US: Religious Freedom Worsens in China, Indonesia
Washington. Protection of religious freedom has deteriorated in Indonesia and the Maldives, and China has intensified repression of Tibetan Buddhists, contributing to a series of self-immolations, the United States said Monday.
The State Department also criticized China’s “severe” repression of Muslims in the far western region of Xinjiang, in the annual US report on international religious freedom.
The report, which covers 2011, said Vietnam continued to detain several religious prisoners, including lay preachers. It said Christians faced particular restrictions, with hundreds of churches facing bureaucratic delays and vague security concerns that impede their official registration in the country’s northwestern highlands.
North Korea was said to permit no religious freedom at all.
Like North Korea, China is designated as a country of particular concern in the report, which coincidentally was issued a week after an annual US-China human rights dialogue in Washington. Both the dialogue and the report underscored how restrictions on Chinese citizens’ rights weigh on relations between the two global powers with their differing political systems.
The report said in 2011, China increased restrictions on religious practice in Tibetan areas, particularly in monasteries and nunneries, and this exacerbated grievances and contributed to Buddhists setting themselves on fire. It said China continued to “vilify” the Dalai Lama, whom most Tibetan Buddhists venerate as a spiritual leader.
China has blamed the Dalai Lama for inciting the more than 40 immolations since March 2011 — the latest an 18-year-old monk who died. The exiled Tibetan religious leader, who lives in India, has denied that accusation.
The US criticism also extended to China’s treatment of unregistered churches and members of the Falun Gong sect, which was banned as a cult in 1999.
China’s embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday. The report said China has stated that it did not detain or arrest anyone solely because of his or her religion.
Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation and an increasingly important diplomatic partner for Washington in Southeast Asia, was chided over detentions and imprisonment of individuals under its blasphemy law. The report also cited discrimination and violence against minority Ahmadis.
Political leaders in the tiny island nation of the Maldives — where practice of any religion other than Islam is forbidden — political leaders have called for greater limits on religious freedom, the report said. Anti-Semitic rhetoric among conservative parties has also increased, it said.
The US gave a mixed assessment of Myanmar, a majority Buddhist country where a reformist president has opened up the nation’s politics and media significantly after five decades of military rule.
The government took steps to overcome intense religious oppression, easing restrictions on church construction and generally allowing registered groups to worship as they chose. But it continued to monitor religious activities, and nearly all senior officers in the ruling party and armed forces are Buddhists.
At the report’s launch, US ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, Suzan Johnson Cook, expressed concern over recent violence against minority Rohingya Muslims in the country’s west. The report said the government refuses to recognize the Rohingya as citizens and imposes restrictions on their movement and marriage.