Anti-blasphemy beliefs and laws have led to the imprisonment and death of religious minorities and women, particularly in Muslim countries, the State Department said Wednesday.
In its annual religious freedom report, the State Department singled out Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sudan, Pakistan and Mauritania as being among the countries where deviating from the religious norm carries harsh penalties.
“Such laws conflict with and undermine universally recognized human rights,” it said.
“False accusations, often lodged in pursuit of personal vendettas or for the personal gain of the accuser, are not uncommon. Mob violence as a result of such accusations is disturbingly common.”
David Saperstein, the ambassador at large for international religious freedom, said a quarter of the world’s 200 nations have anti-blasphemy laws. So do several American states, he said.
The report and Saperstein singled out several nations where the punishment is particularly severe.
Iran executed 20 people last year for “enmity against God.” Saudi Arabia penalizes blasphemy with lengthy prison sentences and lashings. In Nigeria, a sharia court sentenced nine people to death for elevating their sect’s founder over the prophet Muhammad. In Afghanistan, a woman falsely accused of burning a Koran was stoned and burned alive by an angry mob. A 7-year-old Syrian boy in the area ruled by the Islamic State was killed by firing squad after he cursed God during a soccer game. Mobs have killed more than 60 people since 1990 for crimes such as desecrating the Koran or insulting the prophet.
“It probably is more prevalent in the Muslim world, where laws that exist are implemented,” Saperstein said. But anti-blasphemy laws are on the books in other countries as well, he added. He cited Germany, where a man was fined for a bumper sticker challenging belief in God.
The report also criticized countries that have registration laws restricting religious minorities.
“Around the world, governments continued to tighten their regulatory grip on religious groups, and particularly on minority religious groups and religions which are viewed as not traditional to that specific country,” it said, citing Angola, Azerbaijan, Brunei, Eritrea, Burma, Russia and Vietnam.
Asked specifically whether Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s call for a ban on Muslims undercut the credibility of the report, Saperstein said leaders understand the constitutional foundation of religious freedom in the United States.
“The policies of the United States, the law in the United States, the constitutional structure of the United States in terms of the promise of religious freedom remains intact,” he said.
In the countries criticized in the report, he added: “We are dealing with repressed communities, brutalized communities subject to societal violence, subject to religious impression; people who are in jail, tortured, killed, butchered, raped, enslaved, forced to marry, forced to convert in countries across the globe. So I’d really hope that the kind of problems we have in America become the kind of problems that other countries have to deal with.”
In March, Secretary of State John F. Kerry said the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq is committing genocide against religious minorities, specifically Yazidis, Shiite Muslims and Christians.
Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken said such terrorist groups as the Islamic State and Boko Haram pose a major threat to religious freedom.
“There is, after all, no more egregious form of discrimination than separating out the followers of one religion from another — whether in a village, on a bus, in a classroom — with the intent of murdering or enslaving the members of a particular group,” he said.