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(ENI) – Countries in Asia are the worst violators of religious freedom, with Saudi Arabia, North Korea and Laos topping the list, according to the “2004 Report on Religious Freedom” published in Rome by the Italian section of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). The sixth edition of the report published on 25 June by ACN, an international aid organization of the Roman Catholic Church, looks at 183 countries, detailing abuse, discrimination and persecution linked to religious freedom suffered by various denominations. An ACN press statement released on Monday spoke of “the already complex situation in the Asian continent – where Islam and Hinduism, Christianity and Buddhism meet”. The AsiaNews agency, whose director Father Bernardo Cervellera co-presented the report, said: “The Wahhabi Kingdom (in Saudi Arabia ) is at the bottom of the world ranking as far as freedom of worship is concerned.”

Of North Korea , it said: “The situation concerning religious groups is shrouded in mystery in a country that is totally impenetrable and isolated from the rest of the world. The news that manages to leak out tells of brutal persecutions and strict control by the government.” It stated there are no longer any priests and nuns in the communist country, and currently about 100 000 Christians are detained in work camps. The equally secretive and closed Southeast Asian country of Laos “is one of the few nations in which the government has specifically declared its intent to eliminate Christianity, considering it a violation of Laotian customs and ‘a foreign imperialist religion’ supported by Western political interests”. The ACN release noted: “In a number of (Eastern) European states, for example Bulgaria , laws have been promulgated that make missionary activities difficult. Among former social-communist countries, Byelorussia stands out for its repressive legislation as regards to religious minorities.” Cervellera said in the statement: “Destroying schools is an element of persecution that is now almost a trend in China , Hong Kong , Indonesia , Nepal , India , and Pakistan . In this case it is not only a community’s faith they wish to silence, but also all possible social influence exercised by religions, and in particular the Christian one.”