Bahai News - Panel seeks labeling N. Korea, 3 others for religious intolerance

Panel seeks labeling N. Korea, 3 others for religious intolerance

WASHINGTON, July 31 (Kyodo) -- An advisory panel to the U.S. Department of State has recommended to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that the country designate North Korea, Laos, Saudi Arabia and Turkmenistan as "countries of particular concern" in terms of religious freedom, according to a report issued Monday.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom wrote to Albright on Friday, suggesting that the four countries be added to the list of countries where violations of the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act occur, the report said.

The department is scheduled to issue a new list in September. The first list released last year designated seven countries -- China, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Serbia and Sudan -- as countries of particular concern (CPCs).

Under the law, the U.S. president is authorized to shrink diplomatic ties with listed countries and impose sanctions on them by such measures as preventing financial aid from international institutions.

The commission, which has investigated violations of religious freedom based on information supplied by victims, religious groups, private organizations and reports issued by the department, said that in North Korea, it is apparent that religious freedom is "non-existent."

"The government has imprisoned religious believers and suppresses all organized religious activity except that which serves the interests of the state," the report said on North Korea.

It also pointed out that in Laos, increasing numbers of Protestants, Baha'is and Catholics have been subjected to detention during the past 12 months.

The commission further concluded that all of the seven governments or entities named by the president last October as CPCs continue to engage in particularly severe violations of religious freedom and therefore should continue to be designated as CPCs.

Among the seven countries, the United States criticized China for banning activities of the Falun Gong meditation group and suppressing Tibetan Buddhism and accused Myanmar's military junta of continuing to violate religious freedom.

The panel also urged the department to closely monitor religious freedom in India, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam and expressed deep concern about religious violence in Indonesia and Nigeria.

It recommended that the U.S. urge the Indonesian government to take every possible measure to prevent further religious violence in the Maluku islands, where 4,000 Christians and Muslims have reportedly died since January 1999.


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