Beliefnet
WASHINGTON, Sept. 5 (AP)--Religious repression in China increased over the past year, says a new State Department report, which also found that violations of religious freedom are a global phenomenon, particularly in communist and Muslim countries.

The report, released Tuesday, said government respect for religious freedom in China deteriorated in the past year as persecution of several groups of believers increased.

While finding that government supervision of religious activity was minimal in some regions, the study said Chinese officials in other regions ``imposed tight regulations, closed houses of worship and actively persecuted members of some unregistered religious groups.''

In 1998, Congress asked the State Department to submit annual reports on the state of international religious freedom. This is the second such report and covers the period July 1, 1999, to June 30, 2000.

``Much of the world's population lives in countries in which the right to religious freedom is restricted or prohibited,'' the report says.

The situation exists even though 144 countries belong to an international covenant that acknowledges the right of all citizens to religious freedom, the study said.

The report accuses Iraq of having conducted a ``brutal campaign of murder, summary execution and protracted arbitrary detention against religious leaders and adherents of the majority Shiite population.'' Security forces murdered senior Shiite clerics, desecrated mosques and holy sites, arrested tens of thousands of Shiites and forcibly prevents Shiites from practicing their form of Islam, the study said.

In Afghanistan, the report said the Taliban government, which rules most of the country, has engaged in persecution and killing, particularly against the Shiite minority. ``The Taliban enforced its strict interpretation of Islamic Shari'a law, and, according to reports, public executions, floggings and amputations took place weekly against those who violated the law.''

The criticism of China comes at a politically sensitive time, with Congress due to vote this month on legislation to provide permanent normal trade relations with China. It would eliminate annual congressional reviews that linked normal trade ties with China's human rights performance.

The criticism of China's record on religious freedom is not new. Last October, China was among five countries described by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright as being ``particularly severe'' violators of human rights.

Tuesday's report said persecuted groups in China were subject to ``harassment, extortion, prolonged detention, physical abuse and incarceration in prison or in `re-education through labor' camps.''

``There were credible reports of religious detainees being beaten and tortured,'' the report said.

Highlights from the report on other countries:

Myanmar, also known as Burma: The government continued to repress systematically members of both minority faiths and the majority Buddhist population. ``Buddhist monks who promoted human and political rights were arrested, and some Buddhist monasteries were destroyed. Government security forces frequently employed coercion to induce Christian members of the Chin ethnic minority to convert to Buddhism.''

The report also found varying degrees of repression in communist countries such as Cuba, North Korea and Vietnam. It found similar problems in Islamic countries, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan and Sudan. Meanwhile, the Arab Muslim and Christian population in Israel was subjected to ``various forms of discrimination.''

The study concluded that ``significant improvements'' have occurred in Azerbaijan and Laos. In Azerbaijan, the report traced the changed situation to a presidential pledge last November to improve the status of religious minorities.

In Laos, the government released in mid-June a large number of Christians who had been imprisoned because of their faith, the report said.

It added that there were noteworthy improvements in 31 other countries.

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