Chinese President Hu Jintao at the White House with President Bush

Two weeks after Chinese President Hu Jintao was welcomed to the U.S., China joined a list of 11 countries recommended to the Bush administration as deserving of a diplomatic response for engaging in or tolerating systematic and egregious violations of religious freedom.

Along with China, the Congress-established U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended Saudi Arabia, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Burma, Eritrea, Sudan, Vietnam, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan as the world’s worst violators of religious freedom.

The law that created the USCIRF in 1998 requires the president to name the worst violators of religious freedom and take specific policy actions, ranging in severity from a quiet demarche to economic sanctions.

Only Eritrea, however, has been the recipient of presidential action specifically tied to the law. Last year the African nation – named with Saudi Arabia and Vietnam – was denied any trade from the U.S. of defense articles and services covered by the Arms Control Export Act, with some items exempted.

After sending a delegation to China last August, the commission found religious-freedom conditions in the communist country to be poor.

The USCIRF said in its 2006 report released today that “every religious community in China is subject to serious restrictions, state control, and repression.”

The most severe abuses are directed against Tibetan Buddhists, Uighur Muslims, Roman Catholics, house church and unregistered Protestants and spiritual groups such as the Falun Gong, the report said.

The abuses include “imprisonment, torture and other forms of ill treatment.”

During Hu’s speech on the South Lawn of the White House April 20, a woman protesting the government’s abuse of the Falun Gong managed to get into the press area and shout, “President Hu, your days are numbered.”

The commission noted that while the Chinese government issued a new Ordinance on Religion in March 2005, “its provisions, in fact, restrict rather than protect religious freedom, offering party leaders more extensive control over all religious groups and their activities.”

“Prominent religious leaders and others continue to be confined, imprisoned, tortured, ‘disappeared’ and subjected to other forms of ill treatment on account of their religion or belief,” the commission report said.

The Chinese government also is disregarding its international obligation to protect refugees from North Korea from facing persecution on their return, the panel charges.

Meanwhile, Nina Shea, a member of the commission, called on the U.S. government to take action against Saudi Arabia, according to the Voice of America.

“Since religious freedom conditions in Saudi Arabia have not substantially improved in the last year, the U.S. government must not hesitate in taking aggressive action to demonstrate that it will not disregard the persistent and egregious religious freedom violations committed by the Saudi government,” said Shea, who directs the Center for Religious Freedom at Freedom House in Washington.

Shea pointed out a waiver period Washington initially granted to Riyadh, allowing the two nations to discuss the issue, has expired.

The commission also added Afghanistan and Iraq to its “watch list” of countries for which it has concerns about the future of religious freedom.

Regarding Afghanistan, the commission pointed to “flaws in the country’s new constitution,” said commissioner Preeta Bansal, according to the VOA.

“The constitution does not contain clear protections for the right of freedom of religion or belief for individual Afghan citizens,” she said.

As an example, Bansal pointed to the recent high-profile case of Abdul Rahman, an Afghan citizen threatened with the death penalty for converting from Islam to Christianity.

On Iraq, commissioner Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention described a “grave escalation” of sectarian violence.

As the U.S. government assists in Iraq’s political reconstruction, it a “special obligation” to help strengthen and ensure protection of Iraqi rights, he said.

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