U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, issued a statement today expressing her disappointment with some of the findings of the State Department's annual International Religious Freedom Report, which was released earlier this week. Also today, Ros-Lehtinen supported House passage of H.R. 2867, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom Reform and Reauthorization Act of 2011. Statement by Ros-Lehtinen:
"Today, the House of Representatives demonstrated its commitment to religious freedom and human rights by passing an important bill which supports U.S. efforts to combat religious persecution around the globe.
"However, the State Department's newest assessment of the most oppressive violators of religious freedom is far from complete and calls into question the accuracy of this year's findings. Countries like Cuba, Venezuela, Russia and Vietnam inexplicably remain absent from the list of "Countries of Particular Concern' (CPC) despite their long track records of severe violations.
"In Cuba, the regime continues to organize violent mobs to attack and intimidate opposition figures. Just last week, dozens of peaceful "Ladies in White' demonstrators were arrested as they tried to attend mass. Venezuela's anti-Semitic media campaign and the targeting of religious leaders remains a tool of the dictatorial Chavez regime. Russian authorities falsely accuse innocent religious groups of extremism and subject them to torture and criminal proceedings. Finally, Vietnam's ongoing persecution of religious leaders and practitioners is yet another example of why Vietnam should be designated as a Country of Particular Concern, which the Foreign Affairs Committee called for in the 2012 Foreign Relations Reauthorization bill.
"Penalties on several countries which are included on the CPC list are inadequate. China has been designated as a "Country of Particular Concern,' and has in place a system of draconian laws that continue to severely restrict the ability of religious minorities to practice their faith. The Saudi government continues its discriminatory policies and practices against Jews, Christians, Shiites and so many others. However, the relatively minor punishments which these regimes face do not fit the severity of their crimes.
"It is important that future reports accurately depict the harsh realities that oppressed religious groups face in every country. I urge the Administration to fully implement proper sanctions on countries which continue to egregiously violate the religious rights and freedoms of their people."