The US State Department said on Friday that China’s repression of religious groups intensified in the last year, citing Beijing’s crackdown on Tibetan Buddhists and its harassment of Christians and members of the Falun Gong spiritual group.
The department’s annual International Religious Freedom report also condemned Myanmar’s government for restricting spiritual activities and abusing its citizens’ rights. In North Korea, the report said, “genuine religious freedom does not exist.”
China and Myanmar have been classified among “Countries of Particular Concern” since the first religious freedom report came out in 1999. North Korea was added to that category in 2001.
The State Department said that after a violent Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule last March, authorities locked down monasteries, intensified “patriotic education” campaigns and “detained an unknown number of monks and nuns or expelled them from monasteries.”
The government was also said to have increased its criticism of the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, after the protests.
US President George W. Bush’s ambassador for international religious freedom, John Hanford, told reporters that the Tibetan issue has been a prominent part of a resumed US-Chinese human rights dialogue.
The US, he said, objected to harsh treatment of Buddhists loyal to the Dalai Lama and urged China’s government to stop appointing and training lamas.
“The Communist Party of China forbids its members and leaders from having any religious belief, and so there’s an irony in the fact that the Communist government and party takes upon itself the prerogative of choosing religious leaders, such as lamas,” Hanford said.
There was “little evidence,” the report said, that China’s 2005 regulations on religion had improved the country’s spiritual situation.
Applications by unregistered Protestant churches for registration were reported to have been rejected without cause, the State Department said, and “underground” Roman Catholic bishops faced repression over loyalty to the Vatican, “which the government accused of interfering in China’s internal affairs.”
Practitioners of the Falun Gong, which China says is a cult, faced arrest, detention and imprisonment, and the State Department noted reports of death from torture.
But the report also praised China for allowing foreign and domestic religious groups to boost cooperation on religious education and charitable work.
In Myanmar, “the government continued to infiltrate and monitor activities of virtually all organizations, including religious ones,” the report said. Christians there faced restrictions and Muslims suffered violence and close monitoring.
Vietnam was praised for improving its religious rights, although the report said problems remain.
Meanwhile, a Catholic bishop in China returned to his home in Zhengding, near Beijing, four weeks after he was arrested by police, the Vatican’s Asianews agency reported on Friday.
Jia Zhiguo (賈冶國), 73, had been arrested on Aug. 24, the closing day of the Olympic Games in Beijing — bringing to 12 the number of run-ins he has had with police since 2004.
According to the AsiaNews agency, the bishop, who returned home on Thursday, is under house arrest and banned from meeting priests or other Christians.
Asianews reported that the prelate, who advocates the rights of handicapped people, could have been arrested to prevent him from speaking out ahead of the Paralympics in Beijing.