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Report cites religious persecution around the world

WASHINGTON (January 23, 1998 4:55 p.m. EST -- Followers of all the world's major religions -- Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Baha'is -- all suffer detention, torture and death, an official commission said Friday.

In one section, a report by the commission cited Iran as a country where "severe and sustained discriminatory practices" have had a devastating effect on the Baha'i faith.

Iran has taken steps to eliminate the Baha'i adherents by denying them the right to assemble and confiscating their property, the report said. It said more than 200 Baha'is have been killed since the 1979 revolution in Iran.

"The climate of intimidation in Iran has also severely and comparably affected certain Christian, Jewish and Zoroastrian communities, whose members have been victims of harassment, persecution and extrajudicial killing," the study said.

The report was prepared for President Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright by the Advisory Committee on Religious Freedom Abroad, established a year ago and composed of leading scholars on religion.

In brief remarks, Albright said she is taking steps to ensure that U.S. efforts to advance religious freedom are integrated into the country's broader foreign policy.

The report cited a Russian law passed last year as an example of how government actions can threaten members of a faith group. The law denies legal rights depending on how long a religion has had a presence in Russia.

"Since its adoption, there have been increasing reports of efforts by local officials to restrict activities of religious minorities," it said.

The report also noted that several European countries, including Belgium, France and Germany, have recently established commissions of inquiry on sects, partly in response to fears of violent cults.

"Unless these commissions focus their work on investigating illegal acts, they run the risk of denying individuals the right to freedom of religion or belief," the study said.

It said that in societies where the government imposes strict political ideology and control over the populace, including on religious matters, many individuals and communities of faith operate underground and risk "harassment, detention and imprisonment.

"In communist countries such as China, Laos, North Korea and Vietnam, the governments permit limited freedom to worship," the report said. "In Vietnam, Buddhists and Christians who act independently of the officially approved temple and church are subject to arrest and harassment."

"In China, members of the government-registered religious institutions practice their faith within the strictures of the government. Tibetan Buddhists, Muslim Uighurs, unregistered Protestants and Roman Catholics are subjected to widespread harassment, detentions, incarceration and persecution."

The report said that in Pakistan, the government passed a "blasphemy law," which has been applied against Christians and Ahmaddiya Muslims and carries a death penalty for acts considered to defame the Prophet.

It also noted that the Burmese government is waging a long-running civil war against the Karen ethnic community, which is mostly Christian and Muslim.

The study added that in the former Yugoslavia, persecution or abuse of people because of their religious membership or affiliation "was unquestionably a fundamental instrument of repression wielded by cynical leaders bent on enhancing their own power and position."

By GEORGE GEDDA, Associated Press Writer

Copyright © 1998, The Associated Press

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