The Post's March 17 editorial "No Particular Concern," about religious freedom in Saudi Arabia, paraphrased State Department spokesman Richard Boucher as saying that the government's experts concluded unanimously that it was better to hold off and work with the Saudi monarchy to improve matters.
That statement is not accurate.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom was created by Congress in 1998 as an independent federal agency to advise the president, the secretary of state and Congress and to bolster the integrity of the designation process. Since its creation the commission has recommended that Saudi Arabia be designated a "country of particular concern." The State Department has repeatedly ignored that recommendation.
U.S. Commission on
International Religious Freedom
The religious freedom abuses perpetrated by the Saudi and Uzbek governments certainly meet the statutory threshold of "systematic, ongoing, egregious violations" delineated in the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, which mandates the "country of particular concern" designation. But The Post's editorial did not mention another country worthy of the State Department's attention: Turkmenistan.
Under President Saparmurad Niyazov's rule, the human rights situation in Turkmenistan increasingly resembles that of North Korea. Gaining authorization for religious gatherings is nearly impossible, and Turkmenistan has virtually outlawed all religions except government-controlled Sunni Islam and Russian Orthodoxy.
Co-religionists forced to meet "illegally" have been jailed, heavily fined and even tortured. Mr. Niyazov's regime is an equal opportunity human rights abuser, repressing groups ranging from Adventists to Hare Krishnas, from Jehovah's Witnesses to Muslims.
As co-chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, I have joined others in writing to Mr. Niyazov to express concern about the destruction of churches, the torture of religious believers and the detention of prisoners of conscience.
The State Department's exclusion of Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan flouts the intent of the International Religious Freedom Act. The department should reconsider these countries before another year passes.
CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH
U.S. Representative (R-N.J.)