Friday, November 11, 2005

Improvement in religious freedom in India : US
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Improvement in religious freedom in India : US
Washington | November 09, 2005 10:35:19 AM IST

India made 'significant improvement' in the protection and promotion of religious freedom through modification of legal and social barriers, says the US State Department Annual Report on International Religious Freedom.

''Varying degrees of progress on religious freedom have been made in a number of countries over the past year including India, Turkmenistan, Qatar, Georgia, Turkmenistan and United Arab Emirates,'' said John Hanford, the State Department's special ambassador on religious freedom, at a news conference releasing the new report yesterday.

In India, the report said, the status of religious freedom improved in a number of ways. The Government showed its commitment to improve the freedom at the highest levels of government and throughout the society. The Government also took steps to address expeditiously the failures of the Gujarat State government to halt Hindu-Muslim riots there in 2002, the report added.

It said the Indian Government refused to approve the Gujarat Control of Organized Crime Act, passed by the Gujarat legislature in June 2004, which the Muslim groups feared would be used selectively against them. The Government repealed the controversial Prevention of Terrorism Act, often criticized by Muslim groups as a tool used to target them, and replaced it with a law considered to be fairer to minorities, as per the report.

The report was the seventh annual assessment of religious freedom world-wide issued by the State Department under a 1998 act of Congress.

The Indian Government also withdrew the controversial school textbooks that had been condemned for espousing a Hindu nationalist agenda and replaced them with more moderate editions, although problems lingered in some states controlled by the opposition, the report said.

Regarding Pakistan the report said the government took steps to improve the treatment of religious minorities, but the 'Ahmadiyya' religious minority continued to face legal bars to the practice of its faith. Members of certain Islamic schools of thought claimed governmental discrimination and law enforcement personnel abused religious minorities in custody, leading to deaths in some cases, the report added.

The abuse of the Hudood Ordinances and the blasphemy law continued and the the government in the Northwest Frontier Province continued to pass directives and legislation in accordance with the conservative Islamic vision of its supporters, according to the report.

The report cited Saudi Arabia for denying religious freedom to non-Muslims and found fault to a lesser degree with other allies including Israel, Belgium, France, Germany and Pakistan.

Mr Hanford said while serious religious-freedom problems remain in Pakistan, the government there has continued to make public calls for religious tolerance and has taken some positive tangible steps including moves to revise blasphemy laws and school curriculums.

The report retained eight countries on its list of states of 'particular concern', which could mean US sanctions on them. These countries were the same in 2004 and included Burma, China, North Korea, Eritrea, Iran, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam.

Mr Hanford said among the countries of 'particular concern', Burma, Iran, North Korea, and Eritrea, which was hit by US trade sanctions in September, have not been willing to engage the United States in any meaningful way on religious issues.

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