The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has called for China to be designated again on the State Department’s list of “Countries of Particular Concern” (CPCs) for religious freedom violations in the nation’s northwestern Muslim-majority province of Xinjiang, where the detention of hundreds of thousands of citizens in internment camps has drawn international condemnation.
In its 2020 annual report, released April 28, the USCIRF identified a total of 14 CPCs, including China, Burma (Myanmar), North Korea, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, for “engaging in systematic, ongoing, and egregious religious freedom violations.”
The panel cited estimates by independent experts showing that 900,000 to 1.8 million Muslim Chinese citizens have been confined in more than 1,300 concentration camps in Xinjiang.
In a three-page section of the report devoted to China, the USCIRF, a bipartisan, independent federal government watchdog, stated that religious freedom conditions in China continued to deteriorate in 2019. The panel cited estimates by independent experts showing that 900,000 to 1.8 million Muslim Chinese citizens have been confined in more than 1,300 concentration camps in Xinjiang.
“Individuals have been sent to the camps for wearing long beards, refusing alcohol, or other behaviors authorities deem to be signs of ‘religious extremism,’” the report said. “Former detainees report that they suffered torture, rape, sterilization, and other abuses.” Additionally, “nearly half a million Muslim children have been separated from their families and placed in boarding schools,” the report said, adding that the concentration camps have “increasingly transitioned from reeducation to forced labor as detainees were forced to work in cotton and textile factories.”Outside the camps, Chinese authorities have “continued to deploy officials to live with Muslim families and to report on any signs of ‘extremist’ religious behavior,” the report noted. “Meanwhile, authorities in Xinjiang and other parts of China have destroyed or damaged thousands of mosques and removed Arabic-language signs from Muslim businesses.”
“Monks and nuns who refused to denounce the
Dalai Lama have been expelled from their monasteries, imprisoned, and tortured.”
In Tibet, 850 miles away, Chinese authorities have “continued to pursue a strategy of forced assimilation and suppression of Tibetan Buddhism,” the report said. As an example of that trend, the watchdog pointed to Chinese “laws designed to control the next reincarnation of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and those of other Tibetan eminent lamas.”
“Monks and nuns who refused to denounce the Dalai Lama have been expelled from their monasteries, imprisoned, and tortured,” the report said, adding that in the summer of 2019, 6,000 monks and nuns were displaced when authorities demolished thousands of residences at the Yachen Gar Tibetan Buddhist center in Sichuan Province.
“Authorities also intensified a crackdown on possessing or displaying photos of the Dalai Lama, continued to monitor religious festivals, and, in some areas, banned students from attending festivals during their school holidays,” according to the report. “In protest of repressive government policies, at least 156 Tibetans have self-immolated since February 2009.”
Persecution of Christians in China also continues unabated, the report observed. Authorities raided or shut down hundreds of Protestant house churches last year, harassing and detaining bishops, including those who refused to join the state-affiliated Catholic association.
Local governments in several cities offered cash bounties to informers who helped authorities locate underground churches, the report said, adding that “authorities across the country have removed crosses from churches, banned youth under the age of 18 from participating in religious services, and replaced images of Jesus Christ or the Virgin Mary with pictures of President Xi Jinping.”
The USCIRF also cited reports testifying to the arrests last year of thousands of practitioners of Falun Gong for performing the Chinese religious practice’s meditation exercises or distributing literature about the movement’s beliefs. “Human rights advocates and scientists presented evidence that the practice of harvesting organs from prisoners—many of whom are believed to be Falun Gong practitioners—continued on a significant scale,” the report said.
Among other concerns highlighted in the annual report, the Chinese government is presiding over a high-tech surveillance state in which facial recognition technologies and artificial intelligence are regularly used to monitor religious minorities.
“On April 1, a new regulation requiring religious venues to have legal representatives and professional accountants went into effect,” the report noted, adding that “smaller religious venues, especially in rural areas, found these requirements impossible to fulfill.”
The annual report recommended that the U.S. administration impose targeted sanctions on those in the Chinese government responsible for severe violations of religious freedoms.
The most notable official against whom the watchdog has urged action is Xinjiang Communist Party Secretary Chen Quanguo, who served as party secretary for five years in neighboring Tibet until he was moved to the Muslim-majority province in 2016.
The report specifically recommended that the individual overseas assets of the offending Chinese officials be frozen and that their entry into the U.S. be barred on the grounds of explicit religious freedom violations.
From its beginnings, the Church of Scientology has recognized that freedom of religion is a fundamental human right. In a world where conflicts are often traceable to intolerance of others’ religious beliefs and practices, the Church has, for more than 50 years, made the preservation of religious liberty an overriding concern.
The Church publishes this blog to help create a better understanding of the freedom of religion and belief and provide news on religious freedom and issues affecting this freedom around the world.