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US defense of global religious freedom wanes under Obama, panel says

A bipartisan national commission finds President Obama wanting when it comes to defending and promoting global religious freedom. It names 13 countries as serious violators.

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White House officials reject suggestions that Obama is playing down religious freedom in his foreign-policy aims. They note, as does the USCIRF report, that he spoke about “freedom of religion” in both his Cairo speech and his Ankara speech in 2009.

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Of the 13 countries the commission’s report cites for “egregious” violations of religious freedom, eight are holdovers from last year and five are new to the list. The report recommends that the State Department newly designate Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam as violators. The eight it says should be “redesignated” are Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan.

The commission highlights the deterioration of religious freedom it says it witnessed in Nigeria over three fact-finding trips there in 2009. The report concludes that a wave of sectarian violence intensified over the past year, but that not one perpetrator of the Christian-Muslim violence has been brought to justice.

It also focuses on the plight of China’s Uighur Muslims, chronicling what it says are China’s repressive policies designed to “crush Uighur rights to religious education and to appoint their own religious leaders.”