Freedom of religion in China 'worsened in 2018'
Independent watchdog gives country a 'reedom score' of 11/100 as persecution of Uyghurs, Christians, Falun Gong stepped up.
Catholic Churches are free to hold services and welcome their congregations without fear of reprisal from the long arm of the state — as long as they sing from the same hymn sheet as the ever-present, ever-watchful Chinese Communist Party and the extensive control mechanisms it has put in place to control freedom of religion. Here, choir singers are pictured performing at a church in Fuyang, in eastern China's Anhui province, on Dec. 24, 2018. (Photo by AFP)
From the 1-million-plus Uyghurs and other Muslims detained at "re-education camps" in Xinjiang to the victims of state-shuttered Catholic churches in central Henan province, and persecuted Falun Gong practitioners, religious believers in China are subject to increasingly tight restrictions.
As the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) continues its clampdown on freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and other basic rights under authoritarian President Xi Jinping, independent watchdog Freedom House awarded China a freedom score of 11 points out of 100 in its latest annual report.
The report, titled "Freedom in the World 2019," states that, "the ability of China's religious believers to practice their faith varies dramatically based on religious affiliation, location, and registration status."
The analysis did not take into account Hong Kong — which a Catholic commission warned last year has already stepped into a semi-authoritarian era — or Tibet, which are covered in separate reports, but stresses how "China's authoritarian regime has become increasingly repressive in recent years."
The report avoids ranking the level of religious persecution by religion, yet suggests Muslims are among the most victimized by foregrounding the plight of those detained and subjected to political indoctrination in Xinjiang.
In a section dedicated to people's individual freedom to practice and express their religious belief in private and public, it said the majority of Chinese Buddhists and Taoists may "not necessarily feel constrained."
However, it estimated back in 2017 that over 100 million believers, mostly Protestants, Tibetan Buddhists, Uyghur Muslims and Falun Gong practitioners, were facing "high or very high levels of religious persecution."
Their situation worsened in 2018 with new rules including a ban on minors entering churches and mosques, a ban in May on the sale of Bibles online, and the forced closure in some areas of churches and "home churches."
"New regulations on religious affairs that took effect in February (2018) strengthened controls on places of worship, travel for religious purposes, and children's religious education," the report said.
Meanwhile, Muslims in Xinjiang must now contend with prohibitions on their religious attire, and state meddling of holy festivals like Ramadan and even their choice of baby names.
"The especially intense and intrusive curbs … are apparently aimed at breaking down the religious identity of Muslims in the (Xinjiang) region," the report said. Beijing has long feared the threat of Turkic-speaking separatists in Xinjiang who want their own independent territory.
It also touched on the Vatican's provisional agreement with Beijing last September, which effectively gave the Chinese Church and state-appointed bishops greater legitimacy, and lamented how the CCP has been "manipulating religious doctrine according to party priorities."
Falun Gong got sidelined as the party focused elsewhere, with "repression of the group appear(ing) to have declined in some locales." That being said, leaked documents from northern Liaoning province reveal calls for a renewed crackdown in the fourth quarter of 2018, amid reports of torture and measures to stop reports of abuse reaching the outside world.
Freedom House also painted China as a global threat to the kind of democracy championed by the United States, as Beijing seeks to "export" its model of government to other countries.