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U.S. Department of State, International Religious Freedom Report 2012 – China

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

January 1, 2013

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Executive Summary
The constitution states that Chinese citizens enjoy “freedom of religious belief” but limits protections for religious practice to “normal religious activities.” The government applies this term in a manner that does not meet international human rights standards for freedom of religion and routinely enforces other laws that restrict religious freedom. The constitution also proclaims the right of citizens to believe in or not believe in any religion. However, only religious groups belonging to one of the five state-sanctioned “patriotic religious associations” (Buddhist, Taoist, Muslim, Roman Catholic, and Protestant) are permitted to register with the government and legally hold worship services. The government’s respect for religious freedom declined during the year, particularly in Tibetan areas and the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR).

The government emphasized state control over religion and restricted the activities and personal freedom of religious adherents when these were perceived, even potentially, to threaten state or Chinese Communist Party (CCP) interests, including social stability. Local authorities often pressured unaffiliated religious believers to affiliate with patriotic associations and used a variety of means, including administrative detention, to punish members of unregistered religious or spiritual groups. In some parts of the country, however, local authorities tacitly approved of or did not interfere with the activities of unregistered groups. In February the State Administration of Religious Affairs (SARA) and five other organs jointly published an opinion supporting religious organizations’ involvement in disaster relief and social service activities, ostensibly opening new avenues for faith-based organizations to provide aid to the public.

There were reports of societal and employment discrimination based on religious affiliation, ethnicity, belief, or practice. Both Uighur Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists reported increased societal discrimination, especially around sensitive periods.

The Department of State, the embassy, and consulates general in Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Shenyang, and Wuhan have repeatedly and publicly expressed concerns and pressed for the expansion of religious freedom in China. U.S. officials consistently urged the government to adhere to internationally recognized rights of religious freedom, protested abuses of religious freedom, acknowledged positive trends, and met with members of religious communities, including those being persecuted for their beliefs. The embassy protested the imprisonment of individuals on charges related to their religious practices and other abuses of religious freedom. The Department of State also brought religious leaders and scholars to the United States to deepen their understanding of the role of religion in American society. Since 1999 the secretary of state has designated the country as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) for particularly severe violations of religious freedom. In August 2011, the secretary of state redesignated the country as a CPC.