BEIJING (AP) - China criticized the U.S. for its annual report on global religious freedom Tuesday, calling it a political tool based on groundless accusations that displayed Washington's arrogance and ignorance.
The U.S. State Department report released Monday highlighted what it said was a lack of religious freedom in China as well as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and North Korea.
It said there had been "a marked deterioration during 2011 in the government's respect for and protection of religious freedom" in China, and that there was "severe" repression of religious freedom in Tibetan areas and the far western region of Xinjiang, home to a significant number of Muslims.
Tibetan areas of China have seen a surge in self-immolations since 2011, and the report said that tightened restrictions on Buddhist worship contributed to at least 12 of them last year.
The Chinese response came in a commentary published by the official Xinhua News Agency, which said the report was "continuing a notorious practice of blatantly interfering in the internal affairs of other countries."
"The annual report, largely based on unconfirmed media reports and groundless allegations from outlawed groups and organizations with ulterior motives, is nothing but a political tool used by the U.S. government to exert pressure on other countries, mostly deemed as its rivals," it said.
Xinhua said the U.S. was imposing its own standard on religious policies regardless of historic or cultural differences, saying the report was "full of prejudice, arrogance and ignorance."
It said religious freedoms were protected under China's constitution, saying only a few from banned "cults" and illegal "extremist religious organizations" aimed at splitting apart the country were punished.
Xinhua said the self-immolations were politically motivated, and part of a "scheme" by supporters of the exiled Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama, who China accuses of trying to separate Tibet from China.
The State Department said the government harassed, arrested or sentenced to prison a number of people for activities reported to be related to their religious practice.
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