March 27, 2009
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom ("USCIRF"), established by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 ("IRFA"), issued a press release today. It took to task the State Department, which, under President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, had failed to release publicly its 2008 list of countries of "particular concern," that is, countries where the denial of religious freedom is particularly severe. Such a list is required yearly under IRFA; however, it took an official inquiry from USCIRF to get the 2008 list released by the State Department ("DOS").
The USCIRF issues its own yearly list of offenders.
The two lists are substantially the same, though the USCIRF's list includes four countries that the DOS list does not.
One constant between the two lists, however, is China.
This is no surprise. Reports of the last several weeks, for example, have recounted increased oppression in Tibet in connection with the anniversary of the invasion by China of that land.
China had a great opportunity to improve its public image by changing the facts on the ground in connection with the 2008 Olympics. As we noted at the time, the sad fact was that repression of religious believers of all stripes, including Protestant and Catholic Christians, actually increased during the year-long run-up to the Olympics, despite promises by China that it would do the opposite.
Tomorrow, March 27, China will inaugurate a new holiday, "Serf Liberation Day." China claims the life of ordinary Tibetans has improved greatly since they intervened 50 years ago. However, this claim shows China continues to miss the point. Whether or not ordinary life has improved is beside the point. Religious freedom is a fundamental human right, secured in America, of course, under the First Amendment. It is not up to China to tell the people of Tibet what to believe.