(Photo: Reuters/Claro Cortes IV)
Leaders in China are not pleased with this week’s International Religious Freedom Report by the United States, which has continued to criticize China for not allowing its people to worship and practice their own religion.
The U.S. State Department released the second half of the 13th Annual International Religious Freedom Report Tuesday. It includes eight countries guilty of particularly severe violations of religious freedom and has tagged them "Countries of Particular Concern.”
Nations highlighted in the annual report are subject to further actions by the United States, including economic sanctions. And the information is taken into account by U.S. foreign policymakers.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton commented on the report this week, saying the violations of religious freedom are getting worse. She also said one of the State Department’s goals in releasing the report is to spotlight violations.
After hearing the report, Jiang Yu, spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, made some terse remarks at a regular press briefing Wednesday, saying,“China firmly opposes the United States intervening in our domestic affairs by issuing such a report.”
Yu told the assembled media, "China is firmly opposed to the U.S. attacking its religious rights situation by issuing reports of this nature year after year and interfering with China's internal affairs." He added, "Chinese people across all ethnic groups enjoy the full freedom to practice religious beliefs in accordance with the law. We are urging the United States to exert greater efforts toward the development of bilateral relations.”
Clinton said in China, Tibetan Buddhists, Uighur Muslims and Christians all suffer from government attempts to restrict their religious practice.
She referred to a recent incident in Eritrea, where a 43-year-old evangelical Christian died in prison. He was reportedly tortured for 18 months and denied treatment for malaria because he refused to renounce his faith.
“Of course, threats to the free exercise of conscience and religion do not always come directly from governments,” Clinton said. “Just yesterday, we heard reports that gunmen masquerading as security officers waylaid a bus of Shia pilgrims traveling throughout western Iraq.”
Clinton said the women were abandoned by the side of the road, but the 22 men were shot, and their bodies left in the middle of the desert.
“This sort of hateful, senseless violence has no aim other than to undermine the fabric of peaceful society,” she said.
The Secretary of State also said as the United States continues to look around the world, it sees many countries in which governments deny their people the most fundamental human rights, as well as “the right to believe according to their own conscience – including the freedom to not believe or not follow the religion favored by their government."
U.S. lawmakers say a healthy society should allow its members the right to practice religion freely, without risking discrimination, arrest, or violence, the right to educate children according to their own beliefs, and freedom to express their beliefs.
Analysts say instances of imprisonment, harassment, intimidation, discrimination and death do not exist in America, unless they deal with some transitions to democracy.
Democracy, church and state relations, as well as vulnerable ethnic and religious minorities, are new challenges faced by every nation.
U.S. government officials said they will continue efforts to support religious freedom.
“We are engaging with faith groups to address the issues that affect them,” Clinton said. "Our embassies encourage interfaith dialogue. And we will speak out against efforts to curtail religious freedom. This is good for stability, for American national security and for global security.”
In response to comments made similar to those expressed Thursday by the spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, officials said they are convinced that religious tolerance is one of the essential elements not only of a sustainable democracy, but also of a peaceful society that respects the rights and dignity of each individual.
To read the report visit http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2011/09/172254.htm.
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