Washington Considers Stronger Stand Against Religious Freedom Violators

Washington considers the Magnitsky Act as a powerful policy weapon to address violations of religious freedom globally, including in the countries like Azerbaijan, TURAN's U.S. correspondent reports.

A bipartisan U.S. congressional panel this week urged the U.S. Administration for bold actions against the countries named as severe violators of religious freedom.

In response, a senior State Department diplomat highlighted the importance of coalitions working together to address religious freedom violations in the OSCE region.

"Freedom of religion is an animating, foundational principle of the United States," said Ambassador Michael Kozak of the State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, at a Helsinki Commission briefing.

However, he added, some OSCE participating states "continue to use security concerns as a pretext for failing to adhere to their obligations and commitments regarding freedom of religion or belief. "

In Azerbaijan, he said, the government continues to detain religious activists whom local human rights groups deem political prisoners:

"Religious groups the government considers "nontraditional," face difficulties legally registering, and adherents cannot freely practice their religion without risking police raids, fines, detention, arrest, or prosecution."

Answering to Turan's question, Ambassador Kozak ruled out claims that the U.S. pays less attention to Azeri religious prisoners.

"We do not tend to prioritize one prisoner over another," he said reaffirming priority of religious freedom for the administration.

In his speech, Kozak highlighted policy tools that are deemed to be most effective in advancing religious freedom:

- government engagement with civil society;

- international mechanisms to name specific issues;

- visa denial for specific violators;

- support for oppressed.

"Religious freedom is not only good human rights doctrine, it is good counter-terrorism doctrine," he said on connection of religious freedom and enhanced security.

In his testimony, Daniel Mark, chairman of U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an organization which flags religious freedom violators for the State Department, said the countries monitored by his Commission are similar because of shared legacy of Soviet-stile restrictions arbitrarily and capriciously enforced by courts and law enforcement bodies that are not independent of executive branch in respective countries.

Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan are currently designated by the State Department as "Countries of Particular Concern," a designation required by U.S. law for governments that have "engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom."

USCIRS has recommended that Russia also be designated as a CPC and includes Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkey in its list of "Tier 2" countries that "require close monitoring due to the nature and extent of violations of religious freedom engaged in or tolerated by governments."


Washington, D.C.

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