We remember Michael Parks, who covered China for the Baltimore Sun and as the Bureau Chief for the Los Angeles Times.
U.S. Department of State, International Religious Freedom Report 2015 – China
The U.S. Congress mandates that the State Department prepare an annual report on religious freedom around the world.
In 2014, the Chinese government took steps to consolidate further its authoritarian monopoly of power over all aspects of its citizens’ lives. For religious freedom, this has meant unprecedented violations against Uighur Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, Catholics, Protestants, and Falun Gong practitioners. People of faith continue to face arrests, fines, denials of justice, lengthy prison sentences, and in some cases, the closing or bulldozing of places of worship. Based on the alarming increase in systematic, egregious, and ongoing abuses, USCIRF again recommends China be designated a “country of particular concern,” or CPC, under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). The State Department has designated China as a CPC since 1999, most recently in July 2014.
The Chinese Constitution states that it guarantees freedom of religion. However, only so-called “normal religions” – those belonging to one of the five state-sanctioned “patriotic religious associations” associated with the five officially-recognized religions (Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism, and Protestantism) – can register with the government and legally hold worship services and conduct religious activities. The government and Chinese Communist Party are officially atheist, with more than 700 million persons unaffiliated with any religion or belief. However, religious followers are strong and reportedly on the rise:
more than 294 million practice folk religions, more than 240 million Buddhism, 68 million Christianity, and nearly 25 million Islam. The Chinese government monitors strictly religious activities, including by those recognized by the state, but unregistered groups and their members are especially vulnerable. For example, although Christianity is state-sanctioned, the government continues to engage in severe violations of religious freedom against both registered and unregistered Catholics and Protestants. Some have characterized the new wave of persecution against Christians that swept through China in 2014 as the most egregious and persistent since the Cultural Revolution. Nevertheless, the number of religious followers, of Christianity in particular, is considered to be growing.
In the name of fighting terrorism, Chinese officials’ increased religious persecution of Uighur Muslims in the autonomous region of Xinjiang has gone hand-in-hand with the growing number of violent episodes there, creating a perpetual cycle of government repression, violent Uighur reprisals, and deadly force by the Chinese police. Both central and regional government officials have undertaken pre-emptive security and punitive legal measures.
The Chinese communist regime, which celebrated its 65th anniversary in October 2014, views ideologies that promote freedom of speech, civil society, genuine rule of law, and human rights as directly undermining its control. As a result, all-around repression in China worsened in 2014, including the government’s aggressiveness in controlling Tibet, Xinjiang, and even Hong Kong, as well as stricter controls on the Internet and social media and targeting of human rights defenders, civil society activists, journalists and academics. For example, Pu Zhiqiang, a prominent human-rights lawyer, was charged in June 2014 with creating a disturbance, inciting ethnic hatred, and separatism based on his postings on Sina Weibo, a popular blog service; he was detained just prior to the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square incident. Other human rights defenders also face arbitrary detention, harassment, intimidation, or imprisonment. Another human rights lawyer, Gao Zhisheng, was finally released in August 2014 but remains under constant surveillance and has been denied freedom of movement to seek proper medical care or to be reunited with his family, who fled to the United States.