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U.S. Department of State, International Religious Freedom Report 2007 – China
The Constitution states that citizens enjoy freedom of religious belief and the freedom not to believe in any religion. The Constitution limits protection of the exercise of religious belief to activities which it defines as "normal." The Constitution states that religious bodies and affairs are not to be "subject to any foreign domination." The law also prohibits proselytism.
The Government restricted religious practice largely to government-sanctioned organizations and registered places of worship and controlled growth and scope of activities of both registered and unregistered religious groups, including "house churches." The Government tried to control and regulate the growth of religious groups that could constitute sources of authority outside of the control of the Government and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Nonetheless, membership in many religious groups was growing rapidly.
During the period covered by this report, the Government's respect for freedom of religion remained poor, especially for religious groups and spiritual movements that are not registered with the Government. The Government expelled several foreign citizens on charges of conducting "illegal religious activities" by proselytizing in the spring of 2007. According to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), religious organizations, and house church groups, over one hundred were expelled. The Government also questioned house church leaders about connections with foreigners and plans to disrupt the Olympics. Some of these groups alleged that these incidents were part of a coordinated government campaign to repress religious expression. The Government also continued to emphasize the role of religion in building a "Harmonious Society," which was a positive development with regard to the Government's respect for religious freedom.
Members of many unregistered religious groups of various faiths reported that the Government subjected them to restrictions, including intimidation, harassment, and detention. Some unregistered religious groups were pressured to register as "meeting points" of government-sanctioned "patriotic" religious associations (PRAs) linked to the five main religions--Buddhism, Islam, Taoism, Catholicism, and Protestantism. The treatment of unregistered groups varied significantly from region to region.
Religious worship in officially sanctioned and unregistered places of worship continued to grow throughout the country. The extent of religious freedom varied widely within the country. For example, officials in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (Xinjiang) tightly controlled religious activity, while elsewhere in the country Muslims enjoyed greater religious freedom. Despite Government statements that minors are free to receive religious training that does not interfere with their secular education, authorities in some areas of Xinjiang failed to enforce these protections and reportedly prevented minors from receiving religious education outside the home. Followers of Tibetan Buddhism, including in the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region and Tibetan areas of the country (see separate appendix), also faced more restrictions on their religious practice and ability to organize than Buddhists in other parts of the country.
There were many reports of repression of unregistered Protestant church networks and house churches during the reporting period. The national religious affairs ministry, known as State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA), stated that friends and family holding prayer meetings at home need not register with the Government, but the regulations on religious affairs (RRA) state that formal worship should take place only in government-approved venues. There were many reports that police and officials of local Religious Affairs Bureaus (RABs) interfered with house church meetings, sometimes accusing the house church of disturbing neighbors or disrupting social order. Police sometimes detained worshippers attending such services for hours or days and prevented further house worship in the venues. Police interrogated both laypeople and their leaders about their activities at the meeting sites, in hotel rooms, and in detention centers. Leaders sometimes faced harsher treatment, including detention, formal arrest and sentencing to reeducation or imprisonment. Treatment of unregistered groups varied regionally. For example, local officials in Henan Province mistreated unregistered Protestants, and local officials in Hebei Province tightly controlled Roman Catholics loyal to the Vatican.
Some "underground" Catholic bishops also faced repression, in large part due to their avowed loyalty to the Vatican, which the Government accused of interfering in the country's internal affairs.
The Government continued its repression of groups that it designated as "cults," which included several Christian groups and the Falun Gong. The Government has never publicly defined the criteria which it uses for designating a religious group a "cult." Falun Gong practitioners continued to face arrest, detention, and imprisonment, and there were credible reports of deaths due to torture and abuse. Practitioners who refuse to recant their beliefs are sometimes subjected to harsh treatment in prisons, reeducation through labor camps, and extra-judicial "legal education" centers. Some practitioners who recanted their beliefs returned from detention. Reports of abuse were difficult to confirm within the country and the group engaged in almost no public activity. There were continuing reports that the Government's "610 office," a state security agency implicated in many alleged abuses of Falun Gong practitioners, continued to use extra-legal methods of repression.
There were some reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious belief or practice. Religious and ethnic minority groups, such as Tibetans and Uighurs, experienced societal discrimination not only because of their religious beliefs but also because of their status as ethnic minorities with languages and cultures different from the typically wealthier Han Chinese.
The U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, and the consulates general in Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Shenyang made concerted efforts to encourage greater religious freedom in the country. U.S. officials condemned abuses while supporting positive trends within the country. In Washington and in Beijing, U.S. officials positively noted the Government's engagement of religious citizens in building a "Harmonious Society," the state's campaign to alleviate social tensions, and encouraged the Government to engage unregistered religious groups as well as registered religious groups in providing voluntary aid to meet the country's social and economic needs. U.S. officials continued to urge the Government to show greater respect for citizens' constitutional and internationally recognized rights to exercise their religious beliefs. U.S. officials protested the imprisonment of and asked for further information about numerous individual religious prisoners.
Since 1999, the Secretary of State has designated China a "Country of Particular Concern" (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) for particularly severe violations of religious freedom.
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