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U.S. Department of State, International Religious Freedom Report 2009 – China, October 26, 2009

The U.S. Congress mandates that the State Department prepare an annual report on religious freedom around the world.
October 26, 2009

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Executive Summary
The Constitution states that Chinese citizens "enjoy freedom of religious belief." It also bans the state, public organizations, and individuals from compelling citizens to believe in, or not to believe in, any religion. The Constitution and laws protect only "normal religious activities" that are overseen by the five (Buddhist, Taoist, Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant) state-sanctioned "patriotic religious associations" (PRAs). Officials have wide latitude to interpret the phrase "normal religious activities." By law only the PRAs may register religious groups and places of worship. The Government permits proselytism in registered places of worship and in private settings, but does not permit it in public, in unregistered places of worship, or by foreigners. The Constitution states that religious bodies and affairs are not "subject to any foreign domination" and affirms the leading role of the officially atheist Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

The Government took rhetorical steps to promote religious activity within the framework of the PRAs. The Government's repression of religious freedom also remained severe in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) and other Tibetan areas as well as in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) during the reporting period. In its new National Human Rights Action Plan, the Government reinforced comments President Hu Jintao made on religion in his 2007 speech to the 17th CCP National People's Congress (NPC). The plan stated that the Government would "encourage and support religious circles in launching social welfare programs [and] exploring methods and channels for religions to better serve society and promote the people's well-being." The Government did not indicate whether these statements would apply to unregistered religious groups that were not affiliated with the PRAs.

Government officials allowed increased space for some unregistered religious groups it viewed as non-threatening. A branch of the State Council also held an unprecedented meeting with a delegation of "house church" leaders. The house church leaders requested that the Government allow registration independent of the PRAs. Several Chinese academics supported the request. The ability of unregistered religious groups to operate varied greatly depending on their location. Officials in some areas detained Protestant and Catholic believers who attended unregistered groups, while those in other areas did little to interfere with the worship or social service activities of such groups. Unregistered Protestant religious groups in Beijing also reported that the Government closely monitored their activities during the period surrounding the 2008 Summer Olympic Games and sensitive anniversaries, such as the twentieth anniversary of the June 4, 1989, Tiananmen Square crackdown on democracy protests. Some unregistered house churches in Beijing reported that they were asked to stop meeting during the Olympics.

The Government repressed the religious activities of "underground" Roman Catholic clergy 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 also continued to restrict severely the activities of groups it designated as "evil religions," including several Christian groups and Falun Gong.

The Government took cautious measures to promote Buddhism, Taoism, and some folk religions within the framework of the PRAs. For example, in March 2009 the Buddhist Association of China co-organized the Second World Buddhist Forum in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province. During such conferences the Government promoted its religious policies by including speakers such as CCP United Front Work Department (UFWD) head Du Qinglin and Bainqen Erdini Qoigyijabu (born Gyaltsen Norbu), whom the Government recognizes as the 11th Panchen Lama.

In contrast, religious adherents in the XUAR, TAR and other Tibetan areas continued to suffer severe restrictions on religious activity, as a consequence of the Government's tendency to conflate concerns about separatism and religious extremism with peaceful expressions of religious beliefs and political views. In the XUAR, the Government's concerns also included terrorism. Ethnic Tibetans and Uighurs had difficulty obtaining passports from the Government, which limited their ability to travel abroad for religious purposes.

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 did Buddhists in other parts of the country. Restrictions on religious practices remained tight in the TAR and other Tibetan areas following the outbreak of widespread unrest in March 2008. The Government continued "patriotic education" campaigns that included requiring monks and nuns to sign statements personally denouncing the Dalai Lama. Other restrictions on religious freedom also continued. (See separate appendix for additional reporting).

Both Uighur Muslims and Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns reported they faced increased societal discrimination around sensitive periods like the August 2008 Olympic Games, including from Beijing hotelkeepers who denied them lodging.

The U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, and Consulates General in Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Shenyang, and Wuhan 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 religious practices and that contributed to tensions. During the August 2008 Olympic Games, President Bush raised religious freedom issues in meetings with Chinese leaders and attended services at a registered Protestant church in Beijing. In February 2009, Secretary of State Clinton also visited a Protestant church in Beijing and discussed religious freedom with Chinese leaders. In May 2009, Speaker of the House of Representatives Pelosi raised religious freedom concerns and attended Mass at a registered Catholic church in Shanghai. 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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