- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo put a spotlight on the Trump administration’s push to bolster religious freedom around the world Tuesday, calling it the “most fundamental of human rights” and declaring that “the United States will not stand by as spectators” while people are persecuted over faith.

Mr. Pompeo made the assertion while releasing the State Department’s annual Report on Religious Freedom — a document that can be found on the department’s website. He also announced that he personally will host the department’s first-ever international “Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom” in Washington in late-July.

The high-level meeting, to include faith leaders and top diplomats from “like-minded governments” around the world, “will break new ground” and “not just be a discussion group,” Mr. Pompeo told reporters at department headquarters Tuesday.

“It will be about action,” he said in remarks that appeared to be geared at putting the issue on the front-burner of the Trump administration’s wider human rights policy. “We look forward to identifying concrete ways to push back against persecution and ensure greater respect for religious freedom for all.”

While critics say the administration’s overall foreign policy has in some cases put human rights concerns behind U.S. economic interests, Tuesday’s developments suggested Mr. Pompeo, a conservative Christian, seeks to counter that narrative by pursuing the human rights aspect of religious freedom.

Tuesday’s report by the State Department homed in on the persecution of people of various faiths around the world.

While the document highlighted the persecution of Christians in some areas, it also homed in on the mistreatment of Muslims, particularly in Myanmar, saying that ethnic cleansing targeting Rohingya Muslims there has not stopped despite growing condemnation from the international community.

The report, covering 2017, also highlighted, among other issues, the following:

• Some 80,000 to 120,000 political prisoners are being held in prison camps in North Korea, some for religious reasons. The report said that prisoners are held “under horrific conditions” in remote areas.

• “Hundreds of thousands” of Uighur Muslims in China have been forcibly sent to re-education centers in China.

• Saudi Arabia continues to prohibit the public practice of any religion other than Islam, and the report noted a “pattern of society prejudice and discrimination” against Shiite Muslims in the predominantly Sunni Muslim nation. Still, Samuel Brownback, the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, said he was encouraged by recent comments from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman about plans to expand freedoms.

• At least 50 people in Pakistan were imprisoned on charges of blasphemy last year. The report said at least 17 were given death sentences.

Mr. Pompeo said the global summit on advancing religious freedom will be July 25-26 at the State Department. Department officials did not provide a list Tuesday of specific countries or religious officials who may be invited to attend.

This story is based in part on wire service reports.

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