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Religious Freedom Report

According to the U.S. State Department's latest International Religious Freedom Report, there have been some advances in promoting respect for religious freedom. But, says U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, "People are still persecuted or killed for practicing their religion":

"This year, we have re-designated eight 'Countries of Particular Concern' – Burma, China, the Democratic People's Republic of [North] Korea, Eritrea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Vietnam. These are countries where governments have engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom over the past year. We are committed to seeking improvements in each of these countries, improvements like those we have actually seen in Vietnam, which have been further advanced by agreement on religious freedom that our governments signed just this last May."

Burma's military junta is resisting efforts by Buddhist clergy to promote respect for human rights and is discouraging minority religious groups from constructing places of worship. The Chinese government's respect for freedom of religion and freedom of conscience remains poor, especially for unregistered Protestant and Catholic groups. In North Korea, the communist regime subjects religious believers to arrest and harsh penalties. The government of Eritrea continues to harass, arrest, and detain members of Pentecostal and other independent evangelical groups, members of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, and Jehovah's Witnesses.

In Iran, religious minorities, including Sunni and Sufi Muslims, Baha'is, Zoroastrians, Jews, and Christians face imprisonment, harassment, intimidation, and discrimination based on their beliefs. In Saudi Arabia, those who do not adhere to the official strict conservative version of Sunni Islam face severe repercussions, including detention by religious police. Saudi judges may discount the testimony of non-practicing Muslims. In Sudan, there is continued discrimination against non-Muslims, non-Arab Muslims, and Sudanese not from tribes or sects affiliated with the ruling party.

In Vietnam, there has been some improvement, but the communist regime continues to supervise religions. Vietnamese religious leaders are discouraged from engaging in activities that the government perceives as political activism.

"Promoting religious freedom has become increasingly critical with the rise of extremism worldwide," says the State Department report. "Our tasks," it says, "are to confront elements in societies or governments that encourage intolerance or hatred of religious groups and to promote respect for all faiths."

The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.