Report: Religious Freedom Conditions Worsening in China

New regulations ban 'unauthorized' religious teachings in effort to 'sinicize' beliefs

Chinese policemen push Uighur women protesting in Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang region in China
Chinese policemen push Uighur women protesting in Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang region in China / Getty Images

The 2019 annual report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) highlights worsening religious freedom conditions in China over the past year.

The report observes that "religious freedom conditions in China trended negative," especially after new regulations "effectively banned ‘unauthorized' religious teachings and required religious groups to report any online activity." China's government "continued to persecute all faiths in an effort to ‘sinicize' religious belief, a campaign that attempts not only to diminish and erase the independent practice of religion, but also the cultural and linguistic heritage of religious and ethnic communities, particularly Tibetan Buddhists and Uighur Muslims."

The report focuses on the persecution of Uighur Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, Christians, and the Falun Gong.

Over the past two years, China has detained up to more than two million Uighurs and other Muslims in "internment camps," which the Chinese government initially denied existed, but has since defended "as a means to combat terrorism and provide vocational training." Former prisoners say those in the camps had to renounce their faith and swear loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party.

The government has taken other steps to interfere in the lives of Muslims in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, "including discriminatory profiling at armed checkpoints and police stations; travel restrictions both within and outside of China; and Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking systems, facial and iris recognition, DNA sampling, and voice pattern sampling to monitor Muslims." USCIRF also received "credible reports" Chinese security services tried to harass Uighur Muslims living outside of China, including those in the United States.

Anurima Bhargava, one of USCIRF's commissioners, said the situation for China's Uighurs has worsened more rapidly in recent years, although the apparent increase in persecution could be a result of the fact that abuse was not documented as closely in past years.

"We are certainly building off of what is an increased sense of awareness of the scope, how many people, the ways in which people are being [treated]…. There's a sense that it's getting worse, that we're in sort of an internment camp situation," Bhargava told the Washington Free Beacon.

In Tibet, Chinese officials "continued to pursue a strategy of forced assimilation and suppression of Tibetan Buddhism." The government imprisoned monks and nuns who would not renounce the Dalai Lama and confiscated the Chinese passports of several hundred Tibetans who attended teachings given by the Dalai Lama in India.

The Chinese government and Catholic Church reached a provisional agreement in September 2018 whereby "the pope would rehabilitate seven bishops from the state-run Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) who had been excommunicated, in return for a veto over any future appointments by the Chinese government." China's government used the deal to justify pressuring clergy and underground church members to join the CCPA. There were many reports of Chinese officials closing underground churches and destroying crosses.

Protestants also suffered under an intensified crackdown, as thousands of Christians were arrested and thousands of churches or religious sites were demolished.

Chinese authorities also arrested practitioners of Falun Gong, and many reportedly "suffered physical violence, psychiatric abuse, sexual assault, forced drug administration, and sleep deprivation."