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World: U.S. Congress Set To Attack Religious Persecution

Washington, 9 September 1997 (RFE/RL) - The U.S. House of Representatives is set to move this week on proposed legislation that would censure nations the Congress believes are engaged in religious persecution.

The measure has broad support in both the 435-member House and 100-member Senate. It is expected to pass easily and be sent to the White House for President Bill Clinton's signature early next year.

The House will review and debate the legislation this week. The bill is largely the work of Congressman Frank Wolf (R-Virginia). Wolf has been one of the most active congressional campaigners for human rights for more than a decade. Wolf is well-known in Eastern Europe, especially in Romania, where he worked to hold the regime of the late dictator Nicolae Ceausescu to account for its human rights violations.

Lately, Wolf has tried to focus attention on China because of its alleged persecution of Christians, and because of China's alleged persecution of the people of Tibet. Wolf visited Tibet last month.

On his return, he charged that China was maintaining a "death grip" on Tibet. He said China seemed bent on destroying Tibetan culture by its promotion of ethnic Chinese migration to that Himalayan country. The Chinese foreign ministry accused Wolf of slandering China.

Congressional concern about religious freedom stretches beyond Asia, however. In July, the State Department released a report it compiled -- at the direction of Congress -- on the state of religious freedom in 78 countries.

The report cited specific worries about freedom of worship in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Romania and Russia, among other countries.

The legislation sponsored by Wolf, and by Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania) in the Senate, would require the White House to set up a special office to monitor religious persecution and produce an annual report.

Persecution is defined by the legislation as, among other things, murder, rape, imprisonment, abduction, torture, enslavement and mandatory resettlement. It would also hold governments accountable for incidents of indirect persecution as well, such as when nations fail to protect religious minorities from mob violence.

The White House office would be able to impose automatic trade, economic and political sanctions on nations found to violate religious freedoms. Exports would be banned to countries violating religious rights and all aid, except for humanitarian assistance, would be prohibited.

The legislation focuses on persecution of Christians, Buddhists in Tibet and members of the Bahai faith. It lists 11 countries as the targets for immediate attention. They are: China, Cuba, Egypt, Indonesia, Laos, Morocco, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Vietnam.

The White House office would be authorized to study other countries after it has issued a report on the first 11.