WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Chinese
government increased its harassment of religious minorities before the Olympic
Games, according to a U.S. State Department report released Friday.
The State Department's Annual Report on Religious Freedom
singled out China, Myanmar, North Korea, Iran, Sudan, Eritrea, Saudi Arabia and
Uzbekistan to "blacklist" because they are "countries of particular concern"
when it comes to religious oppression.
Over the past year, "repression of religious freedom
intensified in some areas" in China, including in the Tibetan region and in
Xinjiang province, where the Uighur Muslims live.
As the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games approached, some
unregistered Protestant religious groups in Beijing reported intensified
harassment from government authorities and said the government cracked down on
home churches, the report says.
The State Department found that over the past year, Chinese
officials also detained and interrogated several foreigners about their
religious activities, alleged that the foreigners had engaged in "illegal
religious activities" and canceled their visas.
The government also undertook a "patriotic education
campaign," which required monks and nuns to sign statements personally
denouncing the Dalai Lama. As a result, the reports says, protests led to
violence in Lhasa, Tibet, in March, and the government detained an unknown
number of monks and nuns or expelled them from monasteries.
In addition to its continued crackdown on groups such as the
Falun Gong, which China considers a "cult," the government
harassed Uighur Muslims and confiscated some of their passports to prevent their
taking part in the hajj, the pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia.
Once again, the U.S. criticized the government of Myanmar,
saying its "repressive, authoritarian military regime" had "imposed restrictions
on certain religious activities and frequently committed abuses of the right to
freedom of religion."
Most followers of registered religions were permitted to
worship as they chose, but the government infiltrated and monitored activities
of virtually all organizations, including religious ones.
The report says that although the North Korean
constitution provides for religious freedom, "genuine religious freedom does not
exist, and there was no change in the extremely poor level of respect for
religious freedom" over the past year.
In Iran, the report says, "continued deterioration of the
poor status of respect for religious freedom" last year.
"Government actions and rhetoric created a threatening
atmosphere for nearly all non-Shia religious groups, most notably for Baha'is,
as well as Sufi Muslims, evangelical Christians, and members of the Jewish
community," the report says. "Government-controlled media intensified negative
campaigns against religious minorities, particularly the Baha'is. Reports of
imprisonment, harassment, intimidation, and discrimination based on religious
The State Department found some progress in Saudi Arabia.
"While overall government policies continue to place severe
restrictions on religious freedom, there were incremental improvements in
specific areas," the report says.
However, the report goes on to note that "Non-Muslims and
Muslims who do not adhere to the government's interpretation of Islam continued
to face significant political, economic, legal, social, and religious
It also criticizes U.S. allies in Pakistan and Jordan for
aggressiveness toward religious minorities.
The governments of Iraq and Afghanistan were praised for
endorsing religious freedom, but the State Department found that the war-torn
countries have problems.
In Afghanistan, "the residual effects of years of Taliban
rule, popular suspicion regarding outside influence of foreigners, and weak
democratic institutions hinder the respect for religious freedom."
In Iraq, "violence conducted by terrorists, extremists, and
criminal gangs restricted the free exercise of religion and posed a significant
threat to the country's vulnerable religious minorities."
In releasing the report, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
said the United States is "concerned by efforts to promote a so-called
defamation of religions concept," which has been the focus of numerous
resolutions passed at the United Nations.
She was referring to the Organization of Islamic Conference,
a grouping of 57 Muslim states that does not recognize the right of individuals
to freely change their religion and has prevented consensus on resolutions at
the United Nations that would prohibit defamation of all religions, not just
"Despite a pretense of protecting religious practice and
promoting tolerance, the flawed concept attempts to limit freedom of religion
and restrict the rights of all individuals to disagree with or criticize
religion, in particular Islam," the report says.
"Instead of protecting religion practice and
promoting tolerance, this concept seeks to limit freedom of speech, and that
could undermine the standards of international religious freedom," Rice said.