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Seven countries said to be 'severe' violators of religious freedom

WASHINGTON (AP) _ China and six other countries were found by the State Department to have engaged in or tolerated "particularly severe" violations of religious freedom over the past year, according to U.S. officials.

Joining China on the list were Afghanistan, Burma, Iran, Iraq, Serbia and Sudan, the officials said.

Under law, these countries could be subject to sanctions ranging from a wrist slap to economic penalties. But the point appeared to be moot since virtually all are under economic sanctions and lack normal relations with the United States in any case. The one exception is China.

The conclusions, made available to the Associated Press Tuesday night, came four weeks after the State Department issued its first annual report on the state of religious freedom worldwide.

The report said Chinese government intolerance of unregistered religious activity has led in some areas to persecution of people, on the basis of religious practice, "through harassment, prolonged detention and incarceration in prison or 'reform-through-labor' camps."

The report offers these evaluations on the other six:

Afghanistan _ Shiites suffered persecution and killing at the hands of the Taliban-led government in Kabul. Afghan police impose "severe physical punishment and imprisonment" for deviations from codes of worship and dress," the report said.

Burma _ The government arrests and imprisons Buddhist monks who promote human and political rights.

Iran _ Policies have been implemented to eradicate the Baha'i faith through prolonged imprisonment of Bahai's, confiscation and desecration of holy places and denial of the right to assemble.

Iraq _ The government has conducted a campaign of murder, summary execution and protracted arbitrary arrest against religious leaders and adherents of the Shi'a Muslim population.

Serbia _ Authorities engaged in the killing, torture, rape and forced emigration of Kosovar Albanians.

Sudan _ Christians, practitioners of traditional indigenous religions, and Muslims who deviate from the official interpretation of Islam, are subject to killing, prolonged arbitrary detention or imprisonment, threats, violence and forced conversion to Islam.

©Copyright 1999, ABC News

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