Beijing Tuesday expressed barely-concealed rage at "irresponsible" accusations by the United States about religious repression in China made in an annual report on freedom of worship.
In a tough statement, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi said the report, issued Friday, "distorted the facts and made gratuitous accusations" against China.
The outburst came despite the fact this year's report broadly repeated charges previously levelled against China, which was included with Myanmar, Iran, Iraq and Sudan among others as states of "particular concern".
Nonetheless, China was outraged at criticisms of its treatment of religious groups such as the banned Falungong spiritual sect, Sun said.
The "so-called" 2001 International Report on Religious Freedom had "distorted the facts and made gratuitous accusations at China's banning of the Falungong and other religious policies," Sun told a press briefing.
"The US act is a grave violation of international laws and international relations and a gross interference in China's internal affairs.
"We wish to express our strong indignation and resolute opposition. We safeguard the freedom of religious beliefs.
"At the same time we prohibit any individuals or organisations who undertake illegal activities under the pretext of religion."
The US has repeatedly expressed concern at the treatment of followers of the Falungong sect, banned in 1999 as an "evil cult".
Since then more than 150 Falungong adherents have died in custody, according to independent human rights groups, with the group itself claiming a far higher toll.
Washington has also criticised Chinese crackdowns on Christian churches which operate outside strict state supervision.
However Sun insisted China had made "profound progress" on religious freedom and said the US had no right to criticise.
"The United States is not entitled to issue any international freedom reports or to make irresponsible accusations or point its fingers at other countries," he said.
The US should stop "interfering in China's internal affairs", he said.
"This will otherwise damage Sino-US relations" -- BEIJING, (AFP)
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