U.S. Adds Religious Freedom to Old Sanctions
By Jonathan Wright
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States will impose no new sanctions on the five countries it says are particularly restrictive of religious activity, the State Department said on Thursday.
The countries -- China, Iran, Iraq, Myanmar and Sudan -- are already subject to layers of sanctions and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has told Congress which of the existing measures meet the requirements of the International Religious Freedom Act, passed by Congress in 1998.
The act requires that the U.S. administration annually designate governments which have ``engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom''.
It offers a menu of 15 policy responses -- eight diplomatic and seven prohibitions on U.S. aid or economic sanctions, but also gives the administration the option not to act.
The State Department designated the five countries in October, to criticism from religious activists who thought it should have cast its net much wider.
Representative Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican who fought hard for the Religious Freedom Act, said the Administration should not have spared countries such as Vietnam, North Korea, Laos, Cuba and Saudi Arabia.
In the case of China, Albright told Congress the operative sanctions under the act would be the existing restrictions on exports of crime control and detection instruments and equipment, a State Department statement said.
The State Department will continue to pursue all means to change Chinese behavior toward religious freedom, it added.
In the cases of Iran and Iraq, the sanctions will be the existing restrictions on U.S. security assistance. For Myanmar, it will be the prohibition on exports of defense articles and defense services, the statement said.
In the case of Sudan, the United States will continue to oppose any loans to Sudan by international financial institutions, it added.
The decisions have no immediate effect but State Department spokesman James Rubin said in October that in cases where the original reason for imposing sanctions no longer applied, the same sanctions could stay in force to meet the requirements of the Religious Freedom Act.
In its annual report on religious freedom worldwide, the State Department cited China for persecuting Tibetan Buddhists, Muslim Uighurs and Protestant and Roman Catholics who do not belong to ``official'' churches.
It said the Chinese constitution provides for freedom of religious belief but in practice the government ``seeks to restrict religious practice to government-sanctioned organizations and registered places of worship and to control the growth and scope of religious groups.''
Iran was faulted for trying to ``eradicate'' the Bahai faith, while Iraq was criticized for conducting a campaign of murder, execution and arrests against the Shiite Muslim population.
The Sudanese government has been repeatedly accused of trying to impose Islam on the animists and Christians of the south. Buddhists say the military government of Myanmar has executed some Buddhist monks and destroyed monasteries, charges the authorities have denied.
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