China yesterday denounced a US government report accusing it of routinely violating religious freedoms, calling the report an attempt to interfere in China's internal affairs that was "doomed to failure."
The report by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom "disregarded the truth and wantonly attacked China's religious and ethnic policy," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement published in the Communist Party's People's Daily and other newspapers.
"The commission's interference in China's internal affairs was unpopular and doomed to failure," it quoted a ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue as saying.
The commission's annual report, released earlier this month, accused China's government of "numerous egregious violations" against religious groups and quasi-religious organizations such as the Falun Gong meditation movement that the government has labeled "evil cults."
China rejects those claims, and Zhang's statement said Falun Gong was prosecuted according to law in order to "protect basic human rights."
Tens of thousands of people have been arrested under a four-year crackdown against Falun Gong and the group says hundreds of followers have died in police custody.
China's officially atheistic communist government claims to protect religious freedom with a maze of laws governing religious organizations and assemblies.
Christians, Buddhists, Muslims and Taoists are allowed to worship only within officially recognized religious organizations whose leaders are vetted and approved by the government.
Unofficial religious gatherings such as church services in private homes and Buddhist prayer ceremonies are routinely broken up. Organizers are often detained and sometimes put on trial for subversion or other crimes.
China routinely objects to foreign criticism of its human rights record and there were no indications the report would spark a major rift in ties with Washington.
Chinese officials last year reportedly told US Assistant Secretary of State Lorne Craner that they would invite leaders of the commission, but no dates were set and there has not been any further discussions yet on the highly sensitive and controversial matter.