New Regulations Confirm the Chinese Government’s Conflation of Religious Belief and Disloyalty to the State
  • Tue, 09/12/2017 - 17:24

For Immediate Release

September 12, 2017 11:25 am EST

Contact: Uyghur Human Rights Project +1 (202) 478 1920

China’s State Council has introduced new regulations that further criminalize religious practice and belief. The 2017 Religious Affairs Regulations (RAR) target faith communities with strict measures mandating loyalty to China and punishing individuals whose behavior falls outside a state-definition of religious behavior.  

The Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) is alarmed at the intrusiveness of the regulations into private religious life and rejects the implication made in the new measures that people of faith should be treated as state suspects.  UHRP calls on China to respect international human rights standards on freedom of religion and to end the targeting of Uyghurs and others in China purely based on their faith.

“The new religious regulations demonstrate how Xi Jinping’s administration is founded on division. In Xi’s China loyalty is demanded and not earned. Ethnic minorities, dissidents and people of faith present a challenge to Beijing’s vision of unquestioned allegiance to the state. If these groups do not fall into line, their vilification creates a convenient scapegoat for a morally compromised government,” said UHRP Director Omer Kanat in a statement from Washington, DC.

Mr. Kanat added: “Uyghurs have long been portrayed as disloyal to the Chinese state. The intensification of this process since the 9/11 attacks on the United States has placed Uyghurs under the strictest laws governing religion and turned Uyghurs across China into permissible targets of ethnic profiling. We are now witnessing the extension of this divisive approach to other religious groups in China.” 

The State Council of the People’s Republic of China promulgated the 2017 RAR on August 28, 2017. The 77 articles of the document will come into force on February 1, 2018. The measures are a revision of the 2005 RAR.

A September 7, 2017 Reuters article describes how the new regulations “use strong and specific language about the need to protect China’s national security against threats from religious groups.” For example, Articles 3 and 4 state:

The management of religious affairs upholds the principles of protecting what is lawful, prohibiting what is unlawful, suppressing extremism, resisting infiltration, and fighting crime…

…Religion must not be used by any individual or organization to engage in activities that endanger national security, disrupt public order, impair the health of citizens or obstruct the State educational system, as well as other activities that harm State or societal public interests, or citizens’ lawful rights and interests, and other such illegal activities.

Further clauses of Article 4 reaffirm the necessity of religious groups to demonstrate loyalty to China and couple religious practice with anti-state activities: 

Religious groups, religious schools, religious activity sites, and religious citizens shall abide by the Constitution, laws, regulations and rules; practice the core socialist values; and preserve the unification of the country, ethnic unity, religious harmony and social stability…

…Individuals and organizations must not create contradictions and conflicts between different religions, within a single religion, or between religious and non-religious citizens; must not advocate, support, or fund, religious extremism; and must not use religion to undermine ethnic unity, divide the nation or carry out terrorist activities…

Chinese authorities are extending their reach into the practice of religion more than ever before.  On the 6th of September government leaders from the five officially approved religions held a conference in Beijing on “Chinese culture and religious sinicization.”  The religious leaders agreed that “the direction of religions is to integrate them with Chinese culture,” including in terms of doctrine and culture.

The authorities have for years required the Chinese flag to be placed inside mosques in East Turkestan.  More recentlymosques have also been holding weekly flag raising ceremonies and displayed banners promoting loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party and “Chinese style Islam.” 

In a 2013 report, UHRP documented the increasing number of national and regional regulations limiting the Uyghurs’ fundamental right to religious freedom including curbs on Uyghur religious life, including provision of private religious education, attendance at mosques, choice of dress, ability to perform the Hajj and observe Ramadan, and selection of clergy.

Since 2013, religious repression has expanded. In a press release dated April 6, 2017, UHRP reported on the adoption of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Regulations on De-extremification.  The regulations illustrate how religious restrictions are usually implemented among Uyghurs before the Chinese government puts in place curbs at the national level. The De-extremification measures create an explicit link between religion and extremism without consideration of root causes such as social and economic discrimination or the suppression of free speech. UHRP concluded: “China’s laws aimed at regulating the practice of religion and free speech are typically broad and vague enough to be used flexibly by the authorities.”

Universal religious freedom is protected under Article 18 of the normative human rights standards outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  UHRP calls on China to meet its international obligations in regard to religious freedom and to sign and ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights. The Chinese authorities should also permit the United Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief an unimpeded visit to China to independently assess the current condition of religious rights.

See also:

China tightens restrictions on religious freedom

Why China must scrap new laws that tighten the authorities’ grip on religious practice