Russia

Congressional Commission Hearing Examines Religious Freedom in OSCE

On November 15, 2017 the U.S. Helsinki Commission hosted a briefing titled “Religious Freedom Violations in the OSCE Region: Victims and Perpetrators.”

The briefing opened with remarks from Ambassador Michael Kozak, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Department of State. It was then followed by a second panel of experts, including, Dr. Daniel Mark, Chairman, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Dr. Kathleen Collins, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Minnesota, and Philip Brumley, General Counsel, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Nathaniel Hurd, Policy Advisor, U.S. Helsinki Commission, moderated the event. The full event video is available below. 

Nathaniel Hurd, Policy Advisor, U.S. Helsinki Commission (Moderator), Ambassador Michael Kozak, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Department of State, Dr. Daniel Mark, Chairman, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Dr. Kathleen Collins, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Minnesota, and Philip Brumley, General Counsel, Jehovah’s Witnesses (Left to Right, Photo Credit: U.S. Helsinki Commission)

Nathaniel Hurd, Policy Advisor, U.S. Helsinki Commission (Moderator), Ambassador Michael Kozak, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Department of State, Dr. Daniel Mark, Chairman, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Dr. Kathleen Collins, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Minnesota, and Philip Brumley, General Counsel, Jehovah’s Witnesses (Left to Right, Photo Credit: U.S. Helsinki Commission)

Dr. Collins, a scholar of the Under Caesar's Sword Project, highlighted many of the findings of her research on Christian responses to persecution in Central Asia.

Dr. Collins concentrated her time on the evolving situation in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. She suggested that governments in the region are looking towards each other and Russia to justify extremism laws that are really just another form of religious persecution.

Based on her research, the recent actions in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have taken steps similar to Soviet-era tactics of repression and control of all groups not approved by the government. Societal discrimination continues to be high across the region and remains worth addressing. 

The Under Caesar's Sword project studied response where Christians face persecution. Predominant strategies in Central Asia represent decades of Soviet-style repression. Primarily they hide and seek to merely survive. For those who seek public engagement they do so with enormous risk. Positive steps have been seen through engagement in humanitarian and social services, filling gaps that government has often overlooked.

Ambassador Kozak highlighted the important connections between enhanced security and religious freedom and efforts currently underway at the State Department to advance religious freedom. 

Religious freedom is not only good human rights doctrine, it is good counterterrorism doctrine.
— Ambassador Michael Kozak

Dr. Daniel Mark, Chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, expressed that trends in the region are not encouraging. He said that, "Unfortunately, we at USCIRF are not optimistic with regard to the outlook for religious freedom in the OSCE countries we monitor. Generally speaking, the trend has been toward authoritarian governments imposing more written and unwritten restrictions on expressions of religion."

Phillip Brumley, General Counsel, Jehovah’s Witnesses, highlighted particular challenges his community has faced across the region due to government restrictions that have limited their ability to practice their faith. 

To see more on the briefing visit: https://www.csce.gov/international-impact/events/religious-freedom-violations-osce-region

Press Release: State Department’s Latest International Religious Freedom Report Underscores Need for All-of-Government Strategy

Press Release

State Department’s Latest International
Religious Freedom Report
Underscores Need for All-of-Government Strategy

August 15, 2017, Washington, D.C. (Religious Freedom Institute— The Religious Freedom Institute welcomes the State Department’s 19th Annual Report on International Religious Freedom and applauds Secretary Tillerson and the Office of International Religious Freedom responsible for producing it.

President of the Religious Freedom Institute Thomas Farr stated: “The Secretary correctly observed that growing religious persecution not only poses a grave moral problem, but also implicates the national security of the United States. Advancing religious freedom can enhance stability and undermine the violent religious extremism that threatens us all. For these reasons, U.S. religious freedom policy should be part of a coherent, all-of-government national security strategy. The Senate should quickly confirm Governor Sam Brownback as the new Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. We need someone of his stature and experience to develop and implement the religious freedom elements of such a strategy.”

The Annual Report, required by the International Religious Freedom Act that President Bill Clinton signed into law, is sobering and disturbing. It catalogs the growing crisis of religious persecution that is causing immense human suffering.

The report emphasizes that governments violently repress religious groups through blasphemy and apostasy laws, destruction and seizure of property, or imprisonment of religious leaders. The worst offenders include North Korea, Russia, Cuba, Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. Religious freedom should be central to our relations with these countries, and even with allies such as Turkey, where an American pastor, Andrew Brunson, remains in prison. 

Increasingly the most violent persecution has come from terrorist groups. The most visible threat has been the proliferation of ISIS and affiliated groups across the Middle East – and increasingly into Southeast Asia, Africa, and even into Europe and North America.

“I am encouraged to see Secretary Tillerson reemphasize that ISIS is responsible for genocide against Yazidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims and that the Trump administration seeks to assist and protect them,” said Kent Hill, Executive Director of the Religious Freedom Institute.

“The U.S. must ensure that humanitarian assistance is in fact reaching these genocide survivors.  Beyond that, we must help them rebuild their homelands and create the religious and ethnic pluralism that can forestall the return of violent religious extremism,” said Hill.


The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) works to secure religious freedom for everyone, everywhere. The RFI is a non-profit, non-partisan organization based in Washington, D.C.

Media Contact: Jeremy P. Barker
media@religiousfreedominstitute.org
202-838-7734
www.religiousfreedominstitute.org