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Iran, Saudis among religious freedom violators

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Iran, Saudi Arabia and Sudan are back on a U.S. list of countries that severely violate religious freedoms.

Joining the "Countries of Particular Concern" cited by the State Department are Burma, Eritrea, North Korea, the People’s Republic of China and Uzbekistan.

The list was made just before President George W. Bush left office, but was released this week in response to an inquiry by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The same eight countries received the designation in 2006.

The president is required to encourage improvements in the countries using a range of measures, including sanctions, although a waiver can be provided if the president believes it is in U.S. interests. Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan received waivers.

The designation is for countries engaged in or tolerating “particularly severe” violations of religious freedom that are systematic, ongoing and egregious, including acts such as torture, prolonged detention without charges, disappearances or other "flagrant" denials of "the right to life, liberty, or the security of persons.”

The commission said it was disappointed that no countries were added to the list — it had recommended Pakistan, Vietnam, Turkmenistan and Iraq — and that Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan received waivers.

“Religious freedom conditions in Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia are appalling and a specific U.S. government response is required.” said commission chairwoman Felice Gaer.

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