November 17th, 2010
04:26 PM ET
By Richard Allen Greene, CNN
Religious freedom remains under threat in China, especially for followers of the Dalai Lama and Muslims in the west of the country, the U.S. State Department said Wednesday in a major report.
China harassed members of religions Beijing does not recognize, and disbarred, harassed and imprisoned lawyers who tried to defend them, the State Department said.
And there were "credible reports" that Beijing tried to force Tibetan Buddhists and Uighur Muslims to return to China from abroad because of their activism for religious freedom, the U.S. said.
Only Buddhists, Taoists, Muslims, Catholics and Protestants are allowed to practice their religions legally in China.
There was no immediate response to the report from China.
China is one of eight nations designated a "country of particular concern" for religious freedom by the United States, along with Myanmar (also known as Burma), Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan.
The findings come from the State Department's annual International Religious Freedom Report.
Washington criticizes another 17 countries on its long list, ranging from enormous Russia to the tiny Maldives.
Some are countries where religious violence is bloody, such as Nigeria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Respect for religious freedom deteriorated" in Afghanistan during the period covered by the report, "particularly toward Christian groups and individuals," the State Department said.
Christians, Hindus and Sikhs, as well as Muslims whose practices don't satisfy the government or society, suffer "intolerance in the form of harassment, occasional violence, discrimination, and inflammatory public statements," the report said.
It's also sharply critical of Iran, where "The government severely restricted freedom of religion and (there were) reports of government imprisonment, harassment, intimidation, and discrimination based on religious beliefs."
And in officially Muslim Pakistan, "organized violence against members of minorities increased; for example, there was violence against Christians in Gojra, Punjab, and a terrorist attack on Ahmadis in Lahore, Punjab."
But, the State Department noted, "Federal Minister for Minorities' Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti hosted several events to promote interfaith dialogue and religious tolerance, and took an active role in assisting victims of religiously motivated attacks on Christians and Ahmadis."
Washington also had limited praise for China, along with criticism.
"The government supported the social service work of registered religious groups and allowed some foreign faith-based groups to provide social services," it said.
Foreign preachers were allowed into the country, and there were articles about religious freedom in official Chinese media, the State Department said.
The State Department list is similar to one released earlier this year by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), and to a report last year by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.
USCIRF's list of most egregious offenders included 13 countries, five more than the State Department.
Its report in May labeled as "countries of particular concern" Myanmar, North Korea, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, China, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Iraq - although commissioners were not unanimous in including Iraq.
The State Department's list is Burma (Myanmar), China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan. Inclusion on the list can trigger United States sanctions against a country, though it does not automatically do so.
The Pew Forum put out a global survey of restrictions on religion in December. Saudi Arabia, Iran, Uzbekistan, China, Egypt, Burma, the Maldives, Eritrea, Malaysia and Brunei topped that list of countries with the most government restrictions on religion.
More than two out of three people around the world live in countries with high or very high restrictions on religion, the Pew Forum concluded.
Promotion of religious freedom is a core objective of U.S. foreign policy, the State Department says in the report, adding: "The right to believe or not to believe, without fear of government interference or restriction, is a basic human right."
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