- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 6, 2000

NEW YORK Respect for religious freedom in China "deteriorated markedly" during the last half of 1999 with the brutal suppression of minority faiths such as Falun Gong, the Clinton administration said yesterday.
Members of such groups were subject to "harassment, extortion, prolonged detention, physical abuse and incarceration," according to a new report on religious freedom around the world, which comes just days before President Clinton is scheduled to meet Chinese President Jiang Zemin on the sidelines of the U.N. Millennium Summit.
The administration report also cites "totalitarian or authoritarian" attempts to control religious belief in Afghanistan, Burma, Cuba, Laos, North Korea and Vietnam, several of whose leaders will be in New York this week.
U.S. allies were not spared in the document, the State Department's second annual report on the subject since ordered by Congress. France, Germany, India and Israel all came in for criticism.
"Most non-Jewish citizens [of Israel] are Arab Muslims, and they are subject to various forms of discrimination. The government does not provide Israeli Arabs with the same quality of education, housing, employment opportunities and social services as Jews," the report said.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak is another of the foreign leaders Mr. Clinton is expected to meet in New York.
Robert Sieple, head of a 10-member team that prepared the report, said at a news conference where it was released by Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright that he expected its contents would figure in Mr. Clinton's talks with various leaders this week.
"This is part of the foreign policy of the United States," he said. "If there is a reason to bring it up, it will be brought up. We are responsible for some of the talking points."
The law requires the administration to report on religious freedom around the world every September, but Mr. Sieple said it was no coincidence that this year's report was released in New York on the eve of the Millennium Summit.
"We wanted the secretary of state to do it while everyone was in New York," he said. "This is something that we want people to know about, to hear about."
The commission will deliver to Congress tomorrow a separate report listing countries of special concern that could face action ranging from a diplomatic protest to the blocking of international assistance. Five such countries were listed in last year's report: China, Burma, Iran, Iraq and Sudan.
In its section on China, the report said the Beijing government's "respect for religious freedom deteriorated markedly [in the last six months of 1999], especially for the Falun Gong and Tibetan Buddhists." The repression and abuses "continued during the first six months of 2000," it said.
Membership in many faiths grew rapidly and government supervision of religious activity was minimal in some regions, the report added. But "government officials in other regions imposed tight regulations, closed houses of worship and actively persecuted members of some unregistered religious groups."
At the press conference, Mr. Sieple cited the case of a 60-year-old woman who died while in custody for her participation in Falun Gong, a religious sect that practices yogalike exercises and follows a charismatic leader.
When the woman's daughter picked up the body, it was covered with bruises and had dried blood in the ears, Mr. Sieple said. "We have received credible reports that she was forced to run in her bare feet in the snow until she dropped," he added.
Several hundred Falun Gong practitioners are in New York this week to protest the treatment of their sect by Chinese authorities.
"We hope [Mr. Clinton] will ask Jiang to change his policy when they meet," said Feng Yuuan, 29, a spokeswoman for the group.
In its comments on other countries, the report said Cuba continued to "engage in active efforts to monitor and control religious institutions, including the surveillance, infiltration and harassment of clergy and church members."
Mr. Sieple commented: "We had expectations from the pope's visit to Cuba a year ago that things would improve. None of that has really happened."

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