US gives Saudis a pass on religious freedom

The United States Friday noted progress toward religious freedom in Saudi Arabia, while appearing to lower the bar for one of its most precious Mideast allies.

US gives Saudis a pass on religious freedom
While overall government policies continue to place severe restrictions on religious freedom, there were some improvement in specific areas during the period covered by this report," said the US State Department annual report on religious freedom around the world.

However Washington, which defines freedom of religion as the ability to practice any religion publicly, it is ready make an exception for Saudi Arabia, one of the most fundamental Muslim state, said the State Department official who keeps tabs on the issue, John Hanford.

"In the case of Saudi Arabia, I think it's important first for there to be the freedom to securely meet, as has happened for many years, in homes, and for the raids and the other problems, the deportations, the arrests, to cease," Hanford said.

"I'm not sure that the security situation right now -- even if there were people who favored allowing minority faiths to build places of worship, I'm not sure that would be a good idea at this point, frankly," he added.

The annual report mentions discrimination against non-Muslims, or against Muslims with practices different from Saudi Arabia's conservative Wahabi version of Sunni Islam.

"Non-Muslims and Muslims who do not adhere to the government's interpretation of Islam continued to face significant political, economic, legal, social, and religious discrimination," the report reads.

"Charges of harassment, abuse, and even killings at the hands of the muttawa (religious police) continued to surface. Saudi textbooks continued to contain statements of intolerance," it added.

Saudi King Abdallah publicly called for greater religious tolerance, but the rigorous application of Islam has stymied progress over the past year, Hanford said.

For the lack of progress, Hanford said Saudi Arabia should remain on the US blacklist of countries that restrict religious freedoms.

Hanford said he is encouraged by some acts of tolerance, which "are in the early stages of implementation."

AFP
Last Mod: 15 Eylül 2007, 00:40
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