Saudi Arabia and Iran oppress religious freedoms

18 December 2003
The US State Department has described Saudi Arabia and Iran as the worst violators of religious freedom rights in the Middle East. The assessment was made in its annual report on 'religious freedoms', published on 18 December. According to the report, in both countries there is state hostility toward minority or non-approved religions. 'These governments implement policies designed to intimidate certain groups, cause their adherents to convert to another faith or cause their members to flee,' the report said.

The report said that members of Iran's Baha'i, Jewish, Christian, Sunni and Sufi Muslim and Zoroastrian minorities 'suffered varying degrees of officially sanctioned discrimination, including intimidation, harassment and imprisonment'.

The report highlights Saudi Arabia as the region's most flagrant violator of religious rights. 'Freedom of religion does not exist in Saudi Arabia,' the report said. The document said that the kingdom refused to acknowledge Shia Islam and that 'Muslims not adhering to the officially sanctioned version faced harassment at the hands of the [religious police]'.

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