China, Iran reject US criticism on religious freedom

A Muslim man arriving at the Id Kah Mosque for the morning prayer on Eid al-Fitr in the old town of Kashgar in China's Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, on June 26, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (AFP) - China and Iran on Wednesday (Aug 16) denied violations of religious freedom after the United States accused Beijing and Teheran of persecuting religious minorities in an annual report.

"All Chinese people of all ethnic groups and all regions are fully entitled to religious belief. The so-called report ignores facts," foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a regular press briefing.

"We see that the United States is not a perfect country either. We urge the US to... manage its own affairs," Hua added.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson pointed to China along with Bahrain, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Turkey as he presented the State Department's annual report on Tuesday. Tillerson charged that Iran had used "vague apostasy laws" to execute 20 members of religious minorities over the past year.

The report said that in 2016, China "physically abused, detained, arrested, tortured, sentenced to prison, or harassed adherents of both registered and unregistered religious groups".

It cited a national security law that explicitly bans "cult organisations", which includes the Falungong, Buddhist-inspired groups and several Christian groups.

A new government regulation in the north-western Xinjiang region bans religious activity in schools and stipulates that parents or guardians who "organise, lure, or force minors into religious activities" may be reported to the police, the report said.

It also noted arrests and harassment of church leaders in eastern Zhejiang province, who have opposed a government campaign to remove crosses from churches.

In response, Hua said Washington should "stop the wrongdoing of using religion to interfere in other country's affairs".

Iran likewise rejected on Wednesday the US report as "hypocritical", coming from a country where Islamophobia was widespread.

"Iran considers it an unrealistic, baseless, unfounded and biased report which has only been made with the intention of certain political gains," foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi hit back on the ministry's website. He said Washington should focus on improving its own record of discrimination, particularly regarding its Muslim population.

"It is clear that religious and racial discrimination, Islamophobia, and xenophobia are a widespread and frequent phenomenon among American politicians," said Ghasemi. "Muslims in America face violent and discriminating actions on a daily basis by state bodies like the police and security forces."

The US report said the Iranian government "continued to harass, interrogate and arrest Bahais, Christians, Sunni Muslims and other religious minorities and regulated Christian religious practices closely to enforce the prohibition on proselytising".

The government in Teheran also used anti-Semitic language and promoted Holocaust denial, it charged.

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