Report: Religion in China Suffers ‘Most Serious Crackdown Since the Cultural Revolution’

In this photo taken Saturday, June 2, 2018, a woman hangs laundry near a church in the city of Pingdingshan in central China's Henan province. Under President Xi Jinping, China's most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, believers are seeing their freedoms shrink dramatically even as the country undergoes a religious …
AP Photo/Ng Han Guan

Chinese authorities have significantly intensified their crackdown on all religious minorities over the past two years, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) revealed Tuesday in a comprehensive report.

Policy-making in China “is more centralised, repression is more intense and wide-spread, and technology is being refined for the creation of a surveillance state,” declared ACN’s Religious Freedom in the World Report 2021, an 818-page compilation of the state of religious freedom and persecution in the world today.

“Under the current leadership of Xi Jinping, the prospects for religious freedom — and human rights more broadly — are becoming ever-more bleak,” the report stated. “With no meaningful political liberalisation in sight, repression and persecution will continue and, with the tools of modern technology, become even more intrusive and pervasive.”

“Freedom of religion in China is currently subjected to the most serious crackdown since the Cultural Revolution,” it noted, while also providing numerous specific examples of why this is the case.

The report also observed that of all the 198 countries and territories investigated in the Pew Research Center’s 2020 annual report tracking global patterns in restrictions on religion, China registered the highest score on the Government Restrictions Index (GRI).

“Anti-religious repression in China takes many forms and targets many groups,” ACN declared in its report. “The most egregious violations of religious freedom are against the Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim communities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), where the atrocities have reached such a scale that a growing number of experts describe them as genocide.”

“The clampdown includes the incarceration of between 900,000 and 1.8 million Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and members of other Muslim groups in more than 1,300 concentration camps,” the report noted, and civilians have been arrested and sent to camps for outward expressions of religious piety, such as “wearing long beards” or “refusing to drink alcohol.”

“Reports of widespread and systematic torture, abysmal conditions, sexual violence and forced labour have emerged, and a campaign of forced sterilisation of Uyghur women has been conducted in parts of the XUAR,” it observed.

Christians have also suffered from “the rapidly deteriorating conditions of religious freedom in the country,” the report stated, as the CCP has clamped down on activities of all “illegal” house churches as well as the Catholic underground Church.

In the two years following the 2018 signature of a Provisional Agreement between the Vatican and the CCP over the naming of bishops, “the underground clergy were encouraged to join the state controlled Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA),” the report stated.

Many refused, however, citing doctrinal conflicts between Church teaching and CPCA rules and “suffered the consequences,” the report added. “On 1st September 2020, for example, priests who refused to join the CPCA in Jiangxi province were put under house arrest and banned from “engaging in any religious activity in the capacity of the clergy.”

“Catholic hierarchy also continue to suffer harassment and arrest,” it noted

According to the ACN report, the largest spiritual group in China facing severe persecution is likely Falun Gong, a banned movement that draws on Buddhist tradition.

“In 2019, thousands of practitioners were arrested for practising the meditation exercises,” the report observed, and in 2019, a UK-based independent inquiry found that “forced organ harvesting has been committed for years throughout China on a significant scale” and Falun Gong practitioners have been “probably the main source of organ supply.”

The Chinese Communist Party now employs repressive surveillance technologies that increasingly target faith groups, the report stated, with “626 million AI-enhanced surveillance cameras and smart-phone scanners at key pedestrian check-points, producing data which is cross-referenced by analytical platforms and coupled with an integrated social credit system.”

“Since March 2018, religion has been under the direction of the United Front Work Department, an agency of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP),” the report noted, “thus taking over the State Administration of Religious Affairs (SARA). As a result, the CCP has direct control over religious affairs.”

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