US accuses junta of abusing religious freedom

Oct 27, 2009 (DVB), Burma's military government "frequently" abuses the right to religious freedom for the country's myriad ethnic and religious groups, an annual US government report states.

The regime actively promotes Theravada Buddhism while Christian and Islamic groups "continued to struggle to obtain permission to repair existing places of worship or build new ones", said the International Religious Freedom Report 2009.

It added that Muslim communities in Burma are "closely monitored", while restrictions continue for other non-Buddhist minority groups.

The report, authored by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), examined contained detailed examinations of 198 countries around the world.

"To date, President Obama has raised religious freedom in his speeches abroad without those sentiments being translated into concrete policy actions, and our hope is that this report will be the administration's call to action," said USCIRF chair, Leonard Leo.

Addressing a ceremony marking the launch of the report, Michael Posner, assistant secretary of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, said that religious freedom around the world was "a mixed picture".

"In many places [there are] more restrictions by government ministries on the right of religious groups to register [and] to receive funds," he said.

Burma has twice been designated a Country of Particular Concern (CPC), most recently in January this year.

Muslim communities in Burma are amongst the most persecuted in the country. The ethnic Rohingya, a Muslim group which populates the country's western Arakan state, are denied legal status by the government and frequently suffer persecution.

The report said that "widespread prejudice existed against citizens of South Asian origin, many of whom are Muslims. Although official religious discrimination was limited, de facto preferences for Buddhism remained".

While the new constitution, ratified in May 2008 following cyclone Nargis, ostensibly allows for religious freedom, "it also grants broad exceptions that allow the regime to restrict these rights 'subject to public order, morality, health, and other provisions of the Constitution'".

The report said however that there had been no new instances of forced religious conversion documented in the country.

Reporting by Francis Wade

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