U.S. Lists Nations Curbing Religion; Includes China, Saudi Arabia.(WORLD)

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Byline: Larry Witham, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The State Department yesterday identified 32 countries that violate religious freedom, ranging from anti-religious dictatorships such as China to regimes such as Saudi Arabia that are hostile to minority religions.

Countries designated as "authoritarian" are nearly all communist and suppress all religion, and nations cited for "state hostility" to unapproved faiths are predominantly Muslim, according to the fourth annual Report on International Religious Freedom.

The report, which details 195 nations, said that Egypt, India and Indonesia allow sectarian violence by dominant groups, while Israel and Russia discriminate against some religions, and anti-sect laws in France and Germany are being copied by communist regimes.

"These inexcusable assaults on individual liberty and personal dignity cannot be justified in the name of any culture, in the name of any creed or in the name of any country," Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said at a news conference.

"This report will serve as a basis for discussions with other nations on how best we can work together to end violations of this fundamental human right," he said.

The annual report, required by Congress since 1998, does not prescribe potential U.S. actions, but Mr. Powell is required in its aftermath to issue a list of "countries of particular concern" that may have sanctions imposed.

Nations listed for "particularly severe violations" now include North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Burma and Sudan.

Since the report and sanctions were required by the International Religious Freedom Act, economic and political penalties already imposed on these countries have been called "double designated" responses to cover the religious violations.

The independent U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, also established by the 1998 law, has criticized the State Department for not imposing new and tougher sanctions on countries such as Sudan and China.

Amid the criticism, State Department officials have said the report establishes a basis for diplomacy with countries in hopes of solving individual cases or reversing trends of increased violation.

"You often have to take satisfaction in small victories," Ambassador at Large for Religious Liberty John V. Hanford, who is responsible for the annual report, said at the news conference.

Some countries that are allies of U.S. trade or the war on terrorism could be "on the cusp" of being added to the worst-case list, he said. "That is a tough call," he said when asked about Saudi Arabia. …