- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 21, 2002

Religious freedom call

An advisory panel on religious liberty is urging Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage to condemn religious persecution on his trip to South Asia.

"Clearly it is important that the United States speak out publicly against such religious-based extremist violence, all the more in view of our country's war on terrorism," the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said in a letter to Mr. Armitage, who left yesterday for Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, China and Japan.

State Department spokesman Philip Reeker yesterday said Mr. Armitage received the letter. "These issues are always part of our bilateral dialogue," he added.

The commission, which advises the administration and Congress, called on Mr. Armitage to denounce Hindu violence against Muslims in India, Muslim attacks on Christians in Pakistan and government persecution of all religions in China.

"In India, we urge you to express publicly the U.S. government's profound concern about the widespread killing of Muslims in the state of Gujarat earlier this year," the commission said.

Hindu mobs butchered more than 1,000 Muslims in retaliation for a Muslim attack on a train that killed 58 Hindus.

"In Pakistan, we urge you to similarly speak out publicly against recent attacks on Christian targets, reportedly by Islamic extremists," the commission said. "Pakistan's government should forcefully combat such violence, punish its perpetrators and work more effectively to foster an atmosphere of tolerance and respect for the rights of everyone, regardless of religion or belief."

The commission has asked Mr. Armitage to use his meeting with Chinese officials to make sure that religious freedom is on the agenda when President Jiang Zemin visits President Bush in October.

The commission called for "an end to the detention, imprisonment, torture and other forms of ill treatment of Protestant Christians, Roman Catholics, Tibetan Buddhists, Uighur Muslims and other groups, such as Falun Gong, that the government has labeled 'evil.'"

Stoning in Nigeria

The United States yesterday called on Nigeria to respect its obligations under international human rights conventions as it considered the case of an unmarried woman condemned to death by stoning for having a child.

Amina Lawal Kurami, 31, was sentenced under strict Islamic law enforced in predominantly Muslim northern Nigeria. She is appealing the sentence. The Shariah code is not applied in the rest of the country, which is predominantly Christian.

"We urge Nigeria to ensure the consideration of the case and punishment are consistent with Nigeria's obligations under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other relevant international obligations to which it is party," the State Department said.

Among other guarantees, the declaration says, "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."

Taiwan trade grows

With only 22 million people, Taiwan is buying nearly as many U.S. goods as China, with 1.3 billion people, Taiwan's unofficial embassy says.

The democratic, market-oriented island imported $1.51 billion of products from the United States in April, while the communist mainland bought $1.54 billion, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative's Office (TECRO) said. The Taiwan office, in its latest newsletter, quoted Commerce Department figures released in June.

Meanwhile, TECRO reported that the new U.S. envoy took up his position last month, praising Taiwan's devotion to democracy.

"Taiwan enjoys especially warm respect among [U.S. government leaders] and among Americans in general for its political and economic achievements," Douglas Paal, director of the American Institute in Taiwan, told reporters upon his arrival.

"The people of Taiwan and the United States share the same values of respect for democracy and human rights, devotion to family and freedom, as well as a common determination to overcome the challenges of the 21st century, which bind them closely together."

The United States and Taiwan have maintained informal diplomatic relations through those two offices since Washington recognized communist China in 1979.

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