The U.S. State Department names six nations as "countries of particular concern" for severe violations of religious freedom.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has named six nations as "countries of particular concern" for severe violations of religious freedom.
Secretary Powell Wednesday identified those countries as Burma, China, Iran, Iraq, North Korea and Sudan. These six received the same designation last year.
A written statement said the status of religious freedom has not significantly improved in any of these nations since then.
Saudi Arabia was not on the list although the key Gulf ally came under heavy criticism in the State Department's annual report on religious freedom last October.
That report concluded that religious freedom did not exist in Saudi Arabia and that its government barred any public observance of non-Muslim faiths.
U.S. officials deny Saudi Arabia's exclusion from this year's list is related to the possible U.S. led war against Iraq. Washington also says it is pressing Riyadh to improve its tolerance for non-Muslim religions.
The New York-based group Human Rights Watch criticized the omission of Saudi Arabia from the list as well as Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. The group issued a statement saying the three nations systematically violate the rights of their people to worship freely
The U.S. State Department is required by law to report annually on the status of religious freedom worldwide.
Countries cited for very poor records may be subject to U.S sanctions. Most of the nations on the list already face various human rights or other penalties.