And then there were nine. Secretary of State John Kerry announced on July 28
that Turkmenistan has joined the State Department’s list of worst religious
The State Department’s “Countries of Particular Concern” list had remained
static since 2006, when eight countries — Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North
Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan — were designated as CPCs.
Justifying the addition of Turkmenistan, Kerry cited reports of people
detained, beaten and tortured for their beliefs, prohibited from wearing
religious attire, and fined for distributing religious materials.
Turkmenistan, a mostly Sunni Muslim country in Central Asia, once part of
the Soviet Union, forbids private worship and greatly restricts foreign travel
for pilgrimages and religious education.
All religious organizations in the country must register with the
government, and Shiite Muslim groups, Protestant groups and Jehovah’s Witnesses
have all had their registration applications denied in recent years. Jehovah’s
Witnesses, whose beliefs prevent them from fulfilling mandatory military
conscription, face particular harassment.
This edition of the State Department’s annual religious freedom report
focused heavily on discrimination, impunity, and the displacement of religious
“In 2013, the world witnessed the largest displacement of religious
communities in recent memory,” the report said. “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.”
CPCs were not the only offenders named. Kerry cited anti-Muslim sentiments
in Europe and a poll from last year showing that nearly half of the local
Jewish populations in some European countries had considered emigrating to
The report summary also names Syria, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Iraq, Bangladesh,
Indonesia, India, and Nigeria for failing to protect vulnerable religious
communities, which often face violence, discrimination, and harassment.
Kerry called the report “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
called for the CPC designations to be grounded in real action that can help
change reality on the ground.
Although sobering, this year’s report is not without positive developments.
Kerry mentioned Pakistani Muslims who formed human chains to protect
Christian worshippers after a church bombing in Peshawar and a Jewish
neighborhood watch team that helped Muslim leaders in London ensure safe
access to mosques after a series of attacks.