Bigotry against Jews and Muslims on the rise, says US

 
Rohingya Muslims pass the time at a camp for people displaced by violence, near Sittwe 26 April 2013 In 2012, waves of religious violence engulfed parts of Burma, leaving almost 200 dead

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Discrimination against Jews and Muslims is on the rise around the world, according to an annual US Department of State report.

The findings for 2012 spoke of an increase in anti-Islamic sentiment in Europe and Asia.

It also said there was growing anti-Semitism, especially in Venezuela, Egypt and Iran.

As he unveiled the report, US Secretary of State John Kerry appointed a new special envoy on anti-Semitism.

Ira Foreman was named to replace Michael Kozak in the role, which was first created in 2004.

Mr Foreman was in charge of appealing to Jewish voters on behalf of President Barack Obama ahead of last November's election.

Apostasy laws

The International Religious Freedom Report, released on Monday, noted that in Egypt, anti-Semitic sentiment in the media sometimes included Holocaust denial or glorification.

Start Quote

Traditional forms of anti-Semitism continued to flourish”

End Quote International Religious Freedom Report

It also mentioned an incident on 19 October when Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi said "amen" to a religious leader's call upon Allah to "destroy the Jews and their supporters".

Government-controlled media in Venezuela, meanwhile, had published numerous anti-Semitic statements, including in opposition to a Catholic presidential candidate with Jewish ancestors.

The report also noted the Iranian government's frequent denunciations of Judaism.

"Even well into the 21st Century, traditional forms of anti-Semitism, such as conspiracy theories, use of the discredited myth of 'blood libel' and cartoons demonizing Jews continued to flourish," the report said.

It found that Muslims faced new restrictions in Belgium, which had banned face-covering religious attire in classrooms.

The report also raised concern at the restricting of headscarves in schools in Mangalore, India.

A section on Burma highlighted sustained violence and discrimination against Rohingya Muslims. The report was released as Burmese President Thein Sein met Mr Obama in the White House.

It also highlighted the targeting of Islamic minorities in majority Muslim countries.

There had been rising violence against Shia and Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan, discrimination against non-Sunni Muslims in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, and the arrest and harassment of Sunni Muslims in Iran, the report said.

Mr Kerry said the findings also pointed to a rise in apostasy laws, which he said were frequently used to repress dissent or settle personal vendettas.

The report cites the example of a mentally disabled Christian girl who was jailed for over a month in Pakistan on blasphemy charges until she was freed amid domestic and international condemnation.

The report also found:

  • Russia brought extremism charges against members of minority religious groups in order to restrict their right to assembly
  • Two credible reports from Sudan that the authorities had razed churches
  • Maldives officials had been pressuring citizens to conform to a stricter interpretation of Islamic practice

As he unveiled the report in Washington DC, Mr Kerry acknowledged that America's own record was not perfect, but said religious freedom was a "universal value".

"The freedom to profess and practise one's faith - to believe or not to believe, or to change one's beliefs - that is a birthright of every human being," he said.

"I urge all countries, especially those identified in this report, to take action now to safeguard this fundamental freedom."

 

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