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Religious Freedom Worsens In China

Police officers watch over an area where members of an underground church had planned to gather for worship in Beijing, China, April 17, 2011.

China's government has "engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom."

The U.S. State Department recently issued its International Religious Freedom report for the six-month period from July 1, 2010, through December 31, 2010. This year U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton designated eight countries as Countries of Particular Concern. China is again among them. According to the report, China's government has "engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom."

China along with Burma, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan has been a systematic, on-going, and egregious violator of religious freedom.

"In China," said U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Michael Posner, "the government’s overall level of respect for religious freedom declined in 2010 and has worsened this year. The repression of Tibetan Buddhists and Uighur Muslims continues." The Chinese government continued to implement measures that strictly regulated religious activity in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.

Only religious groups belonging to one of the five state-sanctioned "patriotic religious associations" are permitted to register and to hold worship services. Religious groups, such as Protestant groups unaffiliated with a patriotic religious association, or Catholics professing loyalty to the Vatican, are not permitted to register.

There are reports that unregistered religious believers and Falun Gong adherents were among those housed with mentally ill patients in high-security psychiatric institutions in China. Patients in these hospitals reportedly were given medicine against their will and forcibly subjected to electric shock treatment. Activists sentenced to administrative detention also reported they were strapped to beds or other devices for days at a time, beaten, forcibly injected or fed medications, and denied food and use of toilet facilities.

The whereabouts of attorney Gao Zhisheng remains unknown. Gao defended Falun Gong members and Christians who worshipped at unregistered churches. He disappeared in February 2009. Non-governmental organizations and press reports stated that he had been tortured during imprisonment in 2007 and again in 2009.

With the release the Religious Freedom report, the United States reaffirms the fundamental right of all people to practice their religion freely, without risking discrimination, arrest, or violence; and the right to educate their children in their own religious traditions; and the freedom to express their beliefs.