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U.S.: Chinese targeted religious groups before Olympics

September 22, 2008

From Elise Labott
September 19, 2008 CNN

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Chinese government increased its harassment of 
religious minorities before the Olympic Games, according to a U.S. 
State Department report released Friday.

The State Department's Annual Report on Religious Freedom singled out 
China, Myanmar, North Korea, Iran, Sudan, Eritrea, Saudi Arabia and 
Uzbekistan to "blacklist" because they are "countries of particular 
concern" when it comes to religious oppression.

Over the past year, "repression of religious freedom intensified in 
some areas" in China, including in the Tibetan region and in Xinjiang 
province, where the Uighur Muslims live.

As the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games approached, some unregistered 
Protestant religious groups in Beijing reported intensified harassment 
from government authorities and said the government cracked down on 
home churches, the report says.

The State Department found that over the past year, Chinese officials 
also detained and interrogated several foreigners about their 
religious activities, alleged that the foreigners had engaged in 
"illegal religious activities" and canceled their visas.

The government also undertook a "patriotic education campaign," which 
required monks and nuns to sign statements personally denouncing the 
Dalai Lama. As a result, the reports says, protests led to violence in 
Lhasa, Tibet, in March, and the government detained an unknown number 
of monks and nuns or expelled them from monasteries.

In addition to its continued crackdown on groups such as the Falun 
Gong, which China considers a "cult," the government harassed Uighur 
Muslims and confiscated some of their passports to prevent their 
taking part in the hajj, the pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia.

Once again, the U.S. criticized the government of Myanmar, saying its 
"repressive, authoritarian military regime" had "imposed restrictions 
on certain religious activities and frequently committed abuses of the 
right to freedom of religion."

Most followers of registered religions were permitted to worship as 
they chose, but the government infiltrated and monitored activities of 
virtually all organizations, including religious ones.

The report says that although the North Korean constitution provides 
for religious freedom, "genuine religious freedom does not exist, and 
there was no change in the extremely poor level of respect for 
religious freedom" over the past year.

In Iran, the report says, "continued deterioration of the poor status 
of respect for religious freedom" last year.

"Government actions and rhetoric created a threatening atmosphere for 
nearly all non-Shia religious groups, most notably for Baha'is, as 
well as Sufi Muslims, evangelical Christians, and members of the 
Jewish community," the report says. "Government-controlled media 
intensified negative campaigns against religious minorities, 
particularly the Baha'is. Reports of imprisonment, harassment, 
intimidation, and discrimination based on religious beliefs continued."

The State Department found some progress in Saudi Arabia.

"While overall government policies continue to place severe 
restrictions on religious freedom, there were incremental improvements 
in specific areas," the report says.

However, the report goes on to note that "Non-Muslims and Muslims who 
do not adhere to the government's interpretation of Islam continued to 
face significant political, economic, legal, social, and religious 
discrimination."

It also criticizes U.S. allies in Pakistan and Jordan for 
aggressiveness toward religious minorities.

The governments of Iraq and Afghanistan were praised for endorsing 
religious freedom, but the State Department found that the war-torn 
countries have problems.

In Afghanistan, "the residual effects of years of Taliban rule, 
popular suspicion regarding outside influence of foreigners, and weak 
democratic institutions hinder the respect for religious freedom."

In Iraq, "violence conducted by terrorists, extremists, and criminal 
gangs restricted the free exercise of religion and posed a significant 
threat to the country's vulnerable religious minorities."

In releasing the report, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the 
United States is "concerned by efforts to promote a so-called 
defamation of religions concept," which has been the focus of numerous 
resolutions passed at the United Nations.

She was referring to the Organization of Islamic Conference, a 
grouping of 57 Muslim states that does not recognize the right of 
individuals to freely change their religion and has prevented 
consensus on resolutions at the United Nations that would prohibit 
defamation of all religions, not just Islam.

"Despite a pretense of protecting religious practice and promoting 
tolerance, the flawed concept attempts to limit freedom of religion 
and restrict the rights of all individuals to disagree with or 
criticize religion, in particular Islam," the report says.

"Instead of protecting religion practice and promoting tolerance, this 
concept seeks to limit freedom of speech, and that could undermine the 
standards of international religious freedom," Rice said.
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