Radio Free Asia: U.S. State Department Reports on Religious Freedom

Radio Free Asia
By Brooks Boliek

The Obama Administration criticized China for the nation’s restrictions on religious practices that have caused the demolition of Christian churches, contributed to the self-immolation of Buddhist monks, and abuse and harassment of Uyghur Muslims.

In its comprehensive annual look at the state of religious freedom in more than 200 countries in 2015, the U.S. State Department said that the Chinese government ignores its constitutional mandate allowing citizens the “freedom of religious belief” and instead restricts religious practices it deems a threat to the nation or the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Authorities tear down a cross from a Protestant church in
Hangzhou’s Dingqiao township, Dec. 19, 2014.
Photo courtesy of China Aid

“Over this past year, there continued to be reports that the government physically abused, detained, arrested, tortured, sentenced to prison, or harassed adherents of both registered and unregistered religious groups for activities related to their religious beliefs and practices,” the report states.

In its International Religious Freedom Report for 2015, the State Department said it was difficult to tell exactly what constitutes discrimination based on religion alone because religion and cultural identity are closely entwined.

Of Tibetan Buddhists and Uyghur Muslims

“Because religion, culture, and ethnicity are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents of societal discrimination as being solely based on religious identity,” the report said.

“Religious and ethnic minority groups, such as Tibetan Buddhists and Uyghur Muslims, experienced institutionalized discrimination throughout the country both because of their religious beliefs and their status as ethnic minorities with distinct languages and cultures,” the State Department found.

In particular it found that tensions “between Uyghur Muslims and Han Chinese migrants continued, exacerbated by government policies discriminating against Uyghurs” as “many hospitals and businesses would not provide services to women wearing veils.”

The report also found that similar “tensions also continued among ethnic and religious groups in Tibetan areas, particularly between Han Chinese and Tibetans, and, in some areas, between Tibetans and Hui Muslims.”

While it appeared that Tibetan Buddhists and Uyhgur Muslims often bore the brunt of religious persecution in China, Christians are also suffering.

“Some Protestant Christians reported employers terminated their employment due to their religious activities,” the State Department said. “A Christian lawyer in Zhejiang Province was fired by his employer due to his religious activities,” and that “some unregistered churches reported that their property leases were broken by landlords pressured by the government.”

The State Department was also critical of laws in Myanmar and proposed laws in Vietnam that could lead to religious persecution.

It singled out four laws the previous military-led government of Myanmar adopted “that appear to target members of the country’s Muslim minority. The new government has not taken any steps to reverse these laws,” it noted.

In Vietnam, the Committee for Religious Affairs released a draft of the “Law on Religion and Belief” for public comment in April 2015.

“Despite representations by Vietnamese officials that the new law would begin to bring the country into compliance with its international obligations, the draft law appeared to make only minimal changes to the deeply problematic current regulations on religion,” the State Department found.

Nonexistence in North Korea

While the State Department found problems with religious freedom in those countries, among others, they pale in comparison to North Korea where there is no religious freedom.

“The exercise of religious freedom continued to be nearly nonexistent in North Korea,” the report said.

“The government continued to deal harshly with those who engaged in almost any religious practices through executions, torture, beatings, and arrests,” the report said.

“An estimated 80,000 to 120,000 political prisoners, some imprisoned for religious reasons, were believed to be held in the political prison camp system in remote areas under horrific conditions.”

China Aid Media Team
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