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China Defends Its Record on Religion

September 21, 2007

By ALEXA OLESEN

BEIJING, 20 Sep 2007 (AP) — China defended its record on religious
freedom Thursday, saying all Chinese can worship as they choose with no
restrictions, and it blasted a U.S. government report that said Beijing
persecutes some believers.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said a recent U.S. government
report on religious freedom "flagrantly interfered in China's internal
affairs" and "contained groundless accusations about China's religious
and ethnic policies."

"China expresses strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition," Jiang
said in remarks posted on the ministry's official Web site.

The State Department said last week in its annual report on religious
freedom that China continued to repress Christians, Tibetan Buddhists,
Muslim Uighurs and the Falun Gong spiritual group over the past year. It
also criticized an apparent crackdown by authorities ahead of the 2008
Beijing Olympics.

Meanwhile, Beijing on Friday planned to install a new Catholic bishop
who has received approval from both China and the Vatican. China rejects
the Holy See's right to appoint bishops inside its territory, but the
sides have been working toward a tacit compromise in a step toward
healing the 55-year rift between them.

Jiang did not respond to the claims directly but said "people of all
ethnicity in all regions of China enjoy full freedom of religious belief."

She said China hoped the U.S. could "refrain from interfering in China's
internal affairs" and "do more to promote the mutual understanding and
trust" between the two countries.

China's officially atheist government permits religious observance, but
allows worship only in Communist Party-controlled churches, temples and
mosques. Worship outside that official structure, such as at Tibetan
Buddhist retreats or home churches, is banned, and organizers face
harassment, arrest and terms in labor camps or prison.

China's respect for religious freedom remained poor, the report said,
noting little evidence that recent regulations on religious affairs had
led to improvement.

It said that while believers in most areas could pray without difficulty
in officially approved places, others faced persecution.

Beijing has reportedly expelled more than 100 foreign missionaries in
what critics say is an effort to "tighten control on Christian house
churches prior to the 2008 Olympics," the report said.

Members of the Falun Gong spiritual sect, which China calls an "evil
cult," faced arrest, detention, and "there have been credible reports of
deaths due to torture and abuse," it said.

It raised the case of a 17-year-old Tibetan nun who was apparently
killed by Chinese guards as she tried to cross into Nepal. China has
been accused of attacking Tibetan Buddhism — the foundation of most
Tibetans' identity — by enforcing strict controls and vilifying the
Dalai Lama.

It also mentioned the China's arrest, fines and reported torture of the
sons of a Uighur Muslim activist. Beijing blames Uighur separatists for
sporadic bombings and other violence.

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