The Chinese government remains a particularly severe violator of religious freedom. Persons continue to be confined, tortured, imprisoned, and subject to other forms of ill treatment on account of their religion or belief. Groups subject to such repressive acts include Protestant Christians, Roman Catholics, Tibetan Buddhists, Uighur Muslims, and others, such as members of Falun Gong, that the government has labeled "evil cults." In fact, in the past year, official respect for religious freedom in China has diminished. Chinese government officials have continued to claim the right to control, monitor, and restrain religious practice in that country, purportedly to protect public safety, order, health, and so forth. As part of China's crackdown on religious and spiritual believers, individuals have been charged with, or detained under suspicion of, offenses that essentially penalize them for manifesting freedoms of religion or belief, speech, association, or assembly. In addition, several prominent religious leaders have been detained, often on reportedly dubious criminal charges, such as rape and other sexual violence, or financial crimes. The crackdown against religious believers was authorized at the highest levels of the government, according to reportedly official documents obtained by human rights nongovernmental organizations.
In December 2001, for the first time since the adoption of the 1999 "evil cult" law, a Protestant Christian pastor was sentenced to death. Pastor Gong Shengliang of the underground "South China Church" was sentenced to death for founding an "evil cult"; he was also sentenced on the reportedly questionable charges of assault and sexual violence. More than 200 members of the South China Church were arrested at the same time as Pastor Gong. In July 2002, three priests affiliated with the underground Roman Catholic Church were reportedly sentenced to three years in a labor camp after having been convicted of engaging in "cult" activities. In February 2002, the Vatican released the names of 33 bishops and priests it claimed to be in detention or under strict police surveillance.
Since October 2001, the political crackdown has intensified in the province of Xinjiang, where dozens of Muslim clerics and students were reportedly detained or arrested for "illegal" religious activities. It was also reported that in early November 2001, police closed down 13 "illegal religious centers" and arrested more than 50 people worshiping there. In December 2001, nine Muslims were arrested for "illegal preaching." In March 2002, authorities reportedly arrested scores of Muslims for "separatism" and illegal religious activities.
The Chinese government retains tight control over religious activity and places of worship in Tibet. Hundreds of Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns remain in prison and are reportedly subject to torture and other extreme forms of punishment, while others have been executed without due process. Tibetan monks and nuns are required to undergo "patriotic education," and monks are forced to renounce their spiritual leaders, the Dalai Lama and the Dalai Lama-recognized Panchen Lama. The Chinese government has denied repeated requests, including from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, for access to the 12-year-old boy whom the Dalai Lama recognizes as the 11th Panchen Lama. Government officials have stated that he is being "held for his own safety," while at the same time insisting that another boy is the true Panchen Lama. On a positive note, on March 31, 2002, the Chinese government released Tanag Jigme Zangpo, the longest-serving Tibetan political prisoner (nearly 40 years), which followed the release of five other Tibetan political prisoners. In January 2003, the Chinese government executed Lobsang Dondrup, a Tibetan man, for his alleged involvement in an April 2002 bombing incident, despite reassurances given the previous month to U.S. officials attending the bilateral human rights dialogue that his case, as well as that of a Tibetan Buddhist monk also sentenced to death, would be reviewed.
The Chinese government has also continued its brutal crackdown against the Falun Gong movement and its followers. According to Falun Gong practitioners in the United States, in the last three years, over 100,000 practitioners have been sent to labor camps without trial, over 1,000 have been tortured in mental hospitals, and from that group, 430 have been killed as a result of police brutality. The Chinese government's crackdown against Falun Gong has apparently extended beyond its own borders. Many elected local U.S. officials also stated that they had received warnings from Chinese diplomatic personnel in the United States to withdraw their support of Falun Gong and its practitioners. On August 9, 2002, the Cambodian government, under pressure from the Chinese Embassy in Cambodia, deported two Chinese practitioners who had been designated as refugees by the UN High Commission for Refugees. In 2003, the Chinese government sentenced Charles Li, a U.S. citizen and Falun Gong practitioner, to three years in prison for alleged interference with Chinese television broadcasts.