On the occasion of the Prime
Minister’s visit to China from 31 January to 2 February, Christian Solidarity
Worldwide (CSW) calls on Theresa May to raise freedom of religion or belief
(FoRB) concerns with the Chinese government, and to publicly refer to the UK’s
concerns about human rights violations in China.
The Prime Minister’s first official visit to China comes amid reports of serious FoRB violations in China before revised Regulations on Religious Affairs come into effect on 1 February. Economic cooperation is likely to be a key focus of the visit.
CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, “Expanding trade is of course important, but need not and should not come at the expense of raising concerns about rule of law and human rights, including the right to freedom of religion or belief. Already, 2018 has been marked by the demolition of places of worship and the detention of religious followers in China. Although the government claims to protect “normal” religious activities, the reality is that the focus is on the control of religious life, rather than the protection of the right to freedom of religion or belief. This visit is an opportunity to raise concerns and restate the UK’s commitment to promoting these universal values.”
In Yunnan Province, six members of an unregistered church group were sentenced to up to 13 years in prison for ‘using an evil cult to organize to undermine law enforcement’ in January 2018. In the same month, Chinese authorities in Shanxi Province demolished the 50,000-member Golden Lampstand (Jindengtai) Church using dynamite, and two pastors in Guizhou, one of whom is in prison, were fined over US$1 million for collecting ‘illegal’ donations from members of the congregation.
In Sichuan Province, Chinese authorities have taken over administrative control at Larung Gar Buddhist Institute, one of the largest Buddhist teaching centres in the world. An official document obtained and translated by Human Rights Watch calls for limits on the number of residents, and states that students should ‘have a firm political stand, accepting the Great Motherland, the Chinese [Zhonghua] people, Chinese culture, the Chinese Communist Party and socialism with Chinese characteristics.’ In July 2016, a ‘renovation’ campaign at the institute resulted in mass evictions and the demolition of hundreds of homes.
In the Xinjiang region in China’s Northwest, authorities continue to arrest and detain Uyghur Muslims and limit religious practice as part of a ‘strike hard’ campaign they claim is aimed at combating religious extremism and other security threats. On 22 January Radio Free Asia reported that approximately 120,000 ethnic Uyghurs are currently being held in political re-education camps in Kashgar prefecture in Xinjiang, citing an unnamed security official.
Mr Thomas added, “The incidents which have occurred in the run up to the new regulations suggest a long-term plan to target independent religious communities. CSW is particularly concerned about religious followers and religious freedom defenders placed under ‘residential surveillance at a designated location’, under which detainees usually have no contact with the outside world and are more likely to be subject to torture and ill-treatment. We call on the Prime Minister to use this visit to raise cases of human rights violations with Chinese government, and to urge the authorities to release all those detained in connection with their religion or belief, as a matter of urgency.”