Palestinian Muslims pray outside the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City on July 16, 2017. A report by the U.S. State Department Tuesday criticized multiple countries -- including Russia and Iran -- for what it said is ongoing persecution against certain religions. File Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI | License Photo
May 29 (UPI) -- The U.S. State Department said in a report Tuesday religious persecution is continuing around the world at a significant rate.
The report, which covers 2017, criticizes a number of countries for acts it says limits freedom of religion.
"The [report] is critical to our mission to defend religious liberty," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said. "It documents, across 200 countries and territories, reports of violations and abuses committed by governments, terrorist groups, and individuals so that we may work together to solve them."
The report slams Russia, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan for violations.
It criticizes the Russian Supreme Court for criminalizing Jehovah's Witnesses activity as "extremist," for example, and condemned "physical assaults" on members of the faith, as well as Muslims.
The report notes Iranian law allows for death sentences for "proselytizing and attempts by non-Muslims to convert Muslims."
"The government continued to execute individuals ... including four prisoners at Rajai Shahr Prison on December 20, and four men charged with waging 'war on God' in Kerman Province in September."
Since 1999, Iran has been designated a "Country of Particular Concern" under the International Religious Freedom Act.
The report denounces similar behavior in Afghanistan.
"The Islamic State in Khorasan Province, an affiliate of ISIS and a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, and the Taliban continued to target and kill members of minority religious communities because of their beliefs or their links to the government," it said.
The report also notes that conversion from Islam is punishable by death, imprisonment, or confiscation of property in Afghanistan.
Pakistani courts continue to "enforce blasphemy laws, whose punishment ranges from life in prison to the death sentence for a range of charges, including "defiling the Prophet Muhammad," it notes.
North Korea, it says, continues to "deal harshly with those who engaged in almost any religious practices through executions, torture, beatings, and arrests." The report said North Korea is also holding as many as 120,000 political prisoners, some for religious reasons, "in remote areas under horrific conditions."