updated 9/15/2004 11:06:14 AM ET 2004-09-15T15:06:14

The State Department said Wednesday that Saudi Arabia has engaged in “particularly severe violations” of religious freedom and for the first time included the kingdom on a list of countries that could be subject to sanctions.

A department report assessing the state of religious freedom worldwide said that in Saudi Arabia, freedom of religion does not exist and is not recognized or protected under the country’s laws.

The report also said that those who do not adhere to the officially sanctioned strain of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia can face “severe repercussions” at the hands of the religious police.

Under U.S. law, nations that engage in violations of religious freedom deemed “particularly severe” are designated by the State Department as “countries of particular concern.”

Joining Saudi Arabia for the first time on the so-called “CPC list” were Eritrea and Vietnam. Countries redesignated as CPC countries were Burma, China, Iran, Iraq, North Korea and Sudan.

Since the State Department first began making evaluations on religious freedom, sanctions have not been applied against any country on the CPC list.

Recommendation in January
The U.S. Commission on International Freedom, an independent group that receives government funding and offers advice to the State Department, recommended last February that Saudi Arabia be declared a CPC country.

Such a designation does not necessarily require punitive measures but does mandate that the secretary of state engage the offending country on what steps it may take to increase religious tolerance.

Preeta D. Bansal, the commission chair, said in an interview that she welcomed the addition of Saudi Arabia to the U.S. government’s “list of the world most egregious violators of religious freedom.”

She said the commission has been advocating the inclusion of Saudi Arabia on the CPC list since legislation was approved in 1999 to evaluate the state of religious freedom around the world.

Bansal said the commission’s stand was based not only on violations of religious freedom within Saudi Arabia’s own borders “but also its propagation and export of an ideology of religious hate and intolerance throughout the world.”

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