June 11 (UPI) -- U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo chastised China over its "decades-long war on faith" while presenting the 2019 Report on International Religious Freedom that described the Asian nation as increasing its repression of religion.
"In China, state-sponsored repression against all religions continues to intensify," Pompeo told reporters Wednesday during a press briefing in Washington, D.C. "The Chinese Communist Party is now ordering religious organizations to obey CCP leadership and infuse communist dogma into their teachings and practice of their faith."
In the annual report, mandated by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the Office of International Religious Freedom said Beijing continues to exercise control over religion and restricts the activities and personal freedoms of religious adherents it perceives as threatening the state's interests.
Adherents of both non-state sanctioned and state-sanctioned religions, of which there are five, were killed in custody, subjected to government torture, abused, arrested, detained, sentenced to prison, indoctrinated in Chinese Communist Party ideology and harassed for performing activities related to their religious beliefs, it said.
"There were several reports of individuals committing suicide in detention, or, according to sources, as a result of being threatened and surveilled," the report said.
Across the country, religious venues including those of the five state-sanctioned religions of Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Protestantism and Catholicism were shutdown while others had government surveillance equipment installed on the condition to allow them to continue operating.
Thousands of followers of various religious sects were arrested over the last year, it said, adding that Christians, Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists and Falun Gong practitioners reported "severe societal discrimination."
The report contains a chapter dedicated to each country but Sam Brownback, the ambassador for international religious freedom at the U.S. State Department, told reporters Wednesday that of those who took a step back in terms of freedom of religion in 2019, it's hard not to point at China.
"Maybe it sounds like a broken record but China is just such a big player in this space in such a negative way that it's hard to overlook, and they're an exporter of their ways and their technology," he said. "That's the other piece of it. If they weren't an exporter, if they just did it to their own people, which is terrible in and of itself -- but that's one you just can't really take your eyes off of."
Of note, Pompeo highlighted China's continuing force detention of some 1 million Muslim-minority Uighurs in the Xinjiang region and its repression of Tibetans, Buddhists, Falun Gong practitioners and Christians.
According to the document, media sources reported local officials in Tibetan areas said supporters of the Dalai Lama could be arrested under Beijing's anti-organized crime program.
In another instance, the report said China offered financial incentives to law enforcement to arrest religious practitioners and to citizens to report on religious activities.
The United States has repeatedly admonished China over its oppression of religion, and in December, Pompeo announced the redesignation of China as a Country of Particular Concern, which prohibits it from receiving U.S. exports of crime control and detection equipment. It was first blacklisted in 1999.
In October, Pompeo imposed visa restrictions on Chinese government officials the United States accuses of being behind the "systematic campaign to erase religions and culture in Xinjiang." He also added 28 Chinse security bureaus and technology companies to a U.S. trade blacklist over their involvement in oppressing and surveilling Uighurs.
The report was released amid heightened tensions between the two countries as the United States has threatened sanctions and revoking Hong Kong's special trade status over China's treatment of pro-democracy protesters on the special autonomous region.
"There is no equivalence between our two forms of government," Pompeo said. "We have the rule of law; China does not. We have free speech and embrace peaceful protest. They don't. We defend religious freedom; as I just noted, China continues its decades-long war on faith.
"The contrast couldn't be more clear: During the best of times, China ruthlessly imposes communism. And amidst the most difficult challenges the United States faces, we work to secure freedom for all," he said.