September 18, 2006

Tibet: US Report Upholds China's ‘Poor' Rating on Religious Freedoms

According to an annual US report, China's respect for religious freedom remains "poor," with people being thrown in jail and facing death for practicing their faiths.

China's respect for religious freedom remains "poor," with people being thrown in jail and reportedly facing death due to torture for practicing their faiths, an annual US report on international religious freedom said on Friday.

It cited widely reported "repression" of unregistered Protestant church networks and "house" churches, "tightly controlled" religious activity in the predominantly Muslim Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region and "restrictions" on Tibetan Buddhism.

Beijing also repressed groups that it categorized as "cults," including small Christian-based groups and the Falun Gong spiritual movement, said the US State Department's International Religious Freedom Report 2006.

"Falun Gong practitioners continued to face arrest, detention, and imprisonment, and there have been credible reports of deaths due to torture and abuse," it said.

Practitioners who refuse to recant their beliefs, the report said, were sometimes subjected to harsh treatment in prisons, and re-education through labor camps and extra-judicial "legal education" centers.

The State Department has been designating China a "country of particular concern," in terms of protecting religious freedom, every year since 1999. Going by the report, Beijing is widely expected to remain on the blacklist this year.

The report said religious reforms which came into effect in China last year resulted in little change on the ground.

"It's been a disappointing time, where the general trend has stalled over the last two or three years," John Hanford, US envoy for international religious freedom, told a media briefing on Friday.

The reforms "seemed to open the door maybe for some previously unregistered groups to be registered, and also the idea that house gatherings of friends and family would be fine," he said.

"But repeatedly we find problems here where the government continues to raid these sorts of meetings in some cases, and arrest people and throw them in jail," he said.

Hanford said Beijing also did not keep its word on the "very critical issue" about freedom of children being able to receive religious education.

"You'll find, for example, among Uighur Muslims, that mothers can be arrested and thrown in jail for extensive periods of time simply for training their children in their faith," Hanford said.

"And we find Sunday school teachers in Catholic and Protestant settings are sometimes arrested as well," he said.

Hanford also said that the Catholic Church had "great difficulty in trying to move forward to receive recognition."

"There seemed to be some progress earlier this year, but then a setback over the appointment of certain bishops," he said.

Beijing and the Vatican broke off diplomatic relations in the 1950s and since then two Catholic churches have coexisted in China -- an underground one loyal to the Pope and the state-sanctioned church, which does not recognize the Vatican's authority.

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