Falun Gong practitioner arrested and beaten by police at Tiananmen Square (minghui)
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) today publicly released its 2016 Annual Report. This year’s report documents religious freedom violations in more than 30 countries, one of them is China.
USCIRF also recommends that the State Department re-designates as country of particular concern (CPC) nine countries including China and take additional actions to promote religious freedom.
Severe Religious Freedom Violations
China’s severe religious freedom violations continued in 2015. While the Chinese government sought to further assert itself on the global stage, at home it pursued policies to diminish the voices of individuals and organizations advocating for human rights and genuine rule of law. During the past year, as in recent years, the central and/or provincial governments continued to forcibly remove crosses and bulldoze churches; implement a discriminatory and at times violent crackdown on Uighur Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists and their rights; and harass, imprison, or otherwise detain Falun Gong practitioners, human rights defenders, and others.
The past year was marked by the Chinese government’s deliberate and unrelenting crackdown on human rights and dissent. this crackdown transpired while the government considered new laws to bolster its power and reach, such as a national security law enacted July 1 and a terrorism law adopted on December 28.
During the past year, the government increased its targeting of human rights lawyers and dissidents, some of whom advocated for religious freedom or represented individuals of various beliefs. In July, authorities across China undertook a sweeping drag- net rounding up lawyers and human rights defenders, including religious freedom advocates, with nearly 300 arrested, detained, or disappeared. Many of these individuals came under government suspicion precisely because they chose to represent politically-undesirable religious groups, such as Uighur Muslims, unregistered Christian leaders and Falun Gong practitioners. While most were released, the location of a few individuals remains unknown and additional detentions and arrests continue.
In January 2015, Chinese authorities extended their “strike hard” anti-terror campaign launched in 2014 that imposed wide-scale restrictions against Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang. In addition to increased arrests for alleged terrorist activities and the presence of additional troops, security forces reportedly closed religious schools and local authorities continued to crack down on various forms of allegedly “extremist” religious expression, such as beards for men and face-covering veils for women.
As in years past, officials banned the observance of Ramadan, taking steps to prevent party officials, public servants, and students from fasting.
In December 2015, China expelled French journalist Ursula Gauthier for her writings challenging the government’s claims regarding Uighur terrorism. While other foreign journalists have been expelled or denied visas in the past, Gauthier’s expulsion was the first in several years.
In 2015, thousands of Falun Gong practitioners reportedly were arrested or sent to brainwashing centers or other detention facilities. Brainwashing centers are a form of extralegal detention known to involve acts of torture. Based on statements from Chinese health officials, the long-standing practice of harvesting organs from prisoners was to end on January 1, 2015. However, many human rights advocates believe the practice continues. Imprisoned Falun Gong practitioners are particularly targeted for organ harvesting. Li Chang, a former government official sentenced to prison for his involvement in a peaceful Falun Gong demonstration, is among the countless Falun Gong practitioners who remain imprisoned at the end of the reporting period. The Chinese government continued to deny Wang Zhiwen a passport or the ability to travel freely to receive proper medical care following the torture he endured during his 15 years in prison. Chinese authorities denied a visa and barred entry into mainland China to Anastasia Lin, a human rights advocate and Falun Gong practitioner. As Miss World Canada 2015, Ms. Lin was scheduled to participate in the Miss World event held in China in December 2015.
In 2015, the Chinese government maintained tight control of Tibetan Buddhists, strictly monitoring and suppressing their cultural and religious practices. Government-led raids on monasteries continued.
Reports indicated increased government interference in the education and training of young Buddhist monks. Buddhist leader Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, who had been serving a 20-year sentence, died in prison in July 2015. Supporters of the popular monk maintained he was falsely accused of separatism and terrorism, and there were reports that police opened re on a group of supporters who had gathered in his memory.
Protestants and Catholics
Chinese authorities use the pretext of building code violations to target houses of worship, particularly churches, as illegal structures. By some estimates, the number of cross removals and church demolitions totaled at least 1,500, and many who opposed these acts were arrested.
In March, a court sentenced Pastor Huang Yizi to one year in prison for trying to protect the cross at Salvation Church in Zhejiang Province from removal.
In August 2015, Chinese authorities seized human rights lawyer Zhang Kai who represented Pastor Huang. Following six months of being held without charge – likely at one of China’s notorious “black jail” facilities known for their use of torture – Zhang Kai was criminally detained in February 2016.
China’s approach to religious freedom and related human rights does not comply with international standards. To reinforce to China that such leadership must go hand-in-hand with the respect for and protection of religious freedom and related human rights, the U.S. government consistently should integrate human rights messaging – and specifically religious freedom – throughout its interactions with China. Additionally the US government should encourage the Broadcasting Board of Governors to use appropriated funds to advance Internet freedom and protect Chinese activists by supporting the development and accessibility of new technologies and programs to counter censorship.