China jailed 10,000 people in 2022 repression campaign, claims US report

Chinese president Xi Jinping. Reuters

China jailed as many as 10,000 or more people in 2022 in a widening campaign of repression against religious belief meant to bring all theological activity under the Chinese Communist Party’s control, the US government claimed in a report.

The State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report, which is published annually since 1999 and covers nearly 200 countries, also castigated Iran for similar violations.

According to South China Morning Post, the report’s section on China draws on studies by human rights advocacy groups including Freedom House and religious groups like the Church of Almighty God (CAG), as well as public information from the Chinese government.

The report cited President Xi Jinping’s assertion last year at the 20th party congress that “religions in China must be Chinese in orientation” as an indication of what the State Department called a “campaign against religious groups it characterised as ‘cults,’ including the CAG and Falun Gong, and it conducted propaganda campaigns against xie jiao (literally ‘heterodox teachings’) aimed at school-age children”.

Reacting to the report, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that most oppressive nations around the world are growing even more dire.

“Governments in many parts of the world continue to target religious minorities using a host of methods, including torture, beatings, unlawful surveillance, and so-called re-education camps,” ANI quoted Blinken as saying.

Blinken underscored abuses against the predominantly Muslim Uyghur minority group in the Xinjiang province of China, a country one senior State Department official described as “one of the worst abusers of human rights and religious freedom in the world.”

China’s oppression of Tibetan Buddhists

The report also chronicles China’s oppression of Tibetan Buddhist practitioners and efforts to keep two of the religion’s most prominent leaders out of sight inside Tibet.

The report documents allegations of “forced disappearances, arrests, physical abuse and prolonged detentions without trial of monks, nuns and other persons due to their religious practices” in Chinese-occupied Tibet last year.

Chinese government officials have denied all allegations of human rights abuses and attempted to justify actions against Uyghurs as counterterrorism measures.

Liu Pengyu, a spokesman for China’s embassy in Washington, called the report’s accusations “contrary to the basic facts and deeply rooted in ideological bias”.

“People of all ethnic groups in China are fully entitled to the freedom of religious belief as prescribed by law,” South China Morning Post quoted Liu Pengyu, a spokesman for China’s embassy in Washington, as saying.

Liu Pengyu said the are “nearly 200 million religious believers, over 380,000 clerical personnel, about 5,500 religious groups and over 140,000 places of worship registered for religious activities” in the country.

“The picture in the US is quite different – 75 per cent of American Muslims believe that serious discrimination exists in the American society against Muslims,” Liu Pengyu added, citing the results of a Pew Research Centre survey published in 2017.

“The US is in no position to point fingers at China on this issue,” the report quoted him as saying.

Iran’s draconian curbs

The report also highlights how Iran’s Islamic theocracy imposes draconian restrictions on its population and hands brutal punishments for offences, and also throws light on the ongoing wave of demonstrations inspired by the death of Masa Amini last September.

“People across Iran, led by young women, continue peaceful protests demanding their human rights, including freedom of religion, galvanised by the killing of Masa Amini, who was arrested by the so-called morality police because her hijab did not fully cover her hair,” said Blinken.

Additionally, the report outlined widespread violations against religious freedom perpetrated by Moscow, both in Russia and in occupied areas of Ukraine.

Examples of progress

The report also captured examples of progress: Belgium formally recognising its Buddhist minority, lawmakers in Brazil codifying religious freedom guarantees for Afro-Brazilian indigenous communities, and various countries launching offices to combat islamophobia and antisemitism.

“More broadly, civil society and other concerned governments around the world have successfully secured the release of many who have been detained, even in prison for exercising their freedom of religion or belief,” Blinken said.

With inputs from agencies

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