WASHINGTON – China and five other countries engage in widespread repression of religion, seeing religious worship as a threat to the dominant ideology, a new State Department report says.
The department's 2002 report on international religious freedom, released Monday, puts Myanmar, Cuba, Laos, North Korea and Vietnam in the same category as China.
It acknowledged that repression of religion exists in a number of other countries.
In China, the report says, "Unapproved religious and spiritual groups remained under scrutiny and, in some cases, harsh repression.''
It said the government continued to restrict religious practice to government-sanctioned organizations and registered places of worship.
The government also continued to control the "growth and scope of the activity of religious groups to prevent the rise of possible sources of authority outside of the control of the government,'' the report said.
The State Department has been issuing reports on religious freedom annually since 1999, as required by Congress.
Releasing the report, Secretary of State Colin Powell said the study sheds a much-needed light on governments that make it "difficult and even dangerous for people to follow the dictates of their conscience and to practice their faith.''
The United States, he said, "categorically reject the notion that the security or stability of any country requires the repression of members of any faith.''
The report's findings on the other five countries, in addition to China, considered to be major violators:
—Myanmar: The government continued to view religious freedom in the context of threats to national unity.
—Cuba: Citizens worshipping in officially sanctioned churches often were subject to surveillance by state security forces.
—Laos: The government inhibited religious practice by all persons, especially those belonging to minority religions, particularly Christianity, that fall outside of the mainstream Buddhism.
—North Korea: Religious freedom and human rights groups in general that outside the country provided numerous reports that members of underground churches have been beaten, arrested, or killed.
—Vietnam: There were credible reports that in past years Hmong Protestant Christians in several northwestern villages were forced by local authorities to recant their faith.
The report listed Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan as countries which are hostile to certain minority religions.
The report credited only Afghanistan with making a significant improvement in the area of religious freedom over the past year.
This, it said, was brought about by the fall of the Taliban and the subsequent establishment of an interim government.
"The ultra-conservative, Islamic state system created by the Taliban collapsed following the onset of Operation Enduring Freedom in October 2001,'' the report said.
"In its place, an interim governing body now administers a far more tolerant regime.'' the report added.