NEW YORK—The State Department brought out its 2009 International Religious Freedom report on Oct. 26, identifying eight Countries of Particular Concern where religious freedom is most seriously suppressed.
The eight countries are Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan.
Assistant-Secretary of State Michael Posner and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton both made frequent reference to President Obama’s remarks made in Cairo earlier this year, that, “Freedom of religion is central to the ability of peoples to live together.”
The right to profess, practice, and promote religious beliefs is a founding principle of the United States, Clinton said. "In fact, many of our earliest settlers came because they wanted the freedom to practice their own religion without a state interfering or oppressing that practice."
She noted that it is the first liberty in the Bill of Rights, and guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“On balance, freedom tends to channel the convictions and passions of faith into acts of service and positive engagement in the public square,” Posner wrote in the introduction to the report.
The report “shines a spotlight on abusive governments, and gives hope to millions who suffer on account of their faith,” Posner said.
Themes of religious repression in countries such as Iran, North Korea, and China included government-led propaganda attacking members of minority religious groups, arbitrary arrest, prolonged detention, and confiscation of property.
State-run media from Iran, China, and North Korea have claimed that religious freedom is robust in their countries.
Respect for religious freedom in Iran deteriorated over the past nine months, the report said, with the government creating a threatening environment for almost all religious minorities.
In North Korea, between 150,000 and 200,000 are believed to be held in political prison camps, some for their religious beliefs, according to the report. "The government deals harshly with all opponents, including those who engage in religious practices deemed unacceptable by the regime."
"Prison conditions were harsh, and refugees and defectors who had been in prison stated that prisoners held on the basis of their religious beliefs generally were treated worse than other inmates," the report said.
The ruling regime in China repressed the religious activities of the underground Roman Catholic clergy, the report said, "in large part due to their avowed loyalty to the Vatican, which the government accused of interfering in the country's internal affairs."
"The government also continued to restrict severely the activities of groups including several Christian groups and Falun Gong," the report said.
Xinhua, the official mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, described the report as “rather disputed,” and struck back at the U.S.
“In response,” Xinhua said, “Many countries, including China, have always and categorically rejected the U.S. accusations.”
Xinhua also tacitly defended North Korea and Iran, describing religious repression in those countries as “so-called” and an “accusation.”
The report goes over developments in 198 countries between July 1, 2008 to June 30, 2009. It was a “massive undertaking,” coming in at more than 300,000 words, according to Posner.