The United States has strongly criticized several countries for not respecting religious freedoms.
In its annual report on the subject, released today (Thursday), the State Department singled out several countries in Asia and the Middle East for their religious intolerance.
Speaking to reporters, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said religious freedom is a universal right, recognized by international law, but millions of people around the world still suffer varying degrees of religious persecution.
Named as among the worst offenders are North Korea, China, Burma, Cuba, Laos and Vietnam. The report says the governing regimes in those countries seek to control expressions of religious freedom in keeping with their totalitarian natures. Violators are often imprisoned and tortured and in some cases executed.
The State Department also found serious problems such as state-sanctioned discrimination against religious minorities in Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
Long-time U.S. allies did not escape unscathed. The State Department said "freedom of religion does not exist" in Saudi Arabia. Israel was also reproved for allowing discrimination against non-Jews in education, housing, employment and social services.
The report noted a "disturbing increase" of anti-Semitism in Europe.