U.S. report blasts N. Korea, China on religious freedom.
The U.S. State Department on Friday accused North Korea and China of persecuting religious minorities and restricting freedom of worship.
''North Korea is the worst violator of religious freedom in the world,'' said Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom John Hanford in releasing the annual report on religious freedom. ''It is clear to us that there is a suppression of religious practice and an aggressive persecution that is unparalleled.''
In North Korea, ''many persons engaging in religious proselytizing, those who had ties to overseas evangelical groups...and, specifically, those repatriated and found to have contacted foreigners, including Christian missionaries, outside the country have been arrested and subjected to harsh punishment,'' the report said.
China's respect for religious freedom remained poor, the report said. Hanford said he is concerned that the Chinese government ''has been moving to crack down on religious groups'' ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
China has ''tried to control and regulate the growth of religious groups that could constitute sources of authority outside of the control of the government,'' according to the report.
The Chinese government has ''continued to repress harshly religious groups which it designates cults, including the Falun Gong,'' the report said. China outlawed the Falun Gong religious group in 1999.
The report also criticized Myanmar, saying its ''repressive, authoritarian military regime imposed restrictions on certain religious activities and frequently committed abuses of the right to freedom of religion.''
Vietnam received a mostly positive assessment from the department.
''The government of Vietnam made a very conscious decision to change their policy and to grant a much higher degree of religious freedom,'' Hanford said. ''I've never seen a country turn around...and undo much of the serious repression in a period of only two years without total regime change.''
But he noted Vietnam still has ''a ways to go,'' adding, ''There are still significant restrictions.''
China, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan are designated as ''Countries of Particular Concern'' which have ''engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom.'' Vietnam was taken off and Uzbekistan was added to the list last November.
The annual report, mandated by the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act, describes the status of religious freedom in countries throughout the world. The U.S. government uses the report to help shape U.S. foreign policy, including whether to impose sanctions on countries that abuse religious freedom.