USA: Four countries where it’s dangerous to criticize religion, according to U.S. State Department

Four countries — Mauritania, Pakistan, Sudan and Saudi Arabia — were identified as danger zones for religious freedom in the report released Wednesday by the U.S. State Department. These countries’ blasphemy laws that curtail universally recognized human rights were highlighted and concerns regarding this were aired.

In his remarks during last Wednesday’s release, Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinkin said, “When a government denies religious liberty, it turns citizens who have done nothing wrong into criminals, igniting tension that breeds contempt, hopelessness, alienation.”

He argued that religious diversity is an essential ingredient to progress, saying, “Far from a vulnerability or weakness, religious pluralism shows respect for the beliefs of every citizen and gives each a tangible reason to contribute to the success of the entire society. That’s why no nation can fulfill its potential if its people are denied the right to freely choose and openly practice their faith.”

An illustration of the dangers and abuses of “societal passions,” set the tone for the report. An account of the brutal killing of Farkhunda Malikzada of Kabul, Afghanistan, falsely accused of burning the Quran, highlighted the consequences of such and showed there is hope for change with the right response from government leaders. Farkhunda’s attack was condemned by the government and has brought awareness and eventual improvement in their judicial system.

The report said, “In many other Islamic societies, societal passions associated with blasphemy – deadly enough in and of themselves – are abetted by a legal code that harshly penalizes blasphemy and apostasy. Such laws conflict with and undermine universally recognized human rights.”

Residents of countries who have these laws or social norms are vulnerable to attacks. The four countries highlighted in the report were Mauritania, Pakistan, Sudan and Saudi Arabia.

Mauritania is a primarily Muslim country and Islam is the only religion recognized by its citizens and by the state. In this country of 3.6 million people, violation of the apostasy law by word or by action, be it apparent or obvious, is punishable by death, Christian Today reports.

The State Department’s annual report revealed the plight of an online blogger Mohammad Cheikh Ould Mohammad who was accused criticizing the Prophet Mohammad and blaming religious authorities for the forgeron castes’ discrimination. MKheytir, as Mohammad is more popularly known for, was convicted of apostasy but his sentence was lowered after he “repented.” He is still in prison waiting for a possible pardon from the Supreme Court. The human right activist who defended him received threats to his life.

In Pakistan, mob violence has caused more than 62 deaths since 1990, according to the Centre for Research and Security Studies in Pakistan. This act has often been justified by Pakistan’s blasphemy laws which call for harsh punishments for the desecration of the Quran or insulting the Prophet Mohammad. About 39 registered cases of blasphemy against 359 people and 40 people sentenced to death for blasphemy, according to Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), as cited in the State Department’s report.

Meanwhile, in Sudan, the Sudanese Penal Code on apostasy states that “any Muslim who declares publicly that he/she has adopted any religion other than Islam commits the crime of apostasy and is punishable with the death penalty. However, the provision waives the death penalty if the convicted person reconverts to Islam.”

Sudan’s criminal code punishes those who commit acts such as insulting Islam or inciting disrespect against the religion’s followers will be sanctioned with imprisonment, flagellation or fine.

In Saudi Arabia, the prevailing law is the Islamic Sharia’a which criminalizes conversion to other religions, blasphemy and apostasy; it imposes the death penalty on violators. Also in effect is a law that deems “calling for atheist thought,” “calling into question the Islamic religion” and “sowing discord in society” as criminal acts.

Source/Credit: Christian Daily