Beijing is reacting angrily to U.S. criticism of the way it treats religious groups in China. China says the State Department report is groundless and could hurt relations between Washington and Beijing.
Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Sun Yuxi says the recent U.S. report on international religious freedom is a gross violation of international law. Mr. Sun said the United States should mind its own business, and stop making irresponsible accusations. "We wish to express our strong indignation and resolute opposition," he said. "We safeguard freedom of religious beliefs. At the same time we prohibit any individuals or organizations to undertake illegal activity under the pretext of religion."
The State Department report says over the past year, the Chinese government has intensified its repression of the Falun Gong spiritual movement and similar groups, which the government labels as cults. It says more than 100 Falun Gong followers have died in detention since 1999.
The report cited a high level of repression against religious groups in Tibet. It says government cracked down on unregistered churches, temples and mosques in many parts of the country, destroying religious buildings in some cases.
The State Department, however, noted that official persecution of underground Catholic and Protestant groups in southeastern China eased somewhat over the previous year. It says that while China's government persecutes religious groups it does not control, it does permit apolitical religious activity to take place relatively unfettered in government-approved sites.
This follows last week's apology to the Chinese people by Pope John Paul II for any mistakes made by Christian missionaries in colonial times. China's government calls the Pope's action positive but says it does not go far enough to allow the restoration of relations between the Vatican and Beijing.