US report criticizes Turkey, Russia, Iraq on religion
May 2, 2007 - 7:30:40 PM

Washington, May 2 - Religious freedom is lagging in Turkey, under pressure in Russia and under attack in Iraq, a US congressional watchdog group said Wednesday.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom added Iraq to its 'watch list' in its 2007 report, saying the Shia-led government was contributing to violence and abuses through actions of its security forces and by tolerating armed Shia militias.

In a blunt criticism of the US-backed Iraqi government, it said Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's administration bore blame for 'egregious violations of religious freedom.'

The commission, set up by the US Congress in 1998, monitors religious freedom worldwide. Its reports go to US lawmakers and the government.

Victims of Iraqi security forces include not just suspected Sunni insurgents but also ordinary Sunnis 'targeted on the basis of their religious identity,' the report said. Meanwhile, armed Shia factions kill, beat, torture, kidnap and rape, the report noted.

It urged the US government to step up pressure on Iraq's leaders to curb the violence, in part by bringing perpetrators to justice.

Turkey, a secular Muslim country and NATO alliance member that is seeking European Union membership, still has 'significant problems' in ensuring religious freedom for all citizens, the report said.

'More needs to be done to ensure that religious freedom and other human rights will be protected in Turkey,' it said.

'At the same time, concerns must be addressed that a lifting of the ban on headscarves might jeopardize the rights of women,' the report said.

It also expressed concern about violence against minorities, especially Greek Orthodox community, Roman Catholics and Protestants, and growing anti-Semitism in some Turkish media.

When commission members visited Turkey in November, representatives of all communities told them EU membership would be the best way to advance religious freedom and human rights, the report said.

On Russia, the panel cited a broad range of concern about human rights, democracy and religious intolerance.

President Vladimir Putin's government has failed to tackle a growing number of violent attacks and other hate crimes rooted in xenophobia and ethnic and religious intolerance, the report said.

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