions, if not direct persecution. If we remain passive in the face of such limitations of other’s freedom, we are not upholding a universal human right but merely seeking to defend our own interests.”


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