In response to the release of the State Department’s annual International Religious Freedom Report, Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) expressed concern about the administration’s failure to prioritize religious freedom in the face of extreme abuse, as well as its refusal to condition aid on improvements in religious freedom.
Covering nearly every country of the world, the International Religious Freedom Report was mandated by Congress to document religious freedom violations so that the U.S. government could defend religious freedom more vigorously and sanction the worst violators. The International Religious Freedom Act enacted in 1998 was authored by Rep. Frank Wolf (VA-10) and cosponsored by Rep. Smith.
“The new report documents deteriorating religious freedom conditions last year in countries like China, Egypt, and Vietnam, and Iran,” said Smith. “The real question is, what will the administration do differently than simply dialogue with abusers? Under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, it can and should move quickly to designate Countries of Particular Concern and attach appropriate sanctions. Unfortunately, despite Secretary Clinton’s words today, this administration has for almost four years shown very little commitment to promoting religious freedom.”
Regarding religions freedom violations in China and Egypt, Smith said, “Reusing existing sanctions, as has in the past been done with China, misses the point and fails to achieve results.” Previous administration actions had re-designated an already existing sanction instead of applying a new sanction specifically for religious freedom in China. New information in the report confirms what China’s religious believers and the human rights community have been telling us about control, harassment, jailings, and persecution – religious freedom in China has deteriorated. On Egypt, the Report documented the culture of impunity created by the Egyptian government for crimes against the Coptic community. “The administration’s dialogue with the Egyptian government on religious freedom has failed to achieve results, and conditions have gotten worse for the Copts,” said Smith. “Egypt’s failure to take even the most basic action to ensure justice for and protect its Coptic citizens from crimes, including the abduction and forced conversion of Coptic women, should mean a cut in aid dollars,” Smith said. Congress attached conditions to the $1.3 billion in aid to Egypt, but they were waived by Secretary Clinton this year.
Rep. Smith is the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights, as well as the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe and the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China.