Secretary of State John Kerry said on July 28 that Turkmenistan has been added to the State Department’s list of the world’s worst offenders of religious freedom. Since 2006, the State Department’s list titled Countries of Particular Concern (CPCs) remained unaltered after eight countries including China, Burma, North Korea, Iran, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Eritrea and Uzbekistan were added to it.
While explaining the addition of Turkmenistan to the list, Kerry said residents of the country were detained, tortured and beaten regularly for having certain beliefs, wearing certain clothes and distributing certain kinds of reading material.
Turkmenistan is a Sunni dominated country in Central Asia that was once part of the Soviet Union. It prohibits private worship and strictly restricts foreign travel for religious education and pilgrimages. While all religious organizations in the country are required to be registered with the government, Shiite groups, Jehovah’s Witnesses as well as Protestant groups have been denied registrations in recent years.
The 2013 edition of the State Department’s yearly religious freedom report focuses predominantly on impunity, discrimination and the displacement of religious minorities in CPCs.
“In 2013, the world witnessed the largest displacement of religious communities in recent memory. In almost every corner of the globe, millions of Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and others representing a range of faiths were forced from their homes on account of their religious beliefs... Communities are disappearing from their traditional and historic homes and dispersing across the geographic map. In conflict zones, in particular, this mass displacement has become a pernicious norm,” the report read.
CPCs were not the only names to be listed by the State Department in its recent report. Kerry spoke of the largely prevailing anti-Islamic sentiments in Europe as well as the local Jewish population’s contemplation of immigrating to other countries in order to avoid anti-Semitism. The report also named Sri Lanka, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Indonesia, Bangladesh, India and Nigeria as countries that fail to protect their religious minorities.
Kerry referred to the report as “a clear-eyed objective look at the state of religious freedom around the world,” adding, “it does directly shine a light in a way that makes some countries – even some of our friends – uncomfortable.”
He urged the concerned CPCs to strategize real action so they can help change reality at the grass-roots level.