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US says proselytizing laws crimp religious rights
Laws that infringe on people's rights to change their religious beliefs are being enforced more often around the world by governments trying to protect numerous religions, the U.S. State Department said Friday.

The department's annual International Religious Freedom report cited countries with majority Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, and Hindu majorities. Among Muslim countries cited were three former Soviet republics, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

"Governments, often seeking to protect the beliefs, traditions and ideology of the majority or dominant religion, took steps to restrict the rights of individuals to proselytize and to change their religion," said the report, which covered the period June 30, 2007, to July 1, 2008.
It said Muslim Malaysia, Christian Greece and Jewish Israel "continued to enforce laws that curb peaceful proselytizing activities. Other countries either passed or introduced anti-conversion laws."

In Hindu India, six of the 28 states have such laws on the books, one enacted during the period covered by the report.

Sri Lanka, which has a Buddhist majority, has under consideration an anti-conversion law introduced in 2004.

For Muslims, proselytizing is particularly serious; male apostates can be punished by death.
The report said some Muslim countries, among them Egypt, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia, forbid proselytizing Muslims but not other religions. Muslims who leave their religion are dealt with under "harsh apostasy laws," the report said.
It said about the three former Soviet republics, "in contrast to their traditional respect for religious freedom, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, and Tajikistan introduced problematic legislative changes to current religion laws that would place significant limits" on religious freedom:
_Kazakhstan's parliament is considering amending religion laws to tighten religious registration rules.
_Under a draft religion law in Kyrgyzstan, a congregation would require 200 people rather than the current 10 to qualify for official registration as a religious organization.
_A draft religion law under consideration in Tajikistan would control religious groups' registration and legal status, put restrictions on religious education and literature and limit other religious expression.

Source: The Associated Press (AP); published by International herald Tribune (IHT)