- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 8, 2005

The State Department cited Saudi Arabia yesterday for denying religious freedom to non-Muslims and found fault to a lesser degree with other allies including Israel, Belgium, France, Germany and Pakistan.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who will be going to Saudi Arabia at the end of the week as part of a trip to the Middle East, released the survey of 197 countries and territories.

“In far too many countries, governments fail to safeguard religious freedom,” she said.

The same eight countries found to be of “particular concern” last year were cited again yesterday. They are Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Vietnam.

If Vietnam continues to improve its record, it could be removed from the list next time, Miss Rice said.

“Freedom of religion does not exist” in Saudi Arabia, the report said. “Islam is the official religion and all citizens must be Muslims.”

In Israel, the report said, some non-Jews, primarily Arab Muslims and Christians, experience discrimination in education, housing and employment.

“Tensions between Israeli Jews and Arab Muslims and Christians remained high due to the institutional, legal and societal discrimination against the country’s Arab citizens,” said the seventh annual report to Congress.

In France, where mayhem is sweeping impoverished neighborhoods with large African and Arab communities, and in Belgium and Germany, the State Department mildly criticized the branding of certain religions as dangerous.

Pakistan was faulted for discriminatory legislation and failing to intervene in cases of violence against minority religious groups.

The citation of Saudi Arabia for not recognizing religious freedom and denying it to all but those who adhere to the state-sanctioned version of Sunni Islam could be an irritant during Miss Rice’s visit to the Arab kingdom.

In September, she postponed punishing the Saudis with trade or other restrictions by giving the country’s rulers 180 days to show progress in the treatment of religious minorities.

John Hanford, who heads the State Department’s religious freedom office, criticized the Saudi government at a press conference yesterday, but added: “We are pleased that hundreds of thousands of people are permitted to practice their religion privately.”

The report criticized Cuba for controlling and monitoring religious activities, and North Korea for not permitting religious freedom at all.

Listed as hostile toward minority or nonapproved religions were Eritrea, Iran, Laos, Sudan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam, as well as Saudi Arabia.

The report said that in Iran, Sunni Muslims, Bahais, Jews and Christians reported imprisonment, harassment, intimidation and discrimination based on their religious beliefs.

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