The Chinese government’s respect for and protection of the right to religious freedom deteriorated in 2011.
The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor recently released the 2011 Report on International Religious Freedom. The annual report is mandated by Congress and describes the status of religious freedom; government policies violating religious belief and practices of groups, religious denominations and individuals; and U.S. policies promoting religious freedom.
According to the report, the Chinese government’s respect for and protection of the right to religious freedom deteriorated in 2011. Although the People’s Republic of China’s constitution provides for freedom of “religious belief,” protections for religious practice are limited to “normal religious activities.” According to the U.S. Department of State’s Office of International Religious Freedom, the Chinese government applies the term “normal religious activities” in a manner that does not meet international human rights standards for freedom of religion.
In China, only religious groups belonging to one of the five state-sanctioned “patriotic religious associations,” are permitted to register with the government and legally hold worship services. Other religious groups, such as Protestant groups unaffiliated with the official patriotic religious association or Catholics professing loyalty to the Vatican, are not permitted to register as legal entities. The Chinese government does not recognize the authority of the Vatican to appoint bishops, and some local authorities have reportedly pressured unregistered Catholic priests and believers to renounce ordinations approved by the Vatican.
Proselytizing in public or unregistered places of worship is not permitted, and some religious and spiritual groups are outlawed. Chinese Communist Party members are required to be atheists and are discouraged from participating in religious activities.
The Chinese government’s repression of religious freedom remained severe in Tibetan areas and the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.
There were reports of societal discrimination based on religious affiliation, ethnicity, belief, or practice. Both Uighur Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists reported increased societal discrimination.
Since 1999, the U.S. Secretary of State has designated China as a Country of Particular Concern for particularly severe violations of religious freedom. On August 18, 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton again designated China a Country of Particular Concern. “The absence of religious freedom,” Secretary Clinton said when the 2011 report was released, “can create a climate of fear and suspicion that weakens social cohesion and alienates citizens from their leaders.”