Commission Cites Five Asian Nations for Lack of Religious Freedom

By Jane Morse
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington - Five East Asian nations have been named by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) for "egregious violations of the universal right to freedom of religion or belief."

Burma, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea), China and Vietnam were designated for 2006 as  "countries of particular concern" (CPCs) in the report USCIRF submits each year to the U.S. secretary of state.

Other nations included in the 2006 list of CPCs are Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Eritrea, Iran and Pakistan.  USCIRF also placed Indonesia on its "Watch List," along with Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, Indonesia and Nigeria.

The 1998 International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) requires that the United States designate as CPCs those countries whose governments have engaged in or tolerated systematic and egregious violations of the universal right to freedom of religion or belief.  The work of identifying these countries is done by the USCIRF, an independent, bipartisan U.S. government agency established under the IRFA.

The designation of CPCs not only puts a spotlight on those countries where the most severe violations take place, but also lays the groundwork for important decisions in U.S. relations with these countries.

The commission also develops a "Watch List" of countries guilty of lesser abuses of religious freedom.  In these countries, conditions do not rise to the statutory level requiring CPC designation but require close monitoring due to the nature and extent of violations of religious freedom engaged in or tolerated by the governments.


The commission made its first official visit to China in 2005 and determined that the government continues to be responsible for "pervasive and severe" violations of religious freedom and related human rights. "

In the letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that accompanied the USCIRF's 2006 report, Michael Cromartie, the USCIRF chair, wrote:  "Every religious community in China is subject to serious restrictions, state control, and repression.  The most severe religious freedom abuses are directed against Tibetan Buddhists, Uighur Muslims, Roman Catholics, house church and unregistered Protestants, and spiritual groups such as the Falun Gong."

Abuses against members of these religious communities include imprisonment and torture, Cromartie wrote.

Even though the Chinese government issued a new Ordinance on Religion in March 2005, its provisions, in fact, restrict rather than protect religious freedom, offering government leaders more extensive control over all religious groups and their activities, Cromartie reported.

Cromartie also noted that Beijing continues to disregard its international obligations to protect North Korean refugees within its borders who face persecution on their return.

For more information on U.S. policies, see The United States and China.


Suppression of human rights and religious freedom has gone from bad to worse in Burma, the report says.   The military junta uses a pervasive internal security apparatus to monitor the activities of all religious organizations.  Religious minorities have been subjected to violence.

For more information on U.S. policies, see U.S. Support for Democracy in Burma.


USCIRF found that there are "virtually no personal freedoms in North Korea and no protections for universal human rights."  Those discovered engaging in clandestine religious activity, the report found, have been arrested, imprisoned, tortured and sometimes executed.

"Religious belief of any kind is viewed by the government as a potential competitor to the forcefully propagated cult of personality centered on Kim Jong Il and his late father, Kim Il Sung," according to Cromartie.

For more information on U.S. policies, see The U.S. and the Korean Peninsula.


The government of Vietnam, the report says, continues to harass, detain, imprison and discriminate against leaders and practitioners of all religious communities.

Although the Vietnamese government, in response to its designation as a CPC, has released a number of prominent religious prisoners, reopened some churches and officially outlawed forced renunciations of faith, serious abuses continue.

Among those most targeted, according to the report, are Montagnard and Hmong Protestants, Vietnamese Mennonites, followers of Hoa Hao Buddhism and leaders of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam.


The USCIRF study found that the religious freedom has increased somewhat in Indonesia since 2002.  But the commission remains concerned about "ongoing sectarian violence and the Indonesian government's inability or unwillingness to hold those responsible to account," according to Cromartie.

The commission cited as troubling the forcible closures of worship buildings belonging to religious minorities and the growing political power and influence of religious extremists, who harass and sometimes instigate violence against moderate Muslim leaders and members of religious minorities.  In the past year, a Hindu temple was bombed in Central Sulawesi and mobs attacked an Ahmadiyah compound in West Java several times.

For information on U.S. policies, see International Religious Freedom and East Asia and the Pacific.

For additional information, see the State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report for 2005 on the department’s Web site.

The full text (PDF, 260 pages) of the 2006 Annual Report is available on the USCIRF Web site.