US body criticizes religious freedom in allies.
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, in its annual report to Congress and President George W. Bush's administration, harshly criticized three key U.S. allies -- Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Egypt -- for their poor performance on religious rights.
The commission designated 11 countries as being "of particular concern" because of extreme religious persecution: Burma, North Korea, Eritrea, Iran, Pakistan, China, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.
Another seven states were placed on a watch list because of serious violations: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, Indonesia and Nigeria.
Created by Congress in 1998 to ensure that religious freedom became a central goal of U.S. foreign policy, the commission raised the alarm about the situation in Iran and Afghanistan.
"The situations in Afghanistan and Iraq serve to underscore the precarious state of this fundamental freedom," commission chairman Michael Cromartie wrote to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in a letter accompanying the report.
In Afghanistan, the report said, conditions for freedom of religion of non-Muslims had become particularly problematic in the past year, compounded by flaws in the new Afghan constitution, which does not contain clear protections for religious minorities.
"Religious extremism, even in official circles, is an increasing threat to democratic consolidation in Afghanistan," the report said.
In Iraq, the commission was deeply concerned by sectarian violence between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims and targeted attacks on secular Muslims, religious minorities and women.
"There has been an ongoing stream of violence and extremism in Iraq driven by religious intolerance," the report said.
On Saudi Arabia, the commission concluded that "freedom of religion does not exist" as the government banned all forms of religious expression except its own interpretation of Sunni Islam and continued to finance "extreme religious intolerance and hatred" around the world.
The commission criticized the Bush administration for failing to punish Saudi Arabia for violations listed in last year's report and urged it to take action this year.
China, a major U.S. trade partner, conducted "severe and pervasive violations of religious freedom and related religious rights," according to the report.
Iran's record deteriorated in the past year, the report said, citing Iran's treatment of members of the Bahai faith and Jews.
The performance of Pakistan, an ally in the "war on terror," improved its efforts to protect minorities but still fell short, the report said.
In Egypt, "discrimination, intolerance and other human rights violations affect a broad spectrum of religious groups," including Coptic Christians, Bahais, Jews and members of minority Muslim communities.