China's record on religious freedom has been singled out by a senior US official who has demanded Beijing be kept under pressure. Robert Seiple, ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom, told congressmen 'our collective' efforts on behalf of 'persecuted minorities' had had little effect on Beijing. 'This has not been an easy time in our relations with China. It has remained consistently bad,' Mr Seiple told a human rights subcommittee of the House of Representatives' International Relations Committee. Mr Seiple's comments came during a hearing on the State Department's first report on international religious freedoms. The report - which could lead to eventual sanctions amid a political environment increasingly focused on religious issues - covers 194 countries but puts China among just seven 'regimes of particular concern'. The other six are Burma, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Serbia and the Taleban in Afghanistan. The report noted increased levels of religious belief on the mainland but warned of extensive official control measures. It said Beijing had tightened its control over Tibet and religious freedom had diminished, describing reports of abuse and torture of Buddhist monks and nuns as credible. Overall, the department determined that, during the period reviewed in the report - January 1998 to June this year - 'serious problems continued in violation of internationally recognised norms' with regard to religious freedoms on the mainland. It noted 'persecution' of Tibetan Buddhists, Muslim Uygurs and Protestants and Catholics who did not belong to officially recognised churches. Mr Seiple, the official ultimately responsible for the report, devoted much of his time during the hearing, like the congressmen, specifically to China. Beijing Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue expressed China's 'indignation and firm opposition' to the report. She accused the US Congress of using the cause of religious freedom as an excuse to interfere in Chinese domestic affairs, Xinhua reported.