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China Must Respect Religious Freedom

Gao Zhisheng, a human rights lawyer who defends freedom of religion, is imprisoned and scheduled to be released August 7.

The religious freedom report shines the spotlight on governments like China that persecute religious believers.

The State Department’s 2013 International Religious Freedom Report describes the status of religious freedom in every country, including China. The report documents violations of religious freedom, and details the actions the United States government is taking to promote freedom of religion around the world.

China Must Respect Religious Freedom
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The Report states the Chinese government’s respect for religious freedom overall remained low during 2013. Tibetan areas and the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) experienced particularly serious violations of religious freedom. Elsewhere, authorities severely restricted the ability of unregistered religious or spiritual groups to meet, sometimes banning them outright, as in the case of the Falun Gong. In September, Falun Gong practitioner Yu Jinfeng was reportedly arrested and imprisoned in a former reeducation-through-labor facility. Ms. Yu’s lawyer, Tang Jitian, was detained for five days after attempting to speak with her.

Unregistered churches and their practitioners continued to face persecution by Chinese officials. In April seven members of unregistered Christian churches in Ye County, Henan Province, were sentenced to prison terms ranging from three to seven-and-a-half years on charges of “using a cult to undermine law enforcement,” reportedly for recording and copying sermons. Harassment of unregistered Catholic bishops and priests also continued, while influential Auxiliary Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin remained in mandatory seclusion after announcing his resignation from the state-controlled Catholic Patriotic Association.

The Chinese government also persecuted those who defended religious freedom, like human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng. The United States has urged the Chinese authorities to release Gao as scheduled August 7 and allow him to return to his family, without harassment or restrictions to his movement. Wang Yonghang, a lawyer who openly advocated for religious freedom and defended Falun Gong adherents is currently serving a seven-year sentence.

In Tibet, Chinese authorities detained students, monks, laypersons, and others who called for respect for human rights and freedom of religion, expressed support for the Dalai Lama or solidarity with individuals who had self-immolated. Chinese authorities criminalized various activities associated with self-immolation, and prosecuted and imprisoned an unknown number of Tibetans who authorities claimed had aided or instigated self-immolations including the family members of self-immolators.

The report also detailed the Chinese government’s severe restrictions on the religious practices of Uighur Muslims, including banning fasting during the month of Ramadan for civil servants, teachers, and others. Moreover, Chinese authorities sought the forcible return of ethnic Uighurs who were seeking asylum overseas for religious persecution. There were reports of imprisonment and torture of Uighurs who were returned.

The religious freedom report shines the spotlight on governments like China that persecute religious believers. It is the United States’ hope that this year’s report will be used to defend and advance international religious freedom, a universal right, which all people, including the Chinese, are entitled to.