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  Updated: May 4, 2006

US body urges "aggressive action" against S Arabia

By: Mohamed Ali

WASHINGTON: The US Commission on International Religious Freedom called on the government to take "aggressive action" against Saudi Arabia for religious freedom violations.

In its annual report to Congress and President Bush's administration, the Congress-mandated Commission also urged Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to maintain Saudi Arabia as well as China, North Korea, Sudan, Iran, Vietnam, Eritrea, and Myanmar in the annual government blacklist of "severe religious freedom violators."

The commission, in addition, proposed that Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan be included in the blacklist.

The commission cannot mandate any specific action and its past calls for steps to punish violators have been ignored.

However, last year the United States denied the export of some defense items to Eritrea, the first action to be taken against another country as a result of its designation by the commission as a "country of particular concern."

On Saudi Arabia, the commission concluded that "freedom of religion does not exist" as the government banned all forms of religious expression except its own interpretation of Islam and continued to finance "extreme religious intolerance and hatred" around the world.

It criticized the Bush administration for failing to punish Saudi Arabia for violations listed in last year's report and urged it to take action this year.

In Egypt, "discrimination, intolerance and other human rights violations affect a broad spectrum of religious groups," including Coptic Christians, Bahais, Jews and members of Muslim communities.

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