According to a stinging new International Religious Freedom Report (IRFP), the Chinese Communist government “physically abused, detained, arrested, tortured, sentenced to prison, or harassed adherents of both registered and unregistered religious groups” during 2016.
The abuse of people of faith in their religious practice included members of unregistered Christian churches (also known as “house churches”), the State Department’s newly released annual report added.
The IRPF notes that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) continues to exert absolute control over religious activities in the country. “Only religious groups belonging to one of the five state-sanctioned ‘patriotic religious associations’ (Buddhist, Taoist, Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant) were permitted to register with the government and officially permitted to hold worship services,” the report stated.
This means that any religious group that does not submit to state control, such as the Roman Catholic Church or Christian “house churches,” has no official status in the country and is subject to regular sanctions and arbitrary harassment.
“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 report states. Moreover, the government “does not recognize Judaism as an ethnicity or religion.”
Authorities in Zhejiang Province “continued their destruction of Christian structures as part of a campaign against ‘illegal structures’ that began in 2014,” the report noted.
“Over 2,000 structures, including 600 crosses, had been destroyed or demolished by the end of the year. Many Zhejiang pastors and congregants openly resisted the campaign, resulting in the detention, prosecution, or conviction of several church leaders and activists,” it stated.
The release of new draft regulations that would govern the activities of religious groups drew intense criticism from religious leaders and groups, who reported that “the proposed regulations would increase restrictions on their ability to practice their religions, including a new requirement for religious groups to seek approval to travel abroad and a prohibition on ‘accepting domination by external forces.’”
“Christian churches stated as a result of the proposed regulations, the government increased monitoring, causing many churches to cease their normal activities,” the report noted.
Despite statements by Pope Francis this year defending China’s practice of religious freedom, the Chinese government and the Holy See do not have diplomatic relations, and the Vatican has no representative in the country.
“In China, the churches are full,” Francis told the Spanish daily El País. “You can practice your faith in China.”
The government-controlled Catholic Patriotic Association (CPA) “does not recognize the authority of the Holy See to appoint Catholic bishops; approximately 30 Catholic bishops remain independent of the CPA and operate unofficially,” the report states, adding that, in some locations, “local authorities reportedly pressured unregistered Catholic priests and believers to renounce all ordinations approved by the Holy See.”
Members of the Chinese Communist Party and members of the armed forces are required to be atheists and are forbidden from engaging in religious practice, the report stated, and members who are found to belong to religious organizations are subject to expulsion. “The vast majority of public office holders are CCP members, and being a member is widely considered a prerequisite for success in a government career,” it added.
Since 1999, the U.S. State Department has designated China as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act for having engaged in or tolerated “particularly severe violations of religious freedom.”
On October 31, 2016, the Secretary of State redesignated China as a CPC. The only sanction imposed, however, was “the existing ongoing restriction on exports to China of crime control and detection instruments and equipment.”
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