The U.S. State Department has released its eighth annual report on international religious freedom. The report covers one-hundred-ninety-seven countries and territories.
John Hanford is U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. He says that during the past year, progress has been made in many countries including Indonesia, Turkmenistan, and Saudi Arabia. But, he says, "In too many countries, governments still repress their people's religious expression through force or harassment." One such country, says Mr. Hanford, is China:
"China allows some religious expression, but severely represses the activities of religious groups not officially sanctioned by the state."
The international religious freedom report says about China: "Unregistered religious groups continued to experience varying degrees of official interference and harassment. Members of some unregistered religious groups were subjected to restrictions, including intimidation, harassment, and detention. Unregistered religious groups were pressured to register with government organs and government-sanctioned 'patriotic' religious associations linked to the five main religions -- Buddhism, Islam, Taoism, Catholicism, and Protestantism."
Mr. Hanford says that the United States has raised the issue of religious freedom in China "at the highest levels":
"There was a new regulation on religious affairs that was promulgated in 2004. It seemed to open the door maybe for some previously unregistered groups to be registered, and also the idea that house gatherings of friends and family would be fine. . . .But repeatedly we find problems here where the [Chinese] government continues to raid these sorts of meetings in some cases, and arrest people and throw them in jail."
Despite the Chinese government's efforts to restrict religious expression, the number of religious adherents – of all faiths – continues to grow in China. The United States strongly supports the rights of these individuals to practice their faith in the manner they themselves choose. In China, and elsewhere, says Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, "The United States seeks to promote religious freedom and tolerance and build a more peaceful world for all faiths."
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.