Bahai News - U.S. Blasts China, Others for Persecution
Tuesday September 5 3:59 PM ET
U.S. Blasts China, Others for Persecution
By Jonathan Wright
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The United States, invoking U.N. declarations and
its own tradition of religious freedom, on Tuesday blasted China, Sudan,
Afghanistan and others for persecuting people for their religious faith
In its second report on how free people are to practice their beliefs
in 194 states, the State Department also rebuked some allies, including
Saudi Arabia, Germany and France.
Beijing's crackdown on Falun Gong spiritual practitioners provoked some
of the harshest criticism in the report, mandated by Congress under a
1998 law which gave the U.S. government a variety of punishment options,
Last year the U.S. government chose not to impose additional sanctions
on countries it designated as being of particular concern for their
religious intolerance -- China, Iran, Iraq, Myanmar and Sudan.
This year U.S. officials say they do not expect any significant change
in that list, a revised version of which special ambassador Robert
Seiple will present to congressional committees on Thursday.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, presenting the report to the
media in New York, said much of the report made ``grim reading''. ``The
sad truth is that religious intolerance remains far too common in far
too many places,'' she added.
She said Americans had always believed that religious freedom
strengthened nations and enriched their peoples -- a belief that has
since become ``a shared aspiration and obligation of the entire
The report said the Chinese government's respect for religious freedom
had deteriorated during the past year as the authorities imposed new
restrictions, closed houses of worship and actively persecuted members
of some unregistered groups.
Covered In Bruises
``It was a tough year last year in China,'' said Seiple, the U.S.
ambassador at large for religious freedom.
``We saw the beginning of the attacks on Falun Gong. We saw the
legislation ... that essentially identified 14 groups, including Falun
Gong -- that gave enormous power to local and state officials to crack
down,'' he added.
As an example, he cited the case of an unnamed 60-year-old female Falun
Gong practitioner who died in custody and whose body was covered in
bruises, with dried blood in her ears, eye and nose and all of her
``We have one credible report that says she was made to run outside in
the snow with her shoes off until she dropped. I don't know what the
right words are to describe that kind of inhumane, brutal treatment of
people,'' he added.
Asked to explain Beijing's motives, he said: ``The China government is
concerned about things they don't understand, things they can't control
and things that have an external influence. They will talk about it in
terms of stability but it's basically control.''
On Afghanistan, the report said the fundamentalist Taliban who run most
of the country severely restricted religious freedom and persecuted the
Shi'ite Muslim minority.
In Sudan, the government treated Islam as a state religion and restricted
non-Muslims. Khartoum and its allies conducted indiscriminate bombings
and other abuses in a civil war with rebels in the mainly Christian or
animist south, it said.
In Iran, Baha'is, Jews, Christians and Sufi Muslims reported imprisonment
and other acts of harassment. Conversion from Islam could be punishable
by death, the report said.
In Iraq, where the Sunni Arabs minority dominates over the Shi'a Arab
majority, the report cited several incidents in 1999 of security forces
killing and injuring congregants protesting closures of Shi'a mosques.
Discrimination Against Scientology
Rulers of Myanmar, or Burma as it was known before a military coup and
as it is still known by the U.S. government, presided over laws which
allowed for restrictions on religious freedom. Authorities repressed
efforts by Buddhist clergy to promote human rights and political freedom,
Some of the hundreds of pages of text concentrated on states the U.S.
government says do not fulfill a covenant signed by 144 nations
acknowledging the right to ``have or to adopt a religion or belief of
It accused Germany of encouraging discrimination against members of the
Church of Scientology, which enjoys tax-free status in the United States.
Some German officials believed Scientology was a money-making scheme
rather than a religion and government procedures sometimes screened out
its members, it said.
In France, a 1996 law labeling 173 groups as sects included organizations
which were ``merely unfamiliar or unpopular,'' some of whose members
continued to allege discrimination, it added.
In February, France accused Washington of being too lax on cults and
unfairly blaming France for its harsher stance.
One bright spot on the religious freedom spectrum was Azerbaijan, where
the U.S. ambassador helped persuade President Haydar Aliyev to improve
the status of religious minorities.
The Azeri authorities have rescinded deportation orders against clergy,
allowed many religious groups to register for the first time and
reinstated some factory workers, it said.
The report did not analyze how religious freedom was respected at home
but acknowledged followers of Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses, Roman
Catholicism, Judaism, Islam and indigenous American religions had been
persecuted in the past.
``But today, at the dawn of the third millennium, religions are
flourishing in the United States, their respective traditions enriching
not only their own adherents, but American public policy as well,'' it
The report is available on the Internet through the State Department's
Web site www.state.gov.
©Copyright 2000, Reuters
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