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U.S. accuses China of religious persecution

July 22, 1997
Web posted at: 2:39 p.m. EDT (1839 GMT)

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States on Tuesday accused China of religious persecution with beatings and raids on private homes to "suppress unauthorized religious groups."

There was no immediate response from Beijing.

The accusation came in a State Department report ordered by Congress that focuses on religious freedom in 78 countries.

China crackdown

In the section on China, the communist country was cited for sharply restricting religious freedom in violation of a constitutional guarantee that Chinese citizens "enjoy freedom of religious belief."

"Nonetheless," the report said, "the government of China has sought to restrict all actual religious practice to government-authorized religious organizations and registered places of worship."

It said Chinese authorities have cracked down on Christian movements that do not register with the government, have closed hundreds of "house churches" and have detained religious practitioners.

According to the report, four Catholic bishops are among many Christians currently in prison.

While the report focuses on Christians, as mandated by Congress, it also criticizes China for its treatment of Tibetan Buddhists.

Russian restrictions

It also notes that the Clinton administration has encouraged Russian President Boris Yeltsin to veto pending legislation that would restrict religious freedom there for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union six years ago.

The measure would require some faiths to register with the government and would force them to wait up to 15 years before gaining full legal status in Russia.

Exempted from the law are the four so-called major Russian faiths: Russian Orthodoxy, Judaism, Islam and Buddhism.

Iran, Israel, Singapore, Saudi Arabia cited

In Iran, government repression of evangelical Christians increased last year and four Bahais were sentenced to death for apostasy, the report said.

Jehovah's Witnesses have been attacked in Israel and in Singapore, according to the report.

Freedom of religion does not exist in Saudi Arabia, where the government prohibits the practice of all religions except Islam.

U.S. officials have regularly protested that nation's religious policy.

Correspondent Steve Hurst and Reuters contributed to this report.

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