Beliefnet News

By Daniel Burke
Religion News Service

WASHINGTON (RNS) The U.S. State Department, in its annual report on international religious freedom issued Friday (Sept. 19), admonished several Asian nations, including China, for severely repressing religion.
Listing “countries of particular concern” that engage in or tolerate “particularly severe violations of religious freedom,” the report highlights everything from government persecution to patriotic education campaigns designed to extirpate religion.
The eight countries of particular concern are: Myanmar (formerly Burma), China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan.
Compiled by diplomats and human rights activists every year since 1999, the 800-page report covers 198 countries and territories and is mandated by federal law.
“In exposing injustice, this report lights a candle — and 800-page candle — that we trust will encourage justice and greater respect for the rights of religious believers across the globe,” said John V.
Hanford, U.S. ambassador at large for religious freedom.
Despite sanctions and diplomacy, China’s repression of religious freedom intensified in the last year, especially in the run up to the Olympic Games, the report says.
Churches were closed, foreigners detained, Falon Gong practitioners arrested and possibly killed, Muslims prohibited from taking the hajj to Saudi Arabia, and Buddhist monks were forced to undergo “patriotic education” campaigns, according to the report.
Hanford said the harsh treatment of Buddhist monks in Tibet were a “major factor” in the March riots in the Himalayan region, during which dozens were killed.
The “patriotic education” campaigns, which force monks and nuns to study communist texts and denounce the Dalai Lama “need to cease,” Hanford said. And the government must not interfere in naming Buddhist lamas, or leading teachers, the ambassador said.
“This should be the prerogative of religious leaders, not of a government,” Hanford said.
Copyright 2008 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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