Of China’s estimated 1.4 billion people, approximately 18 per cent are Buddhist, including Tibetan Buddhists, 5 per cent Christian and 2 per cent are Muslim.
APPG Commentary on the current state of Freedom of Religion or Belief 2020
China is officially an atheist state. Article 36 of the Chinese Constitution protects all ‘normal’ religious activities within the five officially recognised religions of Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Protestantism and Catholicism. In order to secure official legal status, these religious groups must register with state-sanctioned ‘patriotic’ associations such as the ‘Three Self Patriotic Movement’ or the ‘Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association’. These associations experience high levels of state control. Many religious groups have remained unregistered with the state.
Freedom of religion or belief is a mixed picture in China depending on place, religion, ethnicity etc. However, across the country, it is in rapid decline. In the most extreme instances, religious adherents are arrested, imprisoned, tortured, and even killed.
Tibetan Buddhism and Islam face particularly harsh restrictions since their activities are widely seen as political, as both regions have been or are still home to independence movements, some of them acting violently against the authorities.
It is estimated that between 900,000 and 1.8 million Uighur, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, and other Muslims have been detained in more than 1,300 concentration camps in Xinjiang, something the Chinese government are trying their best to mask. Individuals have been sent to camps for wearing long beards, refusing alcohol, or other behaviours authorities deem to be signs of “religious extremism.” Some suffer torture, rape, sterilization, and other abuses. Nearly half a million Muslim children have been separated from their families and placed in boarding schools. During 2019 the camps increasingly transitioned from re-education to forced labour as detainees were forced to work in cotton and textile factories.
There are otherwise specific examples of a downward trend such as the demolition of mosques (thousands of mosques in Xinjiang have been damaged or destroyed in the past three years), temples and churches by authorities, and the removal of religious symbols and pictures from homes and places of worship.
There have also been less visible signs of FoRB decline, nonetheless significant. For example, clergy removed and replaced by government approved appointments; pressure on schools to monitor religious beliefs of students and staff; the rise of state surveillance and artificial intelligence cameras outside places of worship.
The violation of FoRB sits within the broader notion of increasing human rights abuses under Xi Jingping where state control, enforced legislation under the banner of national security, and a heightened sensitivity to perceived challenges to Party rule have all occurred hand in hand.
There has been a new focus on religion at the highest levels of government, a revision of the Regulations on Religious Affairs, and fresh emphasis put on the requirement that all religious communities in China ‘sinicise’ by becoming ‘Chinese in orientation’ and adapting to ‘socialist society’. It is thought that the intent behind ‘sinicisation’ is to eradicate independent religion and bring all religious activities under state control. The Party’s top priority is “to maintain stability” and religion, including Christianity, is seen as destabilizing the system.
The Communist Party extended its regulation of all religions in 2020, and even government-approved churches, both Catholic and Protestant, are under ever-more surveillance, both online and offline. Thousands of churches have been closed and dozens of pastors arrested.
FCDO Human Rights Report 2020
The policy to ‘sinicise’ religion further restricted freedom of religion or belief. Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Falun Gong practitioners and others continued to face persecution on the grounds of their religion or belief.
In the UK Parliament, 2021
Hong Kong Electoral Reforms Fiona Bruce 10 March
Treatment of Uyghur Women: Xinjiang Detention Camps Nusrat Ghani 4 February
Caroline Lucas 24 February; Caroline Lucas 19 February; Caroline Lucas 19 February; Caroline Lucas 19 February; Lord Alton 10 February; Lord Pendry 8 February; Hilary Benn 3 February; Lord Blencathra 1 February; Jim Shannon 1 February; Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi 3 February; Rachael Maskell 28 January; Jim Shannon 13 January; Owen Thompson 11 January; Shabana Mahmood 8 January;
US State Department International Religious Freedom report 2020
APPG Commentary on the current state of Freedom of Religion or Belief 2019
Over 52% of China’s population identify as having no religion, with those practicing folk religion and Buddhism making up approximately 22% and 18% of China’s population respectively. Christians make up 5% of the population with Muslims representing 2% of the population. There are also a small number of Hindus, Jews and Taoists resident in China.
Article 36 of the Chinese Constitution protects all ‘normal’ religious activities within the five officially recognised religions: Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Protestantism and Catholicism. Nevertheless, in order to secure official legal status, these religious groups must also register with state-sanctioned ‘patriotic’ associations – such as the ‘Three Self Patriotic Movement’ or the ‘Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association’. These associations experience high levels of state control. Many religious groups remain unregistered with the state.
The most obvious area of deterioration for FoRB in the reporting period has been in relation to the treatment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang province. The Chinese government has accelerated its process of detaining and ‘re-educating’ the community in so-called ‘vocational camps’. As of March 2019, it was estimated that 1.5 million Uighurs and other Muslims had been detained in total. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute reported in November 2018 that the size of the 28 camps in Xinjiang that they monitor had grown by 465%.
Ethnic Uighurs, predominantly of the Muslim faith, are commonly detained with no explanation or judicial process. Simple expressions of faith are punished and detainees are forced to denounce Islam and pledge allegiance to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The children of those who have been detained are frequently enrolled into high-security boarding schools which ban the use of the traditional Uighur language and cut off children from their ethnic roots.
In one township, more than 400 children had lost both parents to some form of internment – in camps or prison – as of July 2019. The government’s crackdown on religious minorities in Xinjiang has been characterized as a ‘’systematic campaign of social re-engineering and cultural genocide’’.
Hui Muslims have also faced increased restrictions. Three mosques in Yunnan Province were closed for conducting ‘’illegal religious education’’, with police physically attacking any protesting worshippers. Later, in April 2019, the dome, star and crescent were removed from the roof of a mosque for women on Motianyuan Road in Baoji city in Shannxi, as was the case for Beiguan Mosque in Xi’an.
Christianity has experienced increasing oppression in the reporting period, predominantly under the framework of the document entitled, ‘’Principle for promoting the Chinese Christianity in China for the Next Five Years (2018-2022)’’. From April 2018, churches have faced the removal of crosses, Bibles and other religious items. Furthermore, it has even been reported that a government approved Three-Self Church was forced to remove the first of the Ten Commandments after an inspection by local authorities in November 2018. Churches and their leaders have also faced physical detainment. More than 5,000 Christians and 1,000 church leaders were arrested in 2018 because of their religious practices. This included Past Wang Yi who was arrested along with more than 100 of his congregants at Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, Sichuan province. He was charged with inciting ‘’subversion of state power’’ in December 2018. Four underground congregations have also been shut down by the CCP since September 2018, including the Shouwang Church in Beijing which was formally banned on 23 March 2019.
The Chinese government has also arrested many members of ‘xie jiao’ groups, which refer to religious or spiritual movements that the Government has designated as ‘cults’, such as practitioners of Falun Gong. The intense harassment of those practising Falun Gong continued during the reporting period. Two attorneys had their law licenses suspended for six months in Hunan Province in November 2018 for defending Falun Gong practitioners. Human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang was also sentenced to four years in prison in January 2019 for his defence of political activists and members of the Falun Gong group.
The systematic persecution of the group was also highlighted during the reporting period by the London-based Independent Tribunal into Forced Organ Harvesting in China. On 17 June 2019, the Tribunal found, unanimously, and beyond any reasonable doubt, that the Chinese Government has been complicit in the forced and deadly organ harvesting of individuals of the Falun Gong group.
Buddhists have also experienced continued harassment, with Tibetan Buddhists continuing to face regular service disruptions, intrusive monitoring, and property confiscation. The Chinese authorities have also exerted increased control over monastic education, limiting access to Tibetan religion, language and culture. May and June 2019 saw another wave of monks and nuns forced from Yachen Gar Tibetan Buddhist Centre in western China’s Sichuan province, as part of a strategy to control the influence and growth of Tibetan Buddhist study and practice.
FCO Human Rights Report 2019
There continued to be major restrictions on the ability to practise religion freely throughout China, and the UK remained deeply concerned about the persecution of Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Falun Gong practitioners, and others. In Xinjiang, British diplomats saw evidence of mosques being demolished and permanently closed as well as of the removal of Islamic architectural features, such as domes and crescents, in an effort to “sinicise” Islam. There were credible reports of the closure and demolishing of unregistered churches across China. In December, Pastor Wang Yi of the Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu – one of China’s largest house churches until it was forcibly closed in December 2018 – was tried in secret and sentenced to 9 years in prison on charges of inciting subversion.
In the UK Parliament, 2020
Sir Iain Duncan Smith 29 June; Bishop of Coventry 29 June; Lord Collins of Highbury 29 June;
Lord Alton 21 July; Lord Alton 21 July; Lord Alton 21 July; Lord Alton 21 July; Lord Alton 21 July; Theresa Villiers 13 July; Lord Alton 7 July; Sir Edward Davey 7 July; Allan Dorans 6 July; Richard Thomson 1 July; Lord Alton 24 June; Lord Alton 24 June; Lord Alton 22 June; Bishop of St Albans 15 June; Sammy Wilson 4 June; Caroline Lucas 20 May; Bishop of St Albans 5 May; Tommy Sheppard 28 April; Apsana Begum 12 March; Apsana Begum 12 March; Apsana Begum 12 March; Bishop of Carlisle 10 March; Lord Hunt of Kings Heath 10 March; Taiwo Owatemi 7 February; Jonathan Edwards 28 January; Jonathan Edwards 27 January; Jonathan Edwards 27 January; Shabana Mahmood 24 January; Afzal Khan 9 January; Tanmanjeet Singh Desai 9 January; Fiona Bruce 8 January; Lord Alton 8 January; Lord Alton 8 January; Steve Baker 19 December; Bishop of St Albans 19 December;