The United States issued its annual religious freedom report on Tuesday, slamming its allies in the Gulf, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, for persecuting religious minorities.
Launching the first report since Trump took office, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson took swipes at Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Iran, Sudan, Turkey, Pakistan and China.
Tillerson, who gave a brief address to launch the report, urged Riyadh to “embrace greater degrees of religious freedom for all of its citizens”.
“The government does not recognise the right of non-Muslims to practice their religion in public and applied criminal penalties including prison sentences, lashings, and fines for apostasy, atheism, blasphemy and insulting the state’s interpretation of Islam,” he said.
He added that Saudi authorities were attacking Shia Muslims and allowing social prejudice and discrimination against the minority, which makes up around 15 percent of the country.
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Saudi security forces have recently sealed off a Shia-majority town in the east of the country, demolishing large sections of the town following months of unrest.
Similarly, Tillerson slammed the Gulf state of Bahrain for the detention of Shia clerics and political activists.
“Members of the Shia community there continue to report ongoing discrimination in government employment, education, and the justice system,” he said.
Bahrain has been ruled for more than 200 years by the Sunni Al Khalifa dynasty.
The kingdom has been gripped by unrest since 2011, when the country’s majority Shia population took to the streets to demand an elected government.
The report, however, failed to look into policy in the US, where Trump won office on a pledge to ban all Muslim immigration and is now battling US courts for the right to ban arrivals from eight mainly-Muslim states. The report did not contain criticism of key US ally Israel either, despite its restrictions on the religious freedoms of Palestinians under occupation.
Tillerson and the report called out the Islamic State group, China, Iran, Pakistan, Sudan and Turkey for persecuting, stigmatising or otherwise restricting the rights of religious minorities.