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Annual report cites nations for religious-freedom abuses

Wednesday, May 9, 2001 | Tag Cloud Tags:

May 9, 2001
By Kenny Byrd

WASHINGTON (ABP) -- Abuses of religious freedom worsened last year in China and the Sudan, according to the second annual report of a government commission set up to monitor religious persecution abroad.

Alleged violators of religious freedom targeted in the 188-page report include China, India, Indonesia, Iran, Korea, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Sudan, Vietnam and the Middle East.

Last year, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom limited its inaugural report to three countries -- China, Russia, and Sudan. But with a full year to work and the "experience of our first report behind us, we were able to greatly expand our activities to cover more countries and some additional issues," said Commission Chairman Elliott Abrams.

Abrams said the report discusses roughly 24 countries in all, but they "are not the entire list of serious violators of religious freedom, nor are all of them equally bad."

While Russia continues to make the list, for example, its citizens find "a much larger degree of religious freedom than many of the others."

China, meanwhile, "has expanded its crackdown on unregistered religious communities and tightened its control on official religious organizations," according to the report.

The Beijing government has "intensified its campaign against the Falun Gong movement and its followers," the report states, and it "apparently has also been involved in the confiscation and destruction of up to 3,000 unregistered religious buildings and sites in southeastern China."

The Chinese government has increased its control over the official Protestant and Catholic churches and continues to interfere in the training and selection of religious leaders and clergy, says the report.

The commission called on the United States to urge China to end government controls on religion and release people imprisoned because of their religious beliefs.

The panel specifically recommended that U.S. officials initiate a resolution to censure China with the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.

The panel also said China should not be selected to host the Olympics until the government makes "significant and sustained improvements in religious freedom and human rights."

The situation in Sudan reportedly has grown worse since the commission's last report. "The government of Sudan continues to commit egregious human-rights abuses," states the report. While the Clinton administration took some actions against Sudan, the issue has "remained on the back burner of U.S. policy," the report says.

In India, the ruling party (Bharatiya Janata Party) "is not doing all that it could" to pursue perpetrators of attacks against religious minorities, the report says.

It also says religious freedom is "non-existent" in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, pointing to reports of executions of religious believers.

Fighting between Christians and Muslims was also discussed in reports about Indonesia and Nigeria.

The commission's May report is to be followed by a September report on the issue by the State Department. The State Department will identify the worst violators of religious freedom, labeling them "countries of particular concern." From there, the president decides what, if any, actions to take against those countries.

Last year, five countries were re-listed as CPCs: Burma, China, Iran, Iraq and Sudan. But the commission continues to urge the addition of Laos, Korea, Saudi Arabia and Turkmenistan to the list.

The commission also reiterated its concern that foreign companies continue to raise capital in U.S. markets without detailing their business interests in CPCs.

The report also complained of continuing lack of cooperation from the State Department. Specifically cited was the agency's refusal to grant access to cables from U.S. embassies.

The State Department recently allowed limited access, but the commission described the process as "cumbersome and lengthy" and said it is not working.

"The commission has tried this system in good faith and concludes that it does not meet the commission's needs," the report says. "It can no longer acquiesce to this situation and will propose a more-expeditious process to the State Department."

In another section, the commission report claims the State Department violated the law by failing to report specific sanctions placed on countries of particular concern last year.

The 1998 International Religious Freedom Act orders the State Department in its annual report on religious freedom to say what, if any, sanctions are imposed under the law.

The State Department, however, "has, to the commission's knowledge, done nothing to publicize the sanctions imposed under IRFA in October 1999," the commission charges.

Following its report last September, the State Department said U.S. sanctions already in place against the five countries designated as being of "particular concern" would continue, but it was taking no further action.

"Although this non-action by the secretary may be authorized under IRFA, the commission believes that it is indefensible policy in the cases of Sudan and China, " the panel's May 1 report states.

A State Department official contacted by ABP disagreed that the agency was in violation of the law. But another official authorized to speak on the record was not immediately available for comment.

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