US removes China from list of worst human rights violators

( dpa )- China's human rights record "remained poor" in 2007 but some reforms helped remove the country from the US list of the world's most systematic abusers of human rights, according to a State Department report released Tuesday.

China continued to tighten restrictions on religious freedom in Tibetan and Uighur areas, and monitor, harass and arrest political activists, journalists and lawyers, the department's annual human rights report said.

China was removed from the list of the worst violators because of some reforms ahead of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, but the country has continued to crack down on the internet and has stalled at reforming or abolishing re-education programmes.

Sudan, Syria and Uzbekistan were added to the list, joining Belarus, Cuba, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea and Zimbabwe.

Sudan's record was "horrific" because of reports of extrajudicial killings, torture, and rape by government forces and Khartoum-backed militants in the country's Darfur region, the report said.

Darfur has been plagued by years of civil war that has claimed more than 300,000 lives.

The State Department report accused forces controlled by Uzbek President Islam Karimov of using torture and beatings during interrogations to obtain information or confessions. Several prisoners died, the report said.

Syria's human rights record worsened in 2007 because of an increase in the number of detained activists and the use of criminal courts to try political dissidents. Several human rights activists were sentenced to prison terms, including the April and May convictions of top activists Anwar al-Bunni and Michel Kilo.

The State Department report also harshly criticized Russia centralizing power in the Kremlin, corruption, crackdowns on non- governmental organizations known as NGOs and restrictions on the media.

"By directly owning media outlets, influencing the owners of major outlets, and harassing and intimidating journalists into practicing self-censorship, the government continued to weaken press freedom in Russia," the report said, adding that killings of journalists have gone unresolved.

The United States has criticized outgoing President Vladimir Putin for weakening democratic institutions in Russia in what has been a sore spot in relations. Putin's presidental term ends in May but he plans to become the next prime minister and remain influential.

Putin's handpicked successor, Dmitri Medvedev, who easily won the March 2 election, has vowed to keep the country on the path carved out by Putin.

The State Department report does not cover 2008, but it said Duma elections in December were marred by ballot fraud, and the outcome was orchestrated by media coverage favourable to Putin's United Russia party.

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