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Panel: Religious liberty threatenedcomment (0)

February 3, 2000

In its first months of work, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has issued a series of statements detailing threats to religious liberty in China, Russia and the Sudan.

Steven McFarland, executive director of the commission established under a 1998 law, said the panel is “up and running.”

The commission recently criticized China’s move to consecrate five Catholic bishops, an effort to disavow Chinese Catholics’ allegiance to the Vatican.

Rabbi David Saperstein, chairman of the commission, said the move revealed “an escalating pattern of religious repression in China.”

In previous weeks, the commission also criticized China’s repression of followers of Falun Gong — a mixture of Buddhism, Taoism and traditional Chinese exercise. The Chinese government has labeled it a “dangerous cult” and has issued a warrant for the arrest of the sect’s teacher, Li Hongzhi, who now lives in the United States.

The commission criticized the sentencing of several Falun Gong and Christian leaders to long prison terms.

“They are not operating in a vacuum,” Saperstein noted. “The outside world is appalled by what they are doing.”

The commission also de-nounced American mayors and governors for apologizing to the Chinese government for earlier proclamations honoring the Falun Gong spiritual movement. The panel said the apologies came as the result of pressure by the Chinese ambassador.

Charging that the war in Chechnya is being fed by religious bigotry against Muslims, Saperstein in December urged the Clinton administration “to press Russia to stop playing upon popular prejudice and fear of Muslims to justify its military excesses.”

Earlier, the commission issued a statement applauding a Russian court’s decision that religious groups already registered in 1997 do not have to re-register under a restrictive religion law.

The 10-member commission, created under the International Religious Freedom Act, provides independent recommendations about curbing religious persecution to the administration. (ABP)     

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