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U.S. Department of State, International Religious Freedom Report 2008 – China, September 19, 2008

The U.S. Congress mandates that the State Department prepare an annual report on religious freedom around the world.
September 19, 2008

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Executive Summary
The Constitution and laws provide for freedom of religious belief and the freedom not to believe, although the Constitution only protects religious activities defined by the state as "normal." The Constitution states that religious bodies and affairs are not to be "subject to any foreign domination," and that the individual exercise of rights "may not infringe upon the interests of the state." The Constitution also recognizes the leading role of the officially atheist Chinese Communist Party.

The Government restricted legal religious practice to government-sanctioned organizations and registered religious groups and places of worship, and sought to control the growth and scope of the activity of both registered and unregistered religious groups, including "house churches." Government authorities limited proselytism, particularly by foreigners and unregistered religious groups, but permitted proselytism in state-approved religious venues and private settings.

During the period covered by this report, the Government's repression of religious freedom intensified in some areas, including in Tibetan areas and in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR). Unregistered Protestant religious groups in Beijing reported intensified harassment from government authorities in the lead up to the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. Media and China-based sources reported that municipal authorities in Beijing closed some house churches or asked them to stop meeting during the 2008 Summer Olympic Games and Paralympic Games. During the reporting period, officials detained and interrogated several foreigners about their religious activities and in several cases alleged that the foreigners had engaged in "illegal religious activities" and cancelled their visas. Media reported that the total number of expatriates expelled by the Government due to concerns about their religious activities exceeded one hundred. Officials in the XUAR, the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), and other Tibetan areas tightly controlled religious activity. The Government sought the forcible return of several Uighur Muslims living abroad, some of whom had reportedly protested restrictions on the Hajj and encouraged other Muslims to pray and fast during Ramadan. Followers of Tibetan Buddhism, including those in the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region and most Tibetan autonomous areas, faced more restrictions on their religious practice and ability to organize than Buddhists in other parts of the country. "Patriotic education" campaigns in the TAR and other Tibetan regions, which required monks and nuns to sign statements personally denouncing the Dalai Lama, and other new restrictions on religious freedom were major factors that led monks and nuns to mount peaceful protests at a number of monasteries on March 10, 2008. The protests and subsequent security response gave way to violence in Lhasa by March 14 and 15 (see separate appendix for additional reporting). "Underground" Roman Catholic clergy 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 to repress groups that it designated as "cults," which included several Christian groups and Falun Gong.

Religious and ethnic minority groups such as Tibetan Buddhists and Uighur Muslims experienced societal discrimination not only because of their religious beliefs but also because of their status as ethnic minorities with distinct languages and cultures. After the March 2008 protests in Lhasa and other Tibetan areas there were reports of increased tensions between Tibetan Buddhists and Hui Muslims.
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 and urged the Government to expand the scope of religious freedom for both registered and unregistered religious groups according to citizens' constitutional and internationally recognized rights. U.S. officials protested the imprisonment of, asked to attend the trials of, and requested further information about, numerous individual religious prisoners. U.S. officials encouraged the Government to address policies that restricted Tibetan Buddhist practices and contributed to tensions in the TAR and other Tibetan regions.
Since 1999, the Secretary of State has assigned the "Country of Particular Concern" (CPC) designation to the country under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) for particularly severe violations of religious freedom.

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