Promoting religious freedom abroad

 (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

(AP Photo/Michael Sohn)


At the age of fourteen, Rimsha Masih spent twenty-five days in a Pakistani adult prison. She was accused of violating Pakistan's blasphemy law, after a neighbor said Rimsha was burning pages of the Qu'ran.

A mob arrived at the Masih home, demanding that the young Christian girl be held to account for blasphemy. Though Rimsha was eventually released on bail and acquitted, she and her family continued to endure threats. They all feared for their safety. 

After a year of living in hiding, Rimsha Masih and her family are now in Canada, arriving in their new home in Ontario earlier this year. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said it was important for Canada to intervene in the "in the extraordinary example of brutal persecution". 

We requested an interview with Andrew Bennett, Canada's Ambassador for Religious Freedom. He heads up the Office of Religious Freedom which was just created in February of this year. We were hoping gain some perspective on the office's stance on granting asylum to people persecuted because of their religion and in advocating for religious tolerance in other countries. We were told by the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development - which houses the Office of Religious Freedom - that Ambassador Bennett was not available for an interview, and no one else from the department would be available to comment.

Dr. Tom Farr, though, is someone with firsthand experience in promoting religious freedom abroad. In 1999, he became the first director of the U.S. State Department's Office of International Religious Freedom. He has also worked as a diplomat, and he was part of an advisory panel that met in Ottawa to consult on the Canadian government's plans for its own Office of Religious Freedom. Dr. Farr is currently the Director of the Religious Freedom Project at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University in Washington DC. He spoke to Laura Lynch from Fairfax Virginia.

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