Last Updated: Friday, 17 November 2017, 15:16 GMT

USCIRF Annual Report 2005 - China

Publisher United States Commission on International Religious Freedom
Publication Date 1 May 2005
Cite as United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, USCIRF Annual Report 2005 - China, 1 May 2005, available at: [accessed 17 November 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

The Chinese government continues to engage in systematic and egregious violations of religious freedom. The State Department has stated publicly that conditions for human rights, including religious freedom, deteriorated in 2004. Chinese government officials control, monitor, and restrain the activities of all religious communities – including Uighur Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, various spiritual movements such as the Falun Gong, "underground" Catholics, and "house church" Protestants – maintaining final authority over leadership decisions and doctrinal positions. Prominent religious leaders and laypersons alike continue to be confined, tortured, imprisoned and subjected to other forms of ill treatment on account of their religion or belief. Since 1999, the Commission has recommended that China be designated as a "country of particular concern," or CPC. The State Department has followed the Commission's recommendations and named China a CPC.

In November 2004, the Chinese government announced a new set of regulations on religious affairs. Though Chinese leaders have heralded the regulations as "a significant step forward in the protection of religious freedom," the bulk of the regulations codify provisions once scattered throughout several sets of laws, ordinances, and regulations. The regulations do include several new provisions, however, including conditions under which religious organizations can provide social services in local communities, accept donations from overseas religious groups, and host inter-provincial religious meetings. The regulations also do not specify that official recognition is limited to the five "official religions" (Protestantism, Catholicism, Islam, Buddhism, and Taoism) as was the case under previous policy.

Legal and human rights experts agree that the new regulations were not issued to protect the rights and security of religious believers, but to regularize management practices, thus offering Party leaders more extensive control over all religious activity and groups. Moreover, the regulations threaten criminal punishments and civil fines for groups engaging in religious activities without having registered with the official "patriotic" religious organizations.

In May 2004, a joint document issued by the Department of Propaganda offered instructions on "integrating Marxist atheism propaganda and education" into the national education system, civil society and economic sectors, the media, and academia. Observers have suggested that this document, along with several directives to discourage "superstitious activity," represent a pointed effort on the part of the Chinese government to stem the burgeoning spread of religious belief among the Chinese people.

In the largely Uighur Muslim Xinjiang Autonomous Region, freedom of religion or belief is severely curtailed by the government, which conflates peaceful Uighur political opposition with violent separatist activities, extremism, and/or terrorism. In response to heavy pressure from the U.S. and European Union governments, Chinese authorities released Uighur businesswoman Rebiya Kadeer in March 2005, on the eve of a visit from U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Beijing. Kadeer was arrested in 1999 for trying to deliver a letter to a visiting Congressional staff delegation. The letter was critical of the Chinese government's policies in Xinjiang, including its suppression of Islam.

Since September 11, 2001, the government has used concerns about international terrorism as a pretext for the ongoing crackdown on Muslim religious leaders and activities. Uighur Muslim clerics and students have been detained for "illegal" religious activities, "illegal religious centers" have been closed, and minors have been banned from attending mosque. Growing numbers of religious leaders have received death sentences and prolonged prison terms on charges of "separatism" and "endangering social order." All imams in Xinjiang are required to undergo yearly political training seminars, and local security forces maintain a dossier on each to make sure they meet political requirements.

An April 2005 report from Human Rights Watch notes that Xinjiang has experienced at least nine separate campaigns to root out "illegal religious activities," including last year's "strike hard campaign against separatism, religious extremism and terrorism." Such themes were echoed in a March 2005 speech from Politburo Member Luo Gan in a call "to be vigilant against separatist ... activities [and] immediately strike at any attempts discovered." The Human Rights Watch report documents that provincial level directives prohibit participation of minors in religious activity or education. Also, daily prayers, wearing of head coverings, distribution of religious materials, and the observance of Ramadan are cited as "disruptive" activities for Party Members. Teachers, professors, university students, and other government employees are prohibited from engaging in these activities.

The Chinese government retains tight control over religious activity and places of worship in Tibet. The religious activities of monks and nuns are tightly controlled, monasteries are administrated by government-approved management committees, and the Communist Party interferes in the selection and training of reincarnate lamas. The Chinese government admits that more than 100 Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns are being held in prison. Tibetan human rights groups agree with this figure and claim that the prisoners are subject to torture and other ill-treatment. There have been several high-profile amnesties of Tibetan Buddhists, however, in the past several years. In February 2004, authorities released Phuntsog Nyidrol, a nun who had been held in Drapchi Prison since 1989. However, human rights organizations report that Phuntsog Nyidrol remains under strict surveillance and the Chinese authorities have imposed restrictions on her freedom of movement and association. Nevertheless, neither recent prisoner releases nor renewed contact between China and the Dalai Lama's representatives have brought any significant changes to the government's overall policy of strict control over religion in Tibet.

The Chinese government continues to deny repeated international requests for access to the 16-year old boy whom the Dalai Lama designated as the 11th Panchen Lama. Government officials have stated that he is being "held for his own safety," while also claiming that another boy, of their choosing, is the "true" Panchen Lama. In October 2004, Radio Free Asia reported that police in Qinghai shot and killed a Tibetan monk following a dispute over compensation for medical injuries suffered while in custody. In January 2003, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was arrested for a 2002 bombing incident and later sentenced to death. U.S. officials were promised that the evidence used to convict Tenzin Delek would be reviewed by the Supreme People's Court. After two years, the case has never been reviewed, though Tenzin Delek's death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in January 2005. In October 2003, another monk, Nyima Dragpa, died, reportedly as a result of repeated torture while serving a nine-year sentence for advocating Tibetan independence.

Beginning with the banning of Falun Gong in 1999, the Chinese government has continued to carry out a campaign against what it calls "evil cults" and "heretical sects." Thousands of Falun Gong practitioners have been sent to labor camps without trial or sent to mental health institutions for re-education due to their affiliation with an "evil cult." Falun Gong practitioners claim that between 1,000 to 2,000 practitioners have been killed as a result of police brutality. Given the lack of judicial transparency, the number and treatment of Falun Gong practitioners in confinement is difficult to confirm. Nevertheless, there is substantial evidence from foreign diplomats, international human rights groups, and human rights activists in Hong Kong that the crackdowns on the Falun Gong are widespread and violent. In addition, the Chinese government has reportedly continued to pressure foreign businesses in China to sign statements denouncing the Falun Gong and to discriminate against its followers in hiring. Local officials in foreign countries have also stated that they were warned by Chinese diplomatic personnel about the loss of potential business contacts if they continued to advocate on behalf of Falun Gong.

The campaign against "evil cults" has, in recent years, expanded beyond the Falun Gong and similar groups to religious communities that are not part of the officially-sanctioned religious organizations. This campaign has targeted leaders and members of newer as well as long-established Protestant and Catholic groups that, for various reasons, have refused to register with the government. Religious leaders have been imprisoned and followers detained and fined for "cultist activity." For example, Pastor Gong Shengliang of the unregistered South China Church – sentenced to death for founding an "evil cult" and on questionable charges of sexual violence – remains in prison, where he continues to be 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.

The government also continues its repression of the unregistered Roman Catholic Church in China, which maintains its allegiance to the Vatican. There are at least 20 Catholic bishops or priests under arrest, imprisoned or detained, including Bishop Su Zhimin, who has been in prison, in detention, under house arrest, or under strict surveillance since the 1970s. Clergy in Hebei, Fujian, and Heilongjiang provinces were harassed, detained, and arrested during the past year. In October 2003, Hebei provincial officials reportedly arrested 12 Catholic priests and seminarians attending a religious retreat. In August 2004, Bishop Gao Kexian died of unknown causes in a prison where he had been since 1997. In September 2004, the Vatican issued a statement condemning the arrest of eight priests and two seminarians during a religious gathering in Hebei. In April 2005, one week after the death of Pope John Paul II, authorities in Hebei arrested a bishop and two priests, reportedly for their continued refusal to register with the Patriotic Catholic Church.

Conditions for unregistered Protestant groups have deteriorated in the last year. According to the State Department, in some regions of China, members of Protestant house church groups that refuse to register, on either theological or political grounds, are subject to intimidation, extortion, harassment, detention, and the closing of their churches. Over a period of six months during 2004, the Chinese government carried out large-scale raids on several meetings of house church pastors in various parts of the country. More than 100 pastors were arrested, briefly detained, and then released, in Heilongjiang in April, in Hubei in June, in Xinjiang in July, and in Henan Province in August. At least 18 pastors remain in custody from the series of mass arrests. In September 2003, house church historian Zhang Yinan was arrested along with approximately 100 others in Nanyang, Henan Province, and was subsequently sentenced to two years of "re-education" through labor. In November 2004, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention reviewed Zhang's case and found that his detention was indeed arbitrary. In August 2004, house church activists Liu Fenggang, Xu Yonghai, and Zhang Shengqi were sentenced to prison terms ranging from one to three years for sending materials on persecution of Christians in China to organizations in the United States. In June 2004, a Chinese newspaper reported that a woman in Guizhou died in police custody and that her body showed signs of torture. The paper stated that she was detained for distributing Bibles.

In March 2005, the State Department announced that it would not introduce a resolution at the UN Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR), citing "significant steps" taken by the Chinese government to address "structural issues concerning human rights." Among the steps mentioned by the State Department was a public announcement by the Chinese government that "religious education of minors is consistent with Chinese law and policy" and new regulations that exempt small family or home worship activities from governmental registration. These are concerns that this Commission has repeatedly raised in the past; yet, it is too soon to determine whether there will be any substantive impact from these steps. The Commission will continue to monitor the actions of the Chinese government and report on whether the cited "significant steps" lead to any measurable progress in the protection of the freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief.

In addition to the steps mentioned above, the State Department also cited as evidence of progress invitations from the Chinese government to the UN Special Rapporteurs on Torture and on Freedom of Religion or Belief, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, and the High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit China in 2005. Similar promises were mentioned the last time the United States decided to forgo a resolution on China at the 2003 session of the UNCHR. Later that year, however, promised visits by this Commission and various UN thematic mechanisms were cancelled or postponed by the Chinese government.

The Commission received an invitation to visit China in 2005. Previous Commission attempts to visit China were postponed at the last minute due to unacceptable conditions placed on the trips by the Chinese government. In August 2003, the Chinese government insisted that the Commission remove Hong Kong from its itinerary. In December 2003, the Chinese government agreed to allow the Commission a stopover in Hong Kong, but insisted it hold no meetings. These conditions were unacceptable, as they violated the "one country, two system" concept that ensures Hong Kong's autonomy under Chinese sovereignty. In January 2004, a Commission delegation traveled to Hong Kong and, with the permission of the Hong Kong government, held meetings with religious leaders, China experts, human rights advocates, and members of the Legislative Council. The conditions of Hong Kong's autonomy are of critical concern in order for Hong Kong to preserve the ability to pursue human rights policies and practices that are independent from Beijing.

In November 2004, the Commission convened a forum focusing on the future of the bilateral human rights dialogues between China and other nations. Several speakers who attended the forum had participated in bilateral human rights dialogues between China and the United States, Canada, Switzerland, and Denmark. Participants discussed ways to make the dialogues more effective by ensuring that the dialogue process and the effort to promote religious freedom and other human rights become more fully integrated into the U.S.-Chinese relationship. Also in November, Commission Chair Preeta D. Bansal testified at a hearing before the Congressional Executive Commission on China entitled "Religious Freedom in China."

In the past year, the Commission and its staff have met with Chinese human rights and religious leaders representing Buddhists, Muslims, Protestants, Catholics, and various spiritual movements, including Falun Gong.

In addition to recommending that China be designated as a CPC, the Commission has recommended that the U.S. government should:

  • urge the Chinese government to a) 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; b) respect fully the universality of the right to freedom of religion or belief and other human rights; and c) ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;
  • raise Chinese human rights abuses in multilateral fora, including, as appropriate, through seeking resolutions at the UN Commission on Human Rights or other international and multi-national fora, and ensure that when the United States pursues such measures, preparations should be pursued at appropriately high levels;
  • organize annual or regular meetings of the 15 nations with technical assistance and human rights programs in China in order to coordinate programs already in place, share "best practices," and improve existing and new assistance programs;
  • provide new incentives, including breaks on Export-Import Loans and OPIC insurance rates, to U.S. companies whose conduct and business practices promote and protect international standards of human rights, including the promotion of the freedom of religion or belief;
  • 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;
  • continue to expand public diplomacy efforts in China by:
    • raising the profile of the conditions of Uighur Muslims by addressing religious freedom and human rights concerns in bilateral talks, increasing the number of educational opportunities in the United States available to Uighurs, establishing technical assistance programs to create legal clinics serving Uighurs, and increasing radio broadcasts in the Uighur language;
    • supporting 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 or 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, including upholding the freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief, by:
    • opposing the introduction of any "national security" provision to Hong Kong's Basic Law that would suppress internationally recognized human rights, including the right to freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression; and
    • urging the Chinese government to uphold the "one country, two systems" concept by allowing the Hong Kong people and their elected government officials to have the decisive voice in the determination of the pace and scope of advances toward direct elections.

In addition, the Commission has recommended that the Congress should:

  • require the State Department to submit an annual report to the appropriate Congressional committees detailing issues discussed at the previous year's U.S. human rights dialogue with China and describing the progress made by the government of China toward a series of "benchmarks" specified by the Congress; and
  • authorize additional funds for the State Department's Human Rights and Democracy Program to initiate new human rights and rule of law programs on freedom of religion or belief, targeting both religious and ethnic minorities. Funding should be commensurate to ongoing rule of law programs funded by the State Department for Chinese workers, women, and public interest law training.

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