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China remains a concern United States report on religious freedom says

HONG KONG (SE): The Union of Myanmar, China, Egypt, Eritrea, Iraq, Iran, Nigeria, the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam remain at the top of the list of countries of greatest concern in the 2012 report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.

“Nations that trample upon basic rights, including freedom of religion, provide fertile ground for poverty and insecurity, war and terror, and violent, radical movements and activities,” the chairperson of the commission, Leonard Leo, commented.

The more than 300-page report contains detailed information on religious freedom in a variety of countries.

The report notes that while much attention has been paid to economic problems, an unnoticed crisis of equal severity in the area of religious freedom has been developing.

“To an alarming extent, freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief was being curtailed, often threatening the safety and survival of innocent persons, including members of religious minorities,” the report says.

The commission is also critical of its own government for failing to give due regard to the recommendations of the commission reports in the past. In addition, presidential waivers have been offered to two of the countries included in the concern list, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan, so no action has taken place.

It also examines the Arab Spring in Egypt, which it notes has in general led to a worsening in religious freedom.

It adds that the failure of the Egyptian authorities to take action against those responsible for violence against Christians creates a climate of impunity.

Discrimination against Christians means they have few representatives in the upper ranks of the government or the military. There are only a few Christian members of parliament and no university deans or judges.

Another country of concern examined is Nigeria. Over 800 people were killed in the riots in the north of the country following the presidential elections in April last year, and over 430 churches were burned or destroyed.

The report notes that the government in Pakistan tolerates “systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of freedom of religion or belief.”

Not only are there repressive blasphemy laws and discriminatory legislation, but the government has also failed to bring to justice those who persecute or kill Christians and has not taken action against those who incite violence.

It again accuses China of continuing to violate its international obligations to protect religious freedom. It adds that Tibetan Buddhists, Uighur Muslims and Christians belonging to unregistered Churches, all face particular persecution.

The commission report adds that hundreds of unregistered Protestants were detained by the authorities last year and dozens of unregistered Catholic priests either remain in detention or have disappeared. One source cited in the report claimed that at least 40 Catholic bishops remain imprisoned or detained.

Government estimates put at 100 million the total number of people in China who profess a religious belief, but the report puts the number higher and says it is growing rapidly. It speaks of hundreds of millions of Chinese who now openly manifest their faith and some senior government officials have praised the work of religious communities.

“Religious freedom abuses must never go unchallenged,” the report states in its introduction.

An angry reaction was published in the China Daily on March 26 accusing the US of breaching human rights through wars of aggression, arbitrary imprisonment of people in Guantanamo and unauthorised surveillance of citizens.

In pointing to Iraq, it noted that China’s military is strictly for defence purposes and added that the US detention rate in prison is the highest in the world.

It adds that the government and private interests exercise censorship over the media and accused it of using doctored photographs to accuse China of brutality during the Lhasa riots in 2008.

The article concedes that the Internet and smaller media outlets do provide a forum for wider discussion, in a similar manner to China, with the only difference being that the media is state-owned.

It concludes, “The US provides the right to practice any religion and to attempt to convert others to your religion, and does not allow any crimes in the name of religion. China allows believers to practice their religion in recognised places of worship and does not allow any crimes in the name of religion either.”

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