The U.S. State Department has announced its latest designations of countries of particular concern for severe violations of religious freedom. China has been re-designated along with Burma, North Korea, Eritrea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan.
Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom John Hanford says that compared to where it was twenty years ago, China has made some progress, but it is still not enough:
"We also continue to see arrests, most recently they seem to be targeting lawyers who have been representing religious believers who have been arrested even in violation, I think, of the law of China. There is a little progress here and lack of progress there, but China certainly has not made the sort of progress that we need to see in a systemic way to remove them from the [Countries of Concern] list."
According to the latest International Religious Freedom report, while conditions vary across the country, Chinese authorities in many locations continue to crack down on unregistered religious groups. Police in some regions have closed unregistered mosques and temples, as well as some Roman Catholic churches and Protestant "house churches."
The Chinese government reserves some of its harshest treatment for unregistered religious groups that it labels "cults," such as the Falun Gong spiritual movement. In December 2005, a Beijing attorney sent an open letter to President Hu Jintao highlighting abuses of Falun Gong practitioners. This included in particular the use of electric shock torture and the beating death of at least one Falun Gong practitioner. In response to the letter, the government revoked the attorney's license to practice law. The attorney was detained without charge in August; he was formally indicted several weeks later on vague charges of inciting subversion.
Religious freedom is a universal right enshrined in international law. The United States will continue to promote freedom of worship in its relations with other countries. "Freedom of religion," said President George W. Bush, "is the first freedom of the human soul. We must stand for that freedom in our country. We must speak for that freedom in the world."