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China Letter-News and Human Rights

China human rights news with focus on the Uygur of Xinjiang, Tibetans and Tibet, Chinese mining workers, religion, corruption and censorship.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

China and Religious Freedom: USCIRF Annual Report

Reigion in ChinaThe United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has just released (May 12) it's annual report on the status of religious freedom worldwide and has made some recommendations that will sure to upset the Chinese Government and bring from them the usual calls for the US to stop meddling in China's internal affairs.

The USCIRF is a U.S. independent legislative agency created by the United States International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA) to monitor religious freedom in other countries and advise the President, Secretary of State, and Congress on how best to promote it.

As predicted, in the case of China, the Commission has emphasized the plight of the Muslim Uygurs of Xinjiang, the Buddhists Tibetans, the "unofficial" Christian Churches and the Falun Gong group. (The latter by it's own admission is not a religion per se but more of a promoter of a spiritual life and as such it is strange that it's predicament appears to fall within the Commission mandate.)

One recommendation in particular that is sure to raise the hackles of the Chinese and very unlikely to be acceded to is that the US negotiate with China to allow the opening of an official US presence in both Urumqi the capital of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and Lhasa, capital of Tibet, to facilitate closer monitoring of the religious situation in both those regions.

As well the Commission called upon the US Government to do all in it's power to raise international awareness of the plight of the Uygur people and to establish an Uygur language radio staion transmitting into Xinjiang

Summary of the Commissions Findings On China

The Commission stated forthrightly in it's report that it is "especially concerned" with freedom of religion in China and that the Chinese government continues to engage in "particularly severe violations of religious freedom.".

The Commission remains especially concerned about the situation in China, where repression of religious freedom continues to be a deliberate policy of the Chinese government. In the past year, Chinese authorities have intensified their violent campaign against religious believers, including Evangelical Christians, Roman Catholics, Uighur Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, and other groups, such as the Falun Gong. This campaign has included imprisonment, torture, and other forms of ill treatment. Following up on an invitation to the Commission reportedly without conditions, the Commission attempted to travel to China twice in the past year but was thwarted both times by unacceptable limits imposed by the Chinese government. The Commission visited Hong Kong in early 2004, but continues to seek a visit to other regions of China.

The USCIRF has recommended to the U.S president that China be considered a "country of particular concern (CPC)" the highest level for countries considered to be religious violators of the worst kind.

"Chinese government officials control, monitor, and restrain religious practice, purportedly to protect national security or stability and public safety or health. However, the government’s actions to restrict religious belief and practice reportedly go far beyond legitimate protection of security interests and exceed what is permissible under international law. By most accounts, prominent religious leaders and laypersons alike continue to be confined, tortured, imprisoned, and subject to other forms of ill treatment on account of their religion or belief."

Particular information as to the various findings are as follows:

Falun Gong

Falun Gong PractitionersThe Commission found that in 2003, the Chinese government has expanded its campaign against 'evil cults' and "heretical sects" of which the Falun Gong group is considered to be one.

The Falun Gong group has been banned since 1999 and has been identified as an "evil cult" and it is upon this basis that China attempts to justify it's ongoing "brutal crackdown"

The Commission alleges that

  • hundreds of Falun Gong practitioners have been sent to labor camps without trial or been sent to mental health institutions for re-education
  • 430 practitioners have been killed as a result of police brutality
  • foreign businesses in China have been pressured to discriminate against its followers
  • Chinese diplomats regularly warn foreign officials to stop their advocacy on behalf of Falun Gong and its practitioners.


 Dalai Lama: Spiritual Leader of the Tibnetan PeopleOn Tibet the Commission found that the Chinese government continues to retain tight control over religious activity and places of worship.

It notes that 2002-2003 saw several prominent Tibetan Buddhists being released from imprisonment however despite this and renewed contact between China and the Dalai Lama's representatives there has been no significant changes to the government's overall policy of control over Tibetan religious life.

By Chinese admission the Commission states that there are over one hundred Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns being held in prison, a figure agreed on by Tibetan human rights groups who claim that the prisoners are subject to ongoing torture and degradation at the hands of their Chinese captors.

The Commission specifically mentions the cases of Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist monk, and Lobsang Dondrup who were sentenced to death in January 2003 for an alleged April 2002 bombing in Sichuan province.

Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche's death sentence was eventually suspended, but Lobsang Dondrup was executed despite what the commission claims were assurances to senior U.S. officials that both cases would be referred to China's Supreme Court.

Other incidents reported upon are:

  • October 2003, another monk, Nyima Dragpa died, reportedly as a result of repeated torture while serving a nine-year sentence for advocating Tibetan independence
  • The Chinese continue to deny repeated requests for access to the 15-year old boy whom the Dalai Lama designated as the 11th Panchen Lama and who was spirited away by Chinese officials never to be seen of again.

Uygur Muslims Of Xinjiang

Uygur Muslims in Mosque in XinjiangThe Commission found that in the case of the mainly Muslim Uygurs of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in China's north west, freedom of religion and belief is severely curtailed by the government, which often alleges that Uygur Muslim religious expression is linked to "separatist" or "terrorist" acts.

The Commission also found that

Since September 11, 2001, the government has used concerns about international terrorism as a pretext for an ongoing crackdown in Xinjiang, where Uighur Muslim clerics and students have been detained for "illegal" religious activities and "illegal religious centers" have been closed.

It goes on to report that since January 2003 the Government's campaign against the Uygur Muslims has intensified when the region's Communist Party Secretary announced the government's aim to "strike hard" against "religious extremists", "splittists", and "terrorists", resulting in the arrest of many more Uighur Muslim clerics and lay leaders.

The Commission also highlighted the authorities prohibition on the teaching of Islam to children under the age of 18 and on minors entering mosques. As well it noted the Chinese government as not allowing teachers, professors, university students, or Party members to practice their Muslim faith openly.

Catholic and Protestant Churches

The report claims that the Chinese government continues its repression of the Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches in China and provides the following examples:

  • Clergy in Fujian, Zhejiang, Jilin, and Jiangxi provinces were harassed, detained, and arrested during the past year.
  • In July 2003, five priests affiliated with the Catholic Church were sentenced to three years in a labor camp after having been convicted of practicing "cult" activities.
  • In October 2003, Hebei provincial officials reportedly arrested twelve Catholic priests and seminarians attending a religious retreat.
  • There are at least ten Catholic bishops under arrest, including Bishop Su Zhimin, who has been in prison, in detention, under house arrest, or under strict surveillance since the 1970s.
  • Conditions for unregistered Christian groups have worsened in the last year. Members of Protestant house church groups, who refuse to register, are subject to intimidation, extortion, harassment, detention, and the closing of their churches.
  • Protestant house churches in Liaoning, Yunnan, and Henan provinces and in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region were raided, their congregants detained and fined, pastors arrested, and churches closed
  • In September, house church historian Zhang Yinan was arrested along with approximately 100 others in Nanyang, Henan Province
  • Pastor Gong Shengliang of the unregistered South China Church sentenced to death after the adoption of the 1999 "“evil cult" law, continues to languish in prison, and he is reportedly denied proper medical care. Many of his congregants and family remain in jail facing serious charges and are allegedly subject to torture and other ill treatment in prison
  • In the last year, local officials in Zhejiang province reportedly destroyed as many as 400 churches, temples, and shrines.
  • Chinese officials continue to engage in the destruction of "illegal" religious buildings, particularly in regions experiencing rapid religious growth or in areas with long-standing tensions between "official" and "unofficial" congregations, such as Hebei and Henan provinces

Commissions Recommendations

As stated the Commission has recommended to the U.S. President that China be once again designated as a "country of particular concern" as it relates to religious freedom. The Commission has further recommended that the U.S. government should:

  • ensure that efforts to promote religious freedom in China are integrated into the mechanisms of dialogue and cooperation with the Chinese government at all levels, across all departments of the U.S. government, and on all issues, including security and counter-terrorism;
  • urge the Chinese government to end its current crackdown on religious and spiritual groups throughout China, including harassment, surveillance, arrest, and detention of persons on account of their manifestation of religion or belief; the detention, torture, and ill-treatment of persons in prisons, labor camps, psychiatric facilities, and other places of confinement; and the coercion of individuals to renounce or condemn any religion or belief;
  • urge the Chinese government to change its system of laws, policies, and practices that govern religious and spiritual organizations and activities, and hold accountable violators of the right to freedom of religion and belief and the human rights of religious believers;
  • urge the Chinese government to respect fully the universality of the right to freedom of religion or belief and other human rights and ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;
  • undertake to strengthen scrutiny by international and U.S. bodies of China's human rights practices and the implementation of its international obligations;
  • prohibit U.S. companies doing business in China from engaging in practices that would constitute or facilitate violations of religious freedom or discrimination on the basis of religion or belief;
  • raise the profile of the conditions of Uighur Muslims by addressing religious freedom and human rights concerns in bilateral talks; by increasing the number of educational opportunities in the United States available to Uighurs; and by increasing radio broadcasts in the Uighur language;
  • endeavor to establish an official U.S. government presence, such as a consulate, in Lhasa, Tibet and Urumqi, Xinjiang, in order to monitor religious freedom and other human rights;
  • expand rule of law programs to include regular "dialogues" on religion and law with U.S. government representatives, academic experts, and members of the Commission with a commensurate delegation from China;
  • support exchanges between a diverse segment of Chinese government officials and academic experts and U.S. scholars, experts, representatives of religious communities and non-governmental organizations regarding the relationship between religion and the state, the role of religion in society, international standards relating to the right to freedom of religion and belief, and the importance and benefits of upholding human rights, including religious freedom; and
  • continue to promote Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy under Chinese sovereignty by:
    --urge the Chinese government to uphold the "one country, two systems" concept by allowing the Hong Kong people and their elected government officials to have a voice in the determination of the pace and scope of advances toward direct elections and the protection of human rights, including religious freedom; and
    --opposing introduction of any "national security" provision to the Basic Law that would suppress internationally recognized human rights, including the right to freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression.

Well there are no suprises here to anyone who keeps close to what is happening in China. Once again the U.S. stands virtually alone in condemning China for a variety of Human-rights violations and has to be congratulated.

It is hoped that the continual pressure, no matter how disliked by the Chinese, is maintained and that one day the light of a brand new day will dawn upon a China in which the freedom of the peaceful pursuit of religion is allowed.

Link Read Rating:

United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF)Annual report