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US Report: Burma, China, Cuba Among Worst Violators of Religious Freedom

The U.S. State Department has released a report naming Burma, China and Cuba among the world's worst violators of religious freedom.

The Annual Report on International Religious Freedom, which records the status of respect for such freedom in all countries, was released Monday. It covers the period from July 2008 to June 2009.

It named Afghanistan, Iran and North Korea among countries that had "engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Monday that the United States will always stand against religious-based discrimination and persecution.

But she also noted that the U.S. disagrees with an anti-defamation measure pushed by the Organization of the Islamic Conference, saying Washington strongly disagrees with those who would curb free speech.

The report also highlighted efforts to improve religious freedom, noting Bahrain, India and Serbia were among countries that had taken such steps.

Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Michael Posner said China, where President Obama is expected to pay an official visit next month, tends to conflate religious expression by Tibetan Buddhists and Muslim Uighurs in western areas with issues of autonomy and independence.

"Buddhist priests and monks that raise human rights issues are targeted," said Michael Posner. "The same thing is true in the Uighur autonomous region with Muslim clerics and others. The government has cracked down very severely since the violence there some months ago against religious leaders and others of the Muslim faith."

China has long been listed as a "country of particular concern" by the State Department for its record on religious freedom, as has U.S. Persian Gulf ally Saudi Arabia.