The Chinese government continues to engage in particularly severe violations of religious freedom. The State Department has stated publicly that conditions of human rights, including religious freedom, deteriorated in 2003. Moreover, the Chinese government has not fulfilled commitments it made during the December 2002 U.S.-China Bilateral Human Rights Dialogue. 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. For the last four years, 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 the last year, the Chinese government has expanded its campaign against "evil cults" and "heretical sects." Since 1999, the Chinese government has labeled the Falun Gong and similar groups as "cults," effectively banning them and "justifying" its ongoing brutal crackdown. There are allegations that hundreds of Falun Gong practitioners have been sent to labor camps without trial or been sent to mental health institutions for re-education. Falun Gong practitioners claim that 430 practitioners have been killed as a result of police brutality. According to the Falun Gong, the Chinese government has continued to pressure foreign businesses in China to discriminate against its followers. Many local officials in foreign countries have also stated that they have received warnings from Chinese diplomatic personnel to stop their advocacy on behalf of Falun Gong and its practitioners.

The Chinese government's campaign against evil cults has reportedly expanded beyond the Falun Gong and similar groups to those who are not part of the officially-sanctioned religious organizations. This includes both newer and long-established Protestant and Catholic churches and leaders who, for various reasons, refuse to register with the government. Religious leaders have been imprisoned and followers detained and fined for "cultist activity."

The Chinese government retains tight control over religious activity and places of worship in Tibet. In 2002-2003, several prominent Tibetan Buddhists were released from imprisonment. However, neither those actions nor renewed contact between China and the Dalai Lama's representatives have brought any significant changes to the government's overall policy of control over religion. The Chinese government admits there are over one hundred Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns 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. In January 2003, at the conclusion of the December 2002 Bilateral Human Rights Dialogue, a local court sentenced Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist monk, and Lobsang Dondrup to death for their alleged involvement in a bombing incident in Sichuan province in April 2002. Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche's death sentence was eventually suspended, but Lobsang Dondrup was executed, despite assurances to senior U.S. officials that the cases would be referred to China's Supreme Court. 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. In addition, the Chinese government continues to deny repeated requests for access to the 15-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 is the true Panchen Lama.

In largely Muslim Xinjiang province, freedom of religion and belief is reportedly severely curtailed by the government, which often alleges that Uighur Muslim religious expression is linked to "separatist" or "terrorist" acts. 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. The campaign against Muslims in Xinjiang intensified in January 2003, 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. Authorities reportedly prohibit the teaching of Islam to children under the age of 18 and have established prohibitions on minors entering mosques. In addition to the restrictions on minors, the government allegedly does not allow teachers, professors, university students, and Party members to practice their faith openly.

The government also continues its repression of the Roman Catholic Church in China. 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. According to the State Department, in some regions of China, members of Protestant house church groups, who refuse to register, are subject to intimidation, extortion, harassment, detention, and the closing of their churches. In the last year, 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. In addition, 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.

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. In the last year, local officials in Zhejiang province reportedly destroyed as many as 400 churches, temples, and shrines.

The Commission has been very active with regard to China. In March and July 2003, the Commission convened two China Religious roundtables with representatives of the Administration, Members of Congress, congressional staff, academic experts, and representatives of religious groups and other non-governmental organizations to discuss U.S. efforts to advance religious freedom in China. The July roundtable specifically focused on Uighur Muslims.

In July, the Commission publicly criticized the proposed amendments to Article 23 of Hong Kong's constitution, the Basic Law. If enacted, Article 23 would undermine Hong Kong's autonomy by forcing its laws to conform to those in Mainland China, where the legal system has permitted the systematic misuse of "national security" concerns to suppress political dissent and religious activities. The Commission is concerned that implementation of Article 23 would threaten the human rights, including religious freedom, of all Hong Kong residents.

Also in July, Commission Vice Chair Felice D. Gaer testified at the Congressional-Executive Commission on China's hearing on "Will Religion Flourish under China's New Leadership?"

In preparation for President Bush's meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabo in December 2003, the Commission wrote the President urging him to raise the issue of religious freedom during the visit. Both President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell referred publicly to religious freedom during their speeches and statements in conjunction with this visit.

Commission visits planned for August and later December 2003 were both postponed due to unacceptable conditions placed by the Chinese government. In August, the Chinese government insisted that the Commission remove Hong Kong from its itinerary. In December, the Chinese government agreed to allow the Commission to visit Hong Kong, but insisted it hold no meetings. These conditions were unacceptable because both appeared to violate the "one country, two system" concept that ensures Hong Kong's autonomy under Chinese sovereignty. In January 2004, a delegation of Commissioners and staff traveled to Hong Kong to hold meetings with religious leaders, experts, and human rights advocates. The Commission will continue to press for a visit to the People's Republic of China.

In March 2004, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed H.Res. 530, sponsored by Congressman Christopher Smith. The resolution urges that the appropriate representative of the United States to the 60th Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights introduce a resolution calling upon China to end its human rights violations, including religious oppression. The forced cancellations of the Commissions' two trips to China were mentioned in the congressional resolution and in several floor speeches during House passage of the legislation.

The Commission has met with Chinese human rights and religious leaders including those 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:

  • 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.

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