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U.S. report details global religious persecution

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom criticized China and Sudan, among other countries, for religious persecution in a report released Monday.

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The report condemned what it termed violations of religious freedom in China, Sudan, Afghanistan, North Korea, Iran, Iraq and Indonesia, as well as other nations. Those portrayed as the most serious offenders were listed as "countries of particular concern," or CPCs.

The report, which contends U.S. policy does not often reflect "the gravity of the situation," was the second for the commission, created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. That law is meant to promote religious freedom in U.S. international policy and combat religious persecution in other countries.

China, listed as a CPC, has expanded its crackdown on unregistered religious groups in the last year, the report said, and has tightened its control on unofficial religious organizations.

"The government has intensified its campaign against the Falun Gong movement and its followers," the report said. "Government control over the official Protestant and Catholic churches has increased."

China exercises tight control over Uighur Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists, the report said, and reports of torture by government officials were on the rise.

Action urged against Sudan

One of the most sharply criticized countries was Sudan, where religious freedom is threatened by an overall worsening humanitarian situation, the commission said.

"The government of Sudan continues to commit egregious human rights abuses -- including widespread bombing of civilian and humanitarian targets, abduction and enslavement by government-sponsored militias, manipulation of humanitarian assistance as a weapon of war, and severe restrictions on religious freedom," the report said.

The report urged the Bush administration to mount a "comprehensive, sustained campaign" against the Sudan's alleged abuses, and suggested U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell be appointed to bring about an end to Sudan's war and the "atrocities" committed there.

Commissioners wrote they were disappointed that former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright had not acted on their recommendation to name four new countries -- Laos, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Turkmenistan -- to the list of CPCs. They said the governments in each of those countries have engaged in "particularly severe" violations of religious freedom.

North Korea faulted

The commission wrote that religious freedom in North Korea "is nonexistent ... The government has imprisoned religious believers and apparently suppresses all organized religious activity except that which serves the interests of the state."

"Since July 1999, there have been reports of torture and execution of religious believers, including between 12 and 23 Christians on account of their religion."

The commissioners recommend that the U.S. make improvements in religious freedom a prerequisite for normalization of relations between Pyongyang and Washington, and for the relaxation of sanctions.

The report contained little, if any, praise for efforts to promote religious freedom in the countries mentioned. But the least stinging comments were directed toward Russia, which "has yet to articulate a policy" on registration for religious groups, leaving some 1,500 such groups subject to "liquidation" by the state.

President Vladimir Putin's "government appears to be committed to the principle of religious freedom, and, like the government of Boris Yeltsin before it, has taken several steps to mitigate religious-freedom violations," the report said.

"Nevertheless, it is uncertain how vigorous the Putin government will be in dealing with Russia's many religious-freedom problems."

U.S. investors warned

The report also featured recommendations on financial dealings -- including those in capital markets and with U.S. foreign assistance -- with CPCs.

International companies seeking U.S. investments should disclose to the Securities and Exchange Commission, among other things, whether they do business in a CPC and whether U.S. investor money would be used in their business dealings there, the report recommended.

The commission said it found "significant" violations in some countries that receive U.S. aid. It recommended Washington bar the transfer of any aid to countries -- or programs -- that discriminate against the aid recipients on the basis of their religion.

"Foreign aid can be an important tool to promote religious freedom either directly or indirectly," and as such, should not be abused, according to the report.

The report also expressed concerns about sectarian violence in Nigeria and Indonesia.



RELATED STORIES:
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November 13, 2000
Politics and religion still an uneasy mix
August 29, 2000
Chinese religious leaders defend government's record on religious freedom
August 25, 2000
U.S. report criticizes countries for religious persecution
September 9, 1999
Church and state: Unusual government report focuses on Christian persecution
July 23, 1997

RELATED SITES:
United States Commission on International Religious Freedom
International Religious Freedom Act of 1998
U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission

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