Institute on Religion and Democracy

Washington, DC—In an address before the annual Congressional Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. this morning, President Obama highlighted international religious freedom concerns. Calling for the release of specific prisoners in Iran and North Korea, the President also expressed concern about so-called “anti-blasphemy” codes that are used to punish vulnerable populations of religious minorities in some Muslim-majority countries.

IRD Religious Liberty Program Director Faith J.H. McDonnell commented:

“We appreciate the President’s remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast on the importance of international religious freedom. Action is now needed as well as speaking out.

“Religious liberty advocates are particularly appreciative that the President mentioned the egregious blasphemy and defamation laws such as those of Pakistan. We hope that this signals the Administration thinking more carefully about initiatives coming from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to silence free speech with ‘incitement’ laws.

“President Obama called publicly for the release of Pastor Saeed Abedini in Iran, but there are hundreds of other Christians, such as Pastor Benham Irani and Muslim background believer Alireza Seyyedian, as well as prisoners of other faiths, including Baha’i, imprisoned in Iran. We urge the President to continue to call for the release of all of these prisoners, and for the Iranian Islamist regime to allow religious freedom.

“The President’s call for the release of Kenneth Bae in North Korea is to be commended. We hope that the President will continue to speak about the persecution of Christians and the repression of all citizens under the North Korean regime.”

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