Saudi Arabia Still Persecuting People for Their Faith

Daily News Article   —   Posted on November 8, 2005

(by Patrick Goodenough, Nov. 8, 2005, – Just days before Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is due to visit Saudi Arabia, the State Department on Tuesday will release a report naming the oil-rich Islamic kingdom as one of eight violators of religious freedom around the globe.

For the second consecutive year, the department’s annual report will designate Saudi Arabia as a “country of particular concern” (CPC) because of its restrictions on the freedom to worship.

Under religious freedom legislation enacted in 1998, CPC designation can result in the imposition of penalties including economic sanctions, although the secretary of state also has the right to waive action.

Following months of delays, Rice last September authorized a 180-day waiver of action against Saudi Arabia, “in order to allow additional time for the continuation of discussions leading to progress on important religious freedom issues.”

Two other countries were named CPCs for the first time last year — Vietnam and Eritrea.

On Vietnam, the U.S. reached an agreement with the communist government in May to work towards improving religious freedom conditions. Eritrea has been subjected to restrictions on the import of defense-related articles – the first sanctions to be imposed under the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA).

U.S. officials were quoted Monday as saying the new report would once again name as CPCs last year’s three newcomers to the list, as well as CPCs of longer standing – China, Iran, Burma, North Korea and Sudan.

Home to Islam’s two most revered sites, in Mecca and Medina, Saudi Arabia views itself as guardian of the faith. It is ruled by a monarchy with a legal system based on Islamic (sharia) law and committed to the fundamentalist Wahhabi ideology.

“Freedom of religion does not exist,” the State Department said in its last annual report. “It is not recognized or protected under the country’s laws, and basic religious freedoms are denied to all but those who adhere to the state-sanctioned version of Sunni Islam.”

Reported violations include torture, cruel and degrading treatment, detention without trial, coercive measures against women, and abuses by the notorious religious police.

Last February, an American human rights group published a report accusing the Saudi authorities of spreading propaganda inciting anti-Christian and anti-Jewish hatred among Muslims in the U.S.

Despite the State Department’s assessment that “freedom of religious does not exist” — arguably the most serious evaluation it makes for any country — for four years it declined to designate the kingdom as a CPC, despite pressure from religious freedom campaigners.

The decision last year eventually to add Saudi Arabia to the list was therefore welcomed, but subsequent delays have added to campaigners’ frustrations.

The department’s announcement on the 180-day waiver last September prompted the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom to say that in the absence of demonstrable progress by the Saudis, it was renewing recommendations for steps against Riyadh.

They included restrictions on exporting “dual-use” items to Saudi agencies responsible for violating religious freedom and prohibiting visits to the U.S. by any Saudi officials “responsible for propagating globally an ideology that explicitly promotes hate, intolerance, and human rights violations.”

The commission is a body established by the IRFA to give independent recommendations to the executive branch and Congress.

Rice is due to visit Saudi Arabia later this week, on a trip that also takes her to other Middle East and Asian countries.

The department said she would “consult with the Saudis on a variety of issues including support for democracy reform and counter terrorism.”

Apart from the eight CPCs due to be named on Tuesday, the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom has also been urging the department to add to the list three more Islamic countries, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

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1.  What is the overall mission of the U.S. State Department’s Commission for International Religious Freedom?

2.  What is the purpose of the International Religious Freedom Act?

3.  What does the U.S. State Department’s term CPC stand for?  List the 8 countries named as CPCs.  Which 3 were added to the list for the first time last year?

4.  What action does the U.S. take once they have designated a country as a CPC?   For information, click here and scroll down.

5.  How does the Saudi government violate its citizens’ freedom of religion?  In what paragraph is the State Department quoted as reporting that “Freedom of religion does not exist [in Saudi Arabia]?”

6.  Why do you think that the State Department was slow to designate Saudi Arabia as a CPC?  Why did Secretary of State Rice authorize a 6 month waiver of action against Saudi Arabia?  Do you agree with her delay?  Explain your answer.

7.  The idea behind the CPC designation is admirable.  Do you think that it is as effective as can be expected?  Explain your answer.

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