The U.S. State Department, in its annual report on international religious freedom issued September 19, admonished several Asian nations, including China, for severely repressing religion.

Listing "countries of particular concern" that engage in or tolerate "particularly severe violations of religious freedom," the report highlights everything from government persecution to patriotic education campaigns designed to extirpate religion.

The eight countries of particular concern are: Myanmar (formerly Burma), China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan.

Compiled by diplomats and human rights activists every year since 1999, the 800-page report covers 198 countries and territories and is mandated by federal law.

"In exposing injustice, this report lights a candle — an 800-page candle — that we trust will encourage justice and greater respect for the rights of religious believers across the globe," said John V. Hanford, U.S. ambassador at large for religious freedom.

Despite sanctions and diplomacy, China's repression of religious freedom intensified in the last year, especially in the run up to the Olympic Games, the report says.

Churches were closed, foreigners detained, Falun Gong practitioners arrested and possibly killed, Muslims prohibited from taking the hajj to Saudi Arabia, and Buddhist monks were forced to undergo "patriotic education" campaigns, according to the report.

Hanford said the harsh treatment of Buddhist monks in Tibet were a "major factor" in the March riots in the Himalayan region, during which dozens were killed.

The "patriotic education" campaigns, which force monks and nuns to study communist texts and denounce the Dalai Lama "need to cease," Hanford said. And the government must not interfere in naming Buddhist lamas, or leading teachers, the ambassador said.

"This should be the prerogative of religious leaders, not of a government," Hanford said.

Related Elsewhere:

The U.S. State Department has video of the religious freedom report's release, along with the text of the remarks from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Ambassador John V. Hanford. The full report is also available at the State Department's website, along with reports from previous years.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom expressed concern "that the State Department has not designated any country as a 'country of particular concern' since November 2006." The commission issues its own report on religious freedom.

Previous articles on persecution and China are available on our site.

Other media coverage of the report includes:

US criticizes Asian governments' religionrecord | The department's annual International Religious Freedom report also condemned Myanmar's military-run government for restricting spiritual activities and abusing its citizens' rights. (The Associated Press)
'China repression grows', says US | Repression of religious freedom in some parts of China has intensified over the past year, the US government says. (BBC)
U.S.: Chinese targeted religious groups before Olympics | The State Department's Annual Report on Religious Freedom singled out China, Myanmar, North Korea, Iran, Sudan, Eritrea, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan to "blacklist" because they are "countries of particular concern" when it comes to religious oppression. (CNN)
Religious freedom worsens in Jordan, Algeria: US | The State Department's annual report on religious freedoms around the world for the period between July 2007 and July 2008 also singled out North Korea again as among the worst violators of religious freedom. (AFP)