WASHINGTON (AP) -- A State Department report released today said Chinese citizens who engage in unregistered religious activity can face ``harassment, prolonged detention and incarceration in prison.''
The report said such activities are common in some areas of China while in others government supervision is minimal.
``There were credible reports of incidents of abuse or torture of Buddhist monks and nuns,'' the report said, adding that Protestants and Roman Catholics who do not belong to official churches also were subject to persecution.
China is one of 194 countries or territories examined in the report -- the first of what will be an annual series on religious freedom around the world.
The study was made available Wednesday to members of Congress and was released to news organizations today. Brief excerpts from the report were made available Wednesday to The Associated Press by a government official.
In Beijing today, a Chinese spokesman rejected as malicious interference the allegation that members of unofficial churches face harassment and detention.
``Nobody has been arrested or detained because of religious beliefs,'' Foreign Ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi said. ``If religious believers are arrested, it is not because of their religious beliefs but because they have taken part in criminal activities.''
The State Department report acknowledged a loosening of religious repression in China since the 1970s, when religion was banned.
President Clinton is expected to meet in the next few days with Chinese President Jiang Zemin at the Asia-Pacific summit meeting in Auckland, New Zealand. Officials have been speculating privately that the comments on China in the report could be an agenda item for Jiang at the meeting.
Other highlights in the report:
--In Saudi Arabia, there were instances of arbitrary detention of members of the Shiite sect, a minority Islamic grouping. Non-Muslims are required to worship privately and any attempt to convert a Muslim to another faith is subject to criminal prosecution.
--In Sudan, the ongoing civil war provided the basis for severe persecution of Christians and of Muslims who deviate from officially approved practices. Punishment can include ``killing, prolonged arbitrary detention or imprisonment, threats, violence and forced conversion to Islam.''
--In Serbia, hundreds of thousands of Muslims in Kosovo province were killed or forced from their homes by the country's security forces, dominated by Orthodox Christians.
--In Burma, security forces destroyed or looted churches and mosques, mostly in areas where anti-government rebels are active. Also, the government continued to systematically arrest and imprison Buddhist monks who promoted political and human rights.
--In Afghanistan, the ruling Taliban movement has engaged in ``persecution and killing of Afghan Shiites in significant part because of their religious beliefs.''
-- In Iraq, the government has conducted a campaign of murder, summary execution and protracted arbitrary arrests against the religious leaders of the Shiite Muslim population. ``Security forces have murdered senior Shiite clerics, desecrated mosques and holy sites, and arrested tens of thousands of Shiites.''
-- In Iran, member of the Baha'i faith can endure prolonged imprisonment, desecration of holy places, denial of the right to assemble, denial of access to higher education and denial of civil rights.
The report will be used by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright as a basis for possible punitive actions against countries deemed the most serious violators of religious freedom rights that are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The penalties can range from a diplomatic note at one extreme to economic sanctions on the other.
According to the official, many of the worst offenders -- Sudan, Iraq and Afghanistan -- already are under U.S. sanctions.
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