The U.S. State Department’s recently released annual Report on International Religious Freedom continues to cite China for severe violations of religious freedom.
The Chinese constitution states that citizens "enjoy freedom of religious belief," and bans the state, public organizations, and individuals from compelling citizens to believe in, or not believe in, any religion. But both the Chinese constitution and its laws only protect what they refer to as "normal" religious activities, which are overseen by the five state-sanctioned "patriotic religious associations."
In practice, freedom of religion is limited by the government, because only five government-designated associations representing Buddhist, Taoist, Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant groups may register religious groups and places of worship. Unregistered religious groups are known to practice in China, some publicly, but do so without legal standing.
The Chinese government has banned certain religious and spiritual groups. Chinese criminal law defines banned groups as "evil cults." The Report on International Religious Freedom notes that there are no public criteria for determining, or procedures for challenging, such a designation. Local authorities often use administrative detention, such as confinement at reeducation through labor camps, to punish members of unregistered religious groups.
In addition, the government has disbarred a number of attorneys who advocated on behalf of religious freedom, and imprisoned religious freedom activists. The family members of some religious leaders and religious freedom activists were also harassed or detained. Groups associated with the Falun Gong, one of the banned religious organizations, estimated that more than 100,000 of its adherents in China have been sentenced to reeducation through labor camps.
In the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, Chinese government repression of religious freedom has increased following unrest in 2009, and religious repression also remains severe in the Tibet Autonomous Region.
The Report on International Religious Freedom notes that "the Department of State consistently urged the [Chinese] government to expand the scope of religious freedom in keeping with the rights codified in the [People’s Republic of China’s] constitution and internationally recognized norms."