Many of the countries faulted, including China, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq, regularly show up on the annual U.S. list of overall human rights abusers. But the report also criticized some U.S. allies, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt, for intolerance.
"Freedom of religion does not exist" in Saudi Arabia, the report determined, in an unusually blunt and sweeping finding about that major U.S. ally in the Gulf.
Although 144 countries are parties to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, "there remains in some countries a substantial difference between promise and practice," said the report, covering the period from January 1998 to June 1999 and written by the State Department.
"Much of the world's population lives in countries in which the right to religious freedom is restricted or prohibited," it concluded.
China is cited for persecuting Tibetan Buddhists, Muslim Uighurs and Protestant and Roman Catholics who do not belong to "official" churches.
In Afghanistan, religious freedom is "severely restricted," and the dominant Taleban, a fundamentalist Sunni Muslim group that controls most of the country, persecutes and kills minority Shiites, the report said.
In Saudi Arabia, where the government supports the Sunni Muslim majority, members of the Shiite minority "are the objects of officially sanctioned political and economic discrimination," the report said, citing instances of arbitrary detention and travel restrictions among other practices.
It observed that in Egypt, also largely a Muslim country, members of the Christian minority "generally worship without interference, but there is some societal and governmental discrimination."
In China, the report noted that the constitution provides for freedom of religious belief but in practice the government "seeks to restrict religious practice to government-sanctioned organizations and registered places of worship and to control the growth and scope of religious groups."
Iran was faulted for trying to "eradicate" the Baha'i faith, while Iraq was criticized for conducting a campaign of murder, execution and arrests against Shiites.
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