U.S. releases list of countries that deny religious freedom

.- China and Vietnam have been renamed to the U.S. government’s list of countries designated as Countries of Particular Concern due to their policies that deny citizens religious freedom and human rights.

The designation was indicated in the State Department's 2005 International Religious Freedom Report, which was released by Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.

Congressman Chris Smith (R—NJ), chairman of the Committee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations, commended the Bush administration for the report.

"By forthrightly naming the countries that systematically and egregiously violate the right to religious freedom, no matter friend or foe, we can begin to develop solutions that will guarantee the right to religious freedom to all people as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” he said.

Smith pointed out that Vietnam signed a "binding agreement" last year to improve its observation of religious liberty. But, since then, the situation in Vietnam has deteriorated, particularly that of the Montagnard Christians, Smith said in a release.

The Vietnamese government recently arrested Vo Vanh Thanh Liem (Nam Liem), a leading figure among the independent Hoa Hao Buddhists, and sentenced him to seven years in prison. Eight other Hoa Hao Buddhists were arrested along with him; some received long sentences as well. 

Smith called Nam Liem’s arrest “an outrage.” Nam Liem had testified at a human rights hearing in Vietnam in June 2005, which Smith chaired.

"Nam Liem courageously submitted testimony to my committee in June 2005 in which he ominously predicted that the government of Vietnam would disregard any signed agreements,” Smith said.

Smith added that he trusts President George W. Bush will raise the issue of religious freedom in face-to-face meetings with the Chinese government, which continues to arrest and persecute members of "unofficial" churches, including Catholics, members of Protestant house churches, and Falun Gong practitioners.

This is the seventh straight year that China has been designated a CPC, Smith said, but the persecution has only worsened.

"Despite the hopes that trade with China would usher a modicum of respect for basic human rights and fundamental liberties, the simple fact of the matter is that the dictatorship in China oppresses, tortures, and mistreats tens of millions of its own citizens," Smith said.

Other countries designated as Countries of Particular Concern include Russia, Belarus, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Laos and Cuba.

Smith’s committee will hold a hearing on the 2005 report and the CPC designations Nov. 15. The principal adviser to the president and the secretary of state on issues of religious freedom, Ambassador John Hanford, will testify. Other witnesses include: Dr. Michael Cromartie, chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom; Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of Las Cruces, New Mexico; Nina Shea, director of Center for Religious Freedom at Freedom House; and David Aikman, author “Jesus in Beijing: How Christianity Is Transforming China and Changing the World Balance of Power.”

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