Asia Bibi is a Christian woman in Pakistan, sentenced to death in 2010 after being accused of blasphemy aginst Muhammad. She is still in prsion.

On August 15, United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson released the 2016 International Religious Freedom Annual Report, newly published by the State Department. With documentation about the persecution that has taken place during the past year, the report covers in detail the state of religious freedom in 199 foreign countries around the globe.

For each country, the document includes sections such as “Religious Demography,” “Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom,” and “Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom,” followed by a report on U.S. government policy as it relates to religious freedom in each country. For some countries, the sub-sections include “Abuses by Foreign Forces and Nonstate Actors,” with Boko Haram in Nigeria being one such example.

Ten countries listed in the report have been identified as “countries of particular concern,” including Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, following the recommendations of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. These are the same countries that received this designation last year, but they were not the only nations to be called out during Tillerson’s release on August 15.

When the secretary of state announced the release of the 2016 report, he paid special attention to the crisis facing Christians, Yazidis and other religious minorities who have suffered atrocities at the hands of the Islamic State:

“To remove any ambiguity from previous statements or reports by the State Department, the crime of genocide requires three elements: specific acts with specific intent to destroy in whole or in part specific people, members of national, ethnic, racial, or religious groups. Specific act, specific intent, specific people.”

He went on to assure his audience that “application of the law to the facts at hand leads to the conclusion ISIS is clearly responsible for genocide against Yezidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims in areas it controls or has controlled.”

Moving beyond the volatile situations in Iraq and Syria, Tillerson addressed the ongoing harsh reality for those belonging to minority faiths in Pakistan, where religious freedom is under attack and “where more than two dozen are on death row or serving a life imprisonment for blasphemy. The government marginalizes Ahmadiyya Muslims and refuses to recognize them as Muslim. It is my hope that the new prime minister and his government will promote interfaith harmony and protect the rights of religious minorities.”

Tillerson mentioned additional specific concerns on a wide range of countries, including Turkey, Bahrain, Iran, China and Sudan, among others.

“We remain concerned about the state of religious freedom in Saudi Arabia,” Tillerson said, adding that the Saudi government “does not recognize the right of non-Muslims to practice their religion in public, and applies criminal penalties – including prison sentences, lashings and fines – for apostasy, atheism, blasphemy and insulting the state’s interpretation of Islam.”

Turning to Iran, Tillerson noted that Baha’is, Christians and other minorities in that country still face persecution because of their faith.

“Iran continues to sentence individuals to death under vague apostasy laws [including] 20 individuals [who] were executed in 2016 on charges that included, quote, ‘waging war against God.’ Members of the Baha’i community are in prison today simply for abiding by their beliefs.”

While the State Department’s report received some positive feedback from organizations and individuals working to address religious freedom around the world, it was not welcomed by all. In Vietnam, Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang said that contrary to the report’s claims, the Vietnamese government respects and protects its citizens’ freedom of religion.

According to a report on ABC News, Hang agreed that the religious freedom report did make some adjustments that are – as she put it – “close to reality” in her country. “However, it’s regretted that the report still contained partial judgments, citing false information about Vietnam,” she added.

The International Religious Freedom Report’s executive summary is typically around 5,000 words. But in the 2016 report, as Christianity Today noted, the summary was somewhat abbreviated. “This year, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson skipped the lengthy executive summary and laid out a preface of just 440 words, naming only a single concern in his written introduction: ISIS,” wrote CT contributor Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra.

In his remarks, Tillerson looked toward the future of religious freedom within U.S. foreign policy, urging swift confirmation of Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, who was recently nominated by President Donald Trump to take on the role of ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom.

The Frank Wolf International Religious Freedom Act, which was signed into law last year by President Barack Obama, elevates the role of the ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, raising the post to report directly to the secretary of state. “Gov. Sam Brownback will be the highest-ranking official ever to take up this important post,” Tillerson promised.

“No one should have to live in fear, worship in secret, or face discrimination because of his or her beliefs,” he concluded. “As President Trump has said, we look forward to a day when, quote, ‘people of all faiths, Christians and Muslims and Jewish and Hindu, can follow their hearts and worship according to their conscience.’”

Kristin Wright is the director of advocacy at Open Doors USA. She covers human rights, international religious freedom and refugee issues for The Philos Project blog and other publications. Republished from The Philos Project, a MercatorNet partner site.