Report praises religious freedom

WORLD OF DIFFERENCE::A US State Department report says Taiwan not only respects religious freedom under its Constitution, but also as a matter of practice

By William Lowther  /  Staff Reporter in WASHINGTON

Sat, Nov 20, 2010 - Page 3

A new report from the US State Department sharply contrasts the degree of religious freedom in Taiwan and China.

While Taiwan is praised for respecting religious rights, the government of China is singled out for harassment of Tibetan Buddhists, house church Christians and Uighur Muslims.

“This report upholds the standard of the individual freedom of conscience and belief against political tyranny, cultural pressure and the all-too-common human fear of those who are different than ourselves,” said Congressman Chris Smith, a prominent human rights leader and original cosponsor of the International Religious Freedom Act.

“In China, the religious freedoms of Muslims, Catholics, Protestants and Falun Gong practitioners are systematically repressed with relative impunity despite the rise of China on the world stage and the high priority of US-Sino relations in American foreign policy,” he added.

“China remains one of the world’s most repressive governments. Equally worrisome, in recent years the Chinese government has become a global ‘market leader’ in religious persecution, setting up structures and techniques that are cruelly effective, and copied by other countries, such as Vietnam.”

The annual State Department report on religious freedom looks at every country in the world.

It says that Taiwan not only respects religious freedom under its Constitution, but also as a matter of practice.

The State Department said over the last year there were no reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation or belief and prominent leaders took positive steps to promote religious freedom.

According to the State Department, 35 percent of the Taiwanese population considers itself Buddhist and 33 percent Taoist.

“In addition to organized religions, many persons also believe in traditional Chinese folk religions, which include some aspects of shamanism and ancestor worship. Researchers and academics estimate that as much as 80 percent of the population believes in some form of traditional folk religion,” the report said. “Religious beliefs cross political and geographical lines. Members of the political leadership practice a variety of faiths.”

One incident in particular is spotlighted in the report.

It says that during the past year, Wang Dan Ping, president of Radio Taiwan International (RTI), refused a request from “friends” in China to reduce programming hours for Sound of Hope, a Falun Gong-affiliated radio show.

“RTI renewed the broadcast contract with Sound of Hope for another year, and at the end of the reporting period Sound of Hope continued to broadcast up to 14 hours a day into the PRC [People’s Republic of China],” the US State Department said.

“According to unverified reports in the Liberty Times newspaper [the Taipei Times’ sister paper], the request came from People’s Republic of China authorities. The PRC banned the Falun Gong in 1999. A Sound of Hope radio spokesperson welcomed the RTI contract renewal, saying it ‘demonstrates Taiwan’s prevalent democratic values,’” the report added.