THE Chinese Communist Party (CCP) have “intensified” controls over religious practitioners since President Xi Jinping came to power, resulting in an increase in religious persecution and an “escalating cycle of repression,” according to U.S. based non-profit group, Freedom House.
Combining both violent and non-violent methods, Xi’s administration have implemented policies designed to “curb the rapid growth” of religious communities and “eliminate certain beliefs” and practices the report, released Tuesday, explains.
The study also found that these measures were not only affecting religious policy, but is deeply affecting China’s overall legal, social, political and economic environment.
The promise of maintaining religious freedom in China has long been a challenge for an avowedly atheist CCP but it has escalated in intensity since Xi took the helm back in 2012, with mounting crackdowns on unregistered and even state-sanctioned places of worship and religious leaders.
Religious practitioners face daily obstacles to practicing their faith, the report found. Officials have been known to ban holiday celebrations, desecrate places of worship, and sometimes employ lethal violence.
Security forces across the country also “detain, torture, or kill believers from various faiths” on a daily basis, Freedom House says, with several clerics receiving lengthy prison sentences.
While the violent crackdown is widespread across the country, non-violent forms of control are more prevalent, the report found.
Despite their non-violent nature, they are still “deeply offensive” to many believers and often stoke the atmosphere of fear that is rife throughout certain communities.
Religious leaders are often vetted for “political reliability” and practitioners are forced into state-sanctioned places of worship in an effort to monitor and control them, as is the case with many Protestant Christians, who are highlighted in the report as an at-risk group.
“Religious leaders and congregants who refuse to register…risk having their place of worship shuttered and face detention, beatings, dismissal from employment, or imprisonment,” the report states.
Uighur Muslims are subjected to even harsher penalties and restrictions, according to Freedom House, who lists their degree of persecution as ‘very high’.
Controls have deepened and expanded in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region especially in certain areas where authorities have launched new campaigns to more closely monitor smartphone usage and force businesses to sell alcohol against their religious beliefs.
Incidents of security forces opening fire on Uighur civilians have also become more common after authorities launched a “strike hard” campaign, armed more police and began meting out “harsher punishments for even peaceful religious practice.”
Barna, an Uighur woman from Xinjiang, told Freedom House, “Everything changed. Now the rule is, if I go to your house, read some Quran, pray together, and the government finds out, you go to jail.”
The report found that how a group is treated will often depend on their perceived threat to party interests, with those deemed a particular danger being exposed to extreme surveillance, re-education campaigns, and manipulation of religious doctrine to fit party priorities.
While restrictions had been common prior to Xi’s assumption of power, it is since 2012 that these restrictions became codified into official legal mechanisms used to monitor and repress the freedom of certain targeted faiths, Freedom House found.
But this escalating repression from the CCP has led many people to adapt their religious practice and has cultivated an “enormous black market”, forcing many believers to operate outside the law and to view the regime as “unreasonable, unjust, or illegitimate.”
Members of all faiths have met the restrictions with “creativity and courage” and have found ways to continue their practice, often scoring significant victories against the authorities.
Freedom House believes that this continuation of faith in the country is a sign of the “fundamental failure” of the Chinese authorities’ religious policies.
“Religious groups, beliefs, and practices that the CCP has devoted tremendous resources to extinguishing have survived or spread, representing a remarkable failure of the party’s repressive capacity.”