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China (Includes Tibet, Xinjiang, Hong Kong, and Macau)

Read A Section: China

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Executive Summary

Reports on Hong Kong, Macau, Tibet, and Xinjiang are appended at the end of this report.

The constitution, which cites the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and the guidance of Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought, states that citizens have freedom of religious belief but limits protections for religious practice to “normal religious activities” and does not define “normal.” Despite Chairman Xi Jinping’s decree that all members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) must be “unyielding Marxist atheists,” the government continued to exercise control over religion and restrict the activities and personal freedom of religious adherents that it perceived as threatening state or CCP interests, according to religious groups, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and international media reports. The government recognizes five official religions – Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Protestantism, and Catholicism. Only religious groups belonging to the five state-sanctioned “patriotic religious associations” representing these religions are permitted to register with the government and officially permitted to hold worship services. There continued to be reports of deaths in custody and that the government tortured, physically abused, arrested, detained, sentenced to prison, subjected to forced indoctrination in CCP ideology, or harassed adherents of both registered and unregistered religious groups for activities related to their religious beliefs and practices. There were several reports of individuals committing suicide in detention, or, according to sources, as a result of being threatened and surveilled. In December Pastor Wang Yi was tried in secret and sentenced to nine years in prison by a court in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, in connection to his peaceful advocacy for religious freedom. There was one self-immolation by a former Tibetan Buddhist monk reported during the year. According to The Church of Almighty God, a Christian group established in the country in 1991 and which the government considers an “evil cult,” authorities in Shandong Province arrested more than 6,000 members during the year as part of a nationwide crackdown. Media sources reported local officials in Tibetan areas explicitly stated supporters of the Dalai Lama could be arrested under the government’s nationwide anti-organized crime program. According to <i>Minghui, </i>a Falun Gong publication, police arrested more than 6,000 Falun Gong practitioners during the year. <i>Bitter Winter</i><i>,</i><i> </i>an online publication that tracks religious liberty and human rights abuses in the country, reported instances of individuals being held for extended periods of time in psychiatric hospitals for practicing their religious beliefs, beaten, and forced to take medication. The government continued a campaign begun in 2016 to evict thousands of monks and nuns from Larung Gar and Yachen Gar Tibetan Buddhist Institutes. Authorities in many provinces targeted religious groups with overseas ties, particularly Christian groups. The government offered financial incentives to law enforcement to arrest religious practitioners and to citizens who reported “illegal religious activity.” The government continued a campaign of religious Sinicization to bring all religious doctrine and practice in line with CCP doctrine, adopting a formal five-year plan on January 7. Officials across the country shut down religious venues, including some that were affiliated with the authorized patriotic religious associations, and placed surveillance cameras in houses of worship as a condition of allowing these venues to continue operating. There were numerous reports that authorities closed or destroyed Islamic, Christian, Buddhist, Taoist, Jewish, and other houses of worship and destroyed public displays of religious symbols throughout the country, including the last remaining crosses in Xiayi County, Henan Province, and all Jewish symbols identifying the site of the former Kaifeng Synagogue, also in Henan Province. Nationwide, the government prohibited individuals under aged 18 from participating in most religious activities. The Holy See maintained its 2018 provisional agreement with the government that reportedly addressed a decades-long dispute concerning the authority to appoint bishops. Officials routinely made public statements denigrating the Dalai Lama.

The government continued to cite what it called the “three evils” of “ethnic separatism, religious extremism, and violent terrorism” as its justification to enact and enforce restrictions on religious practices of Muslims in Xinjiang. The U.S. government estimates that since April 2017, the PRC government arbitrarily detained more than one million Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Hui, and members of other Muslim groups, as well as Uighur Christians, in specially built or converted internment camps in Xinjiang and subjected them to forced disappearance, political indoctrination, torture, physical and psychological abuse, including forced sterilization and sexual abuse, forced labor, and prolonged detention without trial because of their religion and ethnicity. There were reports of individuals dying as a result of injuries sustained during interrogations. In November <i>The New York Times</i> and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) reported on leaked internal government documents that included descriptions of the government’s mass internment program in Xinjiang and a manual for operating internment camps with instructions on how to prevent escapes, how to maintain total secrecy about the camp’s existence, and methods of forced indoctrination. A third document, the “Karakax List,” originally leaked in November and later made public, presented evidence the government initially interned or extended the internment of individuals on religious grounds in four reeducation centers in Karakax County, Hotan Prefecture. Authorities in Xinjiang restricted access to mosques and barred youths from participating in religious activities, including fasting during Ramadan. According to human rights groups and international media, authorities maintained extensive and invasive security and surveillance, in part to gain information regarding individuals’ religious adherence and practices. This surveillance included forcing Uighurs and other ethnic and religious minorities to install spyware on their mobile phones and accept government officials and CCP members living in their homes. Satellite imagery and other sources indicated the government destroyed mosques, cemeteries, and other religious sites. Nearly 40 percent of all elementary and middle school students – approximately half a million children – lived in boarding schools where they studied Han culture, Mandarin, and CCP ideology. The government sought the forcible repatriation of Uighur and other Muslims from foreign countries and detained some of those who returned.

Christians, Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, and Falun Gong practitioners reported severe societal discrimination in employment, housing, and business opportunities. In Xinjiang, tension between Uighur Muslims and Han Chinese continued in parallel with the authorities’ suppression of Uighur language, culture, and religion and the promotion of the Han majority in political, economic, and cultural life. Anti-Muslim speech in social media remained widespread

The President, Vice President, Secretary of State, Ambassador, and other U.S. embassy and consulates general representatives repeatedly and publicly expressed concerns about abuses of religious freedom throughout the country. At the second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in July, the United States and other nations issued a statement calling on the government to cease its crackdown on religious groups. In a September 23 speech at the UN General Assembly, the Vice President said, “The Communist Party in China has arrested Christian pastors, banned the sale of Bibles, demolished churches, and imprisoned more than one million Muslim Uighurs.” On September 24 the United States co-sponsored a panel discussion on the human rights crisis in Xinjiang during the United Nations General Assembly session, hosted by the Deputy Secretary of State. During a press conference on November 26, the Secretary of State said, “We call on the Chinese government to immediately release all those who are arbitrarily detained and to end its draconian policies that have terrorized its own citizens in Xinjiang.” The Ambassador and other embassy and consulate general officials met with a range of Chinese officials to advocate for greater religious freedom and tolerance and the release of individuals imprisoned for religious reasons. The Ambassador and other embassy and consulate general officials met with members of registered and unregistered religious groups, family members of religious prisoners, NGOs, and others to reinforce U.S. support for religious freedom. The embassy continued to amplify Department of State religious freedom initiatives directly to Chinese citizens through outreach programs and social media.

In October the U.S. government added 28 PRC entities to the Department of Commerce’s Entity List and imposed visa restrictions on PRC government and CCP officials for their responsibility for, or complicity in, human rights abuses in Xinjiang. When announcing these measures, the Secretary of State said, “The Chinese government has instituted a highly repressive campaign against Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other members of Muslim minority groups in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region that includes mass detentions in internment camps; pervasive, high-tech surveillance; draconian controls of expressions of cultural and religious identities; and coercion of individuals to return from abroad to an often perilous fate in China.”

Since 1999, China has been designated as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom. On December 18, the Secretary of State redesignated China as a CPC and identified the following sanction that accompanied the designation: the existing ongoing restriction on exports to China of crime control and detection instruments and equipment, under the Foreign Relations Authorization Act of 1990 and 1991 (Public Law 101-246), pursuant to section 402(c)(5) of the Act.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 1.4 billion (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the State Council Information Office (SCIO) report “Seeking Happiness for People: 70 Years of Progress on Human Rights in China,” published in September, there are more than 200 million religious adherents in the country. The SCIO April 2018 white paper on religion in China states there are approximately 5,500 religious groups.

Local and regional figures for the number of religious followers, including those belonging to the four officially recognized religions, are unclear. Local governments do not release these statistics, and even official religious organizations do not have accurate numbers. The Pew Research Center and other observers say the numbers of adherents of many religious groups often are underreported. The U.S. government estimated in 2010 that Buddhists comprise 18.2 percent of the population, Christians 5.1 percent, Muslims 1.8 percent, and followers of folk religions 21.9 percent. According to a February 2017 estimate by the U.S.-based NGO Freedom House, there are more than 350 million religious adherents in the country, including 185-250 million Chinese Buddhists, 60-80 million Protestants, 21-23 million Muslims, 7-20 million Falun Gong practitioners, 12 million Catholics, 6-8 million Tibetan Buddhists, and hundreds of millions who follow various folk traditions. According to the Christian advocacy NGO Open Doors USA’s 2019 World Watch List, there are 97.2 million Christians. According to 2017 data from the Jewish Virtual Library, the country’s Jewish population is 2,700.

The SCIO April white paper found the number of Protestants to be 38 million. Among these, there are 20 million Protestants affiliated with the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), the state-sanctioned umbrella organization for all officially recognized Protestant churches, according to information on TSPM’s website in March 2017. The SCIO report states there are six million Catholics, although media and international NGO estimates suggest there are 10-12 million Catholics, approximately half of whom practice in churches not affiliated with the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA), the state-sanctioned organization for all officially recognized Catholic churches. Accurate estimates on the numbers of Catholics and Protestants as well as other faiths are difficult to calculate because many adherents practice exclusively at home or in churches that are not state sanctioned.

According to the SCIO report, there are 10 ethnic minority groups totaling more than 20 million persons in which Islam is the majority religion. Other sources indicate almost all Muslims are Sunni. The two largest Muslim ethnic minorities are Hui and Uighur, with Hui Muslims concentrated primarily in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region and in Qinghai, Gansu, and Yunnan Provinces. The State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) estimates the Muslim Hui population at 10.6 million. Most Uighur Muslims are concentrated in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.

While there is no reliable government breakdown of the Buddhist population by branch, the vast majority of Buddhists are adherents of Mahayana Buddhism, according to the Pew Research Center.

Prior to the government’s 1999 ban on Falun Gong, the government estimated there were 70 million adherents. Falun Gong sources estimate tens of millions continue to practice privately, and Freedom House estimates seven to 20 million practitioners.

Some ethnic minorities retain traditional religions, such as Dongba among the Naxi people in Yunnan Province and Buluotuo among the Zhuang in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. Media sources report Buddhism, particularly Tibetan Buddhism, is growing in popularity among the Han Chinese population. The central government classifies worship of Mazu, a folk deity with Taoist roots, as “cultural heritage” rather than religious practice.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution, which cites the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and the guidance of Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought, states citizens have “freedom of religious belief,” but limits protections for religious practice to “normal religious activities.” The constitution does not define “normal.” It says religion may not be used to disrupt public order, impair the health of citizens, or interfere with the educational system. The constitution provides for the right to hold or not to hold a religious belief. It says state organs, public organizations, and individuals may not discriminate against citizens “who believe in, or do not believe in, any religion.” The constitution states “Religious bodies and religious affairs are not subject to any foreign domination.”

The law does not allow legal action to be taken against the government based on the religious freedom protections afforded by the constitution. Criminal law allows the state to sentence government officials to up to two years in prison if they violate a citizen’s religious freedom.

The CCP is responsible for creating religious regulations. The CCP manages the United Front Work Department (UFWD), which in turn manages SARA’s functions and responsibilities . SARA is responsible for implementing the CCP’s religious regulations. SARA administers the provincial and local bureaus of religious affairs.

CCP members and members of the armed forces are required to be atheists and are forbidden from engaging in religious practices. Members found to belong to religious organizations are subject to expulsion, although these rules are not universally enforced. The vast majority of public office holders are CCP members, and membership is widely considered a prerequisite for success in a government career. These restrictions on religious belief and practice also apply to retired CCP party members.

The law bans certain religious or spiritual groups. Criminal law defines banned groups as “cult organizations” and provides for criminal prosecution of individuals belonging to such groups and punishment of up to life in prison. There are no published criteria for determining, or procedures for challenging, such a designation. A national security law also explicitly bans “cult organizations.”

The CCP maintains an extralegal, party-run security apparatus to eliminate the Falun Gong movement and other such organizations. The government continues to ban Falun Gong, the Guanyin Method religious group (Guanyin Famen or the Way of the Goddess of Mercy), and Zhong Gong (a qigong exercise discipline). The government also considers several Christian groups to be “evil cults,” including the Shouters, The Church of Almighty God (also known as Eastern Lightning), Society of Disciples (Mentu Hui), Full Scope Church (Quan Fanwei Jiaohui), Spirit Sect, New Testament Church, Three Grades of Servants (San Ban Puren), Association of Disciples, Lord God religious group, Established King Church, the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (Unification Church), Family of Love, and South China Church.

The Counterterrorism Law describes “religious extremism” as the ideological basis of terrorism that uses “distorted religious teachings or other means to incite hatred, or discrimination, or advocate violence.”

The government recognizes five official religions – Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Protestantism, and Catholicism. Regulations require religious organizations to register with the government. Only religious groups belonging to one of the five state-sanctioned religious associations are permitted to do so and only these organizations may legally hold worship services. These five associations operate under the direction of the CCP UFWD. The five associations are the Buddhist Association of China (BAC), the Chinese Taoist Association, the Islamic Association of China (IAC), the TSPM, and the CCPA. Other religious groups such as Protestant groups unaffiliated with the official TSPM or Catholics professing loyalty to the Holy See are not permitted to register as legal entities. The country’s laws and policies do not provide a mechanism for religious groups independent of the five official patriotic religious associations to obtain legal status.

According to regulations, religious organizations must submit information about the organization’s historical background, members, doctrines, key publications, minimum funding requirements, and government sponsor, which must be one of the five state-sanctioned religious associations.

The 2018 Regulations on Religious Affairs state that registered religious organizations may possess property, publish approved materials, train staff, and collect donations. Religious and other regulations permit official patriotic religious associations to engage in activities such as building places of worship, training religious leaders, publishing literature, and providing social services to local communities. The CCP’s UFWD, including SARA, and the Ministry of Civil Affairs provide policy guidance and supervision on the implementation of these regulations.

The SCIO April 2018 white paper states there are approximately 144,000 places of worship registered for religious activities in the country, among which 33,500 are Buddhist temples (including 28,000 Han Buddhist temples, 3,800 Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, and 1,700 Theravada Buddhist temples), 9,000 Taoist temples, 35,000 Islamic mosques, 6,000 Catholic churches and places of assembly spread across 98 dioceses, and 60,000 Protestant churches and places of assembly.

Government policy allows religious groups to engage in charitable work, but regulations specifically prohibit faith-based organizations from proselytizing while conducting charitable activities. Authorities require faith-based charities, like all other charitable groups, to register with the government. Once registered as an official charity, authorities allow them to raise funds publicly and to receive tax benefits. The government does not permit unregistered charitable groups to raise funds openly, hire employees, open bank accounts, or own property. According to several unregistered religious groups, the government requires faith-based charities to obtain official cosponsorship of the registration application by the local official religious affairs bureau. Authorities often require these groups to affiliate with one of the five state-sanctioned religious associations.

The law requires members of religious groups to seek approval to travel abroad.

The regulations specify all religious structures, including clergy housing, may not be transferred, mortgaged, or utilized as investments. In December SARA issued regulations that place restrictions on religious groups conducting business or making investments by stipulating the property and income of religious groups, schools, and venues must not be distributed and should be used for activities and charity befitting their purposes; any individual or organization that donates funds to build religious venues is prohibited from owning the venues.

The regulations impose a limit on foreign donations to religious groups, stating any such donations must be used for activities that authorities deem appropriate for the group and the site. Regulations ban donations from foreign groups and individuals if the donations come with any attached conditions and state any donations exceeding RMB 100,000 ($14,400) must be submitted to the local government for review and approval. Religious groups, religious schools, and “religious activity sites” must not accept donations from foreign sources with conditions attached. If authorities find a group has illegally accepted a donation, they may confiscate the donation and fine the recipient group between one to three times the value of the unlawful donations or, if the amount cannot be determined, a fine of RMB 50,000 ($7,200).

The Regulations on Religious Affairs require that religious activity “must not harm national security.” This includes support for “religious extremism.” The regulations do not define “extremism.” Penalties for “harm to national security” may include suspending groups and canceling clergy credentials.

National laws allow each provincial administration to issue its own regulations concerning religious affairs, including penalties for violations; many provinces updated their regulations after the national 2018 regulations came into effect. In addition to the five officially recognized religions, local governments, at their discretion, permit followers of certain unregistered religions to carry out religious practices. In Heilongjiang, Zhejiang, and Guangdong Provinces, for example, local governments allow members of Orthodox Christian communities to participate in unregistered religious activities.

SARA states, through a policy posted on its website, that family and friends have the right to meet at home for worship, including prayer and Bible study, without registering with the government. A provision states, however, that religious organizations should report the establishment of a religious site to the government for approval.

According to the law, inmates have the right to believe in a religion and maintain their religious beliefs while in custody.

The law does not define what constitutes proselytizing. The constitution states “Any state units, social organizations and individuals must not force a citizen to believe or not believe in a religion.” Offenders are subject to administrative and criminal penalties.

An amendment to the criminal law and a judicial interpretation by the national Supreme People’s Procuratorate and the Supreme People’s Court published in 2016 law criminalize the act of forcing others to wear “extremist” garments or symbols; doing so is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment, short-term detention or controlled release, and a concurrent fine. Neither the amendment nor the judicial interpretation defines what garments or symbols the law considers “extremist.”

Regulations restrict the publication and distribution of literature with religious content to guidelines determined by the State Publishing Administration. The regulations limit the online activities (“online religious information services”) of religious groups by requiring prior approval from the provincial religious affairs bureau. Religious texts published without authorization, including Bibles, Qurans, and Buddhist and Taoist texts, may be confiscated, and unauthorized publishing houses closed.

The government offers some subsidies for the construction of state-sanctioned places of worship and religious schools.

To establish places of worship, religious organizations must receive approval from the religious affairs department of the local government when the facility is proposed and again before services are first held at that location. Religious organizations must submit dozens of documents to register during these approval processes, including detailed management plans of their religious activities, exhaustive financial records, and personal information on all staff members. Religious communities not going through the formal registration process may not legally have a set facility or worship meeting space. Therefore, every time such groups want to reserve a space for worship, such as by renting a hotel or an apartment, they must seek a separate approval from government authorities for each service. Worshipping in a space without prior approval, gained either through the formal registration process or by seeking an approval for each service, is considered an illegal religious activity, which may be criminally or administratively punished.

By regulation, if a religious structure is to be demolished or relocated because of city planning or construction of key projects, the party responsible for demolishing the structure must consult with its local bureau of religious affairs (guided by SARA) and the religious group using the structure. If all parties agree to the demolition, the party conducting the demolition must agree to rebuild the structure or provide compensation equal to its appraised market value.

The Regulations on Religious Affairs include registration requirements for schools that allow only the five state-sanctioned religious associations or their affiliates to form religious schools. Children under the age of 18 are prohibited from participating in religious activities and receiving religious education, even in schools run by religious organizations. One regulation states that no individual may use religion to hinder the national education system and that no religious activities may be held in schools.

The law mandates the teaching of atheism in schools, and a CCP directive provides guidance to universities on how to prevent foreign proselytizing of university students.

The law states job applicants shall not face discrimination in hiring based on factors including religious belief.

The country is not a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). With respect to Macau, the central government notified the UN secretary general, in part, that residents of Macau shall not be restricted in the rights and freedoms they are entitled to, unless otherwise provided for by law, and in case of restrictions, the restrictions shall not contravene the ICCPR. With respect to Hong Kong, the central government notified the secretary general, in part, that the ICCPR would also apply to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

Government Practices

Police continued to arrest and otherwise detain leaders and members of religious groups, often those connected with groups not registered with the state-sanctioned religious associations. There were reports police used violence and beatings during arrest and detention. Reportedly, authorities used vague or insubstantial charges, sometimes in connection with religious activity, to convict and sentence leaders and members of religious groups to years in prison.

There were reports of deaths in custody and forced disappearances, and organ harvesting in prison of individuals whom, according to sources, authorities targeted based on their religious beliefs or affiliation. There were reports that authorities tortured detainees, including by depriving them of food, water, and sleep. NGOs reported some previously detained individuals were released but still denied freedom of movement.

The Political Prisoner Database (PPDB) maintained by human rights NGO Dui Hua Foundation contained the following number of imprisoned religious practitioners at year’s end: 121 “non-cult” Protestants, 487 “cult” Protestants, including members of The Church of Almighty God, 114 Muslims, 22 Buddhists, and four Catholics, compared with 119 “non-cult” Protestants, 316 ”cult” Protestants, 136 Muslims, 22 Buddhists, and nine Catholics at the end of 2018. According to Dui Hua, these numbers were based on Dui Hua’s classification system for inclusion in the PPDB and were not the total number of religious prisoners. The number of Muslim prisoners did not include Uighur and ethnic Kazakh prisoners, which Dui Hua classified as “ethnic prisoners.” According to Dui Hua, these figures did not account for Muslims in detention centers, which the government referred to as “vocational skill education training centers.” The PPDB listed 2,979 Falun Gong practitioners imprisoned at year’s end, compared with 3,486 at the end of 2018. Dui Hua defined imprisoned religious practitioners as “people persecuted for holding religious beliefs that are not officially sanctioned.”

According to a report released by The Church of Almighty God, during the year at least 32,815 Church members were directly persecuted by authorities, compared with 23,567 in 2018. The report stated that authorities harassed at least 26,683 church members (at least 12,456 in 2018), arrested 6,132 (11,111 in 2018), detained 4,161 (6,757 in 2018), tortured 3,824 (685 in 2018), sentenced 1,355 (392 in 2018), and seized at least RMB 390 million ($56 million) in Church and personal assets. At least 19 Church members died as a result of abuse (20 in 2018). These 19 included two who died as a result of undergoing physical abuse and forced labor, three who committed suicide as a result of authorities surveilling and pressuring them to renounce their faith, and 11 who died of medical complications during or following their detention.

According to the annual report of The Church of Almighty God, in January Ren Cuifang of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region died 12 days after being arrested. The report stated that on her remains there was bruising around her eyes and the left side of her chest. There was a burn scar on her thigh and lacerations with blood marks on her wrists and heels. The report also stated that on May 30, police arrested a couple in Xinmi City, Henan Province. During questioning, police struck the husband repeatedly across the face, kicked him in the lower back, clubbed his toes with an iron bar, and forced him to take off his clothes and kneel on an iron rod. He suffered two broken ribs on his left side. They stomped on the wife’s toes and instep, struck her in the face with a ruler, and handcuffed her behind her back with one arm twisted up over her shoulder and one arm twisted from below. In August Liu Jun of Jiangxi Province, who suffered from kidney disease, died in custody of uremia after authorities delayed his treatment. In July Cheng Dongzhu of Hubei Province, under the pressure of constant surveillance by authorities, drowned herself in a lake. The NGO Association for the Defense of Human Rights and Religious Freedom said that in May police attempted to arrest Li Sulian, a member of The Church of Almighty God, in her apartment, but before they entered she died from a fall in an attempt to escape out the window using a bed sheet. On November 22, Bitter Winter described the arrests, detentions, and seizure of assets of The Church of Almighty God members as part of the government’s nationwide campaign to “clean up gang crime and eliminate evil.”

According to Bitter Winter, local authorities throughout Shandong Province arrested more than 50 members of The Church of Almighty God. According to the family of one of the individuals arrested in Dezhou City on April 17, eight police officers suddenly broke into his home and, without presenting any credentials, searched the dwelling, seizing RMB 6,000 ($860), two computers, and other items. The man’s wife was later taken away as well and held in detention. In another instance, according to Bitter Winter, police knocked on the door under the false pretense of checking the home’s electricity circuit. When the owner opened her door, more than one dozen police officers entered, searched the house, and seized spiritual books and other faith-related items and two computers. Police arrested her and took her away in handcuffs with a hood over her head.

The Church of Almighty God reported that in May 52 members were arrested in coordinated raids in Chongqing, Sichuan Province. Some detainees reported they were put in a “tiger chair,” a device used to create stress positions during interrogations, and others said authorities denied them medical treatment and prevented them from sleeping. During the raid police seized RMB 190,000 ($27,000) of Church and personal property

According to Minghui, police arrested 6,109 and harassed 3,582 Falun Gong practitioners during the year for refusing to renounce their faith. At year’s end, 3,400 practitioners remained in custody. The arrests occurred throughout the country. Eighteen provinces, including Shandong, Hubei, Sichuan, Jilin, and Liaoning, reported hundreds of cases of harassment and arrests. According to Minghui, those arrested included teachers, engineers, lawyers, journalists, and dancers. On April 17, more than 100 officers arrested 10 members of a family in Bozhou City, Anhui Province, including a mother, her five daughters, three sons-in-law, and a 12-year-old grandson. Four of the sisters stood trial on December 5 and were awaiting verdicts at year’s end. Wang Shaoqing of Hubei Province and 12 other practitioners, including Zhou Xiuwu (aged 79) were arrested on March 7 for talking to others about Falun Gong in a park. According to her daughter, as of November, Wang was being held at the Wuhan City No. 1 Detention Center and denied access to her attorney.

Minghui reported that during the year, authorities were responsible for the deaths of 96 individuals on account of their beliefs or affiliations, 19 of them while being held in prisons, police stations, or detention. In the early morning on January 11, Guo Zhenxiang (aged 82) of Zhaoyuan City, Shandong Province, was arrested for passing out leaflets at a bus station. At approximately 10 AM authorities informed her family that she had died after becoming ill at the station and being taken to a local hospital. Yang Shengjun of Jiamusi City, Heilongjiang Province, was arrested on August 2 and died on August 11. Authorities told Yang’s family that he had vomited blood at the detention center early that morning and been sent to Jiamusi Central Hospital for emergency treatment. According to the family, they were charged RMB 30,000 ($4,300) for Yang’s medical treatment. On December 7, Li Yanjie of Heilongjiang Province fell to her death while trying to escape out the window of her 6th floor apartment as police attempted to force open the front door.

During the year, two international academic studies examined the country’s transplant system. These studies revealed new information about reports of the government’s practice of forcibly extracting organs from prisoners, including religious adherents, and noted ethical lapses on the part of the government and scientific research papers examining the country’s transplant system which the authors of the studies said left doubt about how voluntary the system actually was. On February 6 the peer-reviewed medical journal BMJ Open published the findings from an Australian-led academic study examining 445 scientific research papers that drew on Chinese transplant recipient data reported by the government and domestic hospitals. The academic study found 440 of the papers (99 percent) knowingly “failed to report whether organ donors had given consent for transplantation,” resulting in unethically published research. The Guardian reported the study found that some of the research papers stated organs were procured from volunteer deceased donors rather than from executed prisoners. The study concluded, however, that the government’s voluntary deceased donor program, instituted in 2010, was not in place at the time the research for the scientific papers took place, suggesting the government and hospitals had manipulated and falsified the data. The study further concluded the only source for organs at the time was executed prisoners, including prisoners of conscience. In an op-ed published in The Conversation on February 6, the study’s authors said, “[A] growing body of credible evidence suggests that organ harvesting is not limited to condemned prisoners, but also includes prisoners of conscience. It is possible therefore – though not verifiable in any particular case – that peer reviewed publications may contain data obtained from prisoners of conscience killed for the purpose of organ acquisition.”

In November a second Australian-led academic study reported in BMC Medical Ethics found the government and medical bureaucracy manipulated and falsified data on organ transplants. The study concluded that rather than the “untarnished voluntary system promised by officials,” a “voluntary system appears to operate alongside the continued use of nonvoluntary donors (most plausibly prisoners) who are misclassified as ‘voluntary.’” The study also said the goal of the manufactured data was “to create a misleading impression to the international transplantation community about the successes of China’s voluntary organ donation reform, and to neutralize the criticism of activists who allege that crimes against humanity have been committed in the acquisition of organs for transplant.” The study noted the government formalized regulations on organ transplantation in 2006, shortly after witnesses alleged Falun Gong practitioners were being used as an organ source, which the government denied.

In June an independent tribunal established by the international NGO International Coalition to End Transplant Abuse in China issued its final judgment that “forced organ harvesting has been committed for years throughout China on a significant scale and that Falun Gong practitioners have been one – and probably the main – source of organ supply.” The tribunal presented its finding to the United Nations in September.

Minghui reported that He Lifang, a Falun Gong practitioner from Qingdao City, Shandong Province, was arrested in May and died in custody on July 2. According to Minghui, his family observed a sewn-up incision on his chest and an open incision on his back. The police first said the incisions were a result of an autopsy, but his family suspected his organs had been harvested either while he was alive or shortly after his death. In November Wang Dechen of Harbin City, Heilongjiang Province, died after serving four years of a 10-year prison term. According to the family, prison authorities would not allow them to get close to Wang’s body and pressured them to consent to have his body cremated two days after his death. His family said they suspected he had been a victim of organ harvesting.

In December Bitter Winter published an article describing instances in which individuals were held against their will in psychiatric hospitals for extended periods of time for practicing their religion. One member of an unregistered Christian house church said he was held in a mental asylum twice for evangelizing, spending a total of 248 days there. A member of The Church of Almighty God from Hunan Province said she was held for 154 days because of her faith. Both individuals described being forced to take medication. The woman said beatings for disobedience were commonplace and that staff used sticks and electric batons to force inmates to take medication.

International religious media outlets and watchdog groups reported local authorities in several districts around the country implemented rules awarding compensation to police officers for arresting religious practitioners of certain affiliations or confiscating donation money. Local officials were allegedly disciplined if they did not meet a certain quota for arrests of religious practitioners each month. For example, media outlets reported in January that in Dalian, the second largest city in Liaoning Province, the National Security Bureau implemented a quota system in which police officers’ performances were evaluated based on the number of Christians they arrested. One Dalian police officer reportedly told the Gospel Herald magazine that senior officers risked losing their jobs if the quotas were not met. Bitter Winter reported the government of Qingdao, Shandong Province, launched a three-month operation in September and set quotas for the arrest of 100 to 200 adherents from various denominations and religious movements.

The whereabouts of Gao Zhisheng remained unknown, although media reported it was believed he remained in the custody of state security police. In September 2017, police detained Gao, a human rights lawyer who had defended members of Christian groups, Falun Gong practitioners, and other groups.

In June Bitter Winter reported that at least 45 of its correspondents and contributors in the country were detained, and some physically abused, as a result of the government’s retaliation against reporting on religious freedom.

Sources reported Pastor Yang Hua was detained several times throughout the year for his religious work. Yang was the pastor of the Livingstone Church, which was the largest unregistered church in Guizhou Province before the government shut it down in 2015.

In April AsiaNews reported national security agents took Father Paul Zhang Guangjun, a Catholic priest, into custody in Xuanhua, Hebei Province. Zhang had refused to join the government-run CCPA. According to AsiaNews, authorities stopped Zhang’s car, smashed the window, and beat him before taking him away. Another man in the car was also beaten but not taken into custody. Fifteen days prior to this event, police raided a house in which Zhang was leading Mass. His whereabouts were unknown at year’s end.

On July 25, media reported authorities in Yunnan Province denied the appeal of Protestant pastor Cao “John” Sanqiang, a U.S. lawful permanent resident and Christian leader, who was serving a seven-year prison sentence for “organizing others to illegally cross the border.” In 2017 authorities arrested Cao and a fellow Christian teacher when they traveled by waterway from Burma to Yunnan Province. His lawyer was told of the hearing only days before it was scheduled and was denied contact with Cao before the appeal was heard.

According to Bitter Winter, on June 17, authorities arrested and interrogated a local pastor at a branch of the South Korea-based Sungrak Church (“Sacred Music Church”) in Liaoning Province. The police repeatedly asked the pastor whether the church accepted money from South Korean sources and pressured him for information about church members. Police released him after forcing him to write a statement promising not to hold gatherings anymore.

Minghui reported that in April authorities in separate cases sentenced 38 Falun Gong practitioners to prison terms ranging from six months to 10 years. Authorities also fined 16 of the 38 practitioners a total of RMB 249,000 ($35,800). One man was convicted of “subverting state power” by mailing letters about the group. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison and fined RMB 100,000 ($14,400). According to Minghui, authorities surveilled the man for several months before arresting him in August 2017. Authorities sentenced two Falun Gong practitioners in the town of Luodai in Sichuan Province to two years and eight months in prison for removing anti-Falun Gong posters from their neighborhood. Minghui reported one 76-year-old man from Ji’nan City, Shandong Province, was sentence to three years and fined RMB 5,000 ($720) for refusing to renounce his faith.

Minghui reported that on May 12, police arrested eight elderly practitioners in Zhuhai City, Guangdong Province, while studying Falun Gong books. The police recorded detailed information about each practitioner, including his or her children’s employment information and phone numbers, before taking them home and ransacking their residences.

Bitter Winter reported that on January 15, authorities arrested 150 pastors, elders, and leaders from Henan Province’s China Gospel Fellowship, a network of unregistered house churches. According to a source, the pastors, elders, and leaders had been under surveillance for an extended period of time. Authorities confiscated their mobile phones and recorded their personal information before transporting each individual to the police station in the municipality of his or her registered residence. Authorities forced each pastor to sign a “statement of repentance” prior to being released. One of the pastors said authorities placed a surveillance camera in front of her house and ordered her to report to the police station every day. According to sources, one pastor suffered a heart attack during the raid and was taken to the hospital.

According to the religious freedom advocacy NGO ChinaAid, most of the 100 members of the Early Rain Covenant Church – the church with the most members among Chengdu’s unregistered churches – who were arrested during a violent raid in December 2018, were released during the year. AsiaNews reported authorities released church elder Li Yingqiang in August. According to ChinaAid, authorities sentenced elder Qin Defu to four years in prison for “illegal business activity.” In December Pastor Wang Yi was tried in secret and sentenced to nine years in prison by a court in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, in connection with his peaceful advocacy for religious freedom. According to a statement posted on the court’s website, the court also deprived Wang of his political rights for three years and confiscated RMB 50,000 ($7,200) of his personal property. Prior to his conviction, on July 15, authorities informed Wang’s lawyer that Wang was charged with “inciting subversion of state power” and “illegal business activity,” which carry the possibility of a life sentence. ChinaAid reported that Wang’s lawyer was prevented from meeting his client, was subjected to surveillance, and had other difficulties representing his client.

According to the NGO International Christian Concern, a member of the Early Rain Covenant Church in Sichuan Province said he was forced to move houses several times during the year. He had been detained for two weeks in February and then evicted from his home in September. Police threatened to arrest the member and his wife and to send his child to an orphanage if he did not immediately leave his home. The man said this was the third time he had been forced to move due to his religious beliefs.

Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported that human rights attorney Jiang Tianyong, who had previously represented Falun Gong adherents and Tibetans, was released from prison in Henan Province in February at the end of his two-year prison term on charges of “inciting state subversion.” The U.S.-based NGO Human Rights in China said that, according to Jiang’s relatives, he was allowed to visit his parents’ home in Xinyang City, Henan Province, following his release. Jiang remained in his parents’ village throughout the year under house arrest, unable to see doctors for medical conditions that began when he was in prison, which included discoloration on his legs and swollen feet.

In its annual report, ChinaAid stated Jiang Rong, the wife of Early Rain Covenant Church Pastor Wang Yi, was released on bail in June after five months in detention, but authorities immediately placed her under house arrest and prohibited contact with all but family members. According to ChinaAid, while in detention authorities tortured Jiang, prohibited her from brushing her teeth for 50 days, and forced her to sit on a stool for long hours with her body bent at a 30 degree angle.

There continued to be reports of government officials, companies, and education authorities compelling members of house churches and other Christians to sign documents renouncing their Christian faith and church membership. ChinaAid, Bitter Winter, and other sources reported authorities pressured family members to encourage believers to renounce their faith, threatening to withdraw employment and educational opportunities from them and their family members, and to withhold social welfare benefits. According to ChinaAid, on January 31, Early Rain Covenant Church member Pan Fei was fired from his job at Yonghui Supermarket in Chengdu because he refused to stop attending church and renounce his faith.

The Association for the Defense of Human Rights and Religious Freedom reported that in April a long-time CCP member named Ms. Zhang committed suicide after the Sichuan Province CCP pressured her to renounce her faith and made multiple threats against her family. Zhang joined the TSPM True Jesus Church in 2011. The report stated that during the year, Zhang was subjected to a criticism session in front of 100 party officials, home visits from party leaders, and threats to remove social benefits from her children.

There continued to be no uniform procedures for registering religious adherents. The government continued to recognize as “lawful” only those religious activities it sanctioned and controlled through the state-sanctioned religious associations. Only government-accredited religious personnel could conduct such activities and only in government-approved places of religious activity.

UCA News reported that on December 30, the government approved the Administrative Measures for Religious Groups, scheduled to take effect on February 1, 2020. These measures comprise six chapters and 41 articles dealing with the organization, function, offices, supervision, projects, and economic administration of communities and groups at the national and local levels. The measures emphasize that only registered groups could operate legally and stipulate that religious organizations must adhere to the leadership of the CCP and implement the values of socialism. According to UCA News, if enforced, article 34, which governs money and finances, “will halt the activities of house churches, dissident Catholic communities, and other unregistered religious bodies.”

SARA continued to maintain statistics on registered religious groups. According to a 2014 SARA statistic, more than 5.7 million Catholics worshipped in sites registered by the CCPA. According to a SCIO report on religious policies and practice released in September 2017, there were 21 officially recognized Protestant seminaries, 57,000 clerical personnel, and 60,000 churches and other meeting places. This report stated there were 91 religious schools in the country approved by SARA, including nine Catholic schools, although students under 18 were barred from receiving religious instruction. This report also stated there were six national-level religious colleges. Although there were two CCPA seminaries in Beijing, civil society sources said they regarded one of these institutions to be primarily used as the CCPA’s propaganda for international visitors. The SCIO report also estimated there were 35,000 mosques, 57,000 imams, and 10 Quran institutes (religious seminaries under the auspices of the state-sanctioned IAC) in the country.

The government did not recognize religious groups not affiliated with the state-sanctioned religious associations, including unregistered Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, and other groups, and continued to close down or hinder their activities. At times, authorities said the closures were because the group or its activities were unregistered and other times because the place of worship lacked necessary permits. Some local governments continued to restrict the growth of unregistered Protestant church networks and cross-congregational affiliations. Authorities allowed some unregistered groups to operate, but did not recognize them legally. In some cases, authorities required unregistered religious groups to disband, leaving congregants from these groups with the sole option of attending services under a state-sanctioned religious leader.

ChinaAid reported in June that authorities in Xuzhou, Jiangsu Province, shut down Dao’en Church, stating the Church had not registered with the government. Authorities had previously closed three of the Church’s five branches and pressured landlords to not renew leases for the Church. ChinaAid earlier reported authorities had fined the pastor and another minister of Dao’en Church RMB 10,000 ($1,400) and threatened to confiscate the Church’s offerings.

The government kept Zion Church closed, one of Beijing’s largest unregistered Protestant churches, led by Pastor Jin “Ezra” Mingzhi, saying it had broken rules by organizing mass gatherings without registering with authorities.

International media and NGOs reported the government continued a nationwide campaign to “Sinicize religion” across all faith traditions. On January 7, the government announced a formal five-year plan for this campaign.

From June 24 to 29, the Guangdong UFWD and Guangdong Ethnic and Religious Affairs Commission jointly hosted a training session in Xi’an, Shaanxi Province, on religious Sinicization. More than 70 individuals above the vice president level from provincial religious groups from the five officially recognized faiths attended. In his opening remarks, Deputy Director General of Guangdong Ethnic and Religious Affairs Commission Huang Zhongxing said religious Sinicization taught socialist core values to religious professionals and believers. He urged participants to study in depth and implement “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era,” the eponymous 30-year doctrine developed by Chairman Xi and the CCP in their religious work.

Gospel Times reported that on July 8, the Sichuan Provincial Party Committee held training to promote the “Sinicization of Christianity” for 178 church leaders. Lecture topics included how to implement Chairman Xi’s goal of guiding religious adherents to adapt to socialist society and the importance of church leaders keeping church members “politically reliable.” Similar events were held in other provinces.

Bitter Winter reported that in mid-July Liaoning provincial authorities launched a training course for TSPM church pastors at Shenyang Seminary. The director of the provincial religious affairs bureau was one of the instructors. A pastor who attended the mandatory training said the course focused on the Sinicization of Christianity. The pastor said authorities strongly emphasized the importance of wearing traditional Chinese clothing while delivering sermons; replacing European style church buildings with Chinese style buildings; and incorporating CCP policies and ideology into sermons. Training sessions on the Bible or Christian theology were not offered. Additionally, authorities reportedly told pastors their religious qualifications and preaching certificates would immediately be revoked if they preached that biblical teachings carried greater authority than CCP policies and ideology. One pastor told Bitter Winter that in Liaoyang City a police chief told a group of Christians at a local church, “We must regard the Party as God, just like God.”

According to international media and the state-run news agency Xinhua, on November 26 in Beijing at a symposium of the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Committee of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, officials reaffirmed efforts to update religious texts to conform to “the core values of socialism.” Xinhua reported participants stressed the need to gradually form a religious ideological system with Chinese characteristics. According to Xinhua, “Participants suggested conducting a systematic study of the thoughts of various religions, and making accurate and authoritative interpretations of classical doctrines to keep pace with the times, so as to effectively resist the erosion of extreme thoughts and heresy.”

State media reported that in August Guangzhou’s Guangxiao Buddhist Temple and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a government research institute and academic organization organized under the State Council, jointly established the “Buddhist Sinicization Research Base” in Guangzhou. At its inaugural meeting, multiple speakers said Buddhist philosophy and practice must be based on political identity and adapt to society and culture.

Media reported that in cities throughout Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region in north-central China, home to a majority of Hui Muslims, as well as in Henan Province, Inner Mongolia, and elsewhere, authorities replaced Islamic structures and symbols with traditional Chinese iconography as part of the nationwide “Sinicization” campaign. In the Ningxia Region authorities took down structures with “Arabic domes,” destroying minarets in the process, and replaced them with curving Chinese roofs. Sources told media that authorities prevented public calls to prayer and banned sales of the Quran. Authorities also prohibited news broadcasts from showing images of pedestrians walking about wearing skull caps or veils.

The five-year plan to promote the Sinicization of Christianity called for “incorporating the Chinese elements into church worship services, hymns and songs, clergy attire, and the architectural style of church buildings,” and proposed to “retranslate the Bible or rewrite biblical commentaries.” During the year, authorities reportedly pressured churches to display banners with messages of political ideology, recite the national anthem before singing Christian hymns, and engage in other acts demonstrating one’s loyalty to the CCP over the church.

Bitter Winter reported that at a church in Shenyang during the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the PRC on October 1, authorities hung national flags throughout the church, covering religious paintings and images. Authorities forced congregants to sing patriotic songs such as “Without the Communist Party, There Would Be No New China.” During the event there were a total of 11 performances, most of which were secular programs promoting the CCP.

Bitter Winter and the website Aboluowang reported that on October 1, Buddhist monks at the Wanshan Temple in Lushan, Jiangxi Province, raised the national flag while fellow monks, nuns, and lay Buddhists waived small national flags and sang the national anthem. A Buddhist master led the group in shouting patriotic slogans such as “Long Live the motherland, Amitabha” and singing patriotic songs. One monk sang “My Chinese Heart,” and 16 nuns danced to the song “The Chinese Flag.” According to Bitter Winter, on September 26, the Jinxiang Temple in the Yindu District of Anyang, Henan Province, organized a National Day commemoration. An adherent asked to be allowed to sing a Buddhist song, but government officials told him “all Buddhist songs are forbidden, only songs advocating the Party are allowed.”

In October the website for the state-sponsored China Taoist Association reported its Sinicization efforts continued, promoting Taoism’s “advancing with the times” and “developing on the basis of maintaining its own Chinese characteristics.” Taoist ideology would, according to the website, use “new thinking, new ideas, and new theories to answer contemporary social life issues of social concern, public concern, and believers’ concerns, so that Taoism can better adapt to new society, serve the new era, and help push new developments.”

In October Bitter Winter reported the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau in Xiaoshan District in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, issued a “Scoring Form for the Standardized Management and Assessment of Buddhist and Taoist Activity Venues in Xiaoshan District.” Religious organizations could lose points for not promoting “core socialist values,” as well as for having religious publications that were not published by state-designated publishing houses. Groups could also lose points if they failed to raise the national flag, when video surveillance equipment inside the church did not work properly, or if clergy failed to give “Sinicized” sermons. According to Bitter Winter, a similar scoring plan went into effect in March in Henan Province. Under that plan, in addition to losing points, places of worship could gain points for “proactively reporting illegal religious activities” and “foreign infiltration.”

In September National Public Radio reported Hui residents of Tongxin said local officials offered rewards between $700 and $2,820 to those who reported suspicious religious behavior, such as proselytizing Islam or secretly teaching Islamic texts.

In August the pro-CCP media outlet Global Times stated 11,000 Uighur and other Muslims were expected to take part in the Hajj during the year, compared with 11,500 in 2018, although official statistics confirming this number was accurate were unavailable at year’s end.

Bitter Winter reported in early February authorities in Suiyang District, Shangqiu City, Henan Province, convened a meeting at which government personnel were ordered to collect the times and locations of house church gatherings and record that information in a newly established database operating 24 hours a day. According to Bitter Winter, officials said government informants would be rewarded for passing on information.

Bitter Winter reported that on May 12 in Gulou District in Fuzhou City, the capital of Fujian Province, more than 30 government personnel stood guard outside a meeting venue for the Fuzhou Reformed House Church. More than 20 police officers disrupted the meeting and ordered all individuals in attendance to leave. Police confiscated more than 200 books, including Bibles and hymnals. The police took the church’s elders into custody and threatened to arrest congregants who did not leave. According to one source, an official from the Religious Affairs Bureau told the congregants, “You should change your boss [referring to God] and join the Communist Party.” Police later posted a sign on the entrance stating the church had been shut down.

According to the South China Morning Post, Guangzhou officials from the Religious Affairs Bureau in March announced a new policy offering financial rewards to people who reported “illegal religious activities,” in an ongoing crackdown on underground gatherings. The new policy would also allow members of the public to earn up to RMB 10,000 ($1,400) for providing information leading to the arrest of a non-Chinese religious leader. Other payment incentives included RMB 3,000 to 5,000 ($430-$720) for tips about locally organized gatherings and their leaders. Some examples of “illegal religious activities” included building unauthorized temples and monasteries, organizing unauthorized pilgrimages, worshipping at unauthorized churches, and printing unauthorized religious publications. According to the solicitation, cash rewards for “whistleblowers” helped limit foreign infiltration through religion.

In July ChinaAid reported that in Guiyang City, the capital of Guizhou Province, officials announced cash awards for information related to illegal religious activity, missionary work, and foreign interference in religious affairs. Authorities placed posters advertising the program throughout the city, especially near Livingstone Church meeting locations. The program offered cash rewards of $1,000.

Bitter Winter reported that according to a foreign Jehovah’s Witness missionary, Church members in Shandong Province worshipped in secret, holding gatherings in small groups at constantly changing venues. One of their meeting venues was in a residential building. They placed a surveillance camera at the entrance to watch for government authorities. The missionary said they drew the curtains and sang hymns quietly to avoid being heard, and spoke in code when making plans over the phone for meetings, among other measures taken to ensure secrecy.

Bitter Winter reported that in March the UFWD in multiple counties in Jiangxi Province issued documents calling for a sweeping crackdown on private Christian venues. The documents stated that high-level government officials would conduct random inspections and that low-level government officials who did not shut down enough venues would be held accountable. On May 19, the Religious Affairs Bureau shut down Xunsiding Church in Siming District, Xiamen City, Fujian Province. and fined the priest, Yang Xibo, RMB 25,000 ($3,600). According to Bitter Winter, authorities also shut down government approved TSPM venues, closing at least 14 in Yuangzhou District, Yichun City, Jiangxi Province, in March and April.

Members of the Early Rain Covenant Church said they experienced routine harassment and arbitrary detention in the wake of a violent raid conducted by police in December 2018. ChinaAid reported 15 members of the Chengdu-based house church were arrested while gathering at a home in January. Among those detained were three children aged two to seven. One church member detained in the house raid was allowed to return home to her children when authorities realized they had already detained her the week before. The woman, who had been arrested six times in 2018, said she was severely beaten by police during the December 2018 raid.

Bitter Winter reported that on February 24, local government officials closed a house church in the Xincheng Sub-district of Suiyang District, Henan Province. Officials told church members gatherings of three people or more were not permitted and that holding meetings in their home was against the law. According to sources, during the raid one official said, “What’s more, several children are present. Allowing minors to believe in God is also against the law.” An officer from the local security services told the preacher, “If we find people coming to your home again to worship God, you will be treated as a criminal.” Authorities registered the names and addresses of attendees and photographed them. The report also stated security officials destroyed all religious symbols in the home and confiscated Bibles, hymnals, and other religious texts. Officials additionally forced the house’s landlord to terminate the rental agreement with the pastor.

According to Bitter Winter, on March 6, the local Bureau of Ethnic and Religious Affairs in Zhengzhou City’s Erqi District accused the Panshi Church of setting up a meeting place in violation of the law and shut down the church. During their raid, officials confiscated church items valued at RMB 70,000 ($10,100) and sealed off the venue with barricade tape. Government officials warned the landlord she would be fined RMB 200,000 ($28,700) if she allowed the group to hold additional meetings there.

According to RFA, on March 23, Beijing authorities banned the Shouwang Church (one of the largest Beijing churches by number of congregants), stating the church’s unregistered activities had violated the Regulations of Religious Affairs and the Regulations of Registration Management of Social Groups. According to one announcement from the church after the government ban, more than 30 police, along with officers and staff from the district-level civil affairs bureau and the Religious Affairs Bureau, interrupted Bible study class and other church activities at two sites in Beijing’s Haidian District. RFA reported the church members at the two sites were taken to a school and instructed to sign a document promising to no longer participate in Shouwang Church activities, but refused to do so. Police released them after several hours. Local authorities also replaced the locks at the two church venues.

According to RFA, on May 12, officers from provincial religious affairs bureaus interrupted religious services in at least eight house churches across six jurisdictions (Xiamen, Fujian Province; Chengdu, Sichuan Province; Guiyang, Guizhou Province; Xiangtan, Hunan Province; Nanchang, Jiangxi Province; and Shanghai) and accused those present of gathering illegally. In Guiyang, police raided a meeting of the Guiyang Reform Church taking place in a hotel room, removed the cross from the room and confiscated computers for further investigation.

According to Sound of Hope, a radio station operated by Falun Gong practitioners in the United States, Xiamen authorities shut down more than 40 house churches in the city in a May-June campaign.

Bitter Winter reported that on May 12, 30 to 40 enforcement officers from the Guangzhou Religious Affairs Bureau and the Public Security Bureau entered the Enzhu Church during a service, and registered the identity of the pastor and 70 worshipers. On the same day, more than 10 law enforcement officers raided a house church in Foshan and confiscated more than RMB 600 ($86) from the church’s donation box, claiming the money was “illegally raised.”

In May Bitter Winter reported that the government of Liaoning Province launched a campaign to intensify its crackdown on foreign religious activities as part of the national campaign to implement the “Work Plan for the Investigation and Handling of Special Actions and Activities of Overseas Christian Churches.” The plan, issued by UFWD and the Ministry of Public Security, specifically identified some Christian churches in the United States and South Korea, including the Young Disciples of Jesus, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Cru, the Bo’ai Church, the Loving Heart Church, and the Canaan Church. It also called for the further suppression of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and some Korean Christian churches that authorities had previously targeted. The document stated the purposes of the plan included: “resolutely cracking down on foreign religious believers; resolutely destroying the religious activities of foreign religious groups in the local area; and resolutely preventing organizations from attending trainings in neighboring countries and regions.” The plan also required supervision of foreign-related missions on the Internet, including social media apps QQ and WeChat. According to Bitter Winter, the plan called for cultivating foreigners and local individuals to act as informants.

Bitter Winter reported in August that provincial, city, and county officials in Jilin Province engaged in similar crackdowns on foreign churches and organizations. A confidential plan issued by Jilin government officials called for setting up an “Office for Resisting Infiltration by Foreign Christian Forces” to shut down meeting venues and underground seminaries founded by foreign religious groups, collect and analyze intelligence on foreign-related religious activities, surveil and control public opinion online, and monitor foreign-related religious activities at universities. A document issued by the UFWD called for launching a “Joint Alliance on Religious Work,” under which more than 20 government institutions would coordinate long-term control over religion, especially foreign-related religious activities. In addition to security services, the joint alliance would include government bodies such as the Civil Affairs Bureau, Women’s Federation, Bureau of Commerce, Hygiene and Health Committee, and customs enforcement.

According to Bitter Winter, in February authorities in the Huaiyin District of Huai’an, Jiangsu Province, reported they had installed surveillance equipment in 155 of the district’s 170 TSPM churches. Authorities said in the official report they had connected some of the cameras to the government’s public security system network. The cameras covered the gates, main entrance, worship halls, podium, and even the toilets of the churches. One of the church directors told Bitter Winter, “They can see every move in the church. If we didn’t follow their demands, the church would have to be shut down.”

According to religious community representatives, authorities continued to unofficially tolerate some members of foreign groups meeting for private religious celebrations. Churches attended by foreigners continued to receive heavy scrutiny, as authorities forced them to require passport checks and registration for members to prevent Chinese citizens from attending “foreigner” services.

According to Bitter Winter, in September the government in a city in Liaoning Province told the person in charge of a local TSPM church to stop allowing 80 African international students to participate in gatherings at the church as part of efforts at “preventing foreign infiltration through religion.”

The Catholic News Agency reported that in July and August authorities shut down at least five Catholic churches in Yujiang Diocese because of their refusal to join the state-approved CCPA. There were reports the government placed informants in CCPA churches to monitor the content of sermons and other Church activities.

According to The Independent, Hui Muslims feared the high levels of government surveillance and oppression in Xinjiang, primarily targeting Uighur and other Muslims – including some Hui Muslims living there – could spread to other parts of the country, including their own communities.

Bitter Winter reported that in February the Urban Management Bureau of Lushi County in Sanmenxia, Henan Province, issued a document entitled “Statement of Commitment for Consciously Resisting Illegal Religious Activities.” The document prohibited organizing celebrations with religious overtones in public places, including posting, hanging, or selling goods (such as couplets [paired banners with poetry], calligraphy, ceramic tiles, and murals) with religious themes. Authorities seized calendars with Christian symbols on them from churches and vendors. One vendor said authorities conducted rigorous inspections and shut down vendors who were caught selling items with religious content, and as a result, “In the entire market, no one dares to sell them.”

Bitter Winter reported during the Spring Festival some local governments required churches and private homes to replace Christian couplets with couplets advising citizens to “love the Party.” The fine for posting a Christian couplet was RMB 2,000 ($290). The pastor of a TSPM church in Yongcheng City, Henan Province, said, “It is against our faith to post Spring Festival couplets that praise the Communist Party. But if we don’t post them, the CCP might use this as an excuse to seal off the church.” Authorities gave residents in Kaifeng City’s Weishi County couplets stating “love the Party” and wall calendars with portraits of Xi Jinping. Some officials personally posted the “love the Party” couplets in religious adherents’ homes.

According to Bitter Winter, on January 13, the leader of Enhui Church in Yanji town, Yongcheng City, Henan Province, attempted to distribute a calendar that included the image of a cross. Police demanded the church recover each of the 1,000 calendars it had distributed or the church would be shut down. The leader of Enhui Church and one of its clergy were detained by police and required to “study the policies of the CCP for one week.” The government reportedly also fined the church RMB 28,000 ($4,000).

According to the NGO Tibet Watch, on May 13, local authorities informed leaders of the Anfu Buddhist Temple in Guangxi Province that the temple’s main hall “violated Han Buddhist principles” and needed to be “rectified.” The monastery is a pilgrimage site for Buddhists from neighboring provinces. Authorities threatened legal action if the temple did not remove its Tibetan-style prayer wheels and stupa within a week, and banned prayer flags, bells, and other traditional Tibetan Buddhist religious items. On May 23, the Weibin District Buddhist Association issued similar restrictions for monasteries in Shaanxi Province.

Reuters reported in July that as part of the government’s expanded efforts to Sincize the country’s Muslim population, authorities in Beijing ordered halal restaurants and food stalls to remove signs containing Arabic script and Islamic symbols such as the crescent moon. According to the manager of a local noodle shop, “They said this [the sign in Arabic over the shop reading ‘halal’] is foreign culture and you should use more Chinese culture.” Reuters reported several larger shops in Beijing had replaced Arabic signs with ones reading “qing zhen,” the Chinese term for halal.

Bitter Winter reported that in January local government officials in Hebei Province issued a document entitled, “Notice on Comprehensively Investigating and Regulating Arabic Symbols and Religious Elements in Public Places and the Issue of ‘Generalization of Halal.’” The document set forth a policy requiring central, provincial, and municipal governments to remove Arabic-language symbols and religious elements from public places. “Generalization of halal” practices such as the use of Arabic-language symbols at halal restaurants, in school canteens for Muslim students, on halal foods, and in Muslim households were also banned.

Bitter Winter reported that in January authorities demolished a large outdoor Buddha statue and 11 small Buddha statues located in the Xiantang Mountain Scenic Area of Xiangyuan County in Shanxi Province. Officials cited a prohibition on construction of large outdoor religious statues outside of temple and church grounds.

During the year, authorities destroyed several Buddhist statues in Zhejiang Province. Bitter Winter reported in January authorities in Taizhou, Zhejiang, destroyed a 92-foot statue of the Bodhisattva Guanyin inside a local temple. In March Taizhou authorities demolished a 59-foot Guanyin statue. In May authorities in Linhai dismantled a 48-foot tall Guanyin statue. Authorities told the local abbot in Linhai that “religious statues cannot be located outdoors.” In September authorities dismantled a 69-foot Guanyin statue at the Mingshan Temple in Wenzhou stating that the statue was too tall and would obstruct the view of airplane pilots. In Ningbo authorities ordered a Buddhist abbot to dismantle 500 statues embedded in a mountain behind his temple.

According to a February ChinaAid article, authorities in Yancheng, Jiangsu Province, removed the cross of Chengdong Christian Church, a large TSPM church with approximately 3,000 worshipers.

According to Bitter Winter, on January 4, the government of Xiayi County in Henan Province sent 100 security officials to remove three crosses from the roof of the Wangzhai Church in Wangzhai Village. According to a local official, the Wangzhai Church crosses were the last remaining crosses to be destroyed under the CCP’s years-long campaign to remove all public displays of crosses in the county. Eyewitnesses said authorities used a crane to remove the large cross atop the center of the roof. They also dismantled two small crosses on the left and right side of the church roof as well as 12 small crosses on the perimeter wall. They then used a bulldozer to tear down the church gate and sections of the perimeter wall. Officials also confiscated the church’s donation box and pictures of the cross on display inside the church.

According to Bitter Winter, in April officials in Kaifeng City, Henan Province, entered the site of the Kaifeng Synagogue, the oldest Jewish cultural site in East Asia, now a Jewish learning center. They removed the name of the synagogue from the exterior door, and Stars of David and the Israeli flag from the windows. On the building’s exterior, officials placed antireligious signs, including one that read, “Management of religious affairs should be in accordance with the principle of protecting the lawful and banning the unlawful, boycotting infiltration and fighting crime.” Authorities installed a surveillance camera at the entrance as part of what one neighborhood resident said were efforts to monitor and discourage foreign visitors. Bitter Winter reported that in the summer, the government rented a house next to the site, where personnel assigned by the government monitored the activities in the site and the movements of passersby. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Persian Jews emigrated to Kaifeng in the 12th century and a Jewish synagogue has existed in that location since 1163; the current structure dates from 1653. In February The Jewish Post reported the community had approximately 1,000 members.

Bitter Winter and the website Abolouwang reported in November that authorities forced Buddhist temples in Henan Province to fly the national flag during the 70th anniversary of the founding of the PRC. The government maintained 2018 directives mandating that the national flag be raised at religious venues during national holidays and during each religion’s important festivals and celebrations.

In its annual report, ChinaAid stated authorities limited Christians’ ability to celebrate Christmas. ChinaAid reported that SARA ordered Christmas Eve services held by churches in large cities be reserved for adherents with admission tickets only. Sources said in some municipalities they were told not to hold Christmas celebrations in November and December. One local source said his congregation held its Christmas celebration in October. On December 17, a property management company in Yunnan’s Kunming Economic Development Zone issued a notice to local businesses and merchants banning any celebration of Christmas as well as Christmas-related messages and decorations, citing a police restriction. In Guizhou Province, the Qianxi County Education Bureau and the Science and Technology Bureau issued a notice banning celebrations of Christmas, Christmas Eve, and any “foreign holidays” among school students. Students were strictly prohibited from playing “angels” in church shows, joining church choirs, and singing hymns. Schools were also required to keep the parents of students from attending Christmas-related events.

During the year, there were reports of foreign missionaries being extensively surveilled, detained, and deported. On July 12, the government of Huaiying District, Huai’An City, Jiangsu Province, published a notice on its website about the establishment of a group in Sanshu Town “to carry out the special action of investigating and punishing overseas Christian infiltration in accordance with the law.” The standing committee of Wenxi County, Yuncheng, Shanxi Province, published on its website information about action being taken to investigate and punish the infiltration of foreign Christianity. Bitter Winter reported that in April a municipality in Jilin Province issued “The Plan for Jointly Investigating Religious Infiltration Activities.” According to Bitter Winter, on July 4, government officials in Dongfeng County of Liaoyuan, Jilin Province, held a meeting about the suppression of “foreign religious infiltration” from the United States and South Korea. More than 700 personnel – including officials from the local religious affairs bureau and the UFWD, as well as CCP secretaries from each township and village – attended the meeting “to coordinate the crackdown operation.”

According to Bitter Winter, in August authorities in Jiangxi Province raided an apartment where two Taiwanese church leaders were holding a church meeting. The authorities arrested the leaders and nearly 30 Chinese Christians. The two leaders were subsequently deported.

Bitter Winter reported that in May authorities in Qingdao, Shandong Province, arrested and deported a foreign Jehovah’s Witnesses elder. Also in May police in Jiangxi Province arrested a South Korean Jehovah’s Witnesses missionary. They confiscated the woman’s passport, religious books, and computer. Authorities then interrogated her and a local member of Jehovah’s Witnesses for seven hours before releasing them. The missionary was deported soon after. According to Jehovah’s Witnesses in the country, deported foreign missionaries may return after five years, but church elders are barred from the country for life.

Bitter Winter reported that in May two female Japanese Jehovah’s Witnesses missionaries returned to Harbin, Heilongjiang Province after a short trip abroad. The day after they returned, police arrested them at their residence. The police interrogated them for 10 hours and gave them statements to sign promising not to return to preach in the country. The women refused to sign because the statement said, “I regret coming to China to preach.” Authorities deported one of the missionaries that day, while the other was released and deported three days later.

Authorities continued to restrict the printing and distribution of the Bible, Quran, and other religious literature. The government continued to allow some foreign educational institutions to provide religious materials in Chinese, which were used by both registered and unregistered religious groups.

The government continued to allow only the national TSPM, China Christian Council (CCC), and CCPA to publish and sell Bibles legally. There were approximately 11 provincial TSPM Christian publishers. Bitter Winter reported, however, that according to local sources, between November 2018 and January 2019 authorities confiscated Bibles and other religious works at approximately 11 TSPM churches in multiple regions in northern Heilongjiang Province.

The government limited distribution of Bibles to CCPA and TSPM/Chinese Christian Council entities such as churches, church bookshops inside churches, and seminaries. Individuals could not order Bibles directly from publishing houses. Members of unregistered churches reported the supply and distribution of Bibles was inadequate, particularly in rural locations. According to reports, while there were no independent domestic Christian booksellers, publishers without a religious affiliation could publish Christian books. Approximately 20 distribution centers and bookstores were linked to the national TSPM. In addition, authorities reportedly allowed churches with more than 2,000 members to sell books at their church facilities. Approximately 700 churches had such bookstores. During the year, authorities continued to limit the number of Christian titles that could be published annually, with draft manuscripts closely reviewed by the local religious affairs bureau.

Christian organizations seeking to use social media and smartphone apps to distribute Christian materials reported the government increased censorship of these materials. World Magazine reported in March online retailers such as Taobao and Jd.com stopped selling Bibles to the domestic market after authorities began enforcing the 2018 revisions to the Regulations on Religious Affairs. According to World Magazine, authorities restricted Christian channels on WeChat and other social networking apps and websites. In July government censors blocked domestic access to the Christian website WeDevote and scrubbed the WeDevote Bible app from most domestic app stores.

Bitter Winter reported Li Liang of the Anhui Provincial Church in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, remained under surveillance following his release from five years in prison for photocopying Bible chapters to distribute to individuals in his home. Li Wenqiang, librarian for the Seventh-day Adventist church in Shenzhen, also remained under surveillance. In 2017, authorities convicted Li of “conducting illegal business activities” when the library was found to have more than 200,000 copies of the Bible and other Christian books. Li was sentenced to three years in prison with a five-year suspension of the sentence, during which he was forbidden to leave the city.

Sources said the Nanping Culture and Tourism Administration in Fujian Province raided the library of the Nanping Christian Association in February and found the association had sold 253 copies of the Bible and gained a net profit of RMB 628 ($90). On July 9, the administration confiscated the profits and fined the association RMB 10,000 ($1,400) for selling publications without a license.

Bitter Winter reported that in April authorities fined the Fengyang Road Three-Self Great Church in Shenyang, Liaoning Province, RMB 10,000 ($1,400) for having Bibles that were printed in South Korea. Authorities also prohibited the church from selling Bibles of any kind.

Media reported in August authorities investigated a printing house in Shenyang, for printing Buddhist materials. According to Bitter Winter, the printing house avoided government restrictions by bribing the officials.

According to Bitter Winter, in August authorities in Zhengshou City, Henan Province, required the Fengzhuang Three-Self Church to display banners and panels promoting the campaign to “eradicate pornography and illegal publications” in the church. In Hubei Province, the Chongyang County government issued an open letter stating “dark forces” and “pornography and illegal publications” are associated with religious belief.

According to Bitter Winter, in some parts of the country, local authorities regularly reviewed sermons for TSPM pastors to ensure they were consistent with CCP ideology and praised government leaders. In March local authorities in Shangqiu City, Henan Province, withheld approval of a TSPM pastor’s sermon, indicating it was too religious and did not contain enough CCP ideology.

In March one pastor told Bitter Winter, “There is a lot of pressure on us when giving sermons now. If we don’t say the right thing, personnel from the State Security Bureau can say we’re anti-government[.] All sermon topics must be submitted to the Religious Affairs Bureau for review…Chinese culture must be incorporated into the sermon as per the government’s requirements. At Three-Self churches, this is how we have to talk about the Bible, because there are CCP spies in the churches. As soon as they discover that the sermon’s content is not in line with national requirements, we will be severely punished. We might have our pastoral duties revoked for life, so that we cannot serve as pastors at any church.”

Bitter Winter reported destruction of religious structures and symbols was widespread throughout the country. According to the publication, in March authorities in Ji’an City, Jiangxi Province, initially sought to destroy a 16-meter (52 feet) wide 23-meter (75 feet) high statue of Lao-Tzu, the founder of Taoism, that was carved into the Wugong Mountain in the scenic area of Yangshimu in Anfu County. After local administrators objected that demolition would excessively damage the surroundings, authorities instead erected a large-scale plant-covered barrier in front of the sculpture to completely block it from view.

According to Bitter Winter, in April authorities in Dalian, Liaoning Province, sealed off a Taoist temple and forced the head of the temple to sign a statement saying he would not sell incense or hold Taoist ceremonies. In May authorities sealed off another Taoist temple in Dalian and destroyed the scriptures, calligraphy, and paintings inside.

According to Bitter Winter, on March 14, approximately 100 government officials and police officers in Henan Province, led by the secretary of Xianglushan Town, demolished a state-controlled TSPM church for allegedly violating building laws.

According to Bitter Winter, in June local officials dismantled and repurposed five churches as “cultural activity centers” in Xingyang County in Zhengzhou Prefecture, Henan Province. Local government officials threatened to demolish the churches if the congregation did not agree to let the government take possession of the property.

Bitter Winter reported that on March 1, local government officials demolished all but the main hall of Taoist Nainai Temple, located on Hou Mountain in Yi County, under the jurisdiction of Baoqing City, Hebei Province. Within 20 days, authorities also demolished 32 temples and at least 164 faith-related buildings in the surrounding area. Authorities hung signs along the path leading up to Hou Mountain, warning “illegal buildings will be demolished.”

According to Bitter Winter, in March authorities in Gaoyao, Jiangsu Province, destroyed nearly 6,000 Tudi temples dedicated to the local land god. Authorities from the Gaoyou Department of Land and Resources stated the temples were illegal buildings that occupied arable land or public spaces. In April authorities in Xianju, Zhejiang Province, destroyed 21 folk temples as part of a “rectification” campaign.

Bitter Winter reported that in August authorities in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, forcibly converted two Buddhist temples into elderly care activity centers. In one of the temples, which was 800 years old, authorities removed Bodhisattva statues and transformed rooms into areas to play chess, watch television, and read. In another temple, mahjong tables were placed in the prayer room that contained Bodhisattva statues.

The government continued limitations on religious education.

At the county level, religious affairs bureaus in provinces including Henan, Shandong, Guangxi, Hunan, Jiangxi, Jiangsu, and Guizhou released open letters during the year instructing parents not to take their children under 18 to religious activities or education. Media reported authorities increased pressure against churches to prevent children under 18 years old from studying the Bible.

Bitter Winter reported local UFWD and SARA officials in July raided a TSPM church in Weinan, Shaanxi Province, and found a notebook with Bible verses, including some transcribed by children. Authorities closed the church for 10 days for “rectification.” The city’s Education Bureau sent notices to primary schools and kindergartens stating that religion was dangerous for minors, and they were prohibited from participating in any religion-related activities “so as to help them establish a correct worldview, outlook on life, and system of values and form a healthy mind.” One Sunday school teacher in Shenyang City, Liaoning Province, said as a result of the government’s strict control over minors in places of worship, the school held sessions in secret and the number of children attending the Sunday school had dropped from more than 100 to just over 20.

UCA News reported local authorities continued to issue warnings to Catholic dioceses throughout the country prohibiting summer camps designed as faith-building activities for school-age children. One diocese member said the government would not allow churches to organize educational activities for children. Bitter Winter reported police raids on church-run summer camps in Jiyuan City in Henan Province and Foshan City in Guangdong Province.

Bitter Winter reported in July that some primary schools’ curricula taught kindergarten and primary school children to resist religion as heterodox teaching. In late April a primary school in Xinzheng City, Henan Province, held a meeting to instruct students to be atheists and never believe in the existence of deities. “If your mom goes to church and believes in God, she doesn’t want you as her child anymore,” the teacher reportedly said. Another primary school teacher in Xinzheng City showed students an animated antireligion propaganda film depicting religious adherents as black monsters. The teacher reportedly told students religious people might hex them and they should report to the police any “believers” they encounter.

According to AsiaNews, authorities expunged words such as “God,” “Bible,” and “Christ” from textbooks for elementary school children. These words and any other reference to religion were removed from a fifth-grade textbook containing stories by foreign writers and classical Chinese authors printed by the government-linked Publishers for the Education of People. For example, in the original story The Little Match Girl, a girl’s dead grandmother appears to her in a vision and says, “When a star falls, a soul goes to be with God,” but in the textbook version the grandmother says, “When a star falls, a person leaves this world.”

Individuals seeking to enroll at an official seminary or other institution of religious learning continued to be required to obtain the support of the corresponding official state-sanctioned religious association. The government continued to require students to demonstrate “political reliability,” and political issues were included in examinations of graduates from religious schools. Both registered and unregistered religious groups reported a shortage of trained clergy due in part to government controls on admission to seminaries.

Religious groups reported state-sanctioned religious associations continued to be subject to CCP interference in matters of doctrine, theology, and religious practice. They also closely monitored and sometimes blocked the ability of religious leaders to meet freely with foreigners.

National Public Radio reported in September that sources said imams in Henan and Ningxia Provinces were required to attend monthly training sessions in which they learned Communist ideology and state ethnic policy and discussed Chairman Xi’s speeches. According to sources, imams had to pass an exam testing their ideological knowledge in order to renew their license each year.

In September Bitter Winter reported that, according to an imam in Qinghai Province, the CCP frequently required imams to undergo mandatory political training. University professors covered topics such as CCP history, policy, regulations, and international relations. An imam from Sanmenxia, Henan Province, said authorities required him to study prominent CCP historical figures. He said there were surveillance cameras in mosques to ensure he and other imams promoted CCP ideology during sermons. An imam in Manzhouli, Inner Mongolia, said, “Every day, we have to say, ‘The Communist Party is good and great.’ Otherwise, we’ll get in trouble with the government!” According to a members of a congregation at a mosque in Xining, Qinghai Province, authorities closed the mosque because the community refused to accept a government-appointed imam, although authorities said the mosque was closed due to “inadequate fire-control measures.”

Approximately 50 religious workers, including monks, pastors, imams, and other clergy from the five officially recognized religions, attended a mandatory training program organized on April 16 by the Hainan United Front Work Department, the Hainan Academy of Social Sciences, and the Hainan Party School on April 16. Participants studied the principles of the 19th Communist Party Congress, Chairman Xi’s April 13, 2018, speech commemorating the 30th anniversary of the creating of the Hainan Special Economic Zone, and the 2018 revised Regulations on Religious Affairs Regulations. Deputy Director General Liu Geng of the Hainan UFWD in his opening remarks requested the religious professionals “make full use of religion to promote social harmony.”

A number of Catholic churches and bishops appointed by the pope remained unable or unwilling to register with the CCPA. The government and the Holy See remained without diplomatic relations, and the Holy See had no official representative in the country.

In March the Catholic Herald wrote that, in his blog, retired Archbishop of Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun continued his criticisms of the September 2018 two-year provisional agreement between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Holy See that addressed a decades-long dispute concerning the authority to appoint bishops, stating it gave too much power to government and CCP authorities. Similar to the previous year, neither side provided details of the provisional agreement, such as how the Holy See and the government would make decisions regarding appointment of bishops. The existing government regulation on the election and consecration of PRC-appointed bishops required candidates to publicly pledge to support the CCP. To also be accepted by the Holy See, these bishops normally would later seek “reconciliation” with the pope. Under the provisional agreement, however, the Holy See agreed to recognize seven bishops who had been previously ordained by the PRC without papal recognition. The seven were granted this reconciliation and joint approval in the 2018 provisional agreement, an irregular occurrence within the Catholic Church.

In August the Holy See appointed its first two bishops in the country who were not among the seven individuals named in the 2018 provisional agreement. Monsignor Antonio Yao Shun took up his position in Ulanqab, Inner Mongolia, and Monsignor Stefano Xu Hongwei took up his position in Hanzhong, Shaanxi Province.

At year’s end, Bishop Vincenzo Guo Xijin, an underground bishop recognized by the Holy See, remained in a subordinate position under Bishop Zhan Silu, who was originally ordained without Holy See approval. The Holy See had previously excommunicated Zhan, a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, but in December 2018 allowed him to replace Guo as bishop of the Mindong Diocese in Fujian Province. Zhan was one of the seven individuals whom the Holy See recognized as bishops under the 2018 provisional agreement. Police had detained Guo, who had been appointed by the Holy See, earlier in 2018 for his refusal to jointly lead Easter services with Zhan, who at the time was not recognized by the Holy See. Cardinal Zen criticized the Holy See for agreeing to compel Guo and one other bishop to step aside to make room for state-approved bishops.

According to Bitter Winter, the government-run CCPA attempted to force 57 underground Catholic priests from Mindong Diocese to join the organization. As of June, 25 complied, three resigned in protest, and one was driven out of the diocese. The local authorities continued to pressure the remaining 28 priests.

The government reportedly discriminated in employment against members of religious groups it identified as “cults” and prevented government employees from participating in religious activities.

Bitter Winter reported in March on a leaked notice from 2018 in which officials instructed a military unit in Shandong Province to investigate the religious status of all military personnel “to resist political infiltration, prevent political sabotage, and purify the political ecosystem.” The notice included strict instructions to check the religious status of each individual, including those omitted from previous investigations, such as new recruits, retirees, or those on vacation or hospitalized. All results of the probe were to be entered into the “military personnel religious status registration system.”

In March Bitter Winter reported teachers in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region who belonged to religious groups faced extra scrutiny from education authorities compared to nonreligious teachers. Party members were assigned to “assist” these teachers to ensure they taught in a way that conformed to CCP ideology. Authorities required teachers to fill out a document that read, in part, “[I must] align my thinking with Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism [with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era]…No person or organization is allowed to promote religious ideology on campus.”

In August Bitter Winter reported religious adherents faced official discrimination when receiving medical treatment. Residents in Hebei, Heilongjiang, Shandong, Henan, and other provinces reported being asked questions about religious beliefs before being admitted seeing a doctor. Hospital staff stated the government required them to ask about their patients’ religious status. Religious adherents were not allowed to pray with ill relatives who had been admitted to the hospital.

Multiple provincial governments included their work against religions and “cults” in their annual work reports. At a meeting of the 13th People’s Congress of Guizhou Province on January 27, leaders extolled the provincial government’s efforts to “strike down on illegal religious and cult activities” and to increase public safety through social control, supervision, and surveillance.

Media reported that on September 17, Chongqing authorities held a ceremony to mark the 20th year of the municipality’s “cult prevention propaganda” program. Senior party leaders spoke at the event, pointing to the program’s success at helping “the broad masses of cadres to recognize, prevent, and reject evil,” in addition to raising “awareness of conformity” for people in the city.

Media reported that on September 19, the Guangdong Political and Legal Affairs Commission and Guangdong Anti-Cult Association jointly hosted an anticult event in Foshan City, Guangdong Province. More than 700 residents, including students, attended. At the event, awards were given for top anticult propaganda posters.

Media reported the Political and Legal Affairs Commission, United Front Work Department, and Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau of Huidong County, Guangdong Province, hosted a program on April 13 at the Qingyun Temple to “strengthen management of religious venues and resist penetration by the occult.” Religious community representatives read aloud a “Letter of Advocacy on the Work of Anticult,” and more than 100 religious adherents signed a “Say No to Cult” declaration. More than 200 copies of anticult leaflets were distributed at the event.

There were reports that government-run hospitals in Xinyu, Jiangxi Province continued to post banners and notices characterizing religious beliefs as cults.

AsiaNews reported that from July 21-27, the Central Institute of Socialism in Fujian Province organized a course on the work of the Catholic Church in the province. Thirty-three priests, all members of the CCPA, and more than 20 religious affairs officials participated. The lessons and activities centered on the theme of “guiding the Catholic Church to follow a path conforming to socialist society.” AsiaNews noted the course seemed to focus almost entirely on political doctrine with very little mention of Christian teachings.

According to the Catholic News Agency, Catholics on the mainland faced increased harassment and abuse as a result of the role Catholics played in Hong Kong protests during the year, which reportedly raised concerns with mainland authorities that Catholics there would inspire similar protests in other parts of the country. Authorities reportedly banned some Catholics from traveling to Hong Kong.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Because the government and individuals closely link religion, culture, and ethnicity, it was difficult to categorize many incidents of societal discrimination as being solely based on religious identity.

In December the Journal of Comparative Economics published the results of a study done in 2017, in which the researchers submitted over 4,000 resumes of fictitious male candidates to job advertisements for accounting and administrative positions posted by private firms, state-owned firms, and foreign firms. The results showed that a Muslim job seeker was more than 50 percent less likely to receive a callback than a non-Muslim Han job seeker, even when the Muslim applicant had higher academic credentials. The study found “state-owned enterprises are equally likely to discriminate against Muslim job seekers, despite their political mandate to increase diversity.”

Despite labor law provisions against discrimination in hiring based on religious belief, some employers continued to discriminate against religious believers. In April the Hong Kong-based NGO China Labor Bulletin wrote, “Ethnic and religious minorities routinely face discrimination in the service sector, especially in low-level retail and restaurant positions where employers prefer to hire staff who appear more ‘familiar’ and less ‘threatening’ to Han customers. Very often minorities are effectively restricted to working within their own communities or in ethnically-themed restaurants.” Religious minorities continued to report employers terminated their employment due to their current or prior religious activities. Bitter Winter reported in September that police pressured the employer of a woman identified as “Ms. Yu” to dismiss her from her job in the northern part of the country because 13 years prior she had participated in a gathering of The Church of Almighty God.

Anti-Muslim speech in social media remained widespread, despite the government’s announcement in September 2017 that it would censor some anti-Muslim expression on the internet. Columbia Journalism Review reported that following the March attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, anti-Muslim postings increased on Weibo and WeChat. Some users expressed support for the shooter. One user on WeChat likened Muslims to “cancer cells.” Many Weibo users, however, posted rebuttals, and some wrote articles decrying anti-Muslim sentiment.

In some instances, landlords discriminated against potential or current tenants based on their religious beliefs. Falun Gong practitioners reported having continued difficulty finding landlords who would rent them apartments.

In May a Hui Muslim said on social media she and her sister were not given jobs because of their religion. The post attracted commentators who defended employers for rejecting Hui job applicants. A job recruitment agency in Zhengzhou, Henan Province, expressly excluded ethnic minority jobseekers, including Uighur Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists, from applying, according to media reports.

There were reports that Uighur Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, and other religious minorities continued to face difficulty in finding accommodation when they traveled. Wired Magazine reported in May that it found 35 individual Airbnb listings throughout the country with clauses expressly barring religious minorities from renting rooms. One listing for a two-bedroom apartment in the city of Chongqing said, “We do not have the permission of the police [to host Uighurs] please do not book.” A listing for a condominium rental in Chengdu stated in English that Uighur and Tibetan guests were not allowed “[d]ue to local regulation.” Other listings also said Hui Muslims and ethnic Kazakhs should not apply.

Finland

Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination “without an acceptable reason” and provides for the right to profess and practice a religion and to decline to be a member of a religious community. The law prohibits breaching the sanctity of religion, which includes blasphemy, offending that which a religious community holds sacred, and disturbing worship or funeral ceremonies. In March the Supreme Court allowed the Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM), the largest neo-Nazi group in the country, to appeal its countrywide ban. The group remained banned while it made its appeal. The Ministry of Education and Culture (MEC) instructed the Finnish Association of Museums to prepare a formal study of the state of Holocaust-era art provenance research in its collections. Parliament repealed the military service exemption which had applied only to Jehovah’s Witnesses. A Finns Party politician publicly compared Muslim asylum seekers to invasive species. Jehovah’s Witnesses said the government continued to refuse most applications from Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses seeking asylum for religious persecution.

Police reported 155 hate crimes involving members of religious groups in 2018, compared with 235 such incidents in the previous year, but did not specify how many were motivated solely by religion. The nondiscrimination ombudsman’s office received 35 complaints of religious discrimination in 2018, compared with 55 in the previous year. The NRM continued to post anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic statements online and demonstrated with the anti-immigrant group Soldiers of Odin. There were several demonstrations by neo-Nazi or nativist groups. In November, on the anniversary of Kristallnacht (the 1938 pogrom against Jews in Germany), a group handed out flyers and waved flags bearing symbols resembling the Nazi swastika at a demonstration in Helsinki, and anti-Semitic stickers were posted around the city. Muslim groups reported a shortage of funds needed to establish houses of worship to match their growing population. A report by the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) said hate crimes and intolerant speech in public discourse, principally against Muslims and asylum seekers (many of whom belong to religious minorities), had increased in recent years. The report also cited frequent use of anti-Semitic rhetoric on the internet and hate speech by extremist groups, especially neo-Nazis. Vandals targeted Jewish property, including the Israeli embassy and a Shia mosque in Helsinki.

U.S. embassy staff met with government ministries to discuss government support for religious freedom and interfaith dialogue, the provenance of Holocaust-era art, and the treatment of Jehovah’s Witnesses seeking asylum. Embassy staff discussed with the Jewish and Muslim communities their concerns about the law restricting animal slaughter, government discouragement of male circumcision, and a rise in religiously motivated harassment. They also discussed the state of religious freedom with these communities, other religious minorities, and interfaith networks.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 5.7 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to Finnish government statistics from December 2018, which count only registered members of registered congregations, approximately 69.8 percent of the population belongs to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland (ELC) and 1.1 percent to the Finnish Orthodox Church, while 0.3 percent (approximately 16,000 individuals) officially belong to Islamic congregations, and 26.3 percent do not identify as belonging to any religious group. The census combines the other minority religious communities, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, Roman Catholics, Pentecostals, Seventh-day Adventists, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Jews, and members of the Free Church of Finland, which together account for 1.7 percent of the population.

Multiple sources indicate the Muslim population has grown rapidly in recent years because of a significant inflow of immigrants. Muslim religious leaders estimate the number of Muslims rose to 100,000 in 2018, of which approximately 80 percent is Sunni and 20 percent Shia. In 2017, the Pew Research Center estimated 2.7 percent of the population, or approximately 150,000 persons, were Muslim. According to a survey by the MEC, the Muslim population numbered approximately 65,000 in 2016. According to the Islamic Society of Finland, discrepancies among these sources and between them and official government statistics may occur because only a minority of Muslims register with registered Islamic societies. Apart from Tatars, most Muslims are immigrants or descendants of immigrants who arrived in recent decades from Somalia, North Africa, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Balkans, Syria, Turkey, and Iran.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution bars discrimination based on religion “without an acceptable reason.” It stipulates freedom of religion and conscience, including the right to profess and practice a religion, to express one’s convictions, and to be a member or decline to be a member of a religious community. It states no one is under the obligation to participate in the practice of a religion. The law criminalizes the “breach of the sanctity of religion,” which includes “blaspheming against God,” publicly defaming or desecrating to offend something a religious community holds sacred, and disturbing worship or funeral ceremonies. Violators are subject to fines or imprisonment of up to six months. Authorities have rarely applied the law, most recently in 2009. The constitution cites the ELC, the only religious group it mentions, stating that “provisions on the organization and administration [of the ELC] are laid down in the Church Act.”

The law prohibits religious discrimination and prescribes a nondiscrimination ombudsman responsible for supervising compliance with the law and investigating individual cases of discrimination and having the power to issue fines in noncriminal cases. The ombudsman advocates on behalf of victims, offers counseling and promotes conciliation, and lobbies for legislation, among other duties and authorities. The ombudsman may also refer cases to the National Non-Discrimination and Equality Tribunal (NDET), which also enforces fines issued by the ombudsman, or assist plaintiffs seeking compensation in court. Individuals alleging discrimination may alternatively pursue legal action through the NDET, which may issue binding decisions that may be appealed to the courts, or through the district court system. Litigants may appeal the decisions of the NDET and the district courts to the higher Administrative Court. Neither the ombudsman nor the NDET has the authority to investigate individual cases of religious discrimination involving employment. Such cases fall under the purview of the Occupational Safety and Health Authority.

Individuals and groups may exist, associate, and practice their religion without registering with the government. To be eligible to apply for government funds, however, religious groups must register with the Patent and Registration Office as a religious community. To register as a religious community, a group must have at least 20 members, the public practice of religion as its purpose, and a set of rules to guide its activities. A registered religious community is a legal entity that may employ persons, purchase property, and make legal claims. A religious group may also acquire legal status by registering as an association with a nonprofit purpose that is not contrary to law or proper behavior. Registered religious groups and nonprofit associations are generally exempt from taxes. According to the MEC, there are approximately 130 registered religious communities, most of which have multiple congregations. Persons may belong to more than one religious community.

All citizens who belong to either the ELC or Finnish Orthodox Church pay a church tax, collected together with their income tax payments. Congregations collectively decide the church tax amount, now set at between 1 to 2 percent of a member’s income. Those who do not want to pay the tax must terminate their ELC or Orthodox congregation membership. Members may terminate their membership by contacting the official congregation or the local government registration office, either electronically or in person. Local parishes have fiscal autonomy to decide how to use funding received from taxes levied on their members.

Registered religious communities other than the ELC and Finnish Orthodox Church are eligible to apply for state funds in lieu of the church tax. In addition to receiving the church tax, the ELC and Finnish Orthodox Church may also apply for state funds. The law states registered religious communities that meet the statutory requirements, including ELC and Orthodox congregations, may apply to receive an annual subsidy from the government budget in proportion to the religious community’s percentage of the population.

The law requires the ELC to maintain public cemeteries using its general allocation from state funds and church tax and to account for monies used for this purpose. Other religious communities and nonreligious foundations may maintain their own cemeteries. All registered religious communities may own and manage property and hire staff, including appointing clergy. The law authorizes the ELC and Finnish Orthodox Church to register births, marriages, and deaths for their members in collaboration with the government Population Register Center. State registrars do this for other persons.

Parents may determine their child’s religious affiliation if the child is younger than 12 years of age. The parents of a child between the ages of 12 and 17 must pursue specific administrative procedures with their religious community and the local population registration officials to change or terminate religious affiliation.

All public schools provide religious teaching in accordance with students’ religion. All students must take courses either in ethics or in religious studies, with the choice left up to the student. Schools must provide religious instruction in religions other than the Lutheran faith if there is a minimum of three pupils representing that faith in the municipal region, the religious community in question is registered, and the students’ families belong to the religious community. Students who do not belong to a religious group or belong to a religious group for which special instruction is not available may study ethics. Students aged 18 or older may choose to study either the religious courses pertaining to their religion or ethics. If a student belongs to more than one religious community, the parents decide in which religious education course the student participates. The national and municipal governments fund private, including religiously based, schools. These schools do not charge tuition and do not practice selective admission based on students’ religion.

Religious education focuses on familiarizing students with their own religion, other religions, and general instruction in ethics. Teachers of religion must have state-mandated training for religious instruction. The state appoints them, and they are not required to belong to any religious community. The National Board of Education provides a series of textbooks about Orthodox and Lutheran Christianity, Catholicism, Judaism, and Islam, as well as a textbook on secular ethics.

The government allows conscientious objectors to choose alternative civilian service instead of compulsory military service. In February parliament repealed the exemption from conscription for Jehovah’s Witnesses, meaning that members of the organization need to perform military or alternative civilian service or face imprisonment. Conscientious objectors who refuse both military and alternative civilian service may be sentenced to prison terms of up to 173 days, one-half of the 347 days of alternative civilian service. Regular military service ranges between 165 and 347 days.

The law requires that animals be stunned prior to slaughter or be stunned and killed simultaneously in cases of religious practice.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

In March the Supreme Court granted the NRM the right to appeal to the Supreme Court the 2018 Turku Court of Appeals ruling which upheld the 2017 nationwide ban of the organization for distributing anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim materials and engaging in hate speech. The NRM continued to demonstrate in public despite the Supreme Court’s order that it refrain from all activities while the appeal remained pending. In May the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) opened a criminal investigation into NRM members for allegedly violating the ban on activities by publishing anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim articles on their website.

In August the National Police Board, which supervises police operations across the country, stated it had received multiple questions from members of parliament (MPs) suggesting the redirection of resources from the investigation of hate speech and hate crimes would be beneficial. Among the critics was Finns Party leader Jussi Halla-aho, who said during the Finns Party’s summer summit in August that police personnel were needed for “real criminal investigations” and not to “stalk people on social media.”

At year’s end, parliament had not voted on an amendment to the Church Act, which governs the practices of the ELC. Parliament took up the bill in September 2018 after the General Synod of the ELC approved it but did not enact the bill during that year. The amended Church Act has the stated intent of clarifying and facilitating administration, enhancing church autonomy, and facilitating internal decision making in the ELC. The amended act would devolve back to the Church certain responsibilities that previously required parliamentary approval.

In June the MEC instructed the Finnish Association of Museums to prepare a formal study of the state of Holocaust-era art provenance research in their collections. According to the MEC, the move was intended to address the lack of Holocaust-era art provenance research in order to better meet the requirements for the implementation of the Terezin Declaration. At year’s end, the study was ongoing, and only the Finnish National Gallery had publicly listed works of art with significant provenance gaps acquired during 1939-1945. Holocaust-era art provenance research is also scheduled as a topic at the country’s National Art Museum Conference to be held in 2020.

In February an independent investigation by the National Archives concluded “it was very likely” Finnish volunteers in the Waffen SS participated in killing Jews, other civilians, and prisoners of war during World War II. State Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office Paula Lehtomaki said it was necessary “to investigate the questions that emerge and conduct complementary research on difficult historical events…. We share the responsibility for ensuring that such atrocities will never be repeated.” The prime minister’s office funded the investigation in 2018 in response to a request from the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

In September Mikko Karna, a Center Party MP, advocated legislation prohibiting nonmedical male circumcision during parliamentary talks on the criminalization of female circumcision. Karna cited guidelines published by the Finnish Medical Association, which discouraged the procedure. He argued that all cases of cosmetic or religious male circumcision should be criminalized, citing medical research showing the percentage of routine procedures that unintentionally inflict serious harm on patients.

Ministry of Social Affairs and Health (MSAH) guidelines discouraged circumcision of males and continued to withhold public health-care funding for such procedures. In its guidelines, which were recommendations rather than requirements per prior Supreme Court rulings, the ministry stated only licensed physicians should perform nonmedical circumcision of boys, a child’s guardians should be informed of the risks and irreversibility of the procedure, and it should not be carried out on boys old enough to understand the procedure without their consent. Members of the Muslim and Jewish communities continued to express disagreement with the guidelines. The ombudsman for children in the Ministry of Justice did not renew her 2018 request to the MSAH asking it to establish legally binding regulations on nonmedical circumcision.

After the government of Prime Minister Juha Sipila resigned in March, parliament dismissed without a vote a proposed animal welfare law it had been debating since 2018. The bill would have required prior stunning of animals before slaughter in all cases, eliminating the existing exemption allowing simultaneous stunning and killing in cases of religious slaughter. By year’s end, the new parliament had not taken the bill up again. Jewish community leaders also criticized the restrictions in the existing law, which they said hindered their community’s ability to slaughter animals in a religiously approved manner and caused them to import kosher meat at higher prices.

NGOs working with migrants, including the Finnish Refugee Advice Centre and Amnesty, continued to raise concerns about the ability of religious minorities housed in migrant reception centers to worship without harassment by other migrants held within the same center.

While the government did not release detailed reports on asylum applicants categorized by religion, immigration officials and representatives of the Jehovah’s Witnesses stated the number of Jehovah’s Witnesses from Russia applying for asylum on the grounds of religious persecution remained high. Jehovah’s Witness representatives said the government denied most of the asylum claims, stating that only Church officials and not regular members were under threat of persecution in Russia. Immigration officials said membership in the Church did not in and of itself guarantee asylum.

According to a senior military officer, the military maintained a zero-tolerance policy regarding hate speech and hate crimes, including religiously motivated incidents. Unit commanders initiated investigations of reported incidents. If the commander judged the infraction to be minor, he or she administered a formal reprimand or other punishment. For more serious offenses, the commander reported the investigation up the chain of command, and military authorities might refer the case to civilian courts. The officer also said that the military accommodated, per regulation, religious dietary needs and fasting requirements, and afforded religious leave and prayer time to all personnel.

Police reported 63 cases of refusal to perform compulsory military or civilian service, but very few of these cases involved Jehovah’s Witnesses according to representatives of the Jehovah’s Witness organization. Police did not indicate how many refusals were religiously motivated.

In September Ombudsman for Nondiscrimination Kirsi Pimia recommended public swimming pools permit Muslim women to wear burkinis. Pimia said there were cases of burkini-wearing women being turned away from public swimming pools. She added that banning burkinis could amount to discrimination based on religion and gender.

In August Finns Party leader Halla-aho stated during a parliamentary group meeting the party did not intend to let authorities press charges against Finns Party MP Juha Maenpaa for ethnic agitation or disturbance of religious peace. During a June session of parliament, Maenpaa equated asylum seekers from Muslim majority countries with alien or invasive species. In August police started a preliminary investigation into Maenpaa’s remarks. In September Center Party Speaker of Parliament Matti Vanhanen stated it was inappropriate for an MP to comment on a legal case in advance if there were a possibility parliament would judge the case. According to the constitution, if the prosecutor sought to prosecute Maenpaa, a five-sixths majority of parliament would have to agree to revoke his parliamentary immunity.

In August media reported a recently elected MP, Hussein al-Taee of the Social Democratic Party, had in 2014 and possibly as late as 2016, made anti-Semitic comments online, including comparing Israel to ISIS. According to The Jerusalem Post newspaper, parliament reversed its decision to suspend al-Taee after he apologized for his remarks. The newspaper quoted an official with the Simon Wiesenthal Center as stating al-Taee was “obviously an anti-Semite” and wondering how he could be a member in good standing of any social democratic party. By year’s end, neither the Social Democratic Party nor parliament had taken any disciplinary action against al-Taee.

The government allocated 114 million euros ($128.09 million) to the ELC and 2.54 million euros ($2.85 million) to the Finnish Orthodox Church. The MEC allotted a total of 524,000 euros ($589,000) to all other registered religious organizations. All the allocations were unchanged from 2018. The MEC additionally made a one-time grant to the Jewish Community of Helsinki of 300,000 euros ($337,000) for security of the Helsinki Synagogue and community center.

The MEC awarded a total of 80,000 euros ($89,900) to promote interfaith dialogue, the same amount as in 2018. The same two organizations as in the previous year split the funding: the National Forum for Cooperation of Religions (CORE Forum), which is composed of representatives from the largest religious denominations, and Fokus, an interfaith and intercultural organization.

The government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

A CORE Forum survey published in March of hate crimes between 2014 and 2018 reported 18 percent of incidents were religiously motivated. The most common targets of these crimes were members of the Jewish and Muslim communities.

Because religion and ethnicity are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.

Despite the ban against it, the NRM continued to operate a website and make statements promoting discrimination or violence against Jews and Muslims and participated in demonstrations, according to press reports. The website contained articles denying the Holocaust, stating that Jewish leaders treat “white people as Muslim terrorists,” and labeling Muslim women and children of ISIS fighters as even more dangerous than their husbands and fathers. According to authorities, the NRM also established a closer relationship with the nativist Soldiers of Odin, and members of both groups often participated in each other’s demonstrations. Superintendent of the National Police Board Timo Kilpelainen told the media the increased cooperation could be due to the ongoing judicial process surrounding NRM’s ban. At the start of the judicial process, the Soldiers of Odin had offered their support to the NRM. According to media reports, the NRM also created two additional associations, Finnish Aid and Unity of the People, so its members could become integrated with those groups should the ban become permanent.

On November 9, a self-styled national socialist group called Towards Freedom! organized a demonstration in Helsinki. According to Tommi Kotonen, a Jyvaskyla University researcher, NRM activists were likely behind the group. The demonstration coincided with the anniversary of the Kristallnacht pogrom against Jews in Nazi Germany in 1938. Protesters at the demonstration handed out fliers and waved flags bearing symbols resembling the Nazi swastika. According to a report on the website of national broadcaster Yle, police were investigating whether NRM had violated its ban by operating under the Towards Freedom! name. During the evening, according to the same report, unknown individuals placed yellow Star of David stickers with the word “Jude” (“Jew”) at sites around the city, including near a synagogue and the Israeli embassy.

According to media reports, in August the anti-immigrant Nationalist Alliance organized a memorial march in Turku, which included participation by the NRM, to commemorate the victims of a 2017 stabbing by a Moroccan asylum seeker. Approximately 250 persons joined the march. Finns Party MP Vilhelm Junnila spoke at the event, calling on the city to commemorate the victims by illuminating the Kirjastosilta Bridge in the colors of the national flag every August 18. Approximately 500 persons participated in a counterdemonstration titled “Turku Without Nazis.”

Muslim groups, such as the Islamic Congregation of Finland, continued to seek adequate houses of worship to match their growing population, but said they were hindered by insufficient funds to purchase property, given that most Muslims did not belong to congregations registered with the government. Except for a handful of purpose-built mosques, most mosques were in converted commercial spaces. In August Yle reported the Mikkeli Islamic Cultural Association, an unregistered group with approximately 30 members, was in the process of establishing a mosque in the town of Mikkeli, but authorities prohibited it from using the building it selected until the town issued a different building permit and the group had made required fire safety improvements. The building was under renovation at year’s end.

The nondiscrimination ombudsman’s office reported receiving 35 complaints of religious discrimination in 2018 – 4 percent of total discrimination complaints – compared with 55 complaints in 2017. In one instance the report cited, a district court fined a shop owner, ruling the owner had discriminated against woman wearing a niqab by refusing her service.

In September ECRI published a report on racism and intolerance in the country that stated hate crimes had increased in recent years, especially against Muslims and refugees (many of whom are Muslim). It added that intolerant speech in public discourse was increasing and principally directed against the Muslim community and asylum seekers (many of whom belong to religious minorities). It stated some members of the Finns Party made anti-Muslim statements in public. According to the report, anti-Semitic rhetoric on the internet was “commonplace” and certain extremist groups, especially neo-Nazis such as the national branch of the NRM, “engage[d] in the systematic use of hate speech.” It also stated Nazi swastikas had become more visible in public spaces. The report called on the government to set up a comprehensive data collection system for hate crimes and hate speech.

In May the European Commission carried out a study in each EU member state on perceptions of discrimination and published the results in September. According to the findings, 29 percent of respondents believed discrimination on the basis of religion or belief was widespread in Finland, while 67 percent said it was rare; 75 percent would be comfortable with having a person of a different religion than the majority of the population occupy the highest elected political position in the country. In addition, 86 percent said they would be comfortable working closely with a Christian, and 81 percent said they would be with an atheist, 82 percent with a Jew, 80 percent with a Buddhist, and 76 percent with a Muslim. Asked how they would feel if their child were in a “love relationship” with an individual belonging to various groups, 90 percent said they would be comfortable if the partner were Christian, 83 percent if atheist, 81 percent if Jewish, 77 percent if Buddhist, and 66 percent if Muslim.

In January the European Commission published a Special Eurobarometer survey of perceptions of anti-Semitism in December 2018 in each EU member state. According to the survey, 76 percent of residents believed anti-Semitism was not a problem in Finland, and 49 percent believed it had stayed the same over the previous five years. The percentage who believed that anti-Semitism was a problem in nine different categories was as follows: Holocaust denial, 19 percent; on the internet, 25 percent; anti-Semitic graffiti or vandalism, 12 percent; expression of hostility or threats against Jews in public places, 15 percent; desecration of Jewish cemeteries, 13 percent; physical attacks against Jews, 12 percent; anti-Semitism in schools and universities, 9 percent; anti-Semitism in political life, 12 percent; and anti-Semitism in the media, 14 percent.

The website Magneettimedia continued to post anti-Semitic content. In August it published an article stating that “not Islamic but Zionist terrorism” was behind the 2017 Turku “terrorist attack,” and that, “Israel and its associated Zionists have set their sights on the confrontation between the Christian world and the Islamic world.” Major companies and consumer brands in the country continued to boycott the chain of department stores owned by the former owner of Magneettimedia, Juha Karkkainen, due to his anti-Semitic views; no new companies or brands announced they would join the boycott.

Yle and other media reported that in March unknown persons spray-painted anti-Islamic and anti-Muslim expletives on the outside wall of a Shia mosque, one of the largest in the country, in the eastern Helsinki district of Mellunmaki on two consecutive mornings. The chair of the Resalat Islamic Society said such vandalism occurred sporadically and that the websites of the society were sometimes hacked. He added that staff at the society had received death threats. Helsinki police were investigating the case at year’s end.

According to the Israeli embassy, in July security camera footage showed an individual kicking in the embassy’s reinforced glass front door and gesturing at the Israeli flag in a derogatory manner, including with Nazi salutes. The entrance of the building housing the embassy also was defaced with stickers glorifying Adolf Hitler. The Israeli Ambassador characterized the incident as part of an escalation of acts of vandalism targeting Jewish property over a period of more than one year. Prior incidents included anti-Semitic graffiti targeting both the embassy and the Jewish community center in Helsinki. The Israeli Ambassador expressed frustration over the lack of an effective police or government response to the attacks.

In May a man approached Petri Sarvamaa, a European Parliament MP campaigning for reelection, on the street, called him a derogatory slur for a Jewish person, and threatened him.

Representatives of religious groups attended ceremonies hosted in their counterparts’ houses of worship. Finn Church Aid (FCA), associated with the ELC, again hosted an interreligious iftar, bringing together representatives from the major religious denominations in the capital region, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, and municipal governments.

Hong Kong

Read A Section: Hong Kong

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Executive Summary

The Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR), as well as other laws and policies, states that residents have freedom of conscience; freedom of religious belief; and freedom to preach, conduct, and participate in religious activities in public. The Bill of Rights Ordinance incorporates the religious freedom protections of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). In February, the SAR government introduced a bill that would have allowed for extradition of SAR residents to other jurisdictions worldwide, including mainland China. Protests against this bill took place regularly throughout the latter half of the year. Some Christian groups used the broader protest movement to highlight what they stated was the high degree of religious freedom in Hong Kong, contrasted with the lack of religious freedom in mainland China and strongly supported the SAR government’s eventual withdrawal of the extradition bill. While Christian sources did not express concern about Hong Kong’s current level of religious freedom, foreign-based religious freedom advocates expressed fears for the potential future of religious freedom in Hong Kong if the mainland government further encroached on Hong Kong’s autonomy. Falun Gong practitioners reported harassment from groups they said were connected to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and difficulty renting venues for large events, including from the SAR government. Falun Gong practitioners held a rally in July with the stated purpose of raising awareness of 20 years of CCP persecution of the Falun Gong in mainland China.

In September two assailants attacked a Falun Gong practitioner after she met with police to discuss a planned Falun Gong demonstration. In November a printing warehouse for the Epoch Times Hong Kong Edition, a Falun Gong-associated media outlet, was subject to an arson attack by four masked assailants armed with batons. According to media reports, some Hong Kong Christian churches reduced their physical assistance to counterparts in mainland China for fear of endangering those counterparts but continued to travel there to dine and pray with them. Christian media sources reported that Christian protesters received anonymous messages threatening them and their families with physical violence if they did not stop speaking out against the government. Other sources stated that many other people on both sides of Hong Kong’s political divide received similar messages.

The U.S. consulate general affirmed U.S. government support for protecting freedom of religion and belief in meetings with the government. The Consul General and consulate general officials met regularly with religious leaders and community representatives to promote religious equality. The Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom visited Hong Kong in March to meet with religious leaders and promote religious freedom in China.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 7.2 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to SAR government statistics, there are more than one million followers of Taoism and approximately one million followers of Buddhism; 500,000 Protestants; 389,000 Roman Catholics (The Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong recognizes the pope and maintains links to the Vatican.); 100,000 Hindus; and 12,000 Sikhs. According to the World Jewish Congress, approximately 2,500 Jews live in Hong Kong. According to a 2017 South China Morning Post article, there are approximately 25,000 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. SAR government statistics estimate there are approximately 300,000 Muslims. Small communities of Baha’is and Zoroastrians also reside in the SAR. Confucianism is widespread, and in some cases, elements of Confucianism are practiced in conjunction with other belief systems. The Falun Gong estimates there are approximately 500 Falun Gong practitioners.

There are dozens of Protestant denominations, including Anglican, Baptist, Christian and Missionary Alliance, the Church of Christ in China, Lutheran, Methodist, Pentecostal, and Seventh-day Adventists.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The Basic Law states that residents have freedom of conscience; freedom of religious belief; and freedom to preach, conduct, and participate in religious activities in public. The Basic Law also states the government may not interfere in the internal affairs of religious organizations or restrict religious activities that do not contravene other laws. The Basic Law calls for ties between the region’s religious groups and their mainland counterparts based on “nonsubordination, noninterference, and mutual respect.” The Basic Law states that religious organizations “may maintain and develop their relations with religious organizations and believers elsewhere.”

The Bill of Rights Ordinance incorporates the religious freedom protections of the ICCPR, which include the right to manifest religious belief individually or in community with others, in public or private, and through worship, observance, practice, and teaching. The Bill of Rights Ordinance states persons belonging to ethnic, religious, or linguistic minorities have the right to enjoy their own culture, profess and practice their own religion, and use their own language. The ordinance also protects the right of parents or legal guardians to “ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.” These rights may be limited when an emergency is proclaimed and “manifestation” of religious beliefs may be limited by law when necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals, or the rights of others. Such limitations may not discriminate solely on the basis of religion.

Religious groups are not legally required to register with the government. They must, however, register to receive government benefits such as tax-exempt status, rent subsidies, government or other professional development training, the use of government facilities, or a grant to provide social services. To qualify for such benefits, a group must prove to the satisfaction of the government that it is established solely for religious, charitable, social, or recreational reasons. Registrants must provide the name and purpose of the organization, identify its office holders, and confirm the address of the principal place of business and any other premises owned or occupied by the organization. If a religious group registers with the government, it enters the registry of all nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), but the government makes no adjudication on the validity of any registered groups. Religious groups may register as a society and/or tax-exempt organization as long as they have at least three members who hold valid SAR identity documents; the registration process normally takes approximately 12 working days. The Falun Gong is registered as a society rather than a religious group; as a society, it is able to establish offices, collect dues from members, and have legal status.

The Basic Law allows private schools to provide religious education. The government offers subsidies to schools that are built and run by religious groups. Government-subsidized schools must adhere to government curriculum standards and may not bar students based on religion, but they may provide nonmandatory religious instruction as part of their curriculum. Teachers may not discriminate against students because of their religious beliefs. The public school curriculum mandates coursework on ethics and religious studies, with a focus on religious tolerance; the government curriculum also includes elective modules on different world religions.

Religious groups may apply to the government to lease land on concessional terms through Home Affairs Bureau sponsorship. Religious groups may apply to develop or use facilities in accordance with local legislation.

The Chinese Temples Committee, led by the secretary for home affairs, has a direct role in managing the affairs of some temples. The SAR chief executive appoints its members. The committee oversees the management and logistical operations of 24 of the region’s 600 temples and gives grants to other charitable organizations. The committee provides grants to the Home Affairs Bureau for disbursement, in the form of financial assistance to needy ethnic Chinese citizens. The colonial-era law does not require new temples to register to be eligible for Temples Committee assistance.

An approximately 1,200-member Election Committee elects Hong Kong’s chief executive. The Basic Law stipulates that the Election Committee’s members shall be “broadly representative.” Committee members come from four sectors, divided into 38 subsectors, representing various trades, professions, and social services groups. The religious subsector is comprised of the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong, the Chinese Muslim Cultural and Fraternal Association, the Hong Kong Christian Council, the Hong Kong Taoist Association, the Confucian Academy, and the Hong Kong Buddhist Association. These six bodies are each entitled to 10 of the 60 seats for the religious subsector on the Election Committee. The religious subsector is not required to hold elections under the Chief Executive Election Ordinance. Instead, each religious organization selects its electors in its own fashion. Each of the six designated religious groups is also a member of the Hong Kong Colloquium of Religious Leaders.

Government Practices

Protests, including several with over a million participants, took place regularly throughout the latter half of the year. The protests began in response to the SAR government’s introduction of a bill in February that would have allowed for extradition of SAR residents to other jurisdictions worldwide, including mainland China. Participants included a wide variety of civic groups, including some religious groups. Observers said that while the protesters did not highlight religious issues and the majority of the protesters did not claim affiliation to any religious groups, some Christian advocates used the protest movement to highlight what they stated was the high degree of religious freedom in Hong Kong, which they contrasted with the lack of religious freedom in mainland China, also expressing strong support for the SAR government’s eventual withdrawal of the extradition bill. While Christian activists did not express concern about Hong Kong’s current level of religious freedom, foreign based religious freedom advocates expressed fears for the potential future of religious freedom in Hong Kong if the mainland government further encroached on Hong Kong’s autonomy.

During the year, Falun Gong practitioners reported generally being able to operate openly and engage in behavior that remained prohibited in mainland China, including distributing literature and conducting public exhibitions. A court in November heard the government’s appeal of a 2018 decision overturning the government’s confiscation of Falun Gong banners based on a requirement to obtain prior government approval for such displays. The court’s decision remained pending at year’s end. Falun Gong practitioners continued to state they suspected the CCP funded private groups that harassed them at public events. Practitioners also reported continuing difficulties renting venues for large meetings and cultural events from both government and private businesses. According to Falun Gong practitioners, the SAR government, which controls a significant number of large venues in the city, denied Falun Gong members’ applications to rent venues, often telling practitioners that the venues were fully booked. In April a private camping ground agreed to rent space for a Falun Gong conference with more than 1200 participants, of which 800 had planned to stay at the campsite; however, two days before the event, the private venue cancelled.

Falun Gong practitioners held a rally in July with the stated purpose of raising awareness of 20 years of CCP persecution of the Falun Gong in mainland China.

In October police sprayed the front of a mosque with blue dye using a water cannon during a police response to protest activity in the vicinity of the mosque. Government officials, including the chief executive and chief of police, apologized for the incident.

In December Hong Kong police pepper-sprayed prodemocracy protestors who demonstrated in support of Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and members of other Muslim minority groups in mainland China. The police said the protesters assaulted police officers and threw hard objects at police officers.

Senior government leaders often participated in large-scale events held by religious organizations. The SAR government and Legislative Council representatives participated in Confucian and Buddhist commemorative activities, Taoist festivals, and other religious events throughout the year.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In September two assailants attacked a Falun Gong practitioner after she met with police to discuss a planned Falun Gong demonstration.

In November a printing warehouse for the Epoch Times Hong Kong Edition, a Falun Gong-associated media outlet, was subject to an arson attack by four masked assailants armed with batons. The fire was extinguished with no casualties reported, but a printing press was damaged.

Christian media sources reported that more than 40 Christian protestors received anonymous messages on their WhatsApp accounts threatening them and their families with physical violence if they did not stop speaking out against the government. One of these messages reportedly said, “If you don’t stop voicing your opinion, all the members of your family will die,” and another, “your limbs will be chopped off.” One Christian who received the messages said the anonymous sender or senders knew a great deal of personal information about those to whom they sent the messages. He said he and other recipients did not report the messages to the police because they have lost confidence in the police due to what they perceived as brutality against protestors throughout the year. During the year, many protesters and police officers were anonymously threatened or had their personal information posted online. It was difficult to categorize these incidents as being solely or primarily based on religious identity, as opposed to political activity.

Media reported that Christian churches in Hong Kong provided underground churches in mainland China with monetary support, Bibles, blacklisted Christian literature, theological training, and assistance in founding new churches. Under new regulations in mainland China, however, many Hong Kong pastors were suspending or canceling their work in the mainland to avoid endangering contacts there, according to media reports. Some churches continued to provide support by sending members to dine and pray with Christians across the border, rather than providing more tangible assistance.

Ireland

Executive Summary

The constitution guarantees freedom of religion and prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religion. It references Jesus Christ and God and stipulates the state shall respect religion. On December 21, President Michael Higgins signed a law entering into force in January 2020 which ends the prohibition on blasphemy after it was eliminated from the constitution following a 2018 referendum. Beginning with the 2019-20 school year, the government barred “national” (publicly funded, primary) Catholic schools from making admission decisions based on students’ religion; other national religious schools could continue to do so if they are oversubscribed. The national police announced in April it would allow male Sikh and female Muslim members of the force to wear, respectively, turbans and hijabs on the job. There were reports some school authorities in national Catholic schools gave preferential treatment to students for participating in religious activities and told parents that, contrary to law, their children could not opt out of religion classes. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued to urge the government to adopt hate crime legislation, including for religiously motivated crimes, and improve monitoring of such incidents. In October the government launched a public consultation on hate speech as part of a planned update of the criminal law prohibiting incitement to hatred. In October police introduced a working hate crime definition that included religiously motivated crime. In December the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) cited a high level of hate crime in the country, including against women wearing headscarves in public, and called on the government to make a “clear time-bound commitment” to reform its legal framework on hate crime. President Higgins and other senior government officials participated in the national Holocaust Day Memorial commemoration.

In May media reported two separate attacks on Muslim men in Limerick during Ramadan in which a total of three men were beaten and hospitalized. Media reported in August teenagers pushed a Muslim girl to the ground and forcibly removed her hijab in Dublin. A group in Dublin worked to establish a network of safe spaces in the city for Muslim women encountering harassment. The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), an independent statutory body, reported from January to June it received 15 complaints of employment discrimination based on religion. A European Commission (EC) survey on perceptions of discrimination published in September found 42 percent of respondents believed discrimination on the basis of religion or belief was widespread in the country. In January another EC survey reported that 69 percent of residents believed anti-Semitism was not a problem in the country. In July a mosque was vandalized in Galway. In August Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin Michael Jackson wrote an open letter to imams and other Muslim leaders in the city, expressing sorrow and solidarity with victims of attacks in the country targeting Muslims.

U.S. embassy officials discussed issues of discrimination and integration of religious minorities into the community with members of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Department of Justice and Equality, the Department of Education and Skills, and the police. Embassy officials met with religious groups and NGOs to discuss their concerns over religious tolerance, secularism, and religion in the national school system.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 5.1 million (midyear 2019 estimate). The 2016 census (the most recent) indicates the population is approximately 78 percent Roman Catholic, 3 percent Church of Ireland (Anglican), 1 percent Muslim, 1 percent Orthodox Christian (including Greek, Russian, and Coptic Orthodox), 1 percent unspecified Christian, and 2 percent other religions, while 10 percent stated no religious affiliation, and 3 percent did not specify their religion. There are small numbers of Presbyterians, Hindus, Apostolic Pentecostals, Pentecostals, and Jews. The census estimates the Jewish population to be 2,500. The number of Christians and Muslims from sub-Saharan Africa, Muslims from North Africa and the Middle East, Muslims and Hindus from South Asia, and Orthodox Christians from Eastern Europe continues to grow, especially in larger urban areas. NGOs such as Atheist Ireland and the Humanists Association of Ireland said the census overestimates religious affiliation by asking, “What is your religion?” which they said was a leading question.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution guarantees the free profession and practice of religion, subject to public order and morality. The constitution references “the Most Holy Trinity” and “our divine Lord, Jesus Christ,” and stipulates the state shall hold the name of God in reverence and honor and respect religion. The constitution requires the president, judges, and members of the council of state to swear a religious oath, which begins with a reference to “Almighty God.” It prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief and guarantees not to endow any religion.

The constitution stipulates every religious denomination has the right to manage its own affairs, own and acquire property, and maintain institutions for religious or charitable purposes. It prohibits the diversion of property of any religious denomination except for necessary works of public utility and upon payment of compensation. The constitution states legislation providing for government aid to schools shall not discriminate among schools under the management of different religious denominations nor affect the right of a child to attend any school receiving public money without attending religious instruction at that school.

The constitution was amended in November 2018 to remove blasphemy as an offense following an October 2018 referendum approving the change. On December 21, President Higgins signed legislation entering into force on January 17, 2020 to revoke the law making blasphemy a crime. The constitution had been amended in November 2018 to remove blasphemy as an offense following an October 2018 referendum. Until its repeal, the law defined blasphemy as uttering or publishing language “grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion,” when the intent and result are “outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion.” Violations were punishable by a fine of up to 25,000 euros ($28,100), but the government had last prosecuted blasphemy in 1855.

The law forbids incitement to hatred based on religion, among other categories, and carries a maximum penalty of up to two years’ imprisonment and a maximum fine of 25,400 euros ($28,500). The law does not address or define hate crimes other than incitement.

There is no legal requirement for religious groups to register with the government, nor is there any formal mechanism for government recognition of a religious group. Religious groups may apply to the Office of the Revenue Commissioners (the tax authority) as a charity to receive tax exemptions, and the groups must operate exclusively for charitable purposes, which under the law may include “the advancement of religion.” The law requires all charitable organizations carrying out activities in the country to register with and provide certain information relating to their organization to the Charities Regulator, a government-appointed independent authority. The regulator maintains a public register of charitable organizations and ensures their compliance with the law. Organizations must apply their income and property solely toward the promotion of their main charitable object, as set out in their governing instruments (such as constitution, memorandum and articles of association, deed of trust, or rules).

Under the law, individual medical professionals are able to opt out of participating in certain legal procedures, such as abortion, on conscience grounds; however, institutions may not refuse to perform such procedures.

Under the constitution, the Department of Education and Skills provides funding to privately owned and managed primary schools – most of which are affiliated with religious groups, particularly the Catholic Church – referred to as national or just primary schools. Most children receive their elementary-level education at these privately-owned schools. The government pays most of the building and administrative costs, teachers’ salaries, and a set amount per pupil.

Ninety percent of all national schools are Catholic, 6 percent Church of Ireland, 2 percent multidenominational, 1 percent other religious groups, and 1 percent not religiously affiliated. Patrons, who are usually members of the religious groups and affiliated with religious organizations with which the school is associated, manage the schools themselves or appoint a board of management to do so. Patrons often provide land for schools and contribute to building and administrative costs.

According to legislation enacted in 2018 that became effective with the 2019-2020 school year, Catholic national schools are no longer allowed to discriminate on religious grounds when making admissions decisions. National schools under the patronage of other religious groups may continue to discriminate in admissions on religious grounds in order to preserve, according to the law, their distinct religious identities, but only in schools which are oversubscribed. The law prohibits discrimination in admissions based on religious beliefs in secondary schools.

In funding schools, the constitution stipulates the state shall have due regard “for the rights of parents, especially in the matter of religious and moral formation.” The government permits, but does not require, religious instruction, faith-based classes, or general religion classes in national schools. Although religious instruction is part of the curriculum of most schools, parents may exempt their children from such instruction. Religious schools teach about their religion, while multidenominational schools generally teach about religion in a broader context. Students may opt out and sit in a classroom where religious instruction is not being conducted. The Catholic Church certifies teachers of religion classes in Catholic schools.

Approximately half of secondary schools are religiously affiliated. The government funds religiously affiliated secondary schools.

Vocational schools are state run and nonreligious.

The WRC hears cases of reported workplace discrimination, including claims based on religion. The WRC may refer cases for mediation, investigate these cases, or decide the case itself. If the adjudication officer finds there has been discrimination, he or she can order compensation for the effects of discrimination and/or corrective action. Litigants may appeal WRC decisions in the courts.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) is an independent public body accountable to parliament, whose stated purpose is to protect and promote human rights and equality and to build a culture of respect for human rights, including religious freedom. The commission works at the policy level to review the effectiveness of human rights and equality law, as well as public policy and practice. It also works with communities, including religious and other civil society groups to monitor and report on the public’s experience of human rights, religious freedom, and equality.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

In April the police announced Commissioner Drew Harris had decided the force would allow Sikh members to wear turbans and Muslim women members to wear the hijab while on the job. The Muslim Sisters of Eire said they wished to “acknowledge and celebrate the decision” and the Immigrant Council of Ireland tweeted it was “encouraging news.” The police representative association called it “a useful measure.”

Atheist Ireland, the main secularist advocacy group in the country, said Catholic charities engaged in political activities, but government authorities overlooked their actions.

School patrons, generally affiliated with religious denominations, continued to define the ethos of schools and to determine the development and implementation of the religious education curriculum in primary schools. Curricula varied by school and could include teaching about the patron’s religion, the religious history of the country, or an overview of world religions. Atheist Ireland criticized the government for primarily delivering moral formation through religion and not offering students moral education outside of religion classes.

Atheist Ireland and the media reported incidents of school authorities giving preferential treatment, such as homework exemptions, to students in national Catholic schools that engaged in activities such as singing in religious choirs or preforming altar services in church. According to media reports, in September the Yellow Furze National School (Catholic) in County Meath had a policy of allowing children who attended religious ceremonies to skip their homework. School authorities said they were “rewarding positive behavior” by issuing church-going children a “homework pass.” The school said students were still free to opt out of religious events but would not be “rewarded” for it.

In September The Irish Times newspaper reported Atheist Ireland said it was aware of dozens of cases where school authorities told parents religion was a core subject from which their children could not opt out. According to the article, one mother had twice requested in writing that a school exempt her child from religion classes. The woman said school officials told her verbally that religion was compulsory and the child could leave the premises during religion classes or go to another school.

The government continued to encourage patrons to open more schools with nonreligious or multidenominational patronage. Seventeen new multidenominational national schools opened during the year as part of the government’s plan, announced in 2018, to encourage the establishment of 42 nonreligious or multidenominational national schools in 2019-22. The Department of Education and Skills said it would poll parents for their preferences among a list of potential patrons in regions where the department perceived a need for new schools, and encourage the preferred patrons to sponsor the new schools. The department said it expected in most cases parents would express a preference for nonreligious or multidenominational patronage. On November 19, the department issued an invitation for patronage applications for four new primary schools scheduled to open in September 2020.

In November Atheist Ireland, the Evangelical Alliance of Ireland, and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Ireland made a joint submission to CERD, arguing the government was moving too slowly in establishing new nondenominational schools and divesting existing schools from religious bodies. The submission argued, “The state should stop ceding control of almost all schools to private patron bodies, the vast majority of which have a self-interested religious prejudice while providing an essentially public service.” CERD recommended the government monitor school admissions, to encourage diversity and tolerance of other faiths and beliefs in the education system, and incidents of discrimination on the basis of belief.

There were no reports of complaints by parents or others about the law forbidding Catholic national schools from taking students’ religion into account when making admissions decisions, while allowing other national schools to continue to do so. In rural areas, parents said finding non-Catholic national schools was especially difficult.

Catholic religious orders remained affiliated with 20 of the country’s 45 hospitals.

In May the media reported Minister of Justice and Equality Charles Flanagan invoked for the first time a 20-year-old immigration power to bar a U.S. preacher from entering the country “in the interest of public policy,” following an online petition signed by 14,000 individuals calling for the government to ban his visit. According to the petitioners and some media reports, the preacher, the founder of an independent Christian group, had made anti-Semitic statements, including Holocaust denial, and denounced homosexuality and Hinduism.

In February a commission established by Minister for Health Simon Harris issued a report on the role and status of voluntary organizations providing health and personal social services. The report said the state was legally entitled to attach reasonable conditions to any funding it provided and was free to refrain from funding organizations that refused to provide certain lawful services, such as abortion or prescriptions for contraceptives. The report also said health services run by religious organizations should be “cognizant of the impact of decor” (e.g., religious symbols, icons, or the presence of chapels) on patients and “strive to ensure their personal preferences in this regard are met to the greatest extent possible.” Media reported Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said in an interview the report was not a recommendation to force hospitals to remove religious symbols from public areas, but it was “a message to charities and voluntary bodies that do run hospitals and schools just to have regard to these things.” The prime minister said he wanted to see more diversity in religious symbols in publicly funded healthcare institutions, to reflect that many patients were not Roman Catholic. Harris stated the findings required “further deliberation.” The government had not taken action on the report by year’s end.

In June the WRC found the National Transport Authority (NTA) had not discriminated against John Hamill, a member of the Congregationalist Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (Pastafarians), whom The Irish Times described as “a prominent atheist,” when it denied him free travel to a park to attend a ceremony of his group in 2018, while providing free travel to Catholics attending a papal mass at the same park on that day. According to media, Pastafarians were meeting to celebrate their non-Catholicism and discuss the benefits of not being Catholic. The man had requested the transit benefit in advance. NTA responded via letter that it was not able to provide free travel to the event, stating, “The primary reason for making travel free for those attending the papal Mass is crowd safety at the main boarding locations.” The Irish Times reported the WRC found the man’s complaint, despite its satirical tone, raised a serious point and was not “frivolous, vexations, or misconceived,” but determined it failed on procedural grounds.

Several state agencies, including IHREC, WRC, and the police’s National Diversity and Integration Unit (GNDIU) continued to enforce equality legislation and work on behalf of minority religious groups. These agencies helped to organize community events to educate the public on interfaith issues. In September the Dublin City Interfaith Forum, which received state and European Investment Fund funding, and the Dublin City Council organized a free festival involving up to 15 different faith communities, including Baha’is, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims and Sikhs. According to GNDIU representatives, GNDIU’s liaison officers continued to engage regularly with immigrant minority religious groups to inform them of police services and educate them on their rights. In October the police launched its 2019-21 Diversity and Integration Strategy, with the stated aim of protecting all minorities and diverse groups (including religious groups) in society. The strategy focused on improving the identification, reporting, investigation, and prosecution of hate crimes. It introduced a working definition of hate crime for the police; emphasized human rights as a foundation for providing policing services; and initiated diversity, integration, and hate crime training within the police.

Although there were no laws addressing hate crimes, in October the police introduced a working hate crime definition as part of its diversity and integration strategy, with the goal of ensuring a uniform response to dealing with reported incidents. The strategy defined a hate crime as: “Any criminal offense which is perceived by the victim or any other person to, in whole or in part, be motivated by hostility or prejudice, based on actual or perceived age, disability, race, color, nationality, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or gender.” The police’s official website further clarified that “[r]eligion includes ‘non-believers.’” According to a report in August by The Irish Times, in August the government’s Central Statistics Office stated it had seen “no objective proof” the police had addressed the concerns the office had cited in 2018, when it estimated the police underestimated hate crimes by at least 27 percent.

NGOs, including the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL), Immigrant Council of Ireland, Anti-Racism Network Ireland, National Steering Group Against Hate Crime, and European Network Against Racism Ireland (ENAR-I), as well as IHREC again advocated better monitoring of hate crimes, including religiously motivated incidents, legislation against hate crimes and more stringent laws against hate speech, and action to ensure authorities took prejudice into account as an aggravating factor in sentencing criminals.

In October Justice and Equality Minister Flanagan and Minister of State for Equality, Immigration, and Integration David Stanton launched a seven-week consultation of the public’s views as the government prepared to update the criminal law prohibiting incitement to hatred. Several NGOs, including ICCL and ENAR-I, said the consultation resulted in part from their efforts.

In a review in December, CERD said the level of hate crimes in the country was high, “in particular against women wearing headscarves in public,” and criticized the government for failing to reform its legal framework on hate crime. CERD called for a “clear time-bound commitment” to make the necessary changes in law. CERD also praised NGO Holocaust Education Trust Ireland and its efforts to combat anti-Semitism.

On January 27, President Higgins, Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney, Minister for Justice and Equality Flanagan, and other senior government officials participated in the national Holocaust Day Memorial commemoration. In his remarks, the president paid tribute to Holocaust survivors and said the world needed to “work together to ensure that hatred and inhumanity is not allowed to once again spread its dark shadow across Europe and the world.” The NGO Holocaust Education Trust Ireland, in association with the Department of Justice and Equality, Office for the Promotion of Migrant Integration, and Dublin City Council, organized the event, which included readings, survivors’ remembrances, and music, as well as the lighting of six candles symbolizing the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust.

The government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In May media reported two separate attacks on Muslim men in Limerick during Ramadan. In one attack, three individuals punched and kicked two Muslim men walking towards a mosque. Both were hospitalized. Separately, a man approached a Muslim who was walking towards a mosque and hit him in the face. Two other men joined in beating the Muslim man, who was hospitalized. Police were investigating both assaults.

In August online footage showed teenagers pushing a 14-year-old girl to the ground and forcibly removing her hijab in Dublin. Police said they were investigating but had no evidence the incident was religiously motivated. Minister of Culture, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht Josepha Madigan condemned the assault. Ali Selim of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland told The Irish Sun newspaper the incident was “an attack on this girl’s religious identity.” Selim said he did not think anti-Muslim sentiment was on the rise, but called for hate crime legislation to protect the increasingly multicultural and multifaith nature of society.

In February the WRC found that a print company had discriminated against a gay man by refusing to print invitations for his civil partnership ceremony in 2015 on the grounds of his sexual orientation and ordered it to pay the man 2,500 euros ($2,800). In a statement issued after the WRC ruling, the print company said, “We are not against people who choose to practice homosexuality, but as Bible-believing Christians, we cannot in good conscience go along with printing invitations for same-sex unions.”

The WRC reported that from January to June it received 15 complaints of employment discrimination based on religion.

In May the EC carried out a study in each European Union (EU) member state on perceptions of discrimination and published the results in September. According to the findings, 42 percent of respondents believed discrimination on the basis of religion or belief was widespread in Ireland, while 52 percent said it was rare; 92 percent would be comfortable with having a person of a different religion than the majority of the population occupy the highest elected political position in the country. In addition, 98 percent said they would be comfortable working closely with a Christian, and 96 percent said they would be with an atheist, 95 percent with a Jew, 93 percent with a Buddhist, and 91 percent with a Muslim. Asked how they would feel if their child were in a “love relationship” with an individual belonging to various groups, 96 percent said they would be comfortable if the partner were Christian, 89 percent if atheist, 88 percent if Jewish, 84 percent if Buddhist, and 80 percent if Muslim.

In January the EC published a Special Eurobarometer survey of perceptions of anti-Semitism based on interviews it conducted in December 2018 in each EU member state. According to the survey, 69 percent of residents believed anti-Semitism was not a problem in Ireland, and 53 percent believed it had stayed the same over the previous five years. The percentage who believed that anti-Semitism was a problem in nine different categories was as follows: Holocaust denial, 21 percent; on the internet, 29 percent; anti-Semitic graffiti or vandalism, 18 percent; expression of hostility or threats against Jews in public places, 20 percent; desecration of Jewish cemeteries, 18 percent; physical attacks against Jews, 18 percent; anti-Semitism in schools and universities, 19 percent; anti-Semitism in political life, 20 percent; and anti-Semitism in the media, 23 percent.

In a survey of residents of the country IHREC published in October 2018, 7 percent of respondents said they believed members “of a certain religion” (the question did not identify any religious groups) were those most likely to have their human rights infringed or experience discrimination.

In October CNN reported that in July unknown individuals vandalized the Ahmadiyya Maryam Mosque in Galway, breaking windows, wrecking an office, and destroying the mosque’s video security system. The mosque’s imam, Ibrahim Noonan, said that prior to the incident, he had received an anonymous phone call warning him that individuals planned to attack the mosque and harm him. Following the break-in, a police spokesperson told CNN that police were “investigating a burglary.” Noonan stated that, since nothing was stolen, treating the incident as a burglary was insulting to the Muslim community. He added that the vandalism was targeted and premeditated. Mahmoud Rashid, President of Galway’s Ahmadiyya Muslim community, told CNN there was a wider anti-Muslim current in society and that the narrative was applied to Muslims and other migrant groups.

The same CNN report cited another incident during the summer in which a senior lecturer on contemporary Islam at University College Cork said he received a voice mail calling him a “scumbag and terrorist” and adding, “I hope you are executed.”

In March The Irish Times reported that abusive and threatening behavior towards Muslim women had prompted a group of Muslim women from the Dublin Mosque to establish a network of safe spaces in the city, where Muslim women could seek immediate shelter if harassed. The women said they were designing a large yellow sticker reading, “Ask for Help,” which they hoped participating establishments would post prominently.

In August Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin Michael Jackson wrote an open letter to imams and other Muslim leaders in the city, expressing sorrow and solidarity with victims of attacks in the country targeting Muslims.

According to media, in March the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference objected to an advertisement for two consultants at the National Maternity Hospital in Dublin. The job announcement said candidates for consultant positions in obstetrics/gynecology and anesthesia must be willing to participate in elective abortions. The bishops’ conference said this precondition denied some candidates employment on the basis of conscience. According to the media, the hospital responded that the positions in question were specifically for providing abortion services and were therefore for individuals willing to provide those services. The hospital said the conscientious objection guidelines for staff remained unchanged.

Macau

Read A Section: Macau

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Executive Summary

The Basic Law of the Macau Special Administrative Region (SAR) grants residents freedom of religious belief, freedom to preach and participate in religious activities in public, and freedom to pursue religious education. The law protects the right of religious assembly and the rights of religious organizations to administer schools, hospitals, and welfare institutions and to provide other social services. The law states the government does not recognize a state religion and explicitly states all religious denominations are equal before the law. The law stipulates religious groups may develop and maintain relations with religious groups abroad. Falun Gong practitioners continued to hold rallies and protests against Chinese Communist Party (CCP) treatment of Falun Gong practitioners in mainland China. According to Asia News, from September 29 to October 1, the Government Tourism Office projected a slideshow of CCP symbols onto the Ruins of Saint Paul’s facade to mark the 70th anniversary of communist rule in China. In response, the Catholic Diocese of Macau stated concerns over the government’s use of historically religious sites for secular purposes.

In September the Catholic diocese opened the Redemptoris Mater College for Evangelization to train new seminary students from the region.

In meetings with religious leaders and civil society representatives, representatives from the U.S. Consulate General stressed the importance of religious freedom and tolerance for all religious groups and discussed religious communities’ relations with their coreligionists on the mainland and in Hong Kong.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 611,000 (midyear 2019 estimate). According to a Pew Research Center 2010 estimate, 58.9 percent of the population are folk religionists, 17.3 percent Buddhist, 7.2 percent Christian, 1.2 percent other religions (including Hindus, Muslims, and Jews), and 15.4 percent unaffiliated. The SAR Government Information Bureau 2019 yearbook does not provide an estimate for Buddhists but states they are numerous and that individuals often practice a mixture of Buddhism, Confucianism, and Chinese folk religions. According to the yearbook, the majority of the population practices Buddhism or Chinese folk religions. The SAR Government Information Bureau estimates 5.2 percent of the population (approximately 31,700 individuals) are Roman Catholics, of whom more than half are foreign domestic workers and other expatriates, and 1.3 percent of the population (more than 8,000 individuals) are Protestants. Protestant denominations include the Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, Pentecostal, and Presbyterian Churches. Evangelical Christian and independent local nondenominational churches, some of which are affiliated with mainland churches, are also present. Various reports estimate the Muslim population at 5,000 to 10,000. Smaller religious groups include Baha’is, who estimate their membership at more than 2,000, and Falun Gong practitioners, who estimate their numbers at 20 to 50 persons.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The Basic Law states residents have freedom of religious belief and the freedom to publicly preach as well as conduct and participate in religious activities. These rights may be limited in extreme situations for national security reasons. The Basic Law further stipulates the government shall not interfere in the internal affairs of religious groups or in their relations with their counterparts outside Macau. It bars the government from restricting religious activities that do not contravene the laws of the SAR.

Under the Basic Law, the SAR government, rather than the central government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), safeguards religious freedom in the SAR.

The law states there is no official religion in the SAR and stipulates all religious denominations are equal before the law. The law provides for freedom of religion, including privacy of religious belief, freedom of religious assembly, freedom to hold religious processions, and freedom of religious education.

Religious groups are not required to register to conduct religious activities, but registration enables them to benefit from legal status. Benefits include exemption from taxation (such as property tax, stamp duty, complementary tax (profit tax), and industrial tax) and financial assistance from the government. Religious groups register with the Identification Bureau, providing the name of an individual applicant and that person’s position in the group, identification card number, and contact information, as well as the group’s name and a copy of the group’s charter. Registered charities receive the same benefits as registered religious groups. Religious groups need to be registered as a charity under a similar or different name in order to provide charitable services.

The law guarantees religious organizations may run seminaries and schools, hospitals, and welfare institutions and provide other social services.

Most public schools do not require religious education. Nonreligious public schools do not offer religious or world religion courses. A small number of religious organizations receive public funding for schools, and under the law, these schools may require religious education. Students may not opt out of taking a religious class if they attend a public institution that has it in the required curriculum.

By law, religious groups may develop and maintain relations with religious groups abroad.

Government Practices

Falun Gong practitioners continued to hold rallies and set up informational sites at public venues without incident. According to the Falun Gong website Minghui.org, in April outside the Ruins of St. Paul’s, Falun Gong practitioners set up message boards with information about the history of the group and used megaphones to play recorded messages about persecution of practitioners on the mainland. On July 19, Falun Gong practitioners held a rally and a candlelight vigil to mark the 20th anniversary of the CCP’s ban on Falun Gong.

Some religious groups continued to report they retained their ability to conduct charitable activities on the mainland by working through official channels and officially recognized churches.

According to Asia News, from September 29 to October 1, the Government Tourism Office projected a slideshow of CCP symbols onto the Ruins of Saint Paul’s facade to mark the 70th anniversary of communist rule in China. In response, the diocese issued a declaration that “the use of historical monuments ought to correspond to its intended character.” According to the article, while the Catholic Church no longer owns the ruins, St. Paul’s remains a symbol of Catholic faith in the country for the Church and Catholic believers. In December, during the week prior to the 20th anniversary of the transfer of sovereignty from Portugal to the PRC, the government projected a light show onto the facade, which drew no reaction from the diocese.

The government continued to provide financial support, regardless of religious affiliation, to religious groups to establish schools, child-care centers, clinics, homes for the elderly, rehabilitation centers, and vocational training centers. The government also continued to refer victims of human trafficking to religious organizations for the provision of support services.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The Catholic Church in Macau, in communion with the Holy See, continued to recognize the pope as its head. The Vatican appointed the bishop for the diocese.

The Catholic Diocese of Macau continued to run many educational institutions. In September Redemptoris Mater College for Evangelization in Asia opened. According to Vatican media outlets, the college has a mandate to train new seminary students from all over the region, including from the mainland.

New Zealand

Executive Summary

The constitution provides the right to manifest religion or belief in worship, observance, practice, or teaching, either individually or in community with others, and either in public or in private. The law prohibits discrimination based on religious belief. At year’s end, there was one legal action in progress against religious instruction in schools. In March an armed man attacked two Christchurch mosques, killing 51 persons and injuring 49 others, all Muslims. The prime minister labeled the shooter a terrorist and immediately condemned the attacks, advocating religious tolerance and calling for solidarity with the country’s Muslim community. Immediately after the attacks, the government took a series of measures, including the establishment of a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the attacks and organization of public events to memorialize the victims. Following this attack on the Muslim community, in October the government announced 17 million New Zealand dollars ($11.5 million) in extra funding to combat terrorist and violent extremist content online, including content related to religion. In March parliament repealed a little-used but longstanding blasphemy law. In May the Ministry of Education released guidelines on religious instruction in public schools to help clarify the legal obligation of the schools’ boards of trustees when allowing religious instruction.

In the days following the mosque attacks, people from around the country condemned the violence and called for solidarity with the Muslim community. The government-funded Human Rights Commission (HRC) received 87 inquiries or complaints of discrimination based on religious belief for 2018-19, compared with 65 in the previous period. The New Zealand Jewish Council said that anti-Semitism was increasing, particularly online.

The Ambassador, as well as U.S. embassy and consulate general officers, continued to meet with government officials and representatives of various religious groups throughout the country to discuss religious freedom and the role of religion in society. In the aftermath of the Christchurch mosque attacks, the Ambassador led the embassy’s engagement in a robust public outreach program, delivering messages of condolence and solidarity with the people of the country and condemnation of attacks on our “Muslim brothers and sisters.”

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 4.6 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to 2018 census data, of those responding regarding religious affiliation, 10.2 percent are Roman Catholic, 7 percent Anglican, 5 percent Presbyterian, 10 percent other Christian denominations (including Maori syncretic religions such as Ratana and Ringatu), 2.6 percent Hindu, 1.3 percent Muslim, 1.2 percent Buddhist, and 0.1 percent Jewish. More than 90 additional religious groups together constitute less than 1 percent of the population. The number of persons stating no religious affiliation increased from 42 percent to 49 percent between 2013 and 2018; 6.8 percent of the respondents to the census question on religion stated they objected to the question.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution, comprising several basic laws, states that religious expression is “subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.” According to the law, religious practices may not breach the peace.

The government does not require the licensing or registration of religious groups; however, for a religious group to collect money for any charitable purpose, including the advancement of its religion, or obtain tax benefits, it must register with the Department of Internal Affairs as a charitable trust. The registration must provide the rules of the organization showing it is a nonprofit organization and a list of officers free from conflict of interest who will not put their own interests above the organization. There is no fee for this registration.

The law provides that “teaching in every public primary school must, while the school is open, be entirely of a secular character.” A public primary school may close, including during normal school hours, for up to one hour per week, up to a total of 20 hours per year, to devote to religious instruction or religious observance, to be conducted in a manner approved by the school’s board of trustees. If a public primary school provides religious instruction or observes religious customs, it must allow students to opt out. Religious instruction or observance, if provided, usually takes place outside normal school hours. Public secondary schools may provide limited religious instruction and observances within certain parameters that ensure they do not discriminate against anyone who does not share that belief. General religious education is not regulated by legislation.

Individuals may file complaints of unlawful discrimination, including on the basis of religious belief, to the HRC. The HRC’s mandate includes assuring equal treatment of all religious groups under the law, protecting the right to safety for religious individuals and communities, promoting freedom of religious expression and reasonable accommodation for religious groups, and promoting religious tolerance in education. In the event a complaint is not resolved satisfactorily with the assistance of HRC mediation, the complainant may proceed to the Human Rights Review Tribunal (HRRT). The tribunal has the authority to issue restraining orders, award monetary damages, or declare a breach of the Human Rights Act through a report to parliament. Conduct prohibited by the Human Rights Act (e.g., workplace discrimination, including that based on religion) may also be prosecuted under other applicable laws. In addition to the HRC dispute resolution mechanism, a complainant may initiate proceedings in the court system; in exceptional circumstances, HRRT cases may be transferred to the High Court.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

Hours after the March 15 attack on two Christchurch mosques, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern condemned the attacker as a terrorist and a criminal. The government called for solidarity with the Muslim community and advocated tolerance. In the aftermath of the attack, the prime minister and senior government officials participated in events that memorialized the victims, such as a service at one of the targeted mosques on March 21 that drew an estimated 20,000 participants. On March 19, parliament opened with its first-ever Islamic prayer in a show of solidarity with the Muslim community. In the weeks after, the government passed emergency legislation that included the establishment of a Royal Commission of Inquiry (typically reserved for “matters of the gravest public importance”) into the attacks. To deter copycat attacks and reassure the Muslim community, armed police were deployed outside all the country’s mosques and Islamic centers for six weeks after the Christchurch attacks. The prime minister called on international governments and the global technology sector to adopt the Christchurch Call for committed governments and technology companies to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online. In October the government announced 17 million New Zealand dollars ($11.5 million) in extra funding for domestic law enforcement and work with partner governments and the international technology sector to combat terrorist and violent extremist content online, including content related to religion.

In May the Ministry of Education released guidelines on religious instruction in state primary schools to help clarify boards of trustees’ legal obligations when allowing religious instruction (which differs from general religious education, which is not regulated by legislation), and to help trustees develop best practices around how to offer religious instruction. The draft provided guidance on how to close schools for the delivery of religious instruction in a way that would reduce the possibility of discrimination. In early December the education minister proposed that schools require signed consent from a parent or caregiver before allowing a student to participate in religious instruction, as part of a broader Education and Training Bill. Some secular education advocates expressed concerns about the legality and propriety of any religious education in a secular education system.

In a legal action concerning a long-running dispute on religious instruction in schools, complainants from the Secular Education Network (SEN) said many schools ignored legal restrictions on religious instruction. SEN also stated the HRC had not taken appropriate action against broader “state-sanctioned religious bias” by the Ministry of Education, and said there was conflict between those sections of the Education Act authorizing religious instruction in state schools and the right of protection from discrimination due to religious beliefs in the more recent Bill of Rights Act. A decision in the High Court is expected in 2020.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

On March 15, Australian citizen Brenton Tarrant attacked the Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic center, both in Christchurch. The attacks, regarded as the country’s worst act of mass killing, resulted in 51 deaths and 49 injuries. All the victims were Muslims. The High Court in Christchurch set a trial date for Tarrant in May 2020, then moved it to June 2020 to avoid conflicting with Ramadan. Authorities charged Tarrant with multiple counts of murder and attempted murder and one count of terrorism.

In the days following the attacks, individuals from around the country condemned the violence and called for solidarity with Muslims. The media reported many non-Muslim women, including TV correspondents and police officers, wearing headscarves during the March 21 memorial. At the beginning of that service, the Islamic call to prayer was broadcast on national radio and television. In his message during the service, a leading imam thanked the prime minister for her leadership during the crisis and stated “. . . we are together (as a nation), we are determined not to let anyone divide us.” The president of the national Jewish Council said the organization was “sickened and devastated” by the attack and offered the council’s “full assistance and support” to the Muslim community. After the Royal Commission of Inquiry held its first meeting in July, some human rights advocates and Muslim community leaders said it was not transparent enough and was moving too quickly to adequately consult Muslims and the shooting survivors. Muslim leaders also criticized the slow pace of the trial and the High Court’s scheduling of hearings on Fridays. The internal affairs minister announced in November that the inquiry would be extended from December 2019 to April 2020 to take into account “the significant public interest” and Muslims’ concerns.

The New Zealand Jewish Council said that anti-Semitism was increasing, particularly online. Jewish community leaders expressed outrage when footage emerged of an Auckland mosque leader blaming the Israeli intelligence service Mossad for the mosque attacks while addressing a crowd of approximately 1,000 anti-racism protestors in Auckland. In July a New Zealand Jewish Council spokesperson accused Green Party Member of Parliament Golriz Ghahraman of anti-Semitism after she referred to Mary and Joseph as “Palestinian refugees,” which the spokesperson said ignored their Jewish identity and reflected an ongoing pattern of disrespect and marginalization of the Jewish community. Ghahraman apologized and promised to “improve her dialogue” with the community.

In March two buildings in the South Island towns of Christchurch and Greymouth belonging to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were struck by suspicious fires within 48 hours. In April Jacob Lowenstein, who confessed to setting the fires and admitted to targeting the buildings based on their religious affiliation, was convicted and sentenced to six years and nine months in prison.

The HRC received 87 inquiries or complaints of unlawful discrimination on the grounds of religious belief or lack of religious belief during 2018-19, compared with 65 complaints during 2017-18.

Philippines

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for the free exercise of religion and religious worship and prohibits the establishment of a state religion. On January 21, citizens of the five provinces and three major cities of western Mindanao ratified the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), creating a new Muslim-led autonomous region and abolishing the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). The measure provided the area’s majority Muslim population a larger region of authority. Although the referendum was widely backed by national Muslim and Christian groups, some local religious minorities continued to express concerns about the new authority. On March 29, President Rodrigo Duterte led the inauguration ceremony of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). The Office of the President’s National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) continued to promote the rights of Muslims at the national and local level. Catholic Church clergy continued to criticize the president’s policies, especially the drug war and his desire to reinstate the death penalty. Although the president agreed to stop denouncing the Church in 2018, he continued to express his displeasure with the conduct of its clergy. A number of priests critical of the government’s drug war received explicit death threats and raised concerns that the president’s negative statements promoted attacks against clergy. In July the government charged some members of the opposition, along with four Catholic bishops and three priests, with sedition, cyber libel, libel, and obstruction of justice because of their alleged involvement in the release of a supposed antigovernment video.

During the year, killings, bombings, and kidnappings by ISIS-affiliated and other militant groups continued. ISIS claimed responsibility for several attacks, including a January suicide bombing at a cathedral in Jolo that killed 20 persons and wounded several others. In August a cathedral in Baguio received bomb threats, allegedly from ISIS affiliates. Following the attacks, members of the Catholic and Muslim communities gathered in the cathedral to show solidarity against terrorism. On December 22, an explosion occurred outside a Catholic church during its Sunday Mass. By year’s end no public claim of responsibility for the attacks had emerged, though authorities suggested ISIS-linked groups were the most likely perpetrators.

Violent incidents, particularly in rural areas in the south of the country, were frequently associated with interclan rido (feud) violence. Since religion and ethnicity are often closely linked, incidents were difficult to classify as solely based on religious identity. Religious scholars and leaders within the Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant communities stated relations among religious groups were generally amicable, but they reported some tensions between different religious and ethnic groups, especially in conflict-affected areas such as Marawi City and Sulu. The NCMF reported no formal incidents of discrimination during the year, but stated that subtle forms of anti-Muslim societal discrimination existed throughout the country. Religious communities continued to participate in interreligious efforts to alleviate friction, foster connections, and address discrimination.

In a U.S. embassy-organized forum in June, Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) representatives and legislative branch staffers discussed implementation of the BOL, including its implications for religious minorities and the importance of supporting all communities of faith, particularly in conflict areas. In meetings with religious groups, the government, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), embassy representatives highlighted the importance of religious freedom and interfaith dialogue and cooperation. The embassy sponsored the visit to the United States of two scholars, who had advocated religious tolerance and social inclusion, for a three-week law and leadership program, and encouraged a local NGO to incorporate a religious tolerance module into its teaching curriculum.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 107.5 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the 2015 census (the most recent) conducted by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), 79.5 percent of the population is Roman Catholic and 9 percent belong to other Christian groups, including Seventh-day Adventists, United Church of Christ, United Methodists, Episcopal Church in the Philippines, Bible Baptist Church, other Protestant churches, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Other Christian groups include locally established churches such as the Iglesia ni Cristo (Church of Christ), Philippine Independent Church (Aglipayan), Members Church of God International, the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, and the Name Above Every Name. Approximately 6 percent of the population is Muslim, according to the PSA; the NCMF estimates that 10 to 11 percent of the population is Muslim. The NCMF attributes the higher estimate to a number of factors: the reluctance of Muslims to officially register with the civil registrar office or to participate in the formal survey, the community’s transience due to internal movement for work, and the government’s failure to survey Muslim areas and communities thoroughly. According to the PSA, approximately 4 percent of those surveyed in the 2015 census did not report a religious affiliation or belong to other groups, such as animism or indigenous syncretic faiths.

A majority of Muslims are members of various ethnic minority groups and reside in Mindanao and nearby islands in the south. Although most are practitioners of Sunni Islam, a small minority of Shia Muslims live in the provinces of Lanao del Sur and Zamboanga del Sur on Mindanao. An increasing number of Muslims are migrating to the urban centers of Manila, Baguio, Dumaguete, Cagayan de Oro, Iligan, Cotabato, and Davao, a trend that accelerated after the May-October 2017 siege of Marawi in which local residents fled to other provinces for their security.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for the free exercise of religion and religious worship and prohibits the establishment of a state religion. No religious test is required for the exercise of civil or political rights. The constitution provides for the separation of religion and state. The law treats intentional attacks directed against religiously affiliated buildings or facilities as war crimes or crimes against international humanitarian law. The law forbids public officials from interrupting religious worship, as well as any person “notoriously” offending religious feelings during such services or in a place of worship.

The law requires organized religious groups to register with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and with the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) to establish tax-exempt status. Religious groups must submit their articles of faith and bylaws for SEC registration as religious corporations. The SEC requires religious corporations to submit annual financial statements. The law does not specify penalties for failure to register with the SEC. To register as a nonstock, nonprofit organization, religious groups must meet the basic requirements for corporate registration with the BIR and must request tax exemption from the BIR. The basic requirements for registration include a name verification of the religious corporation, articles of incorporation and bylaws, the name of a director, list of members, and a list of financial contributors. The BIR provides tax exemptions to newly established religious corporations that are then reviewed for renewal every three years. The BIR may fine religious corporations for the late filing of registrations or for failing to submit registration datasheets and financial statements.

The government permits religious instruction in public schools with written parental consent, provided there is no cost to the government. Based on a traditional policy of promoting moral education, local public schools give religious groups the opportunity to teach moral values during school hours. Attendance is not mandatory, parents must express in writing a desire for their child to attend religious instruction for a specific denomination, and the various groups share classroom space. Students who do not attend religious instruction because no class was offered in their denomination or because their parents did not express a desire receive normal supervised class time. The government also allows groups to distribute religious literature in public schools. The law mandates that government agencies address religious issues and consult recognized experts on Filipino Muslim beliefs, as well as the history, culture, and identity of indigenous peoples, when formulating the national history curriculum.

By law, public schools must protect the religious rights of students. Muslim girls may wear the hijab and are not required to wear shorts during physical education classes.

The government recognizes sharia in all parts of the country through a presidential decree. Sharia courts are organized into five sharia districts, all located in the south of the country; Muslims residing in other areas must travel to these districts to pursue an action in a sharia court. Sharia courts handle only cases relating to personal laws affecting family relations and property. Sharia does not apply in criminal matters and applies only to Muslims. The state court system hears cases involving Muslims and non-Muslims, and national laws apply in those cases.

The BOL ratified on January 21 creates the BARMM, a new Muslim-led autonomous region. The BARMM replaces the former governing authority, the ARMM. The new entity has jurisdiction over five provinces and three major, noncontiguous cities. The BOL provides the framework for the transition to greater autonomy for the area’s majority Muslim population.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

Some Catholic clergy who vocally criticized extrajudicial killings attributed to the war on drugs under President Duterte or who stated their opposition to the reinstatement of the death penalty reported being harassed, intimidated, and threatened with death by unknown perpetrators following Duterte’s threats against them in late 2018, which sources stated he and his government subsequently tried to walk back. In July following the release of a video linking President Duterte and his family to the illicit drug trade, the government charged some members of the opposition, along with four Catholic bishops and three priests, with sedition, cyber libel, libel, and obstruction of justice concerning their alleged involvement in the video’s production and release. Various ecumenical groups condemned the charges, filed through the Philippine National Police (PNP) Criminal Investigation and Detection Group.

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) received a complaint through its social media account saying a local government office in South Cotabato prohibited Balik-Islam (Philippine converts to Islam) from constructing mosques within its village. Initially, the local government stated that the structures did not meet building codes, but after public pressure, it relented and allowed the mosque projects to move forward. After conducting an investigation into a refusal to erect a mosque by local officials in Panagasinan, the NCMF determined that local officials halted construction because residents cited concerns that having the religious structure in their community might incite terrorism.

The CHR Mindanao regional office expressed concern over reported cases of church leaders and faith-based organizations being publicly labeled as members or supporters of the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed insurgent wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines. In February leaflets containing names of alleged NPA members, reportedly including some religious leaders, were posted and distributed in public places and private gatherings by unknown individuals; the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and PNP publicly denied any involvement.

In November media reported that the AFP included the National Council of Churches Philippines (NCCP) in a list of 18 organizations it described or “red-tagged” as communist terrorist groups or groups wittingly or unwittingly providing funds to such groups. The NCCP, one of the largest associations of Protestant and non-Roman Catholic denominations in the Philippines, described the listing as an “attack on [their] Christian faith and tradition.”

On several occasions, President Duterte expressed disapproval of the Catholic Church, despite his 2018 vow not to do so. In a public speech in February he said Catholicism may disappear in 25 years because of various criminal allegations, such as corruption and sexual abuse. Media reported that the criticism could relate more to the Church’s criticism of human rights abuses in Duterte’s anti-drug campaign. Duterte added in a speech in September that he would not support the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines’ (CBCP) celebration in 2021 of 500 years of Catholicism in the country. Some clergy continued to raise concerns that the manner in which the president denounced the Church promoted violence against its priests and leaders.

The Department of Education continued to support its Arabic Language and Islamic Values Education (ALIVE) program for Muslim students in private madrassahs and public elementary schools with a Muslim population of 10 percent or greater. For the 2018-19 school year, 1,686 public elementary schools administered the voluntary ALIVE program for 145,591 students, compared to 1,622 schools and 158,093 students the previous year.

Madrassahs continued to have the option of registering with the NCMF and Department of Education, both, or neither. Registered madrassahs received government funding and produced curricula that were subject to government oversight. There were 85 private madrassahs registered with the Department of Education during the 2018-2019 school year. Many private madrassahs, however, choose to remain unregistered rather than allow government oversight, according to Department of Education representatives.

The Department of Education’s Office of Madrassah Education managed local and international financial assistance to the private madrassah system. By law, only registered schools/madrassahs may receive financial assistance from the government. Madrassahs registered by the Department of Education followed the Standard Madrassah Curriculum and received funding for classrooms, facilities, and educators who taught the Revised Basic Education Curriculum. The overall funding for and attendance at private madrassahs increased by 25 percent from the previous year. During the year, the Department of Education provided funding of 90,960,000 pesos ($1.8 million) to 18,192 private madrassah students, compared to 67,510,000 pesos ($1.33 million) allocated to 13,502 private madrassah students in 2018.

A study by the Institute for Autonomy and Governance showed that 90 percent of 169 madrassahs surveyed in 2018 sought government recognition and support; however, the study stated that complicated accreditation processes and requirements hindered them from registering. The survey also conveyed the concerns of Muslim school leaders about the perception that terrorist groups used traditional madrassahs for recruitment, especially after the Marawi siege. The NCMF distributed books in April in order to alleviate community concerns that all traditional Muslim schools bred violent extremist ideologies.

On March 29, President Duterte led the inauguration ceremony of the BARMM. The results of a January plebiscite added Basilan and Cotabato City to BARMM territories. Although the move was widely backed by Muslims and Christians nationwide, some local religious minorities continued to express their concerns about the new authority. The BARMM government designated two seats, one for a Christian and one for an indigenous delegate, to its council to allay minority community concerns. BARMM authorities, an amalgamation of members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and presidential appointees, continued setting up their government, establishing budget priorities, staffing offices, and implementing infrastructure projects. The BARMM government continued to reinforce existing legislation that governed the application of sharia and provided an alternative dispute mechanism for non-Muslims seeking redress in the courts.

NCMF officials said that anti-Muslim discrimination continued to occur in government offices but cited no specific examples. Some Muslim leaders, including an NCMF official, expressed concern about the low percentage of Muslims in senior government and military positions. There were 13 Muslims in the 301-member House of Representatives and one Muslim cabinet appointee. No members of the Senate were Muslim. In October seven Muslim lawmakers of the House of Representatives and the Federation of Free Workers issued statements calling for President Duterte to appoint a Muslim justice to the 15-person supreme court for the first time since 1995.

The PSA estimated during the year that 40 percent of five million total unregistered residents were children aged between birth and 14, primarily among Muslim and indigenous groups. Citizenship derives from birth to a citizen parent. The government initiated a pilot program in Metro Manila that provides undocumented Muslim Filipinos with an identity card – the Muslim Filipino Identity Card– stating that it was intended to help them access services, since many in this population did not have a birth certificate. Sources stated that the lack of a birth certificate did not generally result in a denial of education or other services, but it could cause delays in some circumstances. Undocumented Filipinos could use this secondary identification when applying for jobs, schools, and for other government services in lieu of a birth certificate or formal registry. The NCMF noted that this secondary identification helped overseas Filipino workers who found themselves in precarious labor situations. If their employers confiscated their passports, these secondary IDs could speed the government’s citizenship assessment, thus providing fast repatriation services. Critics expressed reservations about the potential for abuse in similar initiatives in the past.

Muslim officials reported that while Muslim prison detainees were allowed to engage in religious observances, Roman Catholic Mass was often broadcast by loudspeaker to both Catholic and non-Catholic prison populations.

In March the NCMF, along with other religious leaders, participated in an interfaith dialogue in Cebu City to highlight the importance of youth involvement in curbing violent extremism. NCMF Secretary Saidamen Pangarungan stressed that an effective way of achieving peace was through interfaith collaboration.

In January the Department of Tourism announced plans to make the country a significant “religious pilgrimage destination” by restoring and developing historic churches and Christian shrines throughout the country.

The NCMF’s Bureau of Pilgrimage and Endowment continued to administer logistics for the Hajj, such as obtaining flight schedules, administering vaccines, coordinating with the Department of Foreign Affairs to process Hajj passports, filing Hajj visa applications at the Saudi embassy, and conducting predeparture orientations for pilgrims. The NCMF reported that 7,232 individuals made the pilgrimage during the year, lower than the 8,000-limit set by the Saudi Ministry of Hajj for pilgrims from the Philippines, but an increase of 1,419 persons from the previous year. The NCMF also administered the awqaf (an endowment for the upkeep of Islamic properties and institutions) and continued to oversee the establishment and maintenance of Islamic centers and other projects.

In February the senate adopted a resolution filed by Senate President Vicente Sotto declaring the first Thursday of February “Synchronized National Interfaith Prayers for Peace and Reconciliation.” The resolution aimed to encourage Filipinos of all religious groups to participate in a universal prayer for peace.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Violent incidents, particularly in rural areas in the south of the country, were frequently associated with interclan rido (feud) violence. Since religion and ethnicity are often closely linked, incidents were difficult to classify as solely based on religious identity.

Religious scholars and leaders within the Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant communities stated relations among religious groups were generally amicable, but they reported tensions among different religious and ethnic groups, especially in conflict-affected areas such as Marawi City and Sulu. Social media comments denigrating the beliefs or practices of Muslims continued to appear.

The NCMF received several formal complaints of discrimination on the grounds of Muslim religious identity during the year. The organization reported that Muslims received stares in public for wearing hijabs, particularly in schools and banks. NCMF noted a successful legal intervention on behalf of a Muslim nursing student whose school, citing health concerns, initially prevented her from wearing a hijab. The NCMF also stated that subtle forms of anti-Muslim societal discrimination continued to exist throughout the country, particularly among detainees in correctional institutions.

Religious communities continued to participate in interreligious efforts to alleviate friction, foster connections, and address discrimination. The CBCP collaborated with other Christian groups and civil society networks to prepare for the implementation of the BOL. Other interfaith efforts by the CBCP, but not limited to religious freedom issues, included multi-sectoral consultations and meetings with provincial and local governments on localizing humanitarian coordination and collaboration against human trafficking.

Saudi Arabia

Executive Summary

According to the 1992 Basic Law of Governance, the country’s official religion is Islam and the constitution is the Quran and Sunna (traditions and practices based on the life of the Prophet Muhammad). The legal system is based largely on sharia as interpreted by the Hanbali school of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence. Freedom of religion is not provided under the law. The government does not allow the public practice of any non-Muslim religion. The law criminalizes “anyone who challenges, either directly or indirectly, the religion or justice of the King or Crown Prince.” The law criminalizes “the promotion of atheistic ideologies in any form,” “any attempt to cast doubt on the fundamentals of Islam,” publications that “contradict the provisions of Islamic law,” and other acts including non-Islamic public worship, public display of non-Islamic religious symbols, conversion by a Muslim to another religion, and proselytizing by a non-Muslim. In January and May, police raided predominantly Shia villages in al-Qatif Governorate, stating the raids were carried out to arrest terrorist cells or preempt terrorist attacks. On November 13, rights groups announced that Hussein al-Ribh, a 38-year-old Shia activist who was in detention since 2017, died in Dammam Prison. Some Shia activists outside the country stated that authorities tortured al-Ribh while he was detained. In April the government executed 37 citizens for “terrorism crimes,” the largest mass execution since 2016. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), at least 33 of the 37 were from the country’s minority Shia community and had been convicted following what they stated were unfair trials for various alleged crimes, including protest-related offenses. In January rights groups reported Islamic scholar Sheikh Ahmed al-Amari died as a result of poor prison conditions and mistreatment, and in August, Sheikh Saleh Abdulaziz al-Dhamiri died due to a heart condition while held in solitary confinement in Tarafia Prison. Authorities detained Thumar al-Marzouqi, Mohammed al-Sadiq, and Bader al-Ibrahim, three Shia Muslims who have written in the past on the discrimination faced by Shia Muslims, in April with no official charges filed; they remained in detention at year’s end. On February 1, human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported that the public prosecutor was no longer seeking the death penalty for female Shia activist Israa al-Ghomgham, detained since 2015 after participating in antigovernment protests in the Eastern Province. During the year, government leaders, including the crown prince and the head of the government-sponsored Muslim World League (MWL), took new steps to combat religious extremism and to encourage interreligious tolerance and dialogue, conducting prominent public outreach, particularly with Christian and Jewish leaders and groups.

According to press and NGO reports, in February in Medina, an unidentified man beheaded a six-year-old boy on the street in front of his mother reportedly because he was Shia. In September an academic at Qassim University, Dr. Ahmed al-Hassan, called in a tweet for rooting out heretic Shia from the holy city of Medina. Instances of prejudice and discrimination against Shia Muslims continued to occur in legal and security matters and in private sector employment. Some social media platforms for discussion of current events and religious issues included disparaging remarks about members of various religious groups or “sects.” Terms such as “rejectionists,” which Shia considered insulting, were commonly found in social media discourse. Anti-Semitic comments appeared in the media.

In his address to the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom on July 18, Vice President Pence called on the Saudi government to release blogger Raif Badawi, stating that Badawi, among others he highlighted, “stood in defense of religious liberty, the exercise of their faith, despite unimaginable pressure.” The Vice President added that “the United States calls on Saudi Arabia to “respect the freedom of conscience and let these men go.” In discussions with the Human Rights Commission (HRC), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), Ministry of Islamic Affairs (MOIA), and other ministries and agencies, senior U.S. embassy and consulate officials continued to raise and discuss reports of abuses of religious freedom, arbitrary arrests and detentions, enforcement of laws against religious minorities, promotion of respect and tolerance for minority Muslim and non-Muslim religious practices and beliefs, the country’s counterterrorism law, and due process standards.

Since 2004, Saudi Arabia has been designated as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom. Most recently, on December 18, the Secretary of State redesignated Saudi Arabia as a CPC and announced a waiver of the sanctions that accompany designation as required in the important national interest of the United States pursuant to section 407 of the Act.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the country’s total population at 33.6 million (midyear 2019 estimate), including more than 12 million foreign residents. Between 85 and 90 percent of the approximately 20 million citizens are Sunni Muslims.

Shia Muslims constitute 10 to 12 percent of the citizen population and at least one-quarter of the Eastern Province’s population. Approximately 80 percent of Shia are “Twelvers” (Shia who recognize 12 imams) and are primarily located in the Eastern Province. The Nakhawala, or “Medina Shia,” are also Twelvers and reside in small numbers in the western Hejaz region. Estimates place their numbers at approximately 1,000. Twelver Shia adhere to the Ja’afari school of jurisprudence. Most of the remaining Shia are Sulaimani Ismailis, also known as “Seveners” (those who branched off from the Twelvers to follow Isma’il ibn Ja’afar as the Seventh Imam). Seveners number approximately 500,000 and reside primarily in Najran Province, where they probably constitute a majority of the province’s inhabitants. Another branch of Sevener Shia, the Bohra Ismailis, probably number at least a few hundred, most of whom are of South Asian origin. Pockets of Zaydis, members of another branch of Shia Islam, numbering a total of approximately 20,000, reside primarily in the provinces of Jizan and Najran along the border with Yemen.

Foreign embassies indicate the noncitizen population, including many undocumented migrants, is mostly Muslim. According to a 2010 survey by the Pew Research Center, of the country’s total population (including foreigners), there were approximately 25.5 million Muslims, 1.2 million Christians (including Eastern Orthodox, Protestants, and Roman Catholics); 310,000 Hindus; 180,000 religiously unaffiliated (including atheists, agnostics, and individuals who did not identify with any particular religion); 90,000 Buddhists; 70,000 followers of folk religions; and 70,000 adherents of other religions.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The Basic Law of Governance establishes the country as a sovereign Arab Islamic state in which Islam is the official religion. The Basic Law says sharia is the “foundation of the Kingdom” and states the country’s constitution is the Quran and the Sunna. The Basic Law contains no legal recognition or protection of freedom of religion. Conversion from Islam to another religion is grounds for the charge of apostasy, which is legally punishable by death, although courts have not carried out a death sentence for apostasy in recent years.

Blasphemy against Islam may also be legally punishable by death, but courts have not sentenced individuals to death for blasphemy in recent years. Punishments for blasphemy may include lengthy prison sentences and lashings. Criticism of Islam, including expression deemed offensive to Muslims, is forbidden on the grounds of preserving social stability.

The 2017 counterterrorism law criminalizes “anyone who challenges, either directly or indirectly, the religion or justice of the King or Crown Prince.” On January 25, authorities issued implementation regulations that criminalize “calling for atheist thought in any form or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion.” The right to access legal representation for those accused of violating the counterterrorism law is limited; according to the law, “the Public Prosecutor may, at the investigative stage, restrict this right whenever the interests of the investigation so require.” There is no right to access government-held evidence.

The Basic Law states the duty of every citizen is to defend Islam, society, and the homeland. Non-Muslims must convert to Islam before they are eligible to naturalize. The law requires applicants for citizenship to attest to being Muslim and to obtain a certificate documenting their religious affiliation endorsed by a Muslim religious authority. Children born to Muslim fathers are deemed Muslim by law.

The country is the home of Mecca and Medina, Islam’s two holiest sites. The government prohibits non-Muslims from entering central Mecca or religious sites in Medina. Muslims visit these cities on the annual Hajj pilgrimage and during Umrah pilgrimage throughout the rest of the year. The government has stated that caring for the holy cities of Mecca and Medina is a sacred trust exercised on behalf of all Muslims. The country’s sovereign employs the official title of “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques,” in reference to the two cities. The government also establishes national quotas for foreigners and issues permits to Muslim residents (including its own nationals) to participate in the Hajj.

Muslim clerics are vetted and employed by the MOIA. Only government-employed clerics are permitted to deliver sermons, which must be vetted by the MOIA in advance.

Clerics traveling abroad for proselytization activities must be granted approval by the MOIA and operate under MOIA supervision. The stated purpose of the regulation is to limit the ability of religious scholars to travel or to preach overseas and to prevent the appearance of interference, or actual interference, by clerics in the domestic affairs of other states.

Public school students at all levels receive mandatory religious instruction based on Sunni Islam according to the Hanbali school of jurisprudence. Private schools are not permitted to deviate from the official, government-approved religious curriculum. Private international schools are required to teach Saudi students and Muslim students of other nationalities an Islamic studies course, while non-Muslim, non-Saudi students sometimes receive a course on Islamic civilization, or alternative coursework in place of the curriculum designed for Saudi students; courses amount to one hour of instruction per week. Private international schools may also teach courses on other religions or civilizations.

The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (CPVPV) is a government agency with authority to monitor social behavior and report violations of moral standards to law enforcement authorities. The Ministry of Interior (MOI) oversees CPVPV operations on the king’s behalf. By decree, the CPVPV’s activities are limited to providing counseling and reporting individuals suspected of violating the law to the police. The CPVPV may not detain, arrest, pursue, or demand the identification documents of any person; those actions are explicitly reserved as the purview of the police and counternarcotics units. According to law, the CPVPV must “uphold its duties with kindness and gentleness as decreed by the examples of the Prophet Mohammed.” CPVPV field officers do not wear uniforms, but they are required to wear identification badges. The CPVPV’s religious purview includes the prohibited public practice of non-Islamic faiths or displaying emblems (such as crosses) thereof; failing to respect Islam, including Ramadan fasting; “immodest” dress; displaying or selling media “contrary to Islam;” and venerating places or celebrating events inconsistent with approved Islamic practices.

The judicial system is largely based on laws derived from the Quran and the Sunna. All judges are religiously trained, although they often also have specialized knowledge of nonreligious legal subjects. In several areas, including commercial and financial matters, and criminal law related to electronic and cybercrimes or terrorism, jurisprudence increasingly is based on international models rather than religious texts. Law on religious matters, which often affects civil law, particularly on personal status issues, is developed by fatwas (official interpretations of religious law) issued by the 21-person Council of Senior Scholars (CSS) that reports to the king. The Basic Law states governance is based on justice, shura (consultation), and equality according to sharia and further identifies the Quran and the Sunna as the sources for fatwas. The law specifies a hierarchical organization and composition of the CSS, the Permanent Committee for Scholarly Research and Religious Rulings (ifta), and the Office of the Mufti, together with their functions. The Basic Law recognizes the CSS, supported by the Permanent Committee for Scholarly Research and Religious Rulings, as the supreme authority on religious matters. The CSS is headed by the grand mufti and is composed of Sunni religious scholars and jurists, 18 of whom are from the Hanbali school of jurisprudence, with one representative of each of the other Sunni schools (Malaki, Hanafi, and Shafi’i). There are no Shia members. Scholars are chosen at the king’s discretion and serve renewable four-year terms, with many serving for life.

The country’s legal architecture does not derive from a common law system, and judges are not bound by legal precedent. In the absence of a comprehensive criminal code, rulings and sentences can diverge widely. Criminal appeals may be made to the appellate and supreme courts, where in some instances, appellate decisions have resulted in a harsher sentence than the original court decision. Government universities provide training in all four Sunni schools of jurisprudence, with a focus on the Hanbali school.

In legal cases involving accidental death or injury, compensation sometimes differs according to the religious affiliation of the plaintiff. In the event a court renders a judgment in favor of a plaintiff who is a Jewish or Christian male, a court may rule the plaintiff is entitled to receive 50 percent of the compensation a Muslim male would receive; in some circumstances, other non-Muslims may only receive one-sixteenth the amount a male Muslim would receive.

Judges have been observed to discount the testimony of Muslims whom they deemed deficient in their knowledge of Islam, and to favor the testimony of Muslims over the testimony of non-Muslims. Under the government’s interpretation of the Quran, judges may place the value of a woman’s testimony at half that of a man’s in certain cases.

The Basic Law requires the state to protect human rights in accordance with sharia. The HRC, a government entity, is tasked with protecting, enhancing, and ensuring implementation of international human rights standards “in light of the provisions of sharia,” and regularly follows up on citizen complaints. There are no formal requirements regarding the composition of the HRC; during the year, the commission had approximately 28 members from various parts of the country, including two Shia members.

Social media users who post or share satire attacking religion face imprisonment for up to five years under the Anti-Cyber Crime Law. Those found guilty of distributing content online deemed to disrupt public order or disturb religious values would also be subject to a fine of three million riyals ($800,000). The country’s public prosecutor’s office said in a statement on Twitter: “Producing and distributing content that ridicules, mocks, provokes and disturbs public order, religious values and public morals through social media will be considered a cybercrime.”

The country is not a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

There were NGO and Shia activist reports of prison authorities abusing Shia prisoners, including two cases of abuse that led to prisoners’ deaths. On November 13, human rights NGOs announced that Hussein al-Ribh, a 38-year-old Shia activist in detention since 2017, died in Dammam Prison. Some Shia activists outside the country said that authorities tortured al-Ribh while detained. In January another Shia activist, Naif al-Omran, died after eight years in detention, while serving a 20-year sentence for protest-related charges in Qatif dating back to 2011. According to al-Omran’s family, his body bore visible marks of abuse.

On April 23, the MOI announced the execution of 37 citizens in Riyadh, Mecca, Medina, the Eastern Province, Qassim, and Asir regions in connection with “terrorism crimes.” According to HRW, at least 33 of the 37 were from the country’s minority Shia community and had been convicted following unfair trials for various alleged crimes, including protest-related offenses, espionage, and terrorism. Shia Rights Watch (SRW) reported that Shia cleric Sheikh Mohammed al-Attiyah was among the executed. Amnesty International said those executed were convicted after sham trials that violated international fair trial standards and which relied on confessions extracted through torture. In a statement, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet commented, “It is particularly abhorrent that at least three of those killed were minors at the time of their sentencing.” According to the European Saudi Organization for Human Rights (ESOHR), at least six of the executed were minors at the time of their alleged offenses: Abdullah Salman al-Sarih and Abdulkarim Mohammed al-Hawaj, whose charges date back to age 16; and Said Mohammed al-Sakafi, Salman Amin al-Quraysh, Mujtaba Nadir al-Sweiket, and Abdulaziz Hassan al-Sahwi, whose charges date back to age 17. The government denied the individuals were minors and disputed the ages reported by HRW and ESOHR. The mass executions were the largest since January 2016.

On January 7, security forces raided the predominately Shia al-Jish village for suspected “links to cases of state security” in al-Qatif Governorate, killing six people and arresting others after an exchange of fire, according to Saudi Press Agency. Five officers were also wounded in the operation.

On May 11, security forces killed eight members of an alleged Shia terrorist cell in a security operation in Taroot in Qatif Governorate in the Eastern Province, according to the Presidency of State Security. The statement added the newly formed “terrorist cell” had plans to carry out terrorist operations targeting vital installations and security sites.

On January 8, security forces stormed the Shia village of Umm al-Hamam, killing five persons and injuring an unspecified number, according to SRW. SRW said authorities also used armored vehicles in a separate operation in Jaroudiya town. SRW also reported a number of arrests during these operations, including Qatif-based Shia rights activist Mohammemod Nabil al-Jowhar on January 11.

On January 20, the London-based human rights group ALQST (“Justice” in Arabic) reported that Islamic scholar Sheikh Ahmed al-Amari died as a result of poor prison conditions and possible torture. Authorities detained Al-Amari, the former dean of the School of Quran at the University of Medina, in 2018, and he suffered a brain hemorrhage on January 2. The Twitter account Prisoners of Conscience, which monitors and documents arrests in human rights cases in the country, and ALQST reported the 69-year-old’s death was caused by “intentional neglect” on the part of the prison authorities.

On August 3, rights groups reported the death of Sheikh Saleh Abdulaziz al-Dhamiri due to health complications he had developed at Tarafia Prison. Authorities kept Al-Dhamiri, who suffered from a heart condition, in solitary confinement, according to the Prisoners of Conscience Twitter account.

On November 13, family members of Islamic scholar Sheikh Fahd al-Qadi announced that al-Qadi had died in prison. The government detained Al-Qadi in 2016 and sentenced him in October to six years in prison. The circumstances surrounding his death remained unknown at year’s end. Prisoners of Conscience reported he was detained after he sent a letter of advice to the Royal Court.

As many as 39 individuals, most of them believed to be Shia, faced the possibility of execution, according to ESOHR. ESOHR also reported that up to seven minors faced possible execution, including Ali al-Nimr (nephew of Nimr al-Nimr, a Shia cleric executed by the government in 2016), Dawood al-Marhoon, and Abdullah al-Zaher. The government disputed the claim that these individuals were minors at the time they committed the acts for which they were convicted, and noted the courts use the hijri (lunar/Islamic) calendar for age computations (which could differ from Western Gregorian calendar ages by a few months). Five Shia individuals, including al-Nimr, al-Marhoon and al-Zaher, faced a final death sentence and nine faced preliminary death sentences, which still needed to be upheld by an appellate court, the Supreme Court, and the king. The trials of 25 individuals, most of them Shia, on charges carrying potential death sentences were ongoing at year’s end, and one of those convicted was awaiting the ruling of the Court of Appeal after his second verdict. Some human rights NGOs reported that many of the convictions were “based on confessions extracted through prolonged solitary confinement and torture.” International human rights NGOs reported that these individuals said authorities tortured them during pretrial detention and interrogation. Local Shia activists and international human rights groups questioned the competence, independence, and impartiality of the judiciary, and noted that the underlying charges were inconsistent with international principles of freedom of assembly, expression, and association.

On August 25, the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) sentenced prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Mohammed al-Habib, who was serving a seven-year prison sentence, to an additional five years in prison and a five-year ban on international travel after he was convicted of supporting demonstrations in Qatif and cybercrimes. According to human rights groups, authorities detained al-Habib in response to his public statements urging the government to address anti-Shia sectarianism, including in the educational curriculum, and criticizing government clerics who had espoused anti-Shia views.

On February 1, human rights NGOs reported the public prosecutor was no longer seeking the death penalty for female Shia activist Israa al-Ghomgham, who was detained in 2015 after participating in antigovernment protests. At year’s end, she was on trial at the SCC along with five other Shia individuals, including her husband.

Raif Badawi remained in prison at the end of the year based on his 2013 conviction for violating Islamic values, violating sharia, committing blasphemy, and mocking religious symbols on the internet. Originally sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes in 2013, a court increased Badawi’s sentence on appeal to a 10-year prison term and 1,000 lashes. Badawi received 50 lashes in 2015; the government has not carried out the remaining 950 lashes and authorities suggested informally that there were no current plans to do so. According to international human rights contacts, Badawi declared a hunger strike in September to protest his poor treatment and lack of medical attention while in prison. In December he reportedly went on a second hunger strike to protest his placement in solitary confinement.

The government continued to imprison individuals accused of apostasy and blasphemy, violating Islamic values and moral standards, insulting Islam, black magic, and sorcery. In January local media reported authorities arrested an Arab expatriate of unspecified nationality for sorcery.

In April, authorities detained Thumar al-Marzouqi, Mohammed al-Sadiq, and Bader al-Ibrahim, who wrote in the past on the discrimination faced by Shia in the country. By year’s end, authorities had not filed official charges against them and they remained in detention. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, al-Sadiq and al-Ibrahim write regularly for Al-Arabi al-Jadeed, a Qatari funded news website based in London, while al-Marzouqi published articles on his own blog as well as contributing to Al-Arabi al-Jadeed and to the Okaz newspaper.

During the year, the SCC continued trials against some clerics, academics, and members of the media for alleged association with the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). The accused included prominent Muslim scholars Salman al-Odah, Awad al-Qarni, and Ali al-Omari. The three were arrested in 2017. According to Saudi and international rights groups, the public prosecutor sought the death penalty against them. The public prosecutor leveled 37 charges against al-Odah, the vast majority of which were connected to his alleged ties with the MB and the Qatari government, and his public support for imprisoned dissidents. In reviewing some of the specific charges, HRW noted, “The initial charges are mostly related to his alleged ties to the MB and other organizations supposedly connected to it.” The 30 charges against al-Omari included “forming a youth organization to carry out the objectives of a terrorist group inside the Kingdom.” The government continued to regard the MB as a terrorist organization. Amnesty International reported al-Odah was ill-treated while in prison, including solitary confinement.

On May 18, authorities released Shia cleric Tawfiq al-Amer from prison after he completed his eight-year jail term. Officers arrested al-Amer in 2011 and the SCC convicted him in August 2014 of slander against the state and abuse of the faith, stirring up sectarian strife, and calling for change in a series of sermons delivered in 2011.

In March authorities detained Shia cleric Majed al-Sadah for three days over comments criticizing concerts sponsored by the government’s General Entertainment Authority (GEA) in his hometown of Saihat, Qatif Governorate. According to online activists, al-Sadah had to sign a written pledge to refrain from interfering in internal affairs. According to Al-Jazeera, authorities arrested cleric Omar al-Muqbil in September after he criticized music concerts sponsored by GEA, calling them a threat to the kingdom’s culture, according to the Prisoners of Conscience rights group. Al-Muqbil described in a video the GEA’s actions as “erasing the original identity of society.”

A court sentenced an Indian national to 10 years for “misusing social media,” “blasphemy,” and “hurting the religious and national sentiment of the Kingdom.”

During the year, social media reported the SCC held many hearings in the trial of influential religious scholar Safar al-Hawali. The government detained al-Hawali along with three of his sons in 2018. Al-Hawali, often linked to the MB, rose to prominence 25 years ago as a leader of the Sahwa (Awakening) movement, which agitated to bring democracy to the country and criticized the ruling family for corruption, social liberalization, and working with the West.

During the year, the SCC held at least five hearings on the case of cleric Hassan Farhan al-Maliki, described by HRW as a religious reformer, in detention since September 2017. In 2018, the public prosecutor sought the death penalty for al-Maliki on 14 charges, including calling into question the fundamentals of Islam by casting doubt on prophetic Sunna and hadith (the record of the traditions or sayings of the Prophet Mohammed), propagating deviant beliefs, holding an impure (takfiri) ideology, insulting the rulers and CSS and labeling them as extremists, glorifying the Khomeini-led revolution in Iran, and supporting Hizballah and ISIS.

In February Deputy Governor of Makkah Province Badr bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz ordered the arrest of comedian Yasir Bakr for allegedly mocking the CPVPV at an entertainment event in Jeddah. Bakr, founder of Al-Comedy Club in Jeddah, later appeared in a video on Twitter apologizing for his comments.

On April 20, local media reported that the public prosecutor summoned a man for investigation regarding a tweet that “disturbed public order” under the Anti-Cyber Crime Law. According to press reports, the man tweeted a call for all women in the country wearing a niqab to come together at Riyadh Boulevard in order to burn them, according to media reports.

On June 23, authorities arrested Dammam-based Shia cleric Sheikh Abdullatif Hussain al-Nasser when he attempted to travel to Bahrain. The government provided no reason for his arrest. Security officials interrogated Abdullatif and then transferred him to the State Security Prison in Dammam, according to activists.

On June 27, the SCC held the first hearing for three Shia men, Ramzi al-Jamal, Ali Hasan al-Zayyed, and Mohammed Issa al-Labbad, who turned themselves in to security authorities in 2017 after their names appeared on a list of 23 individuals wanted by the authorities. The public prosecutor sought the death penalty for the three on protest-related charges, according to ESOHR and activists.

Human rights NGOs and legal experts continued to criticize antiterrorism laws for using overly broad and vague language, making them susceptible to politicization and other abuse.

The government continued to prohibit the public practice of any non-Islamic religion. According to civil society sources and media reports, non-Muslims and many foreign and local Muslims whose religious practices differed from the form of Sunni Islam promoted by the government could only practice their religion in private and remained vulnerable to detention, discrimination, harassment, and, for noncitizens, deportation. According to members of the expatriate community, some Christian congregations were able to conduct large Christian worship services discreetly and regularly without substantial interference from the CPVPV or other government authorities.

The MOIA maintained active oversight of the country’s religious establishment and provided guidance on the substance of Friday sermons; it restricted the inclusion of content in those sermons considered sectarian, political, or extremist, promoting hatred or racism, or including commentary on foreign policy. Mosques continued to be the only legally permissible public places of worship. The government continued to address ideology it deemed extremist by scrutinizing clerics and teachers closely and dismissing those found promoting views it deemed intolerant, extreme, or advocating violence. The MOIA continued to use ministry inspectors, regional branch inspectors, field teams, citizen feedback, and the media to monitor and address any violations of the ministry’s instructions and regulations in mosques. MOIA oversight of mosques in less populated areas was not always as strict as it was in urban areas. In 2018 the MOIA created a hotline for individuals to report statements by imams that observers considered objectionable. A May article in a government-linked newspaper described the hotline as a 24/7 service to report “undisciplined imams and mosques that need maintenance.” In 2018 the MOIA launched a mobile phone app called Masajed (mosques) which monitors sermons and allows mosque-goers to rate their preacher on a number of aspects of their work.

In March the Council of Ministers approved a new regulation for imams and muezzins of the two Holy Mosques in Mecca and Medina stipulating that the clerics be “moderate,” among other requirements.

Practices diverging from the government’s official interpretation of Islam, such as public celebrations of Mawlid al-Nabi (the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad) and visits to the tombs of renowned Muslims, remained forbidden. Some Shia community members reported that Shia pilgrims were permitted to celebrate Eid al-Ghadir, a Shia-specific holiday, after the Hajj. Sources also stated that Shia pilgrims were permitted to approach, but not touch, the graves of the four Shia imams buried in the al-Baqi Cemetery in Medina for a period of two hours after morning prayers and two hours after noon prayers.

Since 2016, authorities have permitted large-scale public commemorations of Ashura and other Shia holidays in Qatif, home to the largest Shia population in the country. These commemorations included significant deployment of government security personnel in the Qatif area during the Ashura commemoration in September. According to community members, processions and gatherings appeared to increase over previous years due to decreased political tensions and greater coordination between the Shia community and authorities.

According to government policy, non-Muslims generally were prohibited from being buried in the country. There is, however, a public, non-Islamic cemetery in Jeddah, although the government did not support it financially. There also is a private, non-Muslim cemetery only available to Saudi Aramco employees. Diplomatic missions reported most non-Muslims opted to repatriate their deceased to their home countries whenever financially possible.

In mixed neighborhoods of Sunni and Shia residents, authorities generally required all mosques, including Shia mosques, to use the Sunni call to prayer. In predominantly Shia areas such as Qatif, however, and in some Shia areas of al-Ahsa Governorate in the Eastern Province, authorities allowed Shia mosques to use the Twelver Shia variant of the call to prayer. In smaller Shia villages, community members stated it was common for Shia businesses to close for three prayer times (not five times per Sunni practice), or in some instances not to close at all.

The government continued to set policy aimed at enforcing Islamic norms; for example, the government prohibited eating, drinking, or smoking in public during Ramadan. According to media reports, the government prohibited parents from giving their children any of 50 listed names deemed blasphemous, non-Arabic, or non-Islamic.

The government did not recognize certificates of educational attainment for graduates of some Shia religious centers of instruction for employment credit, while the government generally recognized graduates of Sunni religious training institutions for government positions and religious jobs.

The government continued a multi-year project, begun in 2007, to revise textbooks, curricula, and teaching methods with the stated aim of removing content disparaging religions other than Islam. The Institute for Gulf Studies found that Saudi textbooks in 2019 were still teaching students that “Christians, Jews, and other Muslims are ‘enemies’ of the true believer, and to befriend and show respect only to other true believers, specifically the Wahhabis.” According to the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education, Saudi textbooks in 2019 taught students “to consider Jews ‘monkeys’ and ‘assassins’ bent on harming Muslim holy places, and to punish gays by death.” Shia community representatives in the Eastern Province reported throughout 2018-19 that textbooks no longer disparaged Shia beliefs. The Anti-Defamation League reported the newest edition of textbooks for the fall of 2019 continued to contain problematic passages.

Some travelers entering the country reported they were able to import a Bible for personal use, but the government regularly exercised its ability to inspect and confiscate personal non-Islamic religious materials.

Some academic experts reported the government continued to exclude perspectives at variance with the Salafi tradition within Sunni Islam from its extensive government-owned religious media and broadcast programming.

The government continued to block certain websites as part of a broader policy of censoring online content that contained “objectionable” content such as views of religion it considered extremist or ill-informed. The government shut down or blocked Twitter accounts for users “committing religious and ethical violations,” and authorities arrested an undisclosed number of social media users in accordance with the anti-cybercrimes law. The government also located and shut down websites used to recruit jihadis or inspire violence. In 2017 authorities announced they unblocked the calling features of certain private messenger apps, including Viber, FaceTime, and Facebook Messenger. Some users reported that the calling features of WhatsApp and Skype still remained blocked.

Shia Muslims managed their own mosques under the supervision of Shia scholars. Most existing Shia mosques in the Eastern Province did not seek official operating licenses, as doing so would require asking the government to approve extension of endorsement of these mosques, according to some NGO reports. The government did not finance the construction or maintenance of Shia mosques; Shia congregations self-funded construction, maintenance, and repairs. Authorities prohibited Shia Muslims outside of the Eastern Province from building Shia-specific mosques. Construction of Shia mosques required government approval, and Shia communities were required to receive permission from their neighbors to start construction on mosques. Authorities allowed Shia communities to rebuild a mosque in Taroot, near Qatif, during the year. Two Shia mosques in Dammam remained licensed by the government and served approximately 750,000 worshippers. There continued to be no licensed Shia mosques in major urban centers such as Jeddah, Riyadh, or al-Khobar. Shia in those areas were therefore forced to hold prayers in private homes and community centers, where some Shia said they were subject to police harassment. Expatriate Shia reported threats of arrest and deportation if they gathered privately in large groups to worship and were detected by authorities.

Following ISIS attacks against Shia mosques and gathering places in 2015, security services continued to provide protection for many Shia mosques and gathering places in the Eastern Province. Additionally, media and other sources reported coordination between Shia volunteers and government security services to ensure security outside mosques and other gathering places during Friday sermons or other large public events.

Multiple reports from Shia groups cited discrimination in the judicial system as the catalyst for lengthy prison sentences handed down to Shia Muslims for engaging in political expression or organizing peaceful demonstrations. The government permitted Shia judges in the Eastern Province to use the Ja’afari school of Islamic jurisprudence to adjudicate cases in family law, inheritance, and endowment management. There were five Shia judges, all government-appointed, located in the Eastern Province cities of Qatif and al-Ahsa, where the majority of Twelver Shia live. Community sources reported Sunni judges sometimes completely disregarded or refused to hear testimony by Shia Muslims.

Reported instances of prejudice and discrimination against Shia Muslims continued to occur, particularly with respect to educational and public sector employment opportunities. Shia stated they experienced systemic government discrimination in hiring. There was no formal policy concerning the hiring and promotion of Shia in the private sector, but some Shia stated public universities and employers discriminated against them, occasionally by identifying an applicant for education or employment as Shia simply by inquiring about the applicant’s hometown. Many Shia stated that openly identifying as Shia would negatively affect career advancement.

Representation of Shia Muslims in senior government positions continued to be well below their proportion of the population, including in national security-related positions in the Ministry of Defense, the National Guard, and the MOI. The 35-member cabinet contained one Shia minister, Mohammed bin Faisal Abu Saq, a Shia Ismaili, who has held the position of Minister of State for Shura Affairs since 2014. There were no Shia governors, deputy governors, ministry branch directors, or security commanders. There were seven Shia members of the 150-member Shura Council. A small number of Shia Muslims occupied high-level positions in government-owned companies and government agencies.

Multiple municipal councils in the Eastern Province, where most Shia Muslims were concentrated, had significant proportions of Shia members, including in the two major Shia population centers of Qatif and al-Ahsa, where five of the 12 government-appointed municipal council members were Shia, and Shia Muslims held 16 of the 30 elected seats on the municipal councils. Eastern Province Shia judges dealing with intra-Shia personal status and family laws operated specialized courts. Shia Muslims were significantly underrepresented in national security-related positions, including the Ministries of Defense and Interior and the National Guard. In predominantly Shia areas, there was some Shia representation in the ranks of the traffic police, municipal government, and public schools. According to HRW, the Saudi government systematically discriminated against Muslim religious minorities, notably Twelver Shia and Ismailis, including in the justice system, education, and employment.

According to international human rights groups, Shia Muslims were not represented in proportion to their percentage of the population in academic positions in primary, secondary, and higher education, and virtually all public school principals remained Sunni, although some teachers were Shia. Along with Sunni students, Shia students received government scholarships to study in universities abroad under the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Program for Foreign Scholarship.

There were continued media reports that some Sunni clerics, who received government stipends, used anti-Semitic and religiously intolerant language in their sermons. Reports of government-employed clerics using anti-Semitic language in their sermons, including some instances at Friday prayers in Mecca, reportedly were rare and occurred without authorization by government authorities. During the year, the MOIA issued periodic circulars to clerics and imams in mosques directing them to include messages on the principles of justice, equality, and tolerance and to encourage rejection of bigotry and all forms of racial discrimination in their sermons. Unlicensed imams, however, continued to employ intolerant views in internet postings or unsanctioned sermons in areas without government monitoring.

The government’s stated policy remained for its diplomatic and consular missions abroad to inform foreign workers applying for visas that they had the right to worship privately and to possess personal religious materials. The government also provided the names of offices where grievances could be filed.

The government required noncitizen legal residents to carry an identity card containing a religious designation of “Muslim” or “non-Muslim.” Some residency cards, including some issued during the year, indicated other religious designations such as “Christian.”

The government hosted many Jewish and Christian religious leaders, but did not officially permit most non-Muslim clergy to enter the country for the purpose of conducting religious services. Entry restrictions made it difficult for non-Muslims to maintain regular contact with resident clergy, according to non-Muslim religious groups in neighboring countries. Catholic and Orthodox Christians, whose religious traditions require they receive sacraments from a priest on a regular basis, continued to hold low-profile services without government harassment, although they reportedly found restrictions on clergy travel particularly problematic. Authorities also allowed regular visits by the Catholic bishop, resident in Bahrain, who has responsibility for Catholics in the country, and by evangelical Protestant leaders.

In November the Presidency of State Security released a video on Twitter that categorized feminism, homosexuality, and atheism as extremist ideas. The animated clip said “all forms of extremism and perversion are unacceptable.” It also included takfir, the practice by some Muslims of labeling followers of other schools of Islam unbelievers, among the categories of unacceptable behavior. The security agency later deleted the post and said the video contained “many mistakes” while suggesting that those behind it would face a formal investigation, according to a statement posted by the official press agency.

According to NGO reports, Umm al-Qura University’s Department of Islamic Studies continued to teach a course on Judaism saying that Jews rely on three texts: “The Torah, The Talmud, [and] The Protocols of [the Elders of] Zion.” In addition, the reports characterized the university’s course curriculum as heavily anti-Semitic, speaking of the “evil traits” of the Jewish people.

On April 5, August 23, October 11, and December 27, Sheikh Saleh bin Humaid, a royal advisor and a CSS member, delivered Friday sermons in the Holy Mosque in Makkah in which he prayed to God to “destroy the usurping occupying Zionist Jews.”

In May the Muslim World League’s (MWL) Secretary-General Mohammed al-Issa called for the protection of followers of religions and places of worship after the terrorist attack on a Jewish temple in California and previous terrorist crimes. Al-Issa offered condolences to a number of Jewish religious leaders in New York.

During the May MWL International Conference on Moderation in Islam in Mecca, King Salman called for encouraging “concepts of tolerance and moderation, while strengthening the culture of consensus and reconciliation.” He added that the country was founded on values of moderation. The conference adopted the “Mecca Charter,” which calls for laws “to deter the promotion of hatred, the instigation of violence and terrorism, or a clash of civilizations, which foster religious and ethnic disputes.”

During the year, some Qatari nationals again reported being unable to perform the annual Hajj pilgrimage due to logistical obstacles stemming from border closures and restrictions imposed by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt on Qatar in 2017. The Saudi Press Agency announced that Qataris and foreign residents of Qatar would be allowed to land at Jeddah or Medina airports to perform the Hajj. The government offered Qatari pilgrims internet registration and visa issuance on arrival in Jeddah and Medina. In May, however, the government of Qatar stated that the Saudi government continued to deny Qatar-based religious tour operators’ access to Saudi Arabia to make Hajj and Umrah arrangements for pilgrims. Deputy Minister of Hajj and Umrah Abdul Fattah Mashat said that the government rejected the politicization of the holy rituals, adding that it has never barred any nationalities from performing them.

On September 10, the crown prince met with U.S. evangelical Christian figures in Jeddah. Following the meeting, the group met with MWL Secretary-General Mohammed al-Issa to discuss ways both parties could counter extremism and exchanged ideas on possible initiatives and programs to increase mutual respect at the grass roots level. The delegation and the MWL agreed in a joint statement to promote respect for religions and mutual trust and to encourage religious harmony.

On April 28, al-Issa visited a New York synagogue, the first such trip by an MWL leader to a Jewish house of worship in the United States, and signed an agreement with the NGO Appeal of Conscience Foundation supporting the protection of religious sites around the world. On April 30, al-Issa signed a memorandum of understanding with American Jewish Committee (AJC) in which the MWL and AJC agreed “to further Muslim-Jewish understanding and cooperate against racism and extremism in all its forms.” In May the MWL invited a Jewish delegation to visit the country in January 2020. Al-Issa said discussions during the visit, the first ever by a Jewish group, would address the issue of Holocaust denial.

In November the Saudi Press Agency reported that al-Issa visited Utah and met with leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to discuss “ways of supporting bridging relations between followers of religions and cultures to promote peace and positive harmony.”

At the annual Jeddah International Book Fair, several vendors sold anti-Semitic material, including The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and Mein Kampf. Additional titles were observed that linked Jews to conspiracies.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to press and NGO reports, in February in Medina, an unidentified man beheaded a six-year-old boy on the street in front of his mother, reportedly because he was a Shia. Local media reported the public prosecutor’s office in Medina assured the victim’s family that it was investigating the perpetrator.

Social media provided an outlet for citizens to discuss current events and religious issues, which sometimes included making disparaging remarks about members of various religious groups or “sects.” In addition, terms like “rejectionists” (of the first three caliphs that Sunni Muslims recognize as the Prophet Mohammed’s legitimate successors), which Shia consider insulting, were commonly found in public discourse. In September an academic at Qassim University, Ahmed al-Hassan, called in a tweet for rooting out Shia from the holy city of Medina, stating that “myths and self-flagellation of Persians has reached the holiest place on earth… They must be uprooted and eradicated before this disease spreads.” In January cleric Nasser Saleh al-Muazaini named Shia “rejectionists” in a tweet. In February another tweet described Shia as “enemies of God” and “infidels.”

Instances of prejudice and discrimination against Shia Muslims continued to occur in private sector employment.

Community members reported that individuals who converted from Islam to Christianity almost always did so in secret, fearing the reactions of family members and the threat of criminal charges, up to and including execution. The NGO Open Doors reported that women in particular feared loss of parental rights or being subjected to physical abuse as a result of converting from Islam.

Anti-Semitic comments occasionally appeared in the media. In January columnist Muhammad al-Sa’idi wrote in an article in Al-Watan newspaper that Jews deliberately promote the publication and circulation of anti-Semitic literature in Arab countries that describes them as secretly running the world “in order to convince the Arabs of their power and thereby demoralize and frighten them.” When the same literature appears in the West, he added, the Jews fight it in order to maintain their positive image and present themselves as victims.”

On March 3, journalist and businessman Hussein Shobakshi wrote in his column in the London-based Asharq al-Awsat Arabic daily, owned by a member of the royal family, of the “deeply rooted hatred of Jews in Islamic culture,” in which the term “Jew” is strongly derogatory. He stated, “Anti-Semitism in the Arab world is the product of loathsome, racist education that is rooted in the Arab mentality that is used to labeling people according to tribal, family, and racial affiliation, and according to the religious school to which they belong.”

On April 5 and August 23, Sheikh Saleh bin Humaid, a royal advisor and a CSS member, delivered Friday sermons in the Holy Mosque in Mecca in which he prayed to God to “destroy the usurping occupying Zionist Jews.” His prayer included, “Oh Allah, show us the wonders of Your might and ability inflicted upon them.”

In May columnist Mansour al-Nugaidan, who U.S. National Public Radio described as a former “jihadi” turned “moderate,” said in an interview with Dubai-based Rotana Khalijiah TV channel “atheism is a faith that should be respected because it’s man’s choice.”

Tibet

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Executive Summary

The constitution of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which cites the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the guidance of Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought, states that citizens “enjoy freedom of religious belief,” but limits protections for religious practice to “normal religious activities” without defining “normal.” Central government regulations control all aspects of Tibetan Buddhism, including religious venues, groups, personnel, and schools. They stipulate religious activity “must not harm national security.” Regulations prohibit “accepting domination by external forces,” which authorities said included Tibetans in exile, particularly the Dalai Lama. In the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and other Tibetan areas there were reports of forced disappearances, arrests, torture, physical abuse, including sexual abuse, and prolonged detentions without trial of individuals due to their religious practices. Former detainees reported being beaten until they lost consciousness and being shocked with electric batons. There were reports that monks and nuns were forced to wear military clothing and undergo political indoctrination in detention centers. The nongovernment organization (NGO) Free Tibet and local sources reported that on November 26, a 24-year-old former monk from the Kirti Monastery set himself on fire in Ngaba (Chinese: Aba) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (TAP), Sichuan Province, and died of his injuries on the same day. Media sources reported local officials in Tibetan areas explicitly stated supporters of the Dalai Lama and other religious leaders could be arrested under the government’s nationwide anti-organized crime program and that Tibetans were told to inform on anyone who “links up with the Dalai clique.” The government continued to restrict the size of Buddhist monasteries and other institutions and to implement a campaign begun in 2016 to evict monks and nuns from monasteries and prohibit them from practicing elsewhere. While exact numbers were difficult to ascertain, according to multiple sources, since 2016 authorities evicted between 6,000 and 17,000 Tibetan and Han Chinese monks and nuns from Larung Gar and Yachen Gar Tibetan Buddhist Institutes. Satellite imagery showed thousands of dwellings at these locations had been destroyed since 2018. Authorities continued to engage in widespread interference in religious practices, especially in Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and nunneries, including by appointing government and CCP personnel and government-approved monks to manage religious institutions. “Sinicization” policies, which aimed to interpret religious ideas in accordance with CCP ideology and to emphasize loyalty to the CCP and the state, were pursued more intensely. Media reported that on January 7, the government announced a formal five-year plan to Sinicize all religions in the country, including Tibetan Buddhism. Despite a decree by President Xi Jinping, chairman of the CCP, that all members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) must be “unyielding Marxist atheists,” the government continued to control the selection of Tibetan Buddhist lamas and supervised their religious and political education. Authorities forced monasteries to display portraits of CCP leaders and the national flag, and in some cases went door to door insisting laypersons replace images of the Dalai Lama and other lamas in their home shrines with those of CCP leaders, including Chairman Xi and Chairman Mao Zedong. Travel restrictions hindered monastics and laypersons from engaging in traditional religious practices and pilgrimages. Repression, including arbitrary surveillance, increased around politically sensitive events, religious anniversaries, and the Dalai Lama’s birthday. Sources reported local authorities increased scrutiny of social media postings regarding religious belief. Authorities restricted children from participating in many traditional religious festivals and from receiving religious education. The government continued to force monks and nuns to undergo political training in state ideology. Religious leaders and government employees were often required to denounce the Dalai Lama and express allegiance to the government-recognized Panchen Lama, Gyaltsen Norbu. Authorities continued in state media to justify interference with Tibetan Buddhist monasteries by associating the monasteries with “separatism” and pro-independence activities. Officials routinely made public statements denigrating the Dalai Lama. In a July interview, Wang Neng Shang, vice minister of the TAR and director general of the People’s Government Information Office, said the selection of the next Dalai Lama was not the current Dalai Lama’s decision to make, and instead must be recognized by the central government in Beijing, adding, “The centrality of the central government must be recognized.”

Some Tibetans continued to encounter societal discrimination when seeking employment, engaging in business, and traveling for pilgrimage, according to multiple sources.

While diplomatic access to the TAR remained tightly controlled, officials from the U.S. embassy and consulate general in Chengdu made five visits there during the year, during which they met with both government and religious leaders and emphasized the importance of respecting religious freedom in Tibet. The Ambassador visited the TAR in May, the first U.S. ambassador to do so since 2015. While there, he visited several religious sites and met with local leaders, religious figures, and students. In July the Vice President told attendees at the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington, D.C., “China’s oppression of Tibetan Buddhists goes back decades… [T]he American people will always stand in solidarity with the people of all faiths in the People’s Republic of China.” At the U.S. government’s invitation, Tibetan exile and survivor of religious persecution Nyima Lhamo met with the President and addressed the ministerial, describing how the harsh treatment by government authorities of her uncle, Lama Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, led to his 2015 death in captivity. The U.S. government repeatedly urged the Chinese government to end policies that threaten Tibet’s distinct religious, cultural, and linguistic identity, including the continuing demolition campaigns at Larung Gar and Yachen Gar Tibetan Buddhist Institutes. U.S. officials underscored that decisions on the succession of the Dalai Lama should be made solely by faith leaders and also raised concerns about the continued disappearance of the Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima. The embassy and consulates used social media to deliver direct messaging about religious freedom in Tibet to millions of citizens.

Section I. Religious Demography

According to official data from China’s most recent census in November 2010, 2,716,400 Tibetans make up 90 percent of the TAR’s total population. Han Chinese make up approximately 8 percent. Other ethnicities comprise the remainder. Some experts, however, believe the number of Han Chinese and other non-Tibetans living there is significantly underreported. Outside the TAR, official census data show Tibetans constitute 24.4 percent of the total population in Qinghai Province, 2.1 percent in Sichuan Province, 1.8 percent in Gansu Province, and 0.3 percent in Yunnan Province, although the percentage of Tibetans is much higher within prefectures and counties of these provinces designated as autonomous for Tibetans.

Most ethnic Tibetans practice Tibetan Buddhism, although a sizeable minority practices Bon, a pre-Buddhist indigenous religion. Small minorities practice Islam, Catholicism, or Protestantism. Some scholars estimate there are as many as 400,000 Bon followers across the Tibetan Plateau, some of whom also follow the Dalai Lama and consider themselves also to be Tibetan Buddhists. Scholars estimate there are up to 5,000 Tibetan Muslims and 700 Tibetan Catholics in the TAR. Other residents of traditionally Tibetan areas include Han Chinese, many of whom practice Buddhism (including Tibetan Buddhism), Taoism, Confucianism, or traditional folk religions, or profess atheism, as well as Hui Muslims and non-Tibetan Catholics and Protestants.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The United States recognizes the TAR, TAPs, and counties in other provinces to be part of the PRC. The constitution, which cites the leadership of the CCP and the guidance of Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought, states that citizens enjoy “freedom of religious belief,” but limits protections for religious practice to “normal religious activities” without defining “normal.” The constitution bans the state, public organizations, and individuals from compelling citizens to believe in, or not believe in, any religion. It says religion may not be used to disrupt public order, impair the health of citizens, or interfere with the educational system. The constitution states religious bodies and affairs are not to be “subject to any foreign control.” The government recognizes five official religions – Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Protestantism, and Catholicism. Only religious groups belonging to one of five state-sanctioned “patriotic religious associations” representing these religions are permitted to register with the government and legally hold worship services or other religious ceremonies and activities.

Central government regulations regarding religion are issued by the CCP’s United Front Work Department (UFWD). The UFWD’s Bureau of Ethnic and Religious Work manages religious affairs through the State Administration of Religious Affairs (SARA). While technically a state agency, SARA was subsumed into the UFWD under the State Council’s 2018 revisions to the Regulations on Religious Affairs.

The UFWD controls the selection of Tibetan religious leaders, including lamas. Regulations stipulate that, depending on the perceived geographic area of influence of the lama, relevant administrative entities may deny permission for a lama to be recognized as reincarnated and these administrative entities must approve reincarnations. The State Council has the right to deny the recognition of reincarnations of high lamas of “especially great influence.” The regulations also state no foreign organization or individual may interfere in the selection of reincarnate lamas, and all reincarnate lamas must be reborn within China. The government maintains a registry of officially recognized reincarnate lamas.

Regulations issued by the UFWD assert state control over all aspects of Tibetan Buddhism, including religious venues, groups, personnel, and schools. Through local regulations issued under the framework of the national-level Management Regulation of Tibetan Buddhist Monasteries, governments of the TAR and other autonomous Tibetan areas control the registration of monasteries, nunneries, and other Tibetan Buddhist religious centers. The regulations also give the government formal control over building and managing religious structures, and require monasteries to obtain official permission to hold large-scale religious events or gatherings.

The central government’s Regulations on Religious Affairs require religious groups to register with the government, impose fines on landlords for providing facilities for unauthorized religious activities, and restrict contact with overseas religious institutions, including requirements for religious groups to seek approval to travel abroad and a prohibition on “accepting domination by external forces.” The regulations submit religious schools to the same oversight as places of worship and impose restrictions on religious groups conducting business or investments, including placing limits on the amount of donations they may receive, thereby constraining property ownership and development. Publication of religious material must conform to guidelines determined by the State Publishing Administration.

The regulations also require that religious activity “must not harm national security.” While the regulations stipulate the obligations of religious groups to abide by the law, safeguard national unity, and respond to “religious extremism,” the term “extremism” is undefined. Measures to safeguard unity and respond to “religious extremism” include monitoring groups, individuals, and institutions, and recommending penalties such as suspending groups and canceling clergy credentials. The regulations stipulate that the online activities of religious groups be approved by the provincial Religious Affairs Bureau.

A government policy introduced in 2018 requires Tibetan monks and nuns to undergo political training in state ideology. Monks and nuns must demonstrate – in addition to competence in religious studies – “political reliability,” “moral integrity capable of impressing the public,” and a willingness to “play an active role at critical moments.”

Self-immolation is considered homicide, and family members, teachers, and religious leaders may be charged as accessories to homicide if a relative, pupil, or follower chooses to self-immolate.

To establish formal places of worship, religious organizations must receive approval from the religious affairs department of the relevant local government both when the facility is proposed and again prior to the first time any services are held at that location. Religious organizations must submit dozens of documents in order to register during these approval processes, including detailed management plans of their religious activities, exhaustive financial records, and personal information on all staff members. Religious communities not going through the formal registration process may not legally have an established facility or worship meeting space; they must seek a separate approval from government authorities each time they want to reserve a space for worship, such as by renting a hotel or an apartment. Worshipping in a space without prior approval, either through the formal registration process or by seeking an approval for each service, is considered an illegal religious activity that may be criminally or administratively punished.

Individuals must apply to take up religious orders and the TAR CCP Committee may deny any application. Regulations also require monks and nuns to obtain permission from officials in both the originating and receiving counties before traveling to other prefectures or “county-level cities” within the TAR to “practice their religion,” engage in religious activities, study, or teach. TAPs outside the TAR have similar regulations.

At the central government level, the CCP Central Committee’s Central Tibet Work Coordination Group and the UFWD are responsible for developing and implementing religious management policies, which are carried out with support from the five state-sanctioned patriotic religious associations – Three-Self Patriotic Movement (Protestant), Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, the Chinese Taoist Association, the Islamic Association of China, and the Buddhist Association of China (BAC). At local levels, party leaders and branches of the UFWD, SARA, and the BAC are required to coordinate implementation of religious policies in monasteries.

CCP members, including Tibetans and retired officials, are required to be atheists and are forbidden from engaging in religious practices. CCP members who belong to religious organizations are subject to various types of punishment, including termination of their employment and expulsion from the CCP.

Government Practices

There was one reported case of a Tibetan self-immolating as a means of protesting against government policies, compared to four individuals in 2018. According to the NGO International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), from 2009 to December, 156 Tibetans had set themselves on fire in protest against what they said was the occupation of Tibet and abuses of Tibetans’ religion and culture under PRC rule. The NGO Free Tibet and media reported that on November 26, a 24-year-old man identified as Yonten set himself on fire in Ngaba TAP, Sichuan Province. He died of his injuries on the same day. According to Free Tibet, Yonten had previously been a monk in the Kirti Monastery and left the monastery sometime prior to his self-immolation. Radio Free Asia reported that shortly after his death, authorities detained family members for questioning and kept them isolated from outside contact for a period of time. Some experts and local sources attributed the decrease in the number of self-immolations to tighter control measures by authorities and the fear that family members and associates of self-immolators might be punished, including by being charged as accessories to homicide.

The whereabouts of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, recognized as the 11th Panchen Lama by the Dalai Lama and most Tibetan Buddhists, remained unknown since his 1995 forced disappearance by Chinese authorities. Nyima was six years old at the time he and his parents were reportedly abducted. Authorities did not provide information on his whereabouts, and stated previously that he was “living a normal life” and did “not wish to be disturbed.” The Panchen Lama is considered by the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism to be the second-most-prominent leader after the Dalai Lama. On April 25, Tibetans in exile marked the occasion of Nyima’s 30th birthday. Advocacy groups called on the government to release him and allow him to resume his religious duties.

In August the ICT reported that in late July authorities sentenced Buddhist monk Lobsang Thapke, from Kirti Monastery, Ngaba TAP, Sichuan Province, to four years in prison. As of year’s end, the location of his incarceration and the details of his charges remained unknown. According to the ICT, on September 3, authorities sentenced Lobsang Dorje, also a monk from Kirti Monastery, to three years in prison on unknown charges. Fellow monks said he may have been arrested for having contact with persons outside Tibet. Prior to the sentencing, Dorje had been held incommunicado for more than a year.

The whereabouts and condition of Sangay (also spelled Sanggye) Gyatso remained unknown throughout the year. Sources said police beat and arrested Sangay, a monk at the Kirti Monastery, in December 2018 after he demonstrated for Tibetan freedom on the anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s receiving the Nobel Peace Prize.

The location and condition of many other Tibetans detained in 2018 remained unknown, including Karma, a village leader in the TAR who refused to allow local authorities to conduct mining activities near the sacred Sebra Zagyen mountain, and Gangye, a man from Sog (Suoxian) County, Nagchu (Nagqu) Prefecture, TAR, detained in May 2018 for possessing religious books written by the Dalai Lama and CDs featuring the religious leader’s teachings. Sources reported the whereabouts of several monks also remained unknown, including Dorje Rabten, who in September 2018 protested against government policies restricting young people from becoming monks; Tenzin Gelek, who protested Dorje’s detention; Lobsant Thamke, who was arrested in 2018 and sentenced on July 30 to four years in prison on unknown charges; Lobsang Dorje, who was arrested sometime in August 2018; and Thubpa, whom police took from the Trotsik Monastery in Ngaba TAP, Sichuan Province, sometime toward the end of 2017.

Human rights groups stated individuals arrested in the 2008 protests reportedly experienced ongoing physical and mental health problems related to abusive treatment in prison. Free Tibet reported that on May 1, activist Yeshi Gyatso died. According to the NGO Tibet Watch, he suffered frequent and severe beatings, torture, and interrogation during his time in prison from 2008 to 2018 that led to persistent mental and physical ailments after his release. According to Free Tibet, Buddhist monk Thapkay Gyatso was arrested in 2008, reportedly for taking a leading role in 2008 protests in Sangchu (Xiahe) County, Gansu Province, and became partially paralyzed as a result of being beaten during an interrogation soon after his arrest. His condition subsequently deteriorated and during the year he was being held at a prison medical facility in a condition of “half paralysis” and with damage in both eyes. Sources told Free Tibet that Buddhist monk Tsultrim Gyatso, arrested in 2008, suffered permanent eye damage and trauma after being beaten severely during prison interrogations, and that he was transferred to a hospital for emergency surgery.

In May the Voice of America Tibetan Service reported on a journal it obtained from a former inmate of the Sog County “reform through re-education center” in Nagchu Prefecture, TAR. The former inmate wrote, “Those whom officials didn’t like would be captured and tortured with electric devices. When they became unconscious, [the torturers] would splash water on their faces until their victims regained consciousness. After doing that for a long time, they would use a black rubber tube as well as an electric baton to torture people.”

In July Radio Free Asia’s Tibetan Service reported that between May and July authorities removed approximately 3,500 monks and nuns from Yachen Gar Tibetan Buddhist Institute in Sichuan Province to undergo political indoctrination at detention centers in their home counties in the TAR. A Tibetan exile told the news service some nuns were being held in Jomda (Jiangda) County, Chamdo (Changdu) Prefecture, TAR, where they learned and performed patriotic songs and dances praising the CCP and watched propaganda films each day. Authorities forced the nuns to wear military clothing. If the nuns wept, authorities considered it evidence of disloyalty to the state and subjected them to severe punishments, including beatings, extending their confinement in the detention centers, and refusing permission for the nuns to receive gifts of food or clothing from visiting family members.

According to Radio Free Asia, Ngawang Gyaltsen, a monk from Sog County, Nagchu Prefecture, TAR, was released from prison in March. Local sources reported Ngawang, arrested in 2015, was repeatedly beaten and deprived of sleep and food while incarcerated on unknown charges. Following his release, he was forbidden to return to his monastery.

Nuns who had been released from detention told the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy there were instances in which authorities subjected nuns who had been forcibly removed from Yachen Gar Tibetan Buddhist Institute to sexual assault and sexual violence. Voice of America reported that in a journal it obtained from a former inmate of the Sog County detention center in Nagchu Prefecture, TAR, the writer wrote that officers fondled the breasts of nuns who had fainted during military training and lay in the nuns’ cells “pressing unconscious nuns underneath.”

Limited access to information made it difficult to ascertain the exact number of individuals imprisoned because of their religious beliefs or affiliation, or to determine the charges brought against them or assess the extent and severity of abuses they suffered. The Congressional-Executive Commission on China examined publicly available information and, as of November 7, its Political Prisoner Database (PPD) contained 273 records of Tibetans known or believed to be currently detained or imprisoned by authorities in violation of international human rights standards. Of those, 122 were reported to be current or former monks, nuns, or lamas. Of the 115 cases for which there was information on sentencing, punishments ranged from one year and three months to life imprisonment. Observers, including commission staff, stated they believed the actual number of Tibetan political prisoners and detainees to be much higher, but the lack of access to prisoners and prisons, as well as the lack of reliable official statistics, made a precise determination difficult. Authorities continued to hold an unknown number of persons in pretrial detention facilities and in “reeducation centers” rather than prisons. Human rights groups reported extensions of pretrial detention periods were common for Tibetans accused of engaging in prohibited political activities and on national security grounds, resulting in suspects spending long periods of time in jail without being formally charged or brought to trial. Security officials could confine citizens to reeducation centers without formal legal procedures. Local sources said stays in reeducation centers could last more than one year.

Media sources reported local officials in Tibetan areas explicitly stated supporters of the Dalai Lama and other religious leaders could be arrested under the government’s nationwide anti-organized crime program, and that Tibetans were told to inform on anyone who “links up with the Dalai clique.” In September a Tibetan living in exile told Radio Free Asia that authorities in Qinghai Province had expanded the government’s “anti-gang” campaign to include wider suppression of political activities by Tibetans.

According to the ICT, Choekyi, a monk from Phugu Monastery in Kardze (Ganzi) TAP, Sichuan Province, was released on January 18, five months before the end of his four-year sentence, due to poor health. During his imprisonment, authorities reportedly subjected Choekyi to hard labor and solitary confinement and denied him healthcare. Choekyi was arrested in 2015 for wearing a t-shirt with Tibetan writing celebrating the Dalai Lama’s birthday and posting birthday wishes on social media, and charged with conducting “separatist activities.” According to local sources, following his release, authorities allowed him to receive medical treatment but kept him under surveillance and barred him from returning to his monastery.

The Indian news outlet The Print reported on February 12 that satellite imagery from September, October, and November 2018 showed what it said were three large-scale reeducation centers under construction in the TAR. The report said that the imagery showed that these centers included high walls, double-wire fencing, guard posts, and large barracks-style buildings.

According to Radio Free Asia, authorities detained a Tibetan man identified as Wangchen on April 29 after he recited prayers and shouted slogans calling for the release of the 11th Panchen Lama. Wangchen was accused of making “a conspicuous protest in public” and sentenced to four years and six months in prison. In addition, Wangchen’s aunt, Acha Dolkar, was sentenced to 15 months in prison for helping to share news of Wangchen’s protest with contacts outside the region, while two other Tibetans identified as Lobsang and Yonten were each fined renminbi (RMB) 15,000 ($2,200) and ordered to attend political reeducation classes on “issues of national security” for six months.

According to Free Tibet, authorities sentenced Lodoe Gyatso (also spelled Gyamtso) to 18 years in prison in March for praising the Dalai Lama’s Middle Way Approach during a protest in Lhasa in 2018. The Middle Way Approach is the Dalai Lama’s proposal that Tibet remain part of the PRC while giving Tibetans what the Dalai Lama described as “a means to achieve a genuine autonomy for all Tibetans living in the three traditional provinces of Tibet within the framework of the People’s Republic of China.” Free Tibet reported that Lodoe, who was sentenced in a secret trial after being held in pretrial detention for 15 months, had previously served a total of 23 years in prison for two previous convictions related to dissident activities. His wife, who filmed the protest, was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment.

In July sources told Radio Free Asia that approximately 70 monks and nuns who had been evicted from Yachen Gar Tibetan Buddhist Institute during the year were being held in a detention center in Jomda County, Chamdo Prefecture, TAR, where they were “undergoing thorough political reeducation.” The sources said, “As soon as they are brought to the detention centers, their cellphones are confiscated, rendering them incommunicado with the outside world…The monks and nuns are forced to wear the clothes of laypersons at the detention center and the Chinese authorities make them denounce the Dalai Lama on a daily basis, as well as memorize political propaganda, which they are later tested on.”

The government continued to place restrictions on the size of Buddhist monasteries and other institutions and to implement a campaign begun in 2016 to evict monks and nuns from monasteries. While exact numbers were difficult to ascertain, human rights groups and local sources said that since 2016 authorities evicted between 6,000 and 17,000 Tibetan and Han Chinese monks and nuns from Larung Gar and Yachen Gar Tibetan Buddhist Institutes, both in Kardze TAP, Sichuan Province. Monastics expelled from Larung Gar and Yachen Gar Tibetan Buddhist Institutes were specifically prohibited from transferring to other monasteries to continue their religious education.

According to the NGO Human Rights Watch and local sources, since 2016, the government evicted approximately three-quarters of the 20,000 Tibetan and Han Chinese monks and nuns who lived at Larung Gar Tibetan Buddhist Institute, the world’s largest Tibetan Buddhist institute. Radio Free Asia reported that since 2001, authorities have demolished an estimated 7,000 residences in what the government reportedly stated were efforts to prevent fires and promote crowd control. According to the online media source Buddhistdoor Global, in June 2017, a senior abbot at Larung Gar said 4,725 monastic dwellings had been torn down over the course of one year. Local sources stated the destruction was to clear the way for tourist infrastructure and to prevent nuns, monks, and laypersons, particularly ethnic Han Chinese, from studying at the institute. Reportedly, in hopes of saving the institute, Larung Gar’s monastic leadership continued to advise residents not to protest the demolitions and urged them to “behave appropriately in their actions and their speech.”

The government continued its program of evicting residents and destroying dwellings at Yachen Gar Tibetan Buddhist Institute. In July Radio Free Asia reported that according to one source, “The Chinese authorities have ordered that the number of monks and nuns staying at Yachen Gar not exceed more than 4,700, and because of that many monks and nuns have been evicted from the institute.” Local sources estimated that 3,500 monastics were removed in May and an additional 3,600 removed by July. Another source said, “Those monks and nuns who were forcefully returned to their birthplaces have now been rounded up by local Chinese police and made to attend political re-education classes [at detention centers] in their hometowns.” Local sources reported authorities prohibited monks and nuns expelled from Yachen Gar from joining any other monastery or nunnery in the area or participating in any public religious practices.

Exact figures of the extent of destruction could not be obtained because authorities denied visitors, including foreign diplomats, access to the Yachen Gar complex. Satellite images taken August 24 obtained by Free Tibet and photos from local sources obtained by Radio Free Asia both showed nearly half the residences of Yachen Gar destroyed since previous images were taken in April 2018. A local source told Radio Free Asia that starting on July 19, within a few days authorities demolished at least 100 dwellings that had previously housed nuns.

The government continued its policy of resettling previously nomadic Tibetans in government-subsidized housing units. In many areas, these were located near township and county government seats or along major roads, and had no nearby monasteries where resettled villagers could worship. The government prohibited construction of new temples in these areas without prior approval. Traditionally, Tibetan villages were clustered around monasteries, which provided religious and other services to members of the community. Many Tibetans reportedly continued to view such measures as CCP and government efforts to dilute religious belief and weaken the ties between monasteries and communities. According to Tibetan author Tsering Woeser, the absence of “temples, stupas, or resident monks in these ‘modern’ settlements prevents Tibetans from overcoming their feelings of emptiness and dislocation following resettlement.”

Media and human rights groups reported that on January 7, the government announced a formal five-year plan to continue to “Sinicize” all religious groups in China by emphasizing loyalty to the CCP and the state. This plan includes Tibetan Buddhism, with the involvement of the state-run BAC. ICT president Matteo Mecacci said in July, “The five-year campaign to ‘Sinicize’ Buddhism is a much more systematic imposition of Communist Party priorities than we have seen before, striking at the very core of a religious philosophy based on moral, compassionate values. Sinicization not only targets the trappings of religious practice, such as large teachings, but also represents a far-reaching intrusion into people’s inner lives by a repressive government, contracting the space for genuine religious practice and freedom.”

The government continued a policy introduced in 2018 requiring Tibetan monks and nuns to undergo political training in state ideology. Monks and nuns were required to demonstrate – in addition to competence in religious studies – “political reliability,” “moral integrity capable of impressing the public,” and willingness to “play an active role at critical moments.” Since the policy’s inception, many major monasteries and religious institutes implemented political training programs.

Local authorities invoked regulations concerning safeguarding national unity and responding to “religious extremism” to monitor individuals, groups, and institutions, and to punish adherents of religious leaders such as the Dalai Lama.

One local source told the ICT the Sinicization campaign had intensified in recent years and was “unbearable” for monks and nuns. The source said, “It is now much stronger and penetrates religious life more deeply, bring[ing] immense difficulties for the religious community, for instance the legal education exams that involve thousands of monks and nuns, and which involve study and questions, and a whole process.”

The government continued to control the selection of Tibetan Buddhist lamas and supervision of their religious and political education. According to media and NGO reports, the CCP maintained a list of state-approved “living buddhas.” Such individuals reportedly continued to undergo training on patriotism and the CCP’s socialist political system. In 2018 the BAC announced its database contained 1,311 “living buddhas” that it deemed “authentic.” In September a Tibetan academic told The Irish Times that to be included in the database, monks were required to go through an indoctrination process in which they were trained to promote love of the CCP and social harmony, and fight against the Dalai Lama and other “splittists.” In 2018 the BAC announced its database of 1,311 “living buddhas” that it deemed “authentic” was nearly complete. The Dalai Lama was reportedly not on the list.

According to one Tibetan source, “every single individual now on the official reincarnation database has to go through an entire political procedure, entirely separate to a religious training, in which they are advised about the need for their career and role in the religious community to motivate religious believers to love the party, love the country and social stability maintenance work, as well as fight against ‘separatism’ and the Dalai Lama…. This means that now the Tibetan reincarnations are becoming Communist-trained talents rather than religious leaders.” Religious leaders continued to report that authorities were incentivizing lamas and monks to leave monastic life voluntarily by emphasizing the attributes of secular life as compared to the more disciplined and austere religious life. Monastery leaders cited continued revisions to education policies, religion regulations, and government control of monastery management as reasons for declining numbers of young monks. Religious leaders and scholars said these and other means of interference continued to cause them concern about the ability of religious traditions to survive for successive generations.

Multiple sources reported open veneration of the Dalai Lama, including the display of his photograph, remained prohibited in almost all areas. The government continued also to ban pictures of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, whom the Dalai Lama and nearly all Tibetan Buddhists recognized as the 11th Panchen Lama. In certain counties of the TAR, punishments for displaying images of the Dalai Lama included expulsion from monasteries. In October the India-based Tibetan magazine Contact reported authorities routinely detained individuals for possessing a photo of the Dalai Lama.

The TAR CCP committee and the government required all monasteries to display prominently the Chinese flag and the portraits of five CCP chairmen, from Mao Zedong to Xi Jinping. Local sources told Radio Free Asia that officials from government bureaus monitoring religious practice visited Tibetan schools and warned teachers and students not to keep or display photos of the Dalai Lama.

According to Free Tibet, following a January 9-13 meeting of the People’s Congress of the TAR, officials ordered citizens to place shrines to Chairman Xi and other CCP leaders in their homes, replacing altars venerating religious figures, and also required them to prostrate themselves in front of those portraits. Authorities reportedly told Tibetans government subsidies and aid – including money for school fees and groceries – would cease if they failed to comply.

According to Tibet Watch and local sources, while households in more remote areas had previously generally been able to circumvent the prohibition against displaying the Dalai Lama’s portrait, authorities were increasingly demanding they replace it with portraits of Chairman Xi and Chairman Mao as part of the Sinicization drive. According to Tibet Watch, “In certain areas, officials go house to house to check that [the CCP portraits] are on the altar.” In January Free Tibet reproduced photographs originally posted on state media of home shrines displaying portraits of CCP leaders. One photograph showed a Tibetan family smiling in their home in front of a shrine to CCP leaders. Another showed a Tibetan man holding up a khata (prayer scarf) before a home shrine displaying CCP leaders, including Chairman Xi and Chairman Mao.

A Tibetan living in exile told Radio Free Asia in June that in Arte village in Tsolho (Hainan) TAP, Qinghai Province, authorities promised RMB 6,000 ($860) to more than 30 families to hang Chairman Xi’s portrait in a prominent place in their homes. According to the source, Xi’s portrait must be placed as high as any picture of the Potala Palace in Lhasa, the traditional winter home of the Dalai Lama. The source said, “The families are choosing to do this because they need the money to survive, but they regret this immensely.”

NGO groups and other sources reported that in August TAR government officials hung a banner outside Shalu Temple in Shigatse (Xigaze) Prefecture, TAR, prohibiting CCP members and all persons under age 18 from entering. Officials also required the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa to hang a banner wishing the CCP to last 10,000 years. A Tibetan exile living in Great Britain posted a photograph of the banner on Twitter on September 16. Monasteries and schools throughout the region were required to display additional Chinese flags and patriotic banners throughout the year.

Chinese official state media released a video on September 22 showing monks at Jambaling Monastery in Chamdo Prefecture, TAR, participating in a choreographed ceremony celebrating the 70th anniversary of the founding of the CCP. In the video, the monks and worshipers waived Chinese flags and sang patriotic songs praising the CCP. The video showed monks hoisting a Chinese flag on the rooftop of the monastery and hanging thangkas (devotional wall hangings) with images of five Chinese leaders on the monastery wall. According to Free Tibet, at an event marking the release of the video, Tsering Norbu, Secretary of the Party Committee of Jambaling Monastery’s Management Committee, said all monks “should be grateful, feel the party, listen to the party, and go with the party,” in addition to adhering to the socialist system and the party’s vision for Tibetan Buddhism. Free Tibet reported that at the same event, Tsunglo-Shamba Khedu, Vice Chairman of the TAR and abbot of the Jambaling Monastery, told the monks present “they should bravely stand up and expose the 14th Dalai Lama’s reactionary thoughts,” and that monks should be a model of patriotism and love for the party. Students and monks across Tibetan areas were instructed to participate in national day events praising the CCP. NGOs reported at least five Tibetans were arrested for refusing to take part in official National Day events.

The CCP continued to forbid its members from participating in religious activities of any kind, despite reports that many local government officials and CCP members held religious beliefs. The TAR regional government punished CCP members who followed the Dalai Lama, secretly harbored religious beliefs, made pilgrimages to India, or sent their children to study with exiled Tibetans.

In accordance with official guidelines for monastery management, the leadership of and membership in committees and working groups remained restricted to individuals the guidelines described as “politically reliable, patriotic, and devoted monks, nuns, and party and government officials.” General administrative affairs in TAR monasteries, which monks traditionally managed, were instead overseen by monastery management committees and monastic government working groups, both of which were composed primarily of government officials and CCP members, in addition to a few government-approved monks. Since 2011, the government has established such groups in all monasteries in the TAR and in many major monasteries in other Tibetan areas.

The traditional monastic system reportedly continued to decline as many senior Buddhist teachers remained in exile or died in India or elsewhere. The heads of most major schools of Tibetan Buddhism – including the Dalai Lama, Karmapa, Sakya Trizin, and Khatok Getse Rinpoche, as well as Bon leader Kyabje Menr Trizin – all continued to reside in exile. The government also banned India-trained Tibetan monks, most of whom received their education from the Dalai Lama or those with ties to him, from teaching in Tibetan monasteries in China, although there were reportedly rare exceptions made for pro-government monks.

As in previous years, senior monks at some monasteries continued to report informal agreements with local officials whereby resident monks would not stage protests or commit self-immolations as long as the government adopted a hands-off approach to the management of their monasteries.

Sources said authorities monitored all financial transactions involving monasteries inside Tibet and entities abroad.

The government continued to insist that Gyaltsen Norbu, whom it selected in 1995, was the Panchen Lama’s true reincarnation, and not Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, whom authorities had disappeared that same year. Norbu remained the vice president of, and highest ranking Tibetan in, the government-affiliated BAC. The state media outlet Xinhua News Agency reported that on June 22, Norbu was elected president of the Tibet Autonomous Regional Branch of the BAC. According to numerous Tibetan Buddhist monks and scholars, SARA and provincial religious affairs bureau officials frequently pressured monks and laypersons, including government officials, to attend religious study sessions presided over by Gyaltsen Norbu.

The pro-government media outlet Global Times reported that in August in Lhasa approximately 100 monks from 73 monasteries attended a training session on reincarnation of a living Buddha, presided over by Norbu and organized by the government-sponsored TAR branch of the BAC, the Institute of Socialism, and regional authorities in charge of religious affairs. According to Global Times, at the session, Suolang Renzeng, deputy chief of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference Tibet Autonomous Regional Committee, told trainees the reincarnation system “is never a religious-only issue or a living Buddha’s personal right,” but an important representation of the CCP’s strategies and policies in the region. Bianba Lamu (Tibetan: Pempa Lhamo), head of the South Asia Institute of the Tibetan Academy of Social Sciences, told Global Times the training could educate key figures in Tibetan Buddhism to lead the religion in the direction of better compatibility with socialist society. The ICT said the training was part of the government’s efforts to control the succession of the Dalai Lama.

Reuters reported that in March foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said, “[R]eincarnations, including that of the Dalai Lama, should observe the country’s laws and regulations and follow the rituals and history of religion.” In a July interview with the India-based media outlet Daily News and Analysis, Wang Neng Shang, vice minister of the TAR and director general of the People’s Government Information Office, said the selection of the next Dalai Lama was not the current Dalai Lama’s to make, but must be recognized by the central government in Beijing, adding, “The centrality of the central government must be recognized.” Human rights groups said these comments reflected the CCP’s continued efforts to interfere with the succession of the Dalai Lama.

Sources continued to report that while authorities permitted some traditional religious ceremonies and practices, they continued to exercise control over the activities of religious leaders and religious gatherings of laypersons, confining many such activities to officially designated places of worship, restricting or canceling religious festivals, and preventing monks from traveling to villages for politically sensitive events and religious ceremonies. Sources said clergy could not travel freely between monasteries or go on pilgrimages.

Local sources said the government continued to suppress religious activities it viewed as vehicles for political dissent. There were reports that local authorities again ordered many monasteries and laypersons not to celebrate or organize any public gatherings to celebrate the Dalai Lama’s 84th birthday on July 6, or to commemorate the anniversary of the March 10, 1959, Tibetan uprising or the March 14, 2008, outbreak of unrest across the Tibetan Plateau. TAR authorities banned monks and nuns from leaving their monasteries and nunneries during such times, and pilgrimage sites were heavily policed. According to local sources, Sichuan, Qinghai, and Gansu provincial authorities warned major monasteries in Tibetan areas, including Labrang, Amchok, and Bora Monasteries, that those holding special events or celebrations would face unspecified “severe consequences.” Local sources reported that in July religious affairs officials instructed senior monks at Kirti, Karzdze, Draggo, and Tawu Monasteries in Kardze TAP, Sichuan Province, not to celebrate the Dalai Lama’s birthday. As a result, the monks did not organize any public celebrations. One source told Radio Free Asia that authorities forced students to attend classes on March 10, a Sunday, and on July 6, a Saturday, as part of efforts to keep them from marking these anniversaries. The source said, “Preventing Tibetan students from visiting places of worship and from taking part in religious festivals is a deliberate attempt by the Chinese government to separate them from the influence of Tibetan religion and culture[.] This is an effort to Sinicize young Tibetans at an early age.”

According to local sources, authorities deployed the military to monitor pilgrims and worshipers at prayer festivals in the TAR and other Tibetan areas. A man told Radio Free Asia the presence of armed, uniformed police and plain-clothes officers during sensitive political and religious anniversaries was so pervasive that Tibetans considered it “a part of their daily lives.” During Lunar New Year celebrations in February, multiple local sources reported authorities again deployed military forces at prayer ceremonies at Drephung, Sera, and Gandan Monasteries in the TAR, and at Draggo, Kirti, and Tawu Monasteries in Sichuan Province. In August the government again banned the annual Dechen Shedrub prayer festival from occurring at Larung Gar Tibetan Buddhist Institute. As they did in 2018, authorities cited overcrowding, unfinished reconstruction of the partially demolished site, and fire safety concerns as reasons for the ban. The ban marked the fourth consecutive year the government prohibited the 22-year-old festival from taking place.

Radio Free Asia reported that authorities in Lhasa banned students, schools officials, and government employees from taking part in the Ganden Ngachoe festival on December 20-21. The festival commemorated the 600th anniversary of the death of Tsongkhapa, the 14th century founder of the Gelugpa school of Buddhism, of which the Dalai Lama is now the leader. One source told Radio Free Asia parents were being held responsible for their children’s compliance with the ban.

The TAR government reportedly maintained tight control over the use of Tibetan Buddhist religious relics and declared them, religious buildings, and religious institutions to be state property.

According to Human Rights Watch, the department under the TAR party committee in charge of overseeing retired government employees issued an official notice requiring TAR party and government officials, including nonparty members, to submit a list by August 18 of any retired personnel performing the kora, a Tibetan practice of circumambulating a sacred site or temple while reciting prayers or mantras. The practice is a standard form of religious devotion among Tibetan Buddhists, particularly the elderly, for whom it is often a daily religious practice as well as a form of exercise. Those named faced potential loss of pensions and social benefits.

According to sources, security forces continued to block access to and from important monasteries during politically sensitive events and religious anniversaries. Radio Free Asia reported police maintained heavy security during the Shoton festival held from August 30 through September 5 in Lhasa. There were large numbers of uniformed and plain-clothes police monitoring crowds of worshippers. Officials delivered speeches at the festival denouncing the Dalai Lama and urging attendees to be loyal to the CCP.

On February 15, Tibet Watch reported authorities in Serthar County, Sichuan Province, and Markham County, Chamdo Prefecture, TAR, as well as in Lhasa, denied government employees time off to celebrate Losar, the Tibetan New Year festival typically celebrated with visits to temples and pilgrimages, and prohibited them from visiting monasteries during the event. Some major temples were closed for much of the 15-day Losar holiday, while other religious sites had a marked increase in military presence. Tibet Watch said in Markham County and Chamdo Prefecture, TAR, police and military personnel were stationed in the streets. The NGO posted a photo on its website showing police blocking the gate of the Lhasa Tsuklakhang Shrine, also known as the Jokhang Shrine, Tibet’s holiest shrine, during Losar.

There were reports that party leaders and branches of the UFWD, SARA, and the state-controlled BAC continued to station party and government officials, including security agents, in monasteries in Tibetan areas. Provincial, prefectural, county, and local governments continued to establish police stations or security offices adjacent to or on the premises of many monasteries and nunneries. While no updated statistics were available, sources estimated that in 2018 more than 15,000 government employees were working in approximately 3,000 Tibetan monasteries. One source told Radio Free Asia approximately 600 Chinese officials were permanently stationed at Yachen Gar Tibetan Buddhist Institute to “maintain a tight watch” over the monks and nuns who remained and check all outside visitors. The source said authorities strictly monitored and restricted travel to and from the institute.

According to human rights groups and local sources, authorities continued to install overt camera surveillance systems at monasteries. On July 12, the ICT posted on its website an image of surveillance cameras in a control room in Kirti Monastery in Ngaba TAP, Sichuan Province. The image showed 35 separate monitors displaying different areas of the compound and the roads surrounding it.

A local source told Radio Free Asia that during the year, authorities built walls around large sections of Larung Gar Tibetan Buddhist Institute and put in place three checkpoints to prevent unauthorized entry. According to the source, “The arrivals and departures of monks and nuns are closely monitored, and they are kept under strict surveillance around the clock.” The source told Radio Free Asia that in a speech to monks and nuns at the institute on April 16, senior teacher Khenpo Tsultrim Lodroe said, “Almost any kind of problem may be encountered if we don’t exercise necessary caution and care.”

According to many sources in Ngaba TAP, Sichuan Province, officials continued to maintain a security watch list of family members, relatives, and close friends of self-immolators to prevent them from meeting and communicating with international visitors and, in some cases, deprived them of public benefits.

Sources stated that during the year, local authorities increased scrutiny of social media postings. A local source told Radio Free Asia, “Chinese authorities are closely monitoring discussions on WeChat, and are quick to intervene.” The source told Radio Free Asia that in July authorities detained Rinso, a Tibetan from Thangkor Township, Sichuan, after he posted a photo of the Dalai Lama on WeChat.

Multiple Tibetan rights advocacy NGOs reported that in February, TAR officials issued guidance to monks entitled “The 20 Prohibitions” forbidding monks from using social media to “incite subversion, defame or insult others, assist extremist religious groups, provide undisclosed information of the state to domestic or foreign individuals or organizations, or receive or release illegal information.” TAR government offices also announced that those who misused social media could be imprisoned for up to eight years. In August Tsering Tsomo, director of the India-based Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, told Radio Free Asia the TAR government also increased its cash awards from RMB 1,000 ($140) in 2018 to RMB 300,000 ($43,100) for information about social media users “advocating extremism,” including those who expressed support for the Dalai Lama’s Middle Way policy.

Free Tibet reported that on March 13, during a press conference, Tsetan Dorjee, abbot of Sera Monastery, told an audience of 320 monks, monastic party members, and public security officials connected to the monastery to comply with the “20 Prohibitions.” According to Free Tibet, members of the monastery’s management committee emphasized the need for all monks to show gratitude to the CCP and reject separatism.

Free Tibet reported the government continued to interfere in the religious education of laypersons. Authorities in Nangchen (Nangqen) County, Yushu (Yuxu) TAP, Qinghai Province, required monks to stop all classes with children, warning that monks and parents would be punished if classes continued. Authorities stated such classes were harmful, saying the government must oversee “ideological education for children and youth, firmly upholding the leading role of the party and government in education.” According to Contact, “For many Tibetan students, Buddhism can only be studied in a language that is not Tibetan.” According to Tibet Watch and Global Times, during the summer, schools in Gyantse (Gyangze) County, Shigatse Prefecture, TAR, began using a new textbook which characterized life under the Dalai Lama’s pre-1959 leadership as oppressive. Tibet Watch criticized the textbook as a tool of “greater suppression in Tibet.”

Media reported that during the year, provincial officials in the TAR and in Qinghai Province again banned all underage students from participating in religious activities during school holidays. School officials required students to sign an agreement stating they would not participate in any form of religious activity during the summer.

According to the ICT, on December 31, at the start of the two-month winter break, the Lhasa Chengguan Haicheng Elementary School sent a directive to parents stating, “Students are not allowed to participate in any form of religious activity during the break, and in principle long-distance travel with students is not allowed.” Tibetan rights advocates interpreted the prohibition on travel as an effort by authorities to stop parents from taking their children to visit temples outside the capital during the break. The directive stated, “In the event of an accident, all consequences are the responsibility of the parents.” According to ICT, this was the third year in a row Lhasa school authorities had imposed the ban. There were reports that similar directives were issued elsewhere in Tibet.

According to NGO reports, authorities continued “patriotic reeducation” campaigns at many monasteries and nunneries across the Tibetan Plateau. All monks and nuns were required to participate in several sessions of “legal education” per year, during which they were required to denounce the Dalai Lama, express allegiance to the government-recognized Panchen Lama, study Xi Jinping’s speeches, learn Mandarin, and hear lectures praising the leadership of the CCP and the socialist system.

In April, as part of a five-year training program initiated in 2018, 179 religious figures from the TAR attended a training session at the Regional Socialist College. According to the TAR office of the UFWD, during the session, participants were called upon to improve their political awareness and show loyalty to the CCP. The training program used specially developed curricula to reinforce government religious policies. On May 6, government officials conducted an eight-day training session for 100 monks and nuns in Driru (Biru) County, Nagchu Prefecture, TAR. The training’s stated purpose was to strengthen participants’ “recognition of the party and understanding of socialist values.”

Free Tibet reported in May that approximately 30,000 Tibetan monks and nuns at Sera, Ganden, and Drepung Monasteries in Lhasa, as well as at other locations in the TAR, were required to take tests on Chinese law that included questions on religious affairs, national security, and anti-terrorism laws. The program, run by the UFWD, also included training on how to resist the Dalai Lama and Tibetan separatism. According to Free Tibet, individuals were threatened with detention and other penalties if they did not participate. Senior officials, including Deputy Director of the District People’s Congress Xu Xueguang, conducted inspections of the monasteries while exams were underway.

Authorities banned minors under age 18 from participating in any monastic training. Multiple sources reported authorities forced underage monks and nuns to leave their monasteries and Buddhist schools to receive “patriotic education.” Journalists reported that some underage monks who refused to cooperate were arrested and, in some cases, beaten by police, and that parents and other family members were also threatened with loss of social benefits if underage monks did not comply. In May Sichuan provincial law enforcement officials announced police would forcibly remove all underage monks and nuns from all monasteries in the province.

According to Radio Free Asia, a local source said that in April authorities notified senior monks at Larung Gar Tibetan Buddhist Institute that no new enrollments would be allowed and ordered no new residents be admitted to live and study there. The source said, “If the institute learns that any new residents have been admitted, those enrollees are to be turned away immediately.” The source said authorities warned that failure to comply with government orders would lead to harsh policies being imposed.

Radio Free Asia reported that authorities forced Tibetan college graduates seeking government jobs to denounce the Dalai Lama and display loyalty to the CCP in order to be considered for government positions.

Government officials regularly denigrated the Dalai Lama publicly and accused the “Dalai clique” and other “outside forces” of instigating Tibetan protests, stating such acts were attempts to “split” China. In May Zhu Weiqun, the former head of the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, said government took the position that it was impossible to talk to the Dalai Lama without preconditions. Zhu criticized the Dalai Lama for being a “loyal instrument of international anti-China forces.” In official statements, government officials often likened supporters of the Dalai Lama to terrorists and gang members. In March the TAR Communist Party Committee published a series of articles criticizing the Dalai Lama and accusing him of being a “loyal instrument of anti-Chinese forces” who was instigating violence within Tibet.

The state media outlet Xinhua News Agency reported that from May 25 to 27, Wang Yang, the fourth-highest ranking member of the Politburo Standing Committee and head of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, visited Kardze TAP, Sichuan Province, where he told a symposium it was necessary to comprehensively implement the CCP’s basic guidelines for religious work and to guide the religious community to consciously support the CCP and patriotism. Wang also said it was necessary to defend against “the infiltration of foreign hostile forces,” which the ICT said was a reference to the Dalai Lama and Tibetans outside Tibet.

In April TAR CCP Secretary Wu Yingjie instructed party members to “eliminate the negative impact from the Dalai Lama on religion and effectively guide the monks, nuns, and religious followers to rally around the party.”

Authorities continued in state media to justify interference with Tibetan Buddhist monasteries by associating the monasteries with “separatism” and pro-independence activities. During an inspection tour of the TAR in June, former director of the UFWD Zhu Weiqun stated the government would “strongly oppose and resolutely crack down on any separatist force in the name of ethnicity or religion, which are mainly organized by the Dalai clique.”

According to local sources, authorities continued to hinder Tibetan Buddhist monasteries from carrying out environmental protection activities, an important part of traditional Tibetan Buddhist practices, due to fear such activities could create a sense of pride among Tibetans, particularly children, and an awareness of their distinctness from Chinese culture.

In October the PRC and the government of Nepal signed the Boundary Management System Agreement, which contained a provision that would require both countries to hand over citizens who have illegally crossed the Nepal-China border. Tibetan advocacy groups said they were concerned this provision could be used to return long-staying Tibetan refugees to the PRC from Nepal, and the groups also stated that the provision was potentially in conflict with Nepal’s international commitments under the Convention Against Torture and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well the so-called “gentlemen’s agreement” with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and India.

Religious figures and laypersons frequently reported continued difficulty traveling to monasteries outside their home region, both within the TAR and in other parts of China. Travelers said they encountered an increased number of roadblocks and police checkpoints surrounding major monasteries, with security personnel often checking their identity cards and refusing entry to nonresidents. Tibetans wishing to visit family members residing in monasteries noted frequent refusals or limits on their ability to visit. A senior monk visiting relatives in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, was forced to remain in his hotel room for the entirety of his trip. Other local sources reported similar restrictions on their movements and said checkpoints and fear of detention prevented them from visiting monasteries and participating in religious events. Many monks expelled from their TAR monasteries after the 2008 Lhasa riots and from Kirti Monastery after a series of self-immolations from 2009 to 2015 had not returned, some because of government prohibitions.

Many Tibetans, including monks, nuns, and laypersons, reported difficulties traveling to India for religious training, meetings with religious leaders, or to visit family members living within monasteries. In many cases, Public Security Bureau officials refused to approve their passport applications. In other cases, prospective travelers were able to obtain passports only after paying bribes to local officials. Some individuals seeking to travel elsewhere said they could only obtain passports after promising not to travel to India or to criticize government policies in Tibetan areas while overseas. In some cases family members were required to sign a guarantee that passport applicants would return from their overseas travel. Sichuan Province and TAR officials continued to require religious travelers returning from India to attend political training sessions. According to sources, these restrictions had prevented thousands of Tibetans from attending religious training in India. One senior Tibetan leader in India estimating “only a handful” of Chinese Tibetans visited India during the year, down from over 10,000 per year prior to 2014. According to local sources, numerous Tibetans in Gansu, Qinghai, and Sichuan Provinces waited up to 10 years to receive a passport, often without any explanation for the delay. There were also instances of authorities confiscating and canceling previously issued passports, reportedly as a way of preventing Tibetans from participating in religious events involving the Dalai Lama in India.

Restrictions remained in place for monks and nuns living in exile, particularly those in India, which made it difficult or impossible for them to travel into Tibetan areas. Tibetans who returned from India reported facing difficulties finding employment or receiving religious or secular education. Returning Tibetans were not allowed to study at Chinese monasteries and most were denied admission to secular schools because they did not have education certificates recognized by the government. Local sources said they were subject to additional government scrutiny as a result of having relatives at religious institutions in India.

According to sources, authorities in some areas continued to enforce special restrictions on Tibetans staying at hotels inside and outside the TAR. Police regulations forbade some hotels and guesthouses in the TAR from accepting Tibetan guests, particularly monks and nuns, and required other hotels to notify police departments when Tibetan guests checked in.

On March 7, Time Magazine published a profile of the Dalai Lama and world leaders in which it said the government was attempting to exert political and economic pressure on foreign governments to avoid meeting with him. Media reported government officials canceled several exchange programs and criticized the mayor of Prague, Zdenek Hrib, after he flew a Tibetan flag above city hall and hosted Central Tibetan Administration President Lobsang Sangay in March.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Because expressions of Tibetan identity and religion are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religion. Tibetans, particularly those who wore traditional and religious attire, regularly reported incidents in which they were denied hotel rooms, avoided by taxis, and discriminated against in employment or in business transactions.

Media reported that on September 30, 15 Tibetan monks from Golok (Guoluo) TAP, Qinghai Province, attempted to check in to a hotel in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, but the management told them ethnic minorities were not allowed to stay in hotels downtown and summoned the police, who checked their IDs, and ordered them to go to the Tibetan area of Chengdu immediately.

Many Han Buddhists continued to demonstrate interest in Tibetan Buddhism and donated money to Tibetan monasteries and nunneries, according to local sources in such monasteries and nunneries. Tibetan Buddhist monks frequently visited Chinese cities to provide religious instruction to Han Buddhists. In addition, a growing number of Han Buddhists visited Tibetan monasteries, although officials sometimes imposed restrictions that made it difficult for Han Buddhists to conduct long-term study at many monasteries in Tibetan areas.

Xinjiang

Read A Section: Xinjiang

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Executive Summary

This separate section on the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region is included given the scope and severity of reported religious freedom violations specific to the region this year.

The U.S. government estimated the People’s Republic of China (PRC) government detained more than one million Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Hui, and members of other Muslim groups, as well as some Uighur Christians, in specially built internment camps or converted detention facilities in Xinjiang and subjected them to forced disappearance, political indoctrination, torture, psychological and physical and psychological abuse, including forced sterilization and sexual abuse, forced labor, and prolonged detention without trial because of their religion and ethnicity. Many nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) estimated the number being interred was higher. The whereabouts of hundreds of prominent Uighur intellectuals, doctors, journalists, artists, academics, and other professionals, in addition to many other citizens, who were arrested or detained remained unknown. There were reports of individuals dying as a result of injuries sustained during interrogations. In November the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and The New York Times reported on leaked internal PRC documents that describing the government’s mass internment and surveillance programs, including a manual for operating internment camps with instructions on how to prevent escapes, how to maintain total secrecy about the camps’ existence, and methods of forced indoctrination. A third document, the “Karakax List,” originally leaked in November and later made public, presented evidence the government initially interned or extended the internment of individuals on religious grounds in four reeducation centers in Karakax County, Hotan Prefecture. Media reported that in 2018 courts sentenced 143,000 individuals to prison or other punishments, compared with 87,000 in 2017. During the year, the government continued to restrict access to and destroyed or desecrated mosques and other religious sites. Authorities maintained extensive and invasive security and surveillance, in part to gain information regarding individuals’ religious adherence and practices. This surveillance included behavioral profiling, and forcing Uighurs to accept government officials and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) members living in their homes and to install mandatory mobile spyware applications on their phones. The government continued to cite what it called the “three evils” of “ethnic separatism, religious extremism, and violent terrorism” as its justification to enact and enforce restrictions on religious practices of Muslims and non-Muslim religious minorities. The government intensified use of detentions in furtherance of implementing a Xinjiang counterextremism regulation that identifies “extremist” behaviors (including growing beards, wearing headscarves, and abstaining from alcohol) and the National Counterterrorism Law, which addresses “religious extremism.” Authorities in Xinjiang punished individuals, including imams, for praying or studying the Quran, and donating to mosques; authorities demanded individuals remove religious symbols from their homes, and barred youths from participating in religious activities. Authorities barred many categories of persons from fasting, during Ramadan, including students, and considered observing the Ramadan fast and participating in the Hajj to be suspicious behavior. Satellite imagery and other sources indicated the government destroyed numerous mosques and other religious sites, and surveilled others. The New York Times reported that according to a 2017 policy document posted on the Ministry of Education’s website, nearly 40 percent of all elementary and middle school students – approximately half a million children – were separated from their families and placed in boarding schools where they studied ethnic Han culture, the Mandarin language, and CCP ideology. The government sought the forcible repatriation from foreign countries of Uighur and other Muslim citizens and detained some of those who returned. The government harassed, interrogated, and detained the family members of Uighur and other Muslim activists who criticized its treatment of religious and ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.

Uighur Muslims reported severe societal discrimination in employment and business opportunities. In Xinjiang, tension between Uighur Muslims and Han Chinese continued in parallel with the authorities’ suppression of Uighur language, culture, and religious practices while promoting the Han majority in political, economic, and cultural life.

At the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington, D.C. in July, the United States and other governments issued a statement on China that included the following: “We call for an end to China’s mass detentions and its repressive controls on the cultural and religious practices and identities of members of religious and ethnic minority groups.” In November the Secretary of State said, “We call on the Chinese government to immediately release all those who are arbitrarily detained and to end its draconian policies that have terrorized its own citizens in Xinjiang.” Embassy officials met with national government officials regarding the treatment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang. The embassy and consulates general delivered direct messaging about religious freedom in Xinjiang through social media posts, and promoted online engagement on the issue of religious freedom for Muslims, and, in particular, for Xinjiang’s ethnic minority Muslim populations. The embassy continued in its engagement with the PRC government to draw attention to specific cases of repression in Xinjiang.

Section I. Religious Demography

A 2015 report on Xinjiang issued by the State Council Information Office (SCIO) estimates the total population was 23.2 million in 2014. The report states Uighur, Kazakh, Hui, Kyrgyz, and members of other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities constitute approximately 14.6 million residents in Xinjiang, or 63 percent of the total Xinjiang population. The largest segment of the remaining population is Han Chinese, with additional groups including Mongols, Tibetans, and others. Uighur Muslims live primarily in Xinjiang. The Globe and Mail reported in September that according to sources in the region, Christians likely number in the thousands.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The national constitution states citizens enjoy “freedom of religious belief,” but limits protections for religious practice to “normal religious activities” without defining “normal.” The constitution also stipulates the right of citizens to believe in or not believe in any religion. The government recognizes five official religions – Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Protestantism, and Catholicism. Only religious groups belonging to one of five state-sanctioned “patriotic religious associations” (the Buddhist Association of China, the Chinese Taoist Association, the Islamic Association of China, the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, and the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association) representing these religions are permitted to register with the government and legally hold worship services or other religious ceremonies and activities.

Xinjiang has its own counterterrorism law containing similar provisions to the national law regarding “religious extremism.” The law bans the wearing of long beards, full-face coverings, expanding halal practice beyond food, and “interfering” with family planning, weddings, funerals, or inheritance, among other provisions.

Regional regulations passed in 2018 to implement the national counterterrorism law permit the establishment of “vocational skill education training centers” (which the government also calls “education centers” and “education and transformation establishments”) to “carry out anti-extremist ideological education.” The regulations stipulate, “Institutions such as vocational skill education training centers should carry out training sessions on the common national language, laws and regulations, and vocational skills, and carry out anti-extremist ideological education, and psychological and behavioral correction to promote thought transformation of trainees, and help them return to the society and family.”

Regulations in Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi prohibit veils that cover the face, homeschooling children, and “abnormal beards.” A separate regulation bans the practice of religion in government buildings and the wearing of clothes associated with “religious extremism.” Similar regulations are in effect in other parts of Xinjiang.

Authorities in Xinjiang have defined 26 religious activities, including some practices of Islam, Christianity, and Tibetan Buddhism, as illegal without government authorization. Regional regulations stipulate no classes, scripture study groups, or religious studies courses may be offered by any group or institution without prior government approval. No religious group is permitted to carry out any religious activities, including preaching, missionary work, proselytizing, and ordaining clergy, without government approval. Regional regulations also ban editing, translation, publication, printing, reproduction, production, distribution, sale, and dissemination of religious publications and audiovisual products without authorization.

Xinjiang officials require minors to complete nine years of compulsory education before they may receive religious education outside of school. Xinjiang regulations also forbid minors from participating in religious activities and impose penalties on organizations and individuals who “organize, entice, or force” minors to participate in religious activities. According to press reports, a regulation in effect since 2016 further bans any form of religious activity in Xinjiang schools and stipulates parents or guardians who “organize, lure, or force minors into religious activities” may be stopped by anyone and reported to police. Xinjiang’s regional version of the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency Law states children affected by ethnic separatism, extremism and terrorism, and/or committing offenses that seriously endanger the society but do not warrant a criminal punishment may be sent to “specialized schools for correction” at the request of their parents, guardians, or school.

Government Practices

According to media and NGO reports, the central government and regional authorities in Xinjiang continued to cite what it called the “three evils” of “ethnic separatism, religious extremism, and violent terrorism” as its justification to enact and enforce restrictions on religious practices of Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Hui, and members of other Muslim and non-Muslim religious groups. Police raids and the government’s restrictions on Islamic practices as part of “strike hard” campaigns, the latest iteration of which began in 2014, continued throughout the year. Local observers said many incidents related to abuses or pressure on Uighurs and other Muslims went unreported to international media or NGOs due to government restrictions.

There were several reports of individuals dying as a result of abuse suffered during interrogation and detentions.

Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported in July that Uighur Alimjan Emet from Kashgar (Chinese: Kashi) Prefecture was beaten to death in an internment camp in Kashgar’s Yengixahar (Shule) County because he denied praying in secret. Emet had previously been fired from his job at a loan office in his home township of Ermudan for allegedly praying in secret. An official familiar with Emet’s death said he did not appear to suffer from any medical problems before authorities detained him at the internment camp.

RFA reported in June that in November 2018 Uighur Qaharjan Qawul, a chauffeur, became unconscious during an interrogation while detained in an internment camp in Aksu (Akesu) City and subsequently died, according to local officials and a Uighur exile group. Authorities arrested Qawul in 2017 and accused him of making phone calls to “blacklisted” families.

In June RFA reported that in June 2018 a Uighur woman, Aytursun Eli, died while being questioned in custody, according to an interview her mother gave to the official Xinjiang Women’s Federation that was obtained by the Washington-based International Uyghur Human Rights and Democracy Foundation. According to Eli’s mother, Patigul Yasin, authorities took Eli, a tour director at Hua An Tourism Company in Kashgar Prefecture, into custody after she returned from a work trip to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, a country to which the government does not allow Uighurs to travel. Following her daughter’s death, authorities insisted Eli had a heart condition which rendered her “unable to cope with being questioned.” Yasin denied that her daughter had a heart condition.

The New York Times, RFA, and the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) reported on the continued disappearance of hundreds of Uighur intellectuals, doctors, journalists, artists, academics, and university administrators. In May the UHRP issued a list of 435 “Uyghur and other Turkic intellectuals detained, imprisoned, or disappeared,” including students, university and secondary school instructors, media professionals such as journalists, medical professionals, and entertainers and performers. In January The New York Times reported, “The mass detention of some of China’s most accomplished Uighurs has become an alarming symbol of the Communist Party’s most intense social-engineering drive in decades, according to scholars, human rights advocates and exiled Uighurs…The Chinese government has described the detentions as a job training program aimed at providing employment opportunities for some of the country’s poorest people. But a list of more than 100 detained Uighur scholars compiled by exiles includes many prominent poets and writers, university heads and professors of everything from anthropology to Uighur history.”

In October Yusup Sulayman, a Uighur musician living in exile, told the PBS Newshour, “[The authorities] are disappearing our famous artists, composers, and songwriters before anyone else. They’re disappearing our intellectuals.” Sulayman said his extended family were being held in camps and he had not heard from any of them for more than two years. Sulayman said, “The absolute worst thing is that I don’t know if they are dead or alive. Our communication is completely cut off.”

In January RFA reported authorities sentenced Dina Eganbayurt, a prominent ethnic Kazakh artist and graduate of the Xinjiang Arts Institute, in a secret trial in April 2018 to three years’ imprisonment in an internment camp. Authorities did not notify her family of the charges against her, sources in the region said.

According to media reports and other sources, prominent Uighurs who remained in detention or whose whereabouts were unknown as of year’s end included: Rahile Dawut, an anthropologist at Xinjiang University who studied Islamic shrines, traditional songs, and folklore; Uighur literature professors Abdukerim Rahman, Azat Sultan, and Gheyretjan Osman; language professor Arslan Abdulla; poet Abdulqadir Jalaleddin; Kashgar University administrators Erkin Omer and Muhter Abdughopur; Kashgar University professors Qurban Osman and Gulnar Obul; and Qurban Mamut, former editor in chief of Xinjiang Civilization, a CCP-controlled Uighur journal.

At year’s end the whereabouts and welfare of Tashpolat Tiyip, former president of Xinjiang University, remained unknown, following his disappearance in 2017. International media reported in 2018 that Tiyip had been sentenced to death, with the sentence suspended for two years. On September 10, Amnesty International wrote on its website, “Fears are mounting that the Chinese authorities will imminently carry out the execution of Tashpolat Tiyip, a prominent Uyghur academic who was convicted in a secret and grossly unfair trial.” On December 26, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement stating that human rights experts “expressed alarm” about Tiyip’s situation. The statement quoted human rights experts as saying, “The experts reiterate their recommendation that information about his current place of detention be made public and that his family should be allowed to visit him.” It continued, “Incommunicado detention, enforced disappearances, and secret trials have no place in a country governed by the rule of law. The rule by law is not the rule of law. Such practices go against the spirit of the ICCPR, which China has signed in 1998[.]”

Authorities continued to disappear less high-profile individuals. In April RFA reported a relative of Ilyas Memet, a successful Uighur property developer and father of five, said Memet was arrested at his office in Ghulja (Yining) City in Ili Kazakh (Yili Hasake) Autonomous Prefecture in March 2018. The relative said it was unclear why authorities arrested him or whether he had been tried. Sources close to his family suggested Memet may have been arrested because he had visited several countries to which authorities banned Uighurs from traveling due to the perceived threat of religious extremism, including Turkey.

In November RFA reported that Ibrahim Kurban, a Uighur trader from Terim Township, Yopurgha (Yuepuhu) County, Kashgar Prefecture, disappeared in May 2016, just prior to taking a business trip to Turkey. Three years later, a friend learned he had died in custody. An officer in the Yopurgha County Police Department told RFA that sometime during that period Kurban was detained and interrogated, and that he had become sick and was taken to the hospital, where he died under police supervision.” The officer did not say why Kurban was taken into custody.

There were numerous reports of authorities subjecting detained individuals to severe physical abuse, including sexual abuse.

In October The Independent reported Sayragul Sauytbay, whom authorities detained in an internment camp in November 2017, said inmates were subjected to torture and medical experiments, and forced to eat pork. She said women in the camp were systematically raped by guards and that other women were forced to watch. Sauytbay said, “People who turned their head or closed their eyes, and those who looked angry or shocked, were taken away and we never saw them again.” Sauytbay said, “There were almost 20 people in a room of 16 square meters [172 square feet]…There were cameras in their rooms, too, and also in the corridor.”

In March The Globe and Mail reported Gulzira Auelhan, an ethnic Kazakh from Xinjiang who had been living in Kazakhstan, was arrested in 2017 while visiting her ill father. Auelhan said she was detained for 437 days, either under house arrest with relatives or in one of five different facilities, including a factory and a middle school converted into a center for political indoctrination and technical instruction. Auelhan said an official told her at the time of her arrest that she would be detained for 15 days and attend training classes, but she was held for more than 14 months and attended classes for only one week during that time. During her detention, Auelhan was forced to work in a garment factory. She said during her detention authorities shocked her with a stun gun to the head for spending more than the allotted two minutes in the toilet, and handcuffed her for 24 hours because guards accused her of letting another woman participate in religious ablutions.

In October RFA reported women in detention camps were involuntarily sterilized. Female detainees reportedly were routinely forced to take medication affecting their reproductive cycles. During separate incidents of internment totaling nine months between April 2017 and December 2018, Tursunay Ziyawudun, a Uighur woman from Kunes (Xinyuan) County, in the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture, said camp authorities regularly “took women to the hospital and operated on them so that they no longer could have children” or “forced them to take medicine.” Many women stopped menstruating. She said she was spared the procedure because she already had health complications. Ziyawudun also described torture: tying inmates to a metal chair during interrogations, cutting hair by first pulling it through the cell bars, shackling inmates, and denying food. She reported that guards denied inmates treatment for health problems.

In August The Independent reported Uighur Muslim women were being sterilized in internment camps, according to former detainees. “They injected us from time to time,” said Gulbahar Jalilova, a Uighur living in exile, who was held for more than a year in an internment camp. Jalilova said as of result of the injections women stopped menstruating. She said she spent most of her time with up to 50 persons in a cell measuring 10 feet by 20 feet (3 meters by 6 meters), adding “It’s like we were just piece[s] of meat.” The Independent also reported Mihrigul Tursun, a Uighur living in exile, told an audience at an Amnesty International event that she had been given unknown drugs and injections while being held in an internment camp in 2017. According to Tursun, doctors in the United States later told her she had been sterilized.

The U.S. government estimated the PRC government detained more than one million Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, ethnic Kyrgyz, Hui, and members of other Muslim groups in detention camps. Many NGOs estimated the number being interred was higher. The Globe and Mail reported in September that some Uighur Christians were also being held. In 2018 the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) analyzed 28 camps detaining Xinjiang residents. ASPI reported, “Estimates of the total number vary, but recent media reports have identified roughly 180 facilities and some estimates range as high as 1,200 across the region. Since early 2016 there has been a 465 percent growth in the size of the 28 camps identified in this report.” In November RFA reported that Adrian Zenz, a German researcher, estimated the number of camps may exceed 1,000. In October PBS Newshour broadcast a segment on Xinjiang that showed video of a camp under construction. The entrance to the building had an iron gate, the rooms looked like prison cells, and there were bars on the windows.

In April The New York Times reported an internment camp on the outskirts of Kashgar City occupied 639,764 square feet (195,000 square meters) with a capacity to hold approximately 20,000 individuals.

In October RFA reported that according to official sources in the Kuchar County Police Department, between June and December 2018 at least 150 persons died in No. 1 Internment Camp in the Yengisher District of the county seat, approximately 10 kilometers (six miles) from Kuchar City in Aksu (Akesu) Prefecture.

On November 16 and November 24, The New York Times reported on the leak of 403 pages of internal government and CCP documents describing the government’s mass internment program in Xinjiang; these leaked documents were later called “The Xinjiang Papers.” The documents included nearly 200 pages of speeches by Chairman Xi and other government officials, and more than 150 pages of directives and reports on the surveillance and control of the Uighur population in the region. The documents revealed that authorities set numeric targets for Uighur detentions in the region. There were also references to plans to extend restrictions on Muslims to other parts of the country. The New York Times was one of 17 media outlets to partner with the ICIJ regarding release of the leaked documents.

The leaked documents included speeches by Chairman Xi in which he called for strong action to eradicate what he called “radical Islam” in the region. In one speech he compared Islamic extremism to a virus and a dangerously addictive drug and said, referring to what he called Islamic extremists, “We must be as harsh as them and show absolutely no mercy.” The New York Times reported that before Xi’s presidency, the CCP often described attacks in Xinjiang as the work of a few fanatics inspired by foreign groups, but that Chairman Xi argued extremism had become commonplace in the region.

The leaked documents also included talking points for officials to use to respond to questions from students who had been sent to study in other parts of the country and returned home for summer break only to find that their families had been sent to internment camps. One prescribed response was to say their family members were in “a training school set up by the government,” and also, “I’m sure that you will support them, because this is for their own good, and also for your own good.” In response to requests for contact with their relatives, authorities were to tell the students, “If you want to see them, we can arrange for you to have a video meeting.” The talking points included increasingly firm responses if questions continued, including that the person’s relatives had been “infected” by the “virus” of Islamic radicalism and needed to be cured. If asked whether their relatives had committed a crime, the authorities were to respond, “It is just that their thinking has been infected by unhealthy thought.”

According to The New York Times, the documents revealed that authorities punished thousands of officials in Xinjiang for “resisting or failing to carry out the crackdown with sufficient zeal.” Ethnic Han official Wang Yongzhi, leader of the Yarkand County area, had built two large detention facilities, one as big as 50 basketball courts, and interned 20,000 persons in them. He sharply increased funding for security forces in 2017, doubling outlays for checkpoints and surveillance to renminbi (RMB) 1.37 billion ($196 million); however, Wang also ordered the release of more than 7,000 camp inmates. According to one academic, Wang released the individuals not due to his conscience but because he was concerned about achieving economic development goals with so much of the labor force locked up. Later in 2017 authorities removed Wang from his position, prosecuted him “for gravely disobeying the party central leadership’s strategy for governing Xinjiang,” and forced him to sign a 15-page confession in which he admitted he believed “rounding up so many people would knowingly fan conflict and deep resentment.” Wang wrote in his confession, “Without approval and on my own initiative I broke the rules.” According to The New York Times, the documents showed Uighur officials were also accused of protecting fellow Uighurs, and were removed from their positions.

Days after The New York Times published its two reports, the ICIJ reported on an additional 24 leaked government and CCP documents. Later referred to as the “China Cables,” the leaked documents included details from a 2018 court case in which authorities in Xinjiang arrested a man in September 2017 and sentenced him to a prison term of 10 years for “inciting extreme thoughts” after he reportedly encouraged his coworkers to pray.

The leaked documents obtained by the ICIJ included a CCP manual, called a “telegram,” for operating internment camps, which it referred to as “vocational skill education training centers.” According to the ICIJ, this manual “instructs camp personnel on such matters as how to prevent escapes, how to maintain total secrecy about the camps’ existence, methods of forced indoctrination, how to control disease outbreaks, and when to let detainees see relatives or even use the toilet.” The ICIJ continued, “The document, dated to 2017, lays bare a behavior-modification ‘points’ system to mete out punishments and rewards to inmates” and to determine when to release them. Authorities were instructed to tell those asking about their relatives that their behavior could hurt their relatives’ scores. The ICIJ stated, “The manual reveals the minimum duration of detention: one year – though accounts from ex-detainees suggest that some are released sooner.” A third document, the “Karakax List,” originally leaked in November and later made public, presented evidence the government initially interned or extended the internment of individuals on religious grounds in four reeducation centers in Karakax County, Hotan Prefecture. It showed that “religion-related reasons,” including behaviors considered “untrustworthy” such as men wearing beards, women wearing veils, and attending the Hajj were the third most common reason for internment, and violations of “birth control policies,” was the most common reason.

In June German researcher Adrian Zenz published a paper in the Journal of Political Risk that described how in July 2017 authorities in Karakax (Qaraqash) County, Hotan (Hetian) Prefecture, commissioned a large internment camp with multiple buildings, including a “transformation for education center” and a 2,074 square meter (22,324 square foot) armed police forces facility. According to Zenz, a district in Urumqi published a construction bid for a 36,000 square meter (387,500 square foot) vocational training compound with a surrounding wall, fences, a 500 square meter (5,400 square foot) police station, a surveillance and monitoring system, and “equipment for visiting family members.”

In October 2018 ChinaAid reported first-hand accounts of a three-phased system to which Uighurs were subjected in several detention facilities. According to local residents, each camp consisted of areas A, B, and C. Guards first placed “newcomers and Muslims” in area C, the worst area, where guards deprived them of food or water for 24 hours. Guards shackled their hands and feet, beat them, and screamed insults at them until they repeatedly expressed gratitude to the CCP and Chairman Xi. Then the guards transferred them to area B, where they ate poor quality food and were permitted to use the bathroom. They went outside for 15 minutes every day to sing the national anthem. Guards then moved those considered successfully re-educated in CCP beliefs to area A, where the conditions were better.

In October CNN released a video taken via drone showing hundreds of men being led from a train by dozens of police in riot gear. Most of the men were wearing vests with the words “Kashgar Detention Center.” The men were all wearing blindfolds, had shaved heads, and had their hands tied behind their backs. In a statement responding to the video, Xinjiang authorities said cracking down on crime and transporting prisoners was lawful, adding, “Xinjiang’s crackdown on crimes has never been linked to ethnicities or religions.”

RFA reported in April that as many as 1,200 Uighurs were being detained in a prison in Gansu Province after being secretly transferred under the cover of night from internment camps in Xinjiang, according to prison officials. Those officials said in the months prior, detainees had been sent to prisons in Shandong, Shaanxi, and Gansu Provinces, although they were unable to provide specific numbers or dates for when they had been transferred. In July Bitter Winter reported several sources confirmed some Xinjiang detainees were transferred to two prisons in Henan Province. The detainees were isolated from other prisoners, with many held in solitary confinement and beaten.

The September 2018 Human Rights Watch (HRW) report titled Eradicating Ideological Viruses contained accounts from former Xinjiang detainees of interrogations and physical abuse, including beatings, being hanged from ceilings and walls, and prolonged shackling. Detainees also reported being kept in spaces so overcrowded there was no room for all to sleep. In October Uighur exile Gulbahar Jalilova told PBS Newhour that guards handcuffed and shackled inmates, placed hoods over their heads, and beat them during interrogations. Abdusalam Muhammad, another Uighur living in exile, told PBS Newshour, “There is unimaginable oppression inside [the detention centers]. Every day they’d toss us a little bread and water so that we didn’t die. And every day they would interrogate 15 or 20 of us with unbearable brutality.” Muhammad said lecturers would teach propaganda for 10 hours each day. “The goal was to change our minds, our faith, our beliefs. It was a plot to force us to renounce our religion.”

In a March interview with Hong Kong Free Press, Omir Bekali, an ethnic Kazakh living in exile, described conditions in an internment camp in Karamay in which he spent several weeks. Bekali said detainees of all ages were obliged to sing patriotic songs, participate in sessions of self-criticism, and eat pork on Fridays. He said “students” – as officials called them – were forbidden to speak a language other than Mandarin and to pray or grow a beard, which authorities interpreted as signs of religious radicalization. Bekali said the camps had only one objective – to strip detainees of their religious belief.

In June RFA reported that the granddaughter of Uighur author Nurmuhemmet Tohti posted on Facebook that he died on May 31, shortly after being released from an internment camp. His granddaughter, living in exile in Canada, wrote that during his internment, authorities denied Tohti, aged 70, treatment for diabetes and heart disease, and only released him to his family after he became incapacitated due to his medical condition.

A source told RFA that in March a Uighur man who regularly traveled for business to neighboring Kyrgyzstan, Yaqup Rozi, died after suffering a heart attack while detained in a political “re-education camp” in Xinjiang. Authorities ordered Rozi to return to his home near Atush, (Atushi) City in Kizilsu Kirghiz (Kezileisu Keerkezi) Autonomous Prefecture in early 2017 and then confiscated his passport. A month later, local police summoned Rozi for interrogation, but then released him. A month after that, police raided his home in the middle of the night and took him away with a black hood over his head, according to the source. After Rozi died, authorities refused to release his remains to his family members, who were only allowed to observe as a state-appointed religious cleric washed his body and prepared it for burial according to Islamic tradition.

NGOs and international media reported arrests and detentions of Muslims in Xinjiang for “untrustworthy behavior” such as attending religious education courses, possessing books about religion and Uighur culture, wearing clothing with Islamic symbols, and traveling to certain counties.

The Economist reported in 2018 that authorities in Xinjiang used detailed information to rank citizens’ “trustworthiness” using various criteria. Officials deemed individuals as trustworthy, average, or untrustworthy depending on how they fit into the following categories: were 15 to 55 years old (i.e., of military age); were Uighur; were unemployed; had religious knowledge; prayed five times a day; had a passport; had visited one of 26 “sensitive countries”; had ever overstayed a visa; had family members living abroad; and homeschooled their children (which was prohibited throughout the country). The Economist said “…the catalogue is explicitly racist: people are suspected merely on account of their ethnicity.” Being labelled “untrustworthy” could lead to being detained by authorities. HRW reported the 26 “sensitive countries” were Afghanistan, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Libya, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Thailand, Turkey, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, and Yemen.

In July 2018 the NGO China Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) published a report saying that based on Chinese government data, criminal arrests in Xinjiang accounted for 21 percent of all arrests in China in 2017, while the population of Xinjiang comprised less than 2 percent of China’s overall population. CHRD reported that “…criminal punishment would disproportionately target the Uyghur Muslim group based on their percentage of the population.” The New York Times reported in August that in 2018 courts in Xinjiang sentenced 143,000 individuals to prison or other punishment, compared with 87,000 in 2017, which was itself 10 times more than in 2016.

National Public Radio reported in October that Nurzhada Zhumakhan, a 65-year-old Uighur woman, was sentenced to 20 years in prison in June for “illegally using superstition to break the rule of law” and “gathering chaos to disrupt the social order.”

The Diplomat reported Zulhumar Isaac, a Uighur living in exile in Sweden whose family had attempted to assimilate into Han Chinese culture, said she learned in November 2018 that her mother had been sent to a detention camp. Shortly thereafter, her father also disappeared. Isaac said, “All our lives we have lived as ‘model Chinese citizens.’ We studied Mandarin, my mother was a civil servant for decades, and I’d married a Han Chinese man. And yet it has happened to us. Why?”

In April The New York Times reported one Uighur living in exile identified as Dilnur said, “In the kindergarten, they would ask little children, ‘Do your parents read the Quran?’ My daughter had a classmate who said, ‘My mom teaches me the Quran.’ The next day, they are gone.”

According to an SCIO white paper issued in March entitled, “The Fight Against Terrorism and Extremism and Human Rights Protection in Xinjiang,” authorities continued to prevent any “illegal” religious activities in Xinjiang and to prioritize Chinese language and culture over Uighur language and culture, which the government said was necessary to promote “ethnic unity.” Authorities promoted loyalty to the CCP as the most important value. Reportedly, authorities forced thousands of Uighurs to participate in ceremonies where they wore traditional Han Chinese clothing, performed tai chi, and sang the national anthem. In November on the PBS Newshour, Yasin Zunun, a Uighur living in exile, showed a video he found online of his wife, who lived in Xinjiang, and other Uighur women dressed in traditional Han Chinese makeup and clothing performing a Han Chinese dance.

On May 10, in an interview with CBC/Radio Canada, Alim Seytoff, the director of RFA’s Uyghur Services, said, “At the moment, it has become impossible for the Uighur people to even say ‘as-salamu alaykum,’ even [to] give their babies names such as Mohamed [or] Fatima.”

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs continued to deny international media reports that authorities banned Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang from Ramadan fasting, and said the constitution provided for religious freedom for Uighurs. Reports published in 2018 on the official websites of local governments in Xinjiang, however, indicated authorities restricted or banned certain groups of Uighur Muslims from observing Ramadan, including CCP members, their relatives, students, and employees of state-owned enterprises and state-run organizations. In May Dolkun Isa, a Uighur living in exile and the head of the Germany-based international NGO World Uyghur Congress, told Voice of America Uighurs who worked in the public sector and students had to appear daily at canteens during lunch or they would be accused of secretly fasting and hiding “extremist” tendencies. Isa said, “The restrictions on Ramadan have been in place every year since 2016, but they are especially hard this year.” According to World Uyghur Congress spokesperson Dilshat Rishit, Uighur households were told to keep an eye on one another and threatened with collective punishment if any of them was found to be fasting.

There were independent reports of authorities continuing to prohibit students from the middle school level through to the university level from fasting during Ramadan. In his interview with CBC/Radio Canada on May 10, RFA Uyghur Services director Seytoff said teachers gave elementary and middle school students snacks and water to make sure they were not fasting, and asked them to report if their parents were fasting or praying at home.

In October NPR reported that according to family members, courts handed down prison sentences of up to 20 years to religious students, imams, or people who prayed regularly.

The government continued to administer mosques and restrict access to houses of worship, requiring worshipers to apply for mosque entry permits. In April The New York Times reported that at the Idh Kha Mosque, the largest mosque in Kashgar and a pilgrimage destination, worshipers had to register and go through a security check. Inside the mosque there were surveillance cameras. The Economist reported in May 2018 that in Hotan City authorities closed neighborhood mosques, leaving a handful of large mosques open. According to the article, at the entrance to the Idh Kha Mosque in Kashgar two policemen sat underneath a banner reading “Love the party, love the country.” Inside, a member of the mosque’s staff held classes for local traders on how to be good Communists. The article stated in Urumqi authorities knocked down minarets and Islamic crescents on the mosques that were permitted to remain open.

HRW reported in May that making donations to local mosques was considered suspicious behavior.

Local CCP propaganda in Kashgar said the state was protecting adherents from extremism by improving mosque facilities over recent years, ensuring telecommunications and computer access, and installing other amenities such as flushing toilets and electricity.

RFA also reported rapid construction of crematoria in Xinjiang, and said that Uighur religious and cultural funeral traditions did not traditionally include cremation. According to the report, a Han Chinese staff member at a crematorium stated that ethnic minority corpses brought there were those who had died in “political re-education camps.” CCP officials also reportedly forbade Uighurs from performing traditional burial rites.

The government facilitated participation in the Hajj, and Muslims applied online or through local official Islamic associations. However, according to allegedly leaked government documents from Karakax County, Hotan Prefecture, authorities considered individuals to be suspicious or potentially dangerous if they had participated in the Hajj, regardless of whether the individual participated as part of a government-approved tour group or otherwise. In August the pro-CCP media outlet Global Times stated 11,000 Uighur and other Muslims were expected to make take part in the Hajj during the year, compared with 11,500 in 2018, although official statistics confirming this number was accurate were unavailable at year’s end.

Witnesses and former prisoners stated authorities forced Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and others to renounce Islam, criticize their own Islamic beliefs and those of fellow inmates, and recite Communist Party propaganda in the internment camps.

International media reported the government continued to instruct officials to look out for 75 “signs” or behaviors that signified religious extremism. These signs and behaviors included growing a beard, praying in public outside of mosques, wearing veils and headscarves, and abstaining from smoking or drinking alcohol.

According to human rights groups and international media, authorities in Xinjiang continued to maintain extensive and invasive security and surveillance, reportedly in part to gain information regarding individuals’ religious adherence and practices. Human rights groups said surveillance was more severe in parts of the country where religious minorities predominated, including Xinjiang, compared to other parts of the country with ethnic Han Chinese majorities, due in part to the connection between religion and the ethnic and cultural identities of these groups.

In April The New York Times reported one Uighur living in exile identified as Dilnur said authorities often searched private homes. “They don’t care if it’s morning or night, they would come in every time they want.”

As reported in media, according to leaked documents obtained by the ICIJ in November, authorities used tools including closed circuit television cameras, mobile phone spyware apps, and “Wi-Fi sniffers” (akin to wiretaps on internet traffic) which monitored all network devices in range. Authorities used artificial intelligence to create predictive models of behavior to flag individuals whom the government deemed suspicious. The New York Times stated in May that these measures targeted ethnic minorities while largely ignoring ethnic Han Chinese in the region. There were reports authorities used facial recognition technology to target Uighurs and members of other citizens who did not have typical Han Chinese features.

In May HRW reported the government continued to require all individuals in Xinjiang to have a spyware app on their mobile phone because the government considered “web cleansing” necessary to prevent access to “terrorist” information. Failing to install the app, which could identify whom people called, track online activity, and record social media use, was deemed a punishable offense. The report stated Wi-Fi sniffers in public places monitored all networked devices in range.

The police used the Integrated Joint Operations Platform (IJOP), the Xinjiang policing program to aggregate data about people and flag those deemed potentially threatening. According to an HRW report published in May, “Analysis of the IJOP app reveals that authorities are collecting massive amounts of personal information – from the color of a person’s car to their height down to the precise centimeter – and feeding it into the IJOP central system, linking that data to the person’s national identification card number.” The IJOP also flagged what authorities considered suspicious behavior such as using “excessive” electricity, using a cell phone that was not registered to that person, or entering and exiting the home via the back door instead of the front door. According to HRW’s analysis, based on the kinds of information collected, the IJOP app “demonstrates that Chinese authorities consider certain peaceful religious activities as suspicious, such as donating to mosques or preaching the Quran without authorization.”

In February a security researcher at the Dutch NGO GDI Foundation discovered a publicly accessible database containing personal information such as ethnicity and GPS tracking data of 2.6 million people in Xinjiang. Other publications reported on DNA collection, voice collection, and facial recognition collection to track individuals living in Xinjiang.

A former Xinjiang resident told HRW that a week after he was released from arbitrary detention he entered a mall and an orange alarm went off. Police took him to a police station but released him with the warning, “Just don’t go to any public places.”

The People’s High Court, Public Security Bureau, Bureau of Culture, and Bureau of Industry and Commerce in Xinjiang continued to implement restrictions on video and audio recordings the government defined as promoting terrorism, religious extremism, and separatism. Authorities prohibited dissemination of such materials on the internet, social media, and in online marketplaces. Multiple media outlets reported that tourists at the border were required to install spyware on their mobile devices prior to entering Xinjiang.

In July National Public Radio, Vox News, and other sources reported on authorities’ efforts to collect DNA and other biometrics such as blood types, as well as fingerprints, which appeared to be done in an effort to distinguish ethnic groups. Sources believed authorities in Xinjiang collected this medical information, at least in part, to forcibly harvest Uighurs’ organs. According to research by Australian academic Matthew P. Robertson and others about the PRC government’s falsification of organ donation data, blood typing is part of the organ procurement process. Some Xinjiang internment camp survivors reported healthy young men would be spared the physical abuse that other detainees suffered and underwent health screenings, including DNA sampling, before disappearing, raising these survivors’ concerns that organ harvesting from detainees was taking place in the camps.

In December The Hill reported the surveillance system in Xinjiang included more than 10,000 “convenient police stations” and government task teams stationed in 8,921 villages. In a May report, HRW stated these police stations were the “hallmark of Xinjiang’s mass surveillance infrastructure.” Witnesses told The Hill in every town “each traffic light junction is guarded by two SWAT team members. Every 50 yards or so along the streets, there is a convenient police station, guarded 24/7 by either SWAT, regular police or assistant police, who constantly check passers-by, including searching their smartphones for banned apps and ‘sensitive’ information.” In 2017 The Jamestown Foundation examined civil service, public service, and other public job announcements and found the number of job announcements for police officers in Xinjiang increased from 30,000 in 2016 to 60,000 from January to August 2017.

In April The New York Times reported that in Kashgar City, Kashgar Prefecture, surveillance cameras were prevalent in streets, shops, doorways, and mosques. “Every 100 yards or so, the police stand at checkpoints with guns, shields and clubs. Many are Uighurs. The surveillance couldn’t work without them. Uighurs line up, stone-faced, to swipe their official identity cards. At big checkpoints, they lift their chins while a machine takes their photos, and wait to be notified if they can go on. The police sometimes take Uighurs’ phones and check to make sure they have installed compulsory software that monitors calls and messages.”

In April Bitter Winter published an account of a Han Chinese man who traveled to Hotan City in 2018. The man said, “Checkpoints were at every intersection, each guarded by at least five officers and soldiers, some heavily armed, and, at larger intersections, heavier weapons were placed. At a checkpoint, every ethnic minority person was forced to undergo a body search, and those carrying a cellphone required to turn it on for inspection…In contrast, Han Chinese were allowed to pass through after simply flashing their ID card.”

There were numerous reports of government travel restrictions within the region. According to a September 2018 HRW report, individuals had to apply to the police for permission and proceed through numerous checkpoints to go from one town to the next. HRW also reported authorities recalled passports from persons in the region and prohibited communication with individuals outside the country, including relatives. In November NBC – one of ICIJ’s media partners in the release of the China Cables – reported that in March 2018 authorities confiscated Zumrat Dawut’s passport after she was instructed to report to a police station. She was interrogated, shackled, and sent to an internment camp. Ethnoreligious minorities also reported increased screening at airport, train station, and roadside security checkpoints. In 2018 The Economist described police activities at a large checkpoint on the edge of Hotan City, where a police officer ordered all the passengers off a bus. The passengers (all Uighurs) took turns in a booth, where officials scanned identity cards, took photographs and fingerprints, used iris-recognition technology, and forced women to take off their headscarves. The officials also forced young Uighurs to give authorities access to their phones in order to download their smart phone contents for later analysis.

According to media, authorities continued to have more than one million CCP officials from other parts of the country live part-time with local families in Xinjiang. The government instituted these home stays (the “Pair Up and Become a Family” program) to target farmer households in southern Xinjiang. The government said the program was part of efforts to combat “terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism.” The government required families to provide detailed information on their personal lives and political views during to the officials’ visits to their homes. Authorities also subjected families to political indoctrination from the live-in officials. The program started in 2014, according to a CNN report from 2018. RFA reported in October that according to HRW, the government extended the “Pair Up and Become a Family” home stay program in early 2018 and CCP members spent at least five days every two months in the families’ homes. According to Bitter Winter, authorities in some locations mandated Han Chinese “relatives” stay at least one week per month. In November on PBS Newshour, Uighur exile Abliz Ablikim showed a photo taken in his uncle’s home in Xinjiang with a Han Chinese man posing with members of the family, Ablikim’s infant cousin on his lap.

RFA’s Uyghur Service reported one CCP official in Yengisar (Yingjisha) County, Kashgar Prefecture, said many Han Chinese “relatives” stayed in homes where no male relatives were present because they were in detention. The official said he had never heard of any situations in which male officials had attempted to take sexual advantage of women in the household, but said it was “normal for females to sleep on the same platform with their paired male ‘relatives’.” Other sources said those who protested hosting CCP officials were subject to additional restrictions and possible detention in an internment camp. Dolkun Isa, president of the World Uyghur Congress, said the campaign has “turned Uyghurs’ homes into prisons from which there is no escape.”

RFA reported in October that a village secretary in Hotan Prefecture said Han Chinese who stayed in Uighur households as part of the “Pair Up and Become a Family” program brought alcohol and meat, including pork, into the home and expected those they stayed with to consume them, in violation of halal principles. According to the village secretary, “We are not so insane as to tell them that we are Muslim, so we cannot eat the things they eat.” NGOs and media reported that officials forced Uighur women to marry Han men under threat of arrest or imprisonment of the women and their families.

The leaked documents obtained by the ICIJ in November included explicit directives to arrest Uighurs with foreign citizenship.

ChinaAid reported that in June authorities indicted 17 Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Korla Municipal People’s Court on charges of using an “evil religious organization” to incite the obstruction of law enforcement, and indicted an additional 18th individual for “obstructing law enforcement by organizing and using an evil religious organization.” The indictment stated the group violated religion management laws “by establishing the Korla congregation, recruiting 63 people, fraudulently using Christianity, deifying ‘Jehovah,’ spreading superstition and heresy, agitating and inciting people not to join the Chinese Communist Party or the Communist Youth League, serve the military, raise the national flag, salute the national flag, sing the national anthem, and participate in elections, and they connected with overseas people, controlled believers by taking the most of regular meetings, and took advantage of each opportunity to accumulate wealth, so they have affected peoples’ normal religious faith, severely disturbed social order, and obstructed law enforcement.”

Xinjiang authorities had discretion to label giving children any name with an Islamic connotation as a manifestation of “extremist thought” or “illegal religious behavior.”

A Xinjiang government statement online in 2018 indicated officials had to inspect the homes in which they were staying for any religious elements or symbols and instructed the officials to confiscate such items if found.

In July RFA reported Xinjiang authorities removed traditional ethnic Uighur and Islamic architectural features used for prayers at home as part of a bid to root out “religious extremism.” The report said villagers in Ghulja (Yining) City in Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture were forced to remove Islamic ornamentation from buildings in the area. Officials in Kashgar and Hotan Prefectures said authorities forced Muslims to carve away mihrabs (ornate domed niches that indicate the direction of Mecca), or to fill them in completely. If they refused, they could face punishment that could include detention in an internment camp. The director of a neighborhood women’s committee in Kashgar told RFA the government and CCP conducted training courses on the correct aesthetics for households. A village party secretary in Hotan Prefecture said teams of five or six persons that included police officers, party members, and government officials “walked around inspecting neighborhood homes” to ensure they met “requirements.” In cases where homeowners were unable to reshape the mihrabs in their walls, or where mihrabs were carved into a home’s supporting beams, workers demolished the building. One official said, “In Hotan city, all of the buildings had been cleared of these items completely…At present, no buildings considered to exemplify classic ethnic characteristics have been left untouched.”

A preacher from Manas County, Changji Hui Autonomous Prefecture, Xinjiang, said his sermons were written in advance by the local Ethnic and Religious Affairs Committee and sent to him via WeChat messaging app. He said police officers on guard at the church’s entrance were familiar with the sermon and supervised the preacher. One preacher told Bitter Winter the goal of the state was to get rid of “the pure truth from the source,” i.e., the Bible. “In the future, preachers will be unable to tell whether what they are preaching is right or wrong,” he said. “On the surface, the government allows you to have belief and hold gatherings, but what you believe in might not be Christianity at all, but rather the Party religion.”

Media sources reported authorities did not comply with national regulations that stipulate if a religious structure is to be demolished or relocated because of city planning or construction of key projects, the party conducting the demolition must agree to rebuild the structure or provide compensation equal to its appraised market value. On June 7, RFA reported that authorities bulldozed a church in Tang County, Henan Province, and forced the church members to pay for the demolition. Local Christians said two weeks prior, the government told the congregation to “donate” the church building to the government but they refused.

Satellite imagery analysis released by Bellingcat and The Guardian in May revealed large-scale destruction of Islamic holy sites and mosques in Xinjiang. Among 91 sites analyzed, 31 mosques and two major shrines, including the Imam Asim complex, a major pilgrimage site, suffered significant structural damage between 2016 and 2018. In June Agency France Presse (AFP) reported satellite images reviewed by that media outlet and visual analysis by the NGO Earthrise Alliance showed 36 mosques and religious sites had been torn down or had their domes and corner spires removed since 2017. NGOs and other media also reported widespread destruction of Uighur mosques and shrines during the year. In October the UHRP estimated at least 100 mosques in the region were fully or partially destroyed or had an architectural element removed as part of the government campaign of mosque demolition, which accelerated in 2016. According to Bellingcat, satellite imagery appeared to show that in 2018 authorities destroyed the gatehouse of the 800-year-old Keriya Aitiki Mosque in Hotan Prefecture and replaced it with a parking lot. Also in 2018, authorities demolished structures around the Kargilik Mosque in Kargilik County, Kashgar Prefecture.

According to AFP and Earthwise Alliance analysis of satellite imagery, the government exhumed and flattened at least 30 Uighur cemeteries since 2017, in some cases reinterring remains in standardized secular graves and in others repurposing the sites. In October The Guardian published satellite imagery that appeared to show authorities had demolished several Islamic cemeteries. The graveyard in Aksu Prefecture, where Uighur poet Lutpulla Mutellip was buried, was replaced with an area called Happiness Park. The Sultanim Cemetery in Hotan City was replaced with a parking lot.

According to The New York Times, the curriculum in Xinjiang schools emphasized “Chinese language, patriotism, and loyalty to the CCP.” The New York Times reported a sign outside a kindergarten in Hotan City invited parents to report teachers who made “irresponsible remarks” or participated in unauthorized religious worship.

In December The New York Times reported that according to a 2017 policy document posted on the Ministry of Education’s website, nearly 40 percent of all elementary and middle school students – approximately half a million children – had been separated from their families and placed in boarding schools in Xinjiang. According to the document, the children were to be immersed in Han culture and only allowed to visit their families once every week or two, in order to “break the impact of the religious atmosphere on children at home.” Without specifying Islam by name, the document characterized religion as a pernicious influence on children and stated having students live at boarding schools would “reduce the shock of going back and forth between learning science in the classroom and listening to scripture at home.”

In July German researcher Adrian Zenz published a paper in The Journal of Political Risk examining government documents that indicated there were large numbers of children with one or both parents in some form of internment. The documents indicated this was a major social issue. Zenz wrote, “From early 2018, the state began to issue urgent directives on how to deal with the virtually orphaned children of single or ‘double-detained’ parents, be it through special care institutions or the regular education system. Local governments began to require schools to provide one-on-one ‘psychological counseling’ and to proactively scan the state of mind of students with parents in detention in order to preempt trouble.” There were also reports of authorities holding children in orphanages or centers for special needs children after their parents were taken to internment camps. According to a BBC report, Xinjiang authorities’ increased efforts to care full-time for large numbers of children occurred at the same time as the building of the internment camps.

 

In the paper he published in The Journal of Political Risk in July, Zenz quoted the Xinjiang government and educational websites as stating, “Vocational Skills Training Centers wash clean the brains of people who became bewitched by the extreme religious ideologies of the ‘three forces’[.]” In 2018 Xinjiang regional governor Shohrat Zakir told Xinhua news agency the three forces, also called the “three evil forces” or the “three evils,” were terrorism, separatism, and extremism.

In December at a press conference in Canberra, PRC Ambassador to Australia Cheng Jingye said reports that one million Uighurs were being held in detention were “utterly fake news” and said the mass detentions in Xinjiang had “nothing to do with human rights, nothing to do with religion” and was “no different” from other countries’ counter-terrorism measures.”

In August the CCP responded to a statement issued by 22 countries at the United Nations Human Rights Council urging the CCP to release members of the Muslim population from internment camps. Foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said the statement “disregarded the facts, slandered and attacked China with unwarranted accusations, flagrantly politicized human rights issues, and grossly interfered in China’s internal affairs.” The CCP also stated its actions in Xinjiang were necessary for national security.

At a press conference in August, Xinjiang regional governor Zakir stated authorities released the majority of persons held in internment camps in the region, and that those still in facilities were able to go home regularly and practice their faith. The World Uyghur Congress urged the international community to be “deeply skeptical” of the governor’s statements.

In April the SCIO published a white paper on the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC), a paramilitary organization that administers prisons and engages in commercial activity in the region, stating the focus of XPCC’s work in border security was the threat posed by “separatist, religious extremist, and terrorist forces and their sabotage activities.”

In July the government published a white paper that defined “external separatist forces for…the creation of ‘East Turkestan’” as an acute threat to national security and stated the People’s Armed Police, a national paramilitary organization, had assisted the Xinjiang regional government in “taking out 1,588 violent terrorist gangs and capturing 12,995 terrorists” since 2014.

In July the SCIO released a white paper on religion and culture in Xinjiang that stated Islam was “neither an indigenous nor the sole belief system” of the Uighurs, that Uighurs were forcibly converted to Islam, and that the government in Xinjiang “fully respects and protects” religious freedom according to the national constitution.

In March, July, and August the SCIO published white papers on counterterrorism and human rights that stated the government’s political re-education camps were intended to combat “violent extremism” and “religious extremism.” The white papers also stated individuals held in camps could not organize or participate in any religious activities.

In May Voice of America reported that Zhao Lijian, deputy chief of mission of the Chinese embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, said Beijing had put partial restrictions on Ramadan activities, but fasting was not totally banned. Zhao said Xinjiang residents were free to fast during Ramadan and restrictions were limited to those with official responsibilities to ensure their religious practices did not interfere with their public duties. He also said, “Restrictions are with the Communist Party members, who are atheists; government officials, who shall discharge their duties; and students who are with compulsory education and hard learning tasks.”

The leaked documents revealed by the ICIJ in November included explicit directives to track Xinjiang Uighurs living abroad. China’s embassies and consulates took part in these efforts. The documents described the government’s policy of urging foreign governments to repatriate Uighurs. The ICIJ stated, “Bulletin No. 2” (dated June 16, 2017) “categorizes Chinese Uighurs living abroad by their home regions within Xinjiang and instructs officials to collect personal information about them. The purpose of this effort, the bulletin says, is to identify ‘those still outside the country for whom suspected terrorism cannot be ruled out.’ It declares that such people ‘should be placed into concentrated education and training’ immediately upon their return to China.”

The government also reportedly sought to intimidate or forcibly repatriate Uighur and other Muslims abroad. In August The Atlantic reported, “Conversations with Uighurs in Belgium, Finland, and the Netherlands reveal a systematic effort by China to silence Uighurs overseas with brazen tactics of surveillance, blackmail, and intimidation.” The article described Chinese authorities monitoring Uighurs abroad by surveilling their contacts and family members in Xinjiang via phone or social media, and pressuring them to cease advocacy efforts on behalf of Uighur rights. In April BuzzFeed News reported Uighur-American Ferkat Jawdat’s aunt and her husband were transferred from an internment camp in Xinjiang to a prison elsewhere in the region after Jawdat met with the U.S. Secretary of State on March 27.

Many Uighurs abroad reported the government denied their passport renewals and instead offered a one-way travel document back to China. Some of these individuals also reported authorities threatened to put family members of Uighurs living abroad into detention centers if they did not return. The Wall Street Journal reported in August 2018 that Chinese security officials told Uighurs living abroad to collect information on other Uighurs.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Because the government and individuals closely link religion, culture, and ethnicity, it was difficult to categorize many incidents of societal discrimination as being solely based on religious identity. Tension between Uighur Muslims and Han Chinese continued in parallel with the authorities’ suppression of Uighur language, culture, and religion and the promotion of the Han majority in political, economic, and cultural life. Muslims in Xinjiang faced discrimination in hiring and in retaining their positions.

On November 25, a Council on Foreign Relations report stated human rights organizations “have observed that the economic benefits of resource extraction and development are often disproportionately enjoyed by Han Chinese, and Uighur people are increasingly marginalized.”