BEIJING: China defended its record on religious freedom on Thursday, saying all Chinese can worship as they choose with no restrictions, and blasted a U.S. government report that said Beijing continues to harshly persecute some believers.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said a recent U.S. government report on religious freedom "flagrantly interfered in China's internal affairs" and "contained groundless accusations about China's religious and ethnic policies."
"China expresses strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition," Jiang said in remarks posted to the ministry's official Web site.
The U.S. State Department said last week in its annual report on religious freedom that China continued to repress Christians, Tibetan Buddhists, Muslim Uighurs and the Falun Gong spiritual group over the past year. It also criticized an apparent crackdown by authorities ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Meanwhile, Beijing on Friday planned to install a new Catholic bishop who has received approval from both China and the Vatican. China rejects the Holy See's right to appoint bishops inside its territory, but the sides have been working toward a tacit compromise in a step toward healing the 55-year rift between them.
Jiang did not respond to the claims directly but said "people of all ethnicity in all regions of China enjoy full freedom of religious belief."
She said China hoped the U.S. could "refrain from interfering in China's internal affairs" and "do more to promote the mutual understanding and trust" between the two countries.
China's officially atheistic communist government permits religious observance, but allows worship only in party-controlled churches, temples and mosques. Worship outside that official structure, such as at Tibetan Buddhist retreats or home churches, is banned and organizers face harassment, arrest and terms in labor camps or prison.
China's respect for religious freedom remained poor, the report said, noting little evidence that recent regulations on religious affairs had led to improvement.
It said that while believers in most areas could pray without difficulty in officially approved places, others faced persecution.
Beijing has reportedly expelled more than 100 foreign missionaries in what critics say is an effort to "tighten control on Christian house churches prior to the 2008 Olympics," the report said.
Members of the Falun Gong spiritual sect, which China calls an "evil cult," faced arrest, detention, and "there have been credible reports of deaths due to torture and abuse," it said.
It raised the case of a 17-year-old Tibetan nun who was apparently killed by Chinese guards as she tried to cross into Nepal. China has been accused of attacking Tibetan Buddhism — the foundation of most Tibetans' identity — by enforcing strict controls and vilifying the Dalai Lama.
It also mentioned the China's arrest, fines and reported torture of the sons of a Uighur Muslim activist. Beijing blames Uighur separatists for sporadic bombings and other violence.