China state religion groups slam US freedom report

Beijing, China - Beijing-backed religious groups hit out at the US after it reaffirmed China's status as a country "of particular concern" on religious freedom, accusing Washington of trying to harm the nation's image.

The US State Department this week released its International Religious Freedom report for the second half of 2010, pointing to eight countries as having especially troubling records on the issue, including China.

"The Chinese government has... protected the legal rights and interests of religious people," said a statement released by the heads of China's five major religious associations, all of which are controlled by the state.

"The US report ignored these basic facts and attempted to smear the image of China," the statement -- reported by the official Xinhua news agency late Friday -- added.

"We feel greatly disturbed as the US has tried to interfere in China's domestic affairs by targeting religion and create chaos among religious people in a bid to harm social harmony."

The US report detailed actions such as active state repression, violence against religious groups, apostasy and blasphemy laws, anti-Semitism and restrictions on religious attire and expression.

Apart from China, it also named Saudi Arabia, Myanmar, North Korea, Eritrea, Iran, Sudan and Uzbekistan as "countries of particular concern" regarding religious freedom.

China, which tightly controls religion, has been listed in the category for a number of years.

It has been accused of curtailing the freedoms of believers, such as Tibetan Buddhists and Muslim Uighurs, and even torturing practitioners of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement.

Last month, a Buddhist monk in a Tibetan region of southwest China burned himself to death in an apparent protest against the government's religious policies, state media and rights groups said.

In May, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom -- tasked with making policy recommendations to the US government -- said China had detained more than 500 Protestants over the past 12 months.

It also accused Beijing of detaining dozens of Catholic clergy for not registering with the government, adding that China had also destroyed Christian meeting points -- allegations all rejected by the Chinese government.