Bhutan Denies Vatican Report Of Christian

NEW DELHI (AP)--The government of Bhutan denied Friday a Vatican report that said Christians are persecuted in the Buddhist kingdom in the Himalayan Mountains, and that pressure on them is increasing.

Responding to a report Monday by Fides, the news service of the Vatican's missionary arm, the Bhutanese Embassy in New Delhi said, "The allegation that Bhutanese Christians are being issued ultimatums to abandon their religion or leave the country is totally untrue."

Fides had quoted Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a British-based organization, as making the charge, and as saying that fear was growing among Christians, who make up less than 1% of Bhutan's population.

The Vatican organization, Fides, also said it has received its own reports through the years of persecution of Christians in Bhutan.

The Vatican agency cited Christian Solidarity as saying that on Palm Sunday, April 8, Bhutanese authorities and police went to churches to register the names of believers, and that many pastors were detained for interrogation and threatened with imprisonment.

In a statement faxed to the Associated Press Friday, the Bhutan Embassy said the assertion that authorities had harassed Christians on Palm Sunday was untrue. "No such incidents have ever taken place in Bhutan," said the embassy. "It is evident that such disinformation is being spread by politically-motivated individuals to malign Bhutan's positive global image."

The embassy said that freedom of religion is enshrined in the country's laws, and that "Bhutanese are free to profess and practice any religion of their choice."

"While Buddhism and Hinduism are the two major religions practiced in the country, there is no discrimination against any other religion," it said.

Bhutan's national anthem, which children are told to sing each day in school, is a hymn to Buddha, and many of the state offices are located in Buddhist monasteries.

Christians often meet in private homes.