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The United States condemned China, North Korea and Iran Monday for continuing to persecute religious minorities and for restricting freedom of worship, but said China has made some positive steps toward increasing religious freedom.
The State Department released its' annual report on international religious freedom examining the status of religious liberty in almost every country and recording the positive and negative developments on religious tolerance.
"It is our hope that the International Religious Freedom Report will encourage existing religious freedom movements around the world and promote dialogue among governments and within societies on how best to accommodate religious communities and protect each individual's right to believe or not believe as that individual sees fit," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in introducing the report.
According to the Associated Press, the report criticizes China for interfering with religious groups and violating the rights of the members of unregistered religious groups. China restricts religious practice to five state-sanctioned organizations called "Patriotic Religious Associations."
China's persecution of religious groups in its autonomous regions and the government's opposition to pledges of loyalty to outside religious figures, such as the Pope and the Dalai Lama, were cited with concern in the report.
"The government's repression of religious freedom remained severe in Tibetan areas and in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region," or XUAR, the religious freedom report said.
"Religious adherents in the XUAR, the Tibetan Autonomous Region, and other Tibetan areas suffered severe restrictions on religious activity, as a consequence of the government's tendency to conflate concerns about separatism and religious extremism with peaceful expressions of religious beliefs and political views."
But the report also noted that China had taken some positive steps toward increased religious tolerance over the past year.
"(Chinese) government officials allowed increased space for some unregistered religious groups they viewed as non-threatening," the report said. "The government took cautious measures to promote Buddhism, Taoism, and some folk religions within the framework of the Patriotic Religious Associations."
"What we're trying to do is encourage the Chinese government to recognize and allow people of various faiths to practice," Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Michael Posner, the official in charge of overseeing the report, told reporters.
North Korea and Iran were among the countries where respect for religious freedom showed no improvement.
North Korea continues to be among the world's worst violators of religious freedom.
"Genuine religious freedom does not exist," the report said of North Korea. "There was no change in the extremely poor level of respect for religious freedom during the reporting period."
Respect for religious freedom in Iran continued to deteriorate as well, the report said.
"Government rhetoric and actions created a threatening atmosphere for nearly all non-Shi'a (Shiite) religious groups, most notably for Baha'is, as well as for Sufi Muslims, evangelical Christians, and members of the Jewish community," the report said.
China, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan are designated as "Countries of Particular Concern" that have "engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom" in the report and are subject to U.S. sanctions.
The 2009 Report on International Religious Freedom
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