Executive Summary

The constitution and laws provide for freedom of religion and the right to profess freely one’s faith.  The constitution grants the Roman Catholic Church preferential legal status, but there is no official state religion.  Several religious groups continued to express frustration that the government required them to register as both civil associations and religious groups to be eligible for benefits that the Catholic Church received without requiring registration.  They also continued to criticize a 2020 General Inspectorate of Justice (IGJ) resolution requiring all civil associations, including religious groups, to have gender parity on their administrative and oversight bodies.  Although many religious leaders supported continuing government COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings, they criticized specific incidents and restrictions that prevented or broke up religious gatherings.  In May, provincial police halted and dispersed an open-air Mass in Androgue, Buenos Aires Province, attended by approximately 120 persons.  According to the president of the interfaith Argentine Council for Religious Freedom (CALIR), local and national authorities repeatedly violated the right to religious freedom throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.  On July 16, the 27th anniversary of the bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) community center, AMIA president Ariel Eichbaum urged the government to “intensify pressure on Lebanon and the Islamic Republic of Iran to cooperate on the investigation and extradite the accused that they are currently protecting.”  President Alberto Fernandez told Jewish community leaders he wanted to see progress in bringing to justice those responsible for the 1994 bombing, in which 86 persons died.  During the year, several religious groups and individuals protested the legalization of some abortions in January, including through statements, protests, and the refusal of some medical professional to perform abortions.  Numerous public and private entities adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism during the year, including the government of Santiago del Estero Province, according to a representative of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

During the year, media reported the country experienced increases in overall antisemitic incidents in the forms of violence, hate speech, and misinformation.  According to media and the Delegation of Argentine Jewish Associations (DAIA), there were violent attacks targeting Jews during the year, including a beating in January of an Orthodox Jewish father and some of his children in Cordoba Province and an attack in March in Buenos Aires by a woman on two Jewish Orthodox women.  Interreligious groups such as the Interreligious Committee for Peace in Argentina, whose members include Catholic, Protestant, evangelical Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Baha’i, as well as indigenous religious groups and CALIR, continued work to promote tolerance and increase opportunities for interreligious action on common societal challenges.

U.S. embassy officials met with senior government officials, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Worship’s (MFA) human rights office to discuss ways to promote respect for religious minorities and counteract religious discrimination.  The Charge d’Affaires spoke in September at AMIA’s in-person commemoration for the victims of 9/11 and said, “In our grief, the spirit of unity with like-minded partners like our friends at AMIA strengthens our resolve to continue to fight extremism and make the world a better, safer place for our children.”   Embassy officials supported interfaith cooperation and universal respect for freedom of religion through public statements and social media postings, as well as in meetings with religious groups.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 45.9 million (midyear 2021).  According to a 2019 survey by CONICET, the country’s national research institute, 62.9 percent of the population is Catholic; 15.3 Protestant, including evangelical Christian groups; 18.9 percent no religion, which includes agnostics; 1.4 percent Jehovah’s Witnesses and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ); 1.2 percent other, including Muslims and Jews; and 0.3 percent unknown.  Other sources state Seventh-day Adventists, Baptists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Lutherans, Methodists, and members of the Church of Jesus Christ together total 3 percent of the population.  According to the Jewish Virtual Library, Jews numbered 180,000 in 2019.  The Islamic Center estimates the Muslim population at 800,000 to 1,000,000.  Evangelical Christian communities, particularly Pentecostals, are growing, but no reliable statistics are available.  There are also small numbers of Baha’is, Buddhists, and adherents of indigenous religions.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for the right to profess, teach, and practice freely one’s faith.  It declares the support of the federal government for “the Roman Catholic Apostolic faith,” but the Supreme Court has ruled that it is not an official or state religion.

The government provides the Catholic Church with tax-exempt subsidies, institutional privileges such as school subsidies, significant autonomy for parochial schools, and licensing preferences for radio frequencies.  The law does not require the Catholic Church to register with the Secretariat of Worship in the MFA.  Registration is not compulsory for other religious groups, but registered groups receive the same status and fiscal benefits as the Catholic Church, including tax-exempt status, visas for religious officials, and the ability to hold public activities.  To register, religious groups must have a place of worship, an organizational charter, and an ordained clergy, among other requirements.  To access many of these benefits, religious groups must also register as a civil association through the IGJ.

Registration is not required for private religious services, such as those held in homes, but it is sometimes necessary to conduct activities in public spaces pursuant to local regulations.  City authorities may require groups to obtain permits to use public parks for events, and they may require religious groups to be registered with the Secretariat of Worship to receive a permit.  Once registered, an organization must report to the secretariat any significant changes or decisions made regarding its leadership, governing structure, size of membership, and the address of its headquarters.

The mandatory curriculum in public schools is secular by law.  Students may request elective courses of instruction in the religion of their choice in public schools, which may be conducted in the school or at a religious institution.  Many Christian, Jewish, and Muslim religious groups operate private schools, which receive financial support contingent on registration with the government.

Foreign officials of registered religious groups may apply for a specific visa category to enter the country.  The validity period of the visa varies depending on the purpose of the travel.  Foreign missionaries of registered religious groups must apply to the Secretariat of Worship, which in turn notifies immigration authorities to request the issuance of appropriate documents.

The law prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, nationality, ideology, politics, sex, economic or social condition, or physical characteristics, and it requires those found guilty of discriminatory acts to pay damages or serve jail time.  Discrimination may also be an aggravating factor in other crimes, leading to increased penalties.  The board of the National Institute against Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Racism (INADI), a government agency under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, includes representatives of the major religious groups.  INADI investigates suspected and reported incidents of discrimination based on religion.  INADI is not authorized to enforce recommendations or findings, but its reports may be used as evidence in civil court.  The agency also supports victims of religious discrimination and promotes proactive measures to prevent discrimination.  INADI produces and distributes publications to promote religious tolerance.

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

Government Practices

Representatives of several religious groups continued to state that a government requirement for religious groups to register first with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Worship and then with the Ministry of Interior as a civil association was redundant, noting the Catholic Church faced no such requirement.  The groups said these legal processes were prerequisites for seeking tax-exempt status, visas for foreign clergy, and permission to hold public activities.  Religious group representatives said they deserved a unique process, separate from that for civil associations.

Representatives of some religious groups continued to criticize a 2020 IGJ resolution requiring all civil associations, including religious groups, to have gender parity on their administrative and oversight bodies.  Several religious groups continued to state this requirement was unconstitutional and violated religious freedom.  They also said the government had not implemented the resolution by year’s end and they knew of no religious organizations penalized for failing to comply with it.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government limited through September the size of religious activities nationwide to a maximum of 20 persons in enclosed or private open-air spaces, and to 100 persons in public open-air spaces.  It similarly limited cultural, social, and recreational activities but did not limit to the same degree professional gatherings, government events, and educational events.  On October 1, the government allowed full capacity for religious activities, although events of more than 1,000 persons required stricter protocols.

On May 2, provincial police halted and dispersed an open-air Mass in Androgue, Buenos Aires Province, attended by approximately 120 persons.  According to a police statement, the event was “openly in noncompliance” with national anti-COVID-19 restrictions.  Local media reported that attendees said the Mass was broken up “on very good terms.”  In a May 4 statement, CALIR president Juan Navarro said these police actions were not an isolated event and that local and national authorities had repeatedly violated the right to religious freedom throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

On September 7, CALIR released a statement objecting to some municipalities’ prohibitions on religious services on Sunday, September 12, because of nationwide primary elections and related COVID-19 precautions.  Although federal law prohibits large gatherings and acts of proselytism on election days, authorities generally allowed religious services.  Local media reported that the municipalities of Merlo and Bahia Blanca, in Buenos Aires Province, issued prohibitions on religious gatherings for September 12, but Merlo’s authorities retracted the order after consulting with local religious leaders.

According to Jewish community leaders, there was no progress in bringing the accused perpetrators of the 1994 AMIA bombing to justice.  On July 18, the 27th anniversary of the AMIA bombing, AMIA president Eichbaum urged the government to “intensify pressure on Lebanon and the Islamic Republic of Iran to cooperate on the investigation and extradite the accused that they are currently protecting.”  On July 14, President Fernandez and Secretary of Worship Guillermo Oliveri hosted AMIA leaders at the presidential residence to discuss the pursuit of justice and Fernandez told them he wanted to see progress in bringing to justice those responsible for the 1994 bombing.  On July 18, Fernandez tweeted his support for families of the victims, writing, “In 27 years since the AMIA attack, the families of the 85 victims stand firm in their call for truth and justice.  In memory of each one of them and in honor of those that lost their loved ones, we should stand united against impunity.”  In response to Fernandez, dozens of individuals criticized what some called the “hypocrisy” of his message because of their perception that the government was complicit in allowing the impunity to occur.

In August, the MFA denounced the Iranian government’s appointment of two suspects in the AMIA bombing to senior positions in a new Iranian government.  According to the MFA statement, the appointments of Ahmad Vahidi as Interior Minister and Mohsen Rezai as Vice President for Economic Affairs were an affront to the Argentine justice system and to the victims of the bombing, adding that both Rezai and Vahidi played key roles in the decision making and planning of the AMIA attack.  It called on the Iranian government to cooperate fully with Argentine judicial authorities and to allow the suspects to be tried by a competent court.

According to press reports, on October 7, judges dropped obstruction of justice charges against Vice President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in relation to a Memorandum of Understanding signed with Iran in 2013 when she was president.  The court stated that the memorandum, “regardless of whether it is considered a political success or a failure, did not constitute a crime or an act of cover up.”  On October 25, DAIA appealed the ruling, which remained pending at year end.

On January 24, a law entered into effect legalizing abortions through the 14th week of pregnancy and in later stages if the pregnancy was the result of rape or threatened the life of the mother.  Many religious organizations, including the Catholic Church and the Christian Alliance of Evangelical Churches (ACIERA), criticized the law, and a growing number of medical professionals – especially in rural areas – refused to perform abortions on religious and ethical grounds.  Most of the 120 gynecologists in the province of Jujuy, for example, declared themselves as conscientious objectors, as permitted in the law.

On March 27, approximately 50,000 persons, according to organizers, participated in marches in 14 of the 23 provinces to express their support for overturning the abortion law.  With the encouragement of ACIERA, marchers demonstrated in Rio Negro, Tucuman, Chubut, Entre Rios, Cordoba, Buenos Aires, Chaco, Corrientes, Salta, Mendoza, Chaco, Corrientes, Santiago del Estero, and Santa Fe Provinces.

Catholic Church representatives continued to discuss measures to reduce their use of federal funding following a 2018 agreement between the government and the Argentine Episcopal Conference (CEA), representing the Catholic Church, that delineated a formal, mutually agreed plan to gradually reduce the state’s direct financial support to the Church.  Under the agreement, government funding primarily allocated for the salaries of bishops and stipends for seminarians decreased from almost 157 million pesos ($1.46 million) in 2019 to 150 million pesos ($1.39 million) in 2020.

On May 20, Juan Carlos Giordano, a representative of the lower house of congress and member of the Socialist Left Party, stated during a session of congress, “An end must be brought to the Zionist state and a unified state must be imposed across the entirety of the historical territory of the Palestine – lay, not racist, and democratic.”  DAIA denounced the statement, stating that it met the IHRA definition of antisemitism, as adopted by the lower house of congress in June 2020.  By year’s end, the lower house had not sanctioned Giordano.

On January 6, Pablo Ansaloni, a representative of the lower house of congress and a leader of the Argentine Union of Rural Workers (UATRE), told a virtual meeting of the union, “We are more united than ever, no one can break us – no one from beyond our province, because they are like the Jews, they have no homeland, they don’t know where they are or who they represent.”  Ansaloni faced criticism for his comments from several civil society actors, including DAIA and UATRE.  On January 20, UATRE dismissed Ansaloni, stating his dismissal was due to his antisemitic statements.

Numerous public and private entities adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism during the year, including the government of Santiago del Estero Province, according to a representative of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Secretary of Worship Guillermo Oliveri, Human Rights Secretary Horacio Pietragalla, and other government representatives again participated in religious freedom conferences, interreligious dialogues, Catholic services, and Rosh Hashanah observances, as well as other religious activities, including those held by Protestant and Orthodox churches.  They often did so virtually or through recorded videos, due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions on public gatherings.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

During the year, media reported the country experienced overall increases in antisemitic incidents.  According to media and DAIA, in January, individuals forcibly stopped an Orthodox Jewish family traveling by car from to La Falda to La Cumbre in Cordoba Province and yelled “[expletive] Jews, get out of here.  Death to the Jews!”  When the father of the family left his vehicle to attempt to calm the situation, the assailants beat him and continued to shout epithets.  After his children tried to intervene, they too were beaten.  According to the report, the father and children managed to get back into the car and later filed a police report.  Authorities later arrested the suspected assailants but took no further action through year’s end.  DAIA denounced the incident.

On February 19, actor and singer Nicolas Pauls posted on Instagram a cartoon depicting a gigantic sleeved arm with a Star of David on it and a hand pressing down on dozens of persons with the caption, “To know who rules over you, simply discover whom you may not criticize.”  Martin Souto, a television host and friend of Pauls, reposted the picture.  Both faced intense criticism from social media, and both later apologized publicly.

According to vis-a-vis news portal, in March, an unidentified woman rammed her car into another car in which two Orthodox Jewish women were traveling in downtown Buenos Aires.  According to a witness, after the Orthodox Jewish women exited their car, the assailant pulled off the sheytl (wig worn by Orthodox Jewish women) of one of the women and then pushed her to the ground, shouting, “You [expletive] Jew.  I’m going to kill you; you should all have died in the Holocaust!”  Police at first ordered the female assailant to leave but later arrested her after she tried to run over the two Jewish women.

On March 2, unknown vandals damaged the sanctuary of Our Lady of Peace Cathedral in Lomas de Zamora, Buenos Aires Province, stealing crowns from statues of the Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus.

On May 22, journalist Hugo Ojeda published an article entitled, “Song to Palestineuschwitz,” that compared Israeli actions in Palestinian territories to Nazi concentration camps, adding that Israel’s “ethnic cleaning operations … exceeded the crimes that the genocidal Nazis of the past century inflicted on gypsies, communists, homosexuals and jews [sic].”  DAIA condemned Ojeda’s article, and the publisher Pagina 12 later deleted the article.  Ojeda made no public apology.

In June, the Israeli Ambassador remarked during a panel at the College of Law in La Plata that the country was breaching its trade obligations by restricting shipments of meat to Israel.  In response, the owner of a chain of butcher shops and former Justicialist Party politician, Alberto Samid, tweeted, “The best that could happen is that the Jews no longer buy meat from us… the world does not want to sell them anything.  They are a disaster as clients.”  Samid did not apologize for his remarks despite receiving widespread public criticism.  In April, Samid accused pharmaceutical company Insud CEO Hugo Sigman of selling COVID-19 Astra-Zeneca vaccines to the “gringos.”  Samid wrote on Twitter, “This MOISHE has no limits.  He never gets tired of stealing from us!!!!  When are we going to go to Garin [the town where Insud is located] to block his laboratory?”

On June 3, unknown individuals spray-painted an evangelical Christian church in Neuquen Province and several Catholic institutions in San Luis Province during a day of nationwide protest against gender-based violence.  The Secretariat of Worship decried the vandalism in a statement on social media, noting that it distracted from the demonstrators’ message promoting women’s rights.

On July 26, DAIA objected to the use of Anne Frank’s likeness during an episode of Showmatch, a gameshow on the private television station El Trece.  Producers projected a photograph of Anne Frank alongside a contestant singing about women “who don’t leave the house.”  This incident was reported to the public defender.  The show’s producers issued a joint communique with the Anne Frank Center in Buenos Aires calling the episode an “unintentional error” and pledging to use it as a “learning experience.”

In August, evangelical Christian groups, including ACIERA, denounced a television production for Netflix entitled El Reino (“The Kingdom”), stating it fomented stereotypes and prejudices against evangelical Christian groups.  The plot depicted a fictional evangelical Christian pastor of questionable ethics who runs for president.

On August 23, prominent lawyer Alejandro Fargosi attacked parliamentarian and human rights activist Myriam Bregman as a “militant leftist Jew.”  Fargosi’s comments were widely criticized on social media, both by political figures and Nobel Laureate Adolfo Perez Esquivel, and President Fernandez expressed his solidarity with Bregman on Twitter.  Bregman told local media that Fargosi never apologized.

On August 27, lawyer Gregorio Dalbon made antisemitic comments during a radio interview.  Dalbon, whose clients included President Fernandez and Vice President Fernandez de Kirchner, accused the Jewish community of bribing a prosecutor in charge of the investigation of a violation of quarantine by President Fernandez, his wife, and friends.  DAIA condemned Dalbon’s comments.  On August 31, Dalbon publicly apologized, after apparently meeting with DAIA officials.  According to media, on September 2, a group of judges requested Dalbon’s suspension from the Argentine Bar Association for these and what they stated were other offensive comments.

In September, individuals were caught trying to steal 223 bronze plaques from headstones in La Tablada Jewish Cemetery in Buenos Aires.  The week before, more than 100 headstones had been smashed.  AMIA leaders implored local authorities to provide more security at the cemetery, saying it appeared to be a “free zone.”

A September 15 article from the University of Buenos Aires’ student media criticized the lack of Muslim viewpoints in local media during events in Afghanistan.  The article, noting a rise in anti-Muslim sentiment, described an incident in which a Muslim student was heckled as she stepped from a bus with, “Be careful, she has a bomb!”

On September 24, unknown vandals damaged the sanctuary of the Cathedral of San Maron in the Retiro neighborhood of Buenos Aires and stole items from the church.  The CEA and Secretary of Worship Oliveri denounced the vandalism.

Interreligious groups such as the Interreligious Committee for Peace in Argentina, whose members included Catholic, Protestant, evangelical Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Baha’i, as well as indigenous religious groups and CALIR, continued to work on increasing opportunities for interreligious action on common societal challenges.  CALIR issued statements denouncing acts of vandalism against religious institutions and sponsored local conferences, including a regional forum on religious freedom held on October 28-29.

In October, Jews, Christians, and Muslims jointly painted over Nazi symbols that had been placed on Jewish gravestones in the Jewish community of Santa Fe cemetery.  According to Horacio Roitman, Santa Fe’s DAIA representative, this response to the acts of hatred was “owed to the whole society.”

According to a University of San Martin study released in June, nearly 40 percent of the population believed that “Jewish businessmen” were benefiting from the COVID-19 pandemic.  Asked whether they agreed with the statement, “Behind the coronavirus pandemic, there are figures such as Soros and laboratories of Jewish businessmen who seek to profit financially,” 30 percent of respondents said they concurred “strongly.”  An additional 7 percent agreed to some extent with the statement.  Of the 43 percent of respondents who disagreed, 38 percent completely rejected the statement, and 19 percent said they either did not know or were indifferent.  The study’s main author, Ezequiel Ipar, said he was surprised by the “magnitude of antisemitic sentiment,” particularly among youth.

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

Read A Section: China

Tibet | Xinjiang | Hong Kong | Macau

Executive Summary

The constitution of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which cites the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), states that citizens “enjoy freedom of religious belief” but limits protections for religious practice to “normal religious activities,” without defining “normal.”  The government recognizes five official religions:  Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Protestantism, and Catholicism.  Only religious groups belonging to one of the five state-sanctioned “patriotic religious associations” representing these religions are permitted to register with the government and officially permitted to hold worship services, although other groups reported meeting unofficially.  CCP members and members of the armed forces are required to be atheists and are forbidden from engaging in religious practices.  National law prohibits organizations or individuals from interfering with the state educational system for minors younger than the age of 18, effectively barring them from participating in most religious activities or receiving religious education.  Some provinces have additional laws precluding minors’ participation in religious activities.  The government continued to assert control over religion and to 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.  NGOs and media continued to report deaths in custody and that the government tortured, physically abused, arrested, disappeared, detained, sentenced to prison, subjected to forced labor and forced indoctrination in CCP ideology, and harassed adherents of both registered and unregistered religious groups for activities related to their religious beliefs and practices.  The NGO Human Rights Without Frontiers estimated the government imprisoned 2,987 individuals for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief as of December 7.  According to Minghui, a Falun Gong-affiliated publication, 101 Falun Gong practitioners died during the year as a result of persecution of their faith, compared with 107 in 2020, and both Minghui and the Falun Dafa Infocenter reported police arrested more than 5,000 practitioners and harassed more than 9,000 others.  According to the annual report of The Church of Almighty God (CAG), authorities arrested more than 11,156 of its members and subjected them to physical abuse, including beatings, sleep deprivation, and being forced into stress positions, resulting in the death of at least nine individuals.  There were reports the government pressured individuals to renounce their religious beliefs.  The government continued its multiyear campaign of “Sinicization” to bring all religious doctrine and practice in line with CCP doctrine, which included requiring clergy of all faiths to attend political indoctrination sessions and suggesting content for sermons that emphasized loyalty to the CCP and the state.  The State Administration of Religious Affairs (SARA) issued regulations, effective May 1, entitled “Administrative Measures for Religious Clergy,” requires all clergy to pledge allegiance to the CCP and socialism and created a database of “religious personnel” to track their performance.  Authorities did not issue a “clergy card” to individuals not belonging to one of the five officially recognized patriotic religious associations, including pastors of Protestant house churches, Catholic clergy who rejected the government’s 2018 provisional agreement with the Holy See and refused to join the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA), teachers and clergy at independent mosques and Buddhist and Taoist temples, rabbis, and religious personnel of new religious movements.  The SARA issued new regulations on September 1 that require all religious schools to teach Xi Jinping Thought and adhere to the “Sinicization of religion.”  The government prohibited private tutors, including those based abroad, from using textbooks “propagating religious teachings” and closed several informal, religiously affiliated schools.

During the year, officials across the country shut down religious venues, including some that were affiliated with the authorized patriotic religious associations, in some but not all cases citing COVID-19 restrictions.  The government intensified its campaign against religious groups it characterized as “cults,” including the CAG, maintained a ban on other groups, such as Falun Gong, and conducted propaganda campaigns against xie jiao (literally “heterodox teachings”) aimed at school-age children.  Authorities limited online worship.  Authorities continued to restrict the printing and distribution of the Bible, the Quran, and other religious literature, and penalized businesses that copied and published religious materials.  The government removed religious apps from app stores and censored religious content from the popular messaging service WeChat.  Authorities censored online posts referencing Jesus or the Bible and there were continued reports that authorities destroyed public displays of religious symbols throughout the country.  The government continued to remove architectural features that identified some churches and mosques as religious sites and removed crosses from private property.  The SARA’s “Administrative Measures for Religious Clergy” made no provision for the Holy See to have a role in the selection of Catholic bishops, despite the 2018 provisional agreement between the Vatican and the government concerning the appointment of bishops.  At a national conference on religious affairs in December, President and CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping called on religious personnel and government officials to “uphold and develop a religious theory of socialism with Chinese characteristics.”

Christians, Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, and Falun Gong practitioners reported severe societal discrimination in employment, housing, and business opportunities.  International media reported growing anti-Muslim sentiment in society as a result of the government’s Sinicization campaign.

The Charge d’Affaires and other U.S. embassy and consulate general officials met with a range of government officials to advocate for greater religious freedom and tolerance, and for the release of individuals imprisoned for religious reasons.  The Charge 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 and advocacy directly to Chinese citizens through outreach programs and social media.  The U.S. Secretary of State, Charge, and other State Department and embassy officials issued public statements, including via social media, supporting religious freedom and condemning the PRC’s violations of the rights of religious minorities.  The U.S. Secretary of State, Deputy Secretary of State, Charge d’Affaires, and other senior State Department officials and embassy and consulate general representatives repeatedly and publicly expressed concerns about abuses of religious freedom in China, Hong Kong, Tibet, and Xinjiang.  On January 19, the then Secretary of State determined that since at least March 2017, the PRC has committed genocide and crimes against humanity against Uyghurs, who are predominantly Muslim, and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang.  On January 13, U.S. Customs and Border Protection issued a Withhold Release Order that prohibited the import of all cotton and tomato products produced in Xinjiang.  On March 22, the U.S. Department of Treasury sanctioned two officials under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.  On May 12, the Secretary of State announced visa restrictions against a PRC government official for his involvement in gross violations of human rights against Falun Gong practitioners.  On June 24, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), U.S. Department of Commerce, and U.S. Department of Labor took action against companies in the polysilicon industry using forced labor of religious and ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.  On July 9, the U.S. Commerce Department added to the Entities List 14 Chinese electronics and technology firms and other businesses for helping enable “Beijing’s campaign of repression, mass detention, and high-technology surveillance” against Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.  On July 13, the U.S. Departments of State, Treasury, Commerce, Homeland Security, and Labor, and the U.S. Trade Representative issued an updated Xinjiang Supply Chain Business Advisory that highlighted for businesses with potential supply chain and investment links to Xinjiang the risk of complicity with forced labor and human rights abuses.  On December 6, the Presidential press secretary announced the United States would not send diplomatic or official representation to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic or Paralympic Games because of human rights abuses in China.  On December 10, the U.S. Department of State imposed visa restrictions on four current and former PRC officials for complicity with human rights violations in Xinjiang, and the U.S. Department of Treasury also sanctioned two officials and one company.  On December 23, the President signed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act.

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 November 15, 2021, 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 2021).  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 2019, there are more than 200 million religious adherents in the country.  An SCIO April 2018 white paper on religion in the country states there are approximately 5,500 religious groups.

Local and regional figures for the number of religious followers, including those belonging to the five 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 estimates that Buddhists comprise 18.2 percent of the country’s total population, Christians 5.1 percent, Muslims 1.8 percent, followers of folk religions 21.9 percent, and atheists or unaffiliated persons 52.2 percent, with Hindus, Jews, and Taoists comprising less than 1 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 to 250 million Buddhists, 60 to 80 million Protestants, 21 to 23 million Muslims, seven to 20 million Falun Gong practitioners, 12 million Roman Catholics, six to eight million Tibetan Buddhists, and hundreds of millions who follow various folk traditions.  According to Boston University’s 2020 World Religion Database, there are 499 million folk and ethnic religionists (34 percent), 474 million agnostics (33 percent), 228 million Buddhists (16 percent), 106 million Christians (7.4 percent), 100 million atheists (7 percent), 23.7 million Muslims (1.7 percent), and other religions adherents who together constitute less than 1 percent of the population, including 5.9 million Taoists, 1.8 million Confucians, 20,500 Sikhs, and 2,900 Jews.  According to the Christian advocacy NGO Open Doors USA’s World Watch List 2022 report, there are 96.7 million Christians.  According to 2015 data from the World Jewish Congress, the country’s Jewish population is 2,500, concentrated in Beijing, Shanghai, and Kaifeng.

The SCIO’s April 2018 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, approximately half of whom practice in churches not affiliated with the CCPA.  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 2018 SCIO white paper, there are 10 ethnic minority groups totaling more than 20 million persons for whom Islam is the majority religion.  Other sources indicate almost all Muslims are Sunni.  The two largest Muslim ethnic minorities are Hui and Uyghur, with Hui Muslims concentrated primarily in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region and in Qinghai, Gansu, and Yunnan Provinces.  The SARA, also referred to as the National Religious Affairs Administration, estimates the Muslim Hui population at 10.6 million.  A June report on the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (Xinjiang) issued by the Department of Population and Employment Statistics of the PRC’s National Bureau of Statistics estimates the total population in Xinjiang is 26 million.  The report states Uyghurs, along with ethnic Kazakh, Hui, Kyrgyz, and members of other predominantly Muslim ethnic minority groups, number approximately 15 million residents, or 58 percent of the total population there.

While there is no reliable government breakdown of the Buddhist population by school, the vast majority of Buddhists are adherents of Mahayana Buddhism, according to the Pew Research Center.  Most ethnic Tibetans practice Tibetan Buddhism, although a sizeable minority practices Bon, a pre-Buddhist indigenous religion.

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 there are seven to 20 million practitioners.

Some ethnic minorities follow traditional religions, such as Dongba among the Naxi people in Yunnan Province and Buluotuo among the Zhuang in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.  The central government classifies worship of Mazu, a folk deity with Taoist roots, as an expression of “cultural heritage” rather than a religious practice.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution, which cites the leadership of the CCP and the guidance of Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong and Xi Jinping Thought, states citizens “enjoy freedom of religious belief,” but it limits protections for religious practice to “normal religious activities,” without defining normal.  It states 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 individuals or groups to take legal action 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 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 register, and only these organizations may legally hold worship services.  The five associations, which operate under the direction of the CCP’s United Front Work Department (UFWD), are the Buddhist Association of China, the Chinese Taoist Association, the Islamic Association of China, 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 but not affiliated with the CCPA, are not permitted to register as legal entities.  The law does not provide a mechanism for religious groups independent of the five official patriotic religious associations to obtain legal status.

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

On January 18, the SARA issued new regulations, effective May 1, entitled “Administrative Measures for Religious Clergy.”  The regulations require all clergy to pledge allegiance to the CCP and socialism and to create a database of “religious personnel” to track their performance.  Article 3 of the regulations states religious clergy “should love the motherland, support the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, support the socialist system, abide by the constitution, laws, regulations, and rules, practice the core values of socialism, adhere to the principle of independent and self-administered religion in China, adhere to the direction of the Sinicization of religion in China, and operate to maintain national unity, religious harmony, and social stability.”  Article 6 states, in part, clergy should “resist illegal religious activities and religious extremist ideology, and resist infiltration by foreign forces using religion.”  The regulations also provide that “entrance to religious places of worship should be regulated through strict gatekeeping, verification of identity, and registration.”  The regulations also stipulate that authorities will hold religious organizations and institutions responsible for the behavior of individual religious clergy.  Article 7 stipulates religious staff should “focus on improving their own quality, improving their cultural and moral literacy, studying the contents of doctrines and regulations that are conducive to social harmony, progress of the times, and health and civilization, and integrate them into preaching, and play a role in promoting the Sinicization of religion in our country.”

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

Authorities require CCP members and members of the armed forces to be atheists and forbid them 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 members.

The law bans certain religious or spiritual groups.  Criminal law defines banned groups as “cult [xie jiao, literally ‘heterodox teachings’] 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 organizations.  The government considers Falun Gong an “illegal organization.”  The government continues to ban 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 characterizes a number of Christian groups as “cult organizations,” including the Shouters, CAG (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, Established King Church, Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (Unification Church), Family of Love, and South China Church.

According to regulations, in order to register, 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.  Registration information is required only once, but religious organizations must reregister if changes are made to the required documentation.

Under revisions to the civil code passed by the National People’s Congress in 2020, a religious institution established according to law may apply for the status of a “legal person” (nonprofit entity) under Article 92 of the civil code.  The revisions formalize the ability of organizations to possess property, publish approved materials, train staff, and collect donations, thereby facilitating authorities’ ability to track and regulate religious institutions.

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 the SARA, and the Ministry of Civil Affairs provide policy guidance and supervision on the implementation of these regulations.

Revisions to the Regulations on Religious Affairs in 2018 increased restrictions on unregistered religious groups.  Individuals who participate in unsanctioned religious activities are subject to criminal and administrative penalties.  The regulations stipulate that any form of income from illegal activities or illegal properties shall be confiscated and a fine imposed of between one to three times the value of the illegal income or properties.  If the illegal income or properties cannot be identified, officials impose a fine of less than 50,000 renminbi (RMB) ($7,800).  Authorities may penalize property owners renting space to unregistered religious groups by confiscating properties and illegal incomes and levying fines between RMB 20,000 and 200,000 ($3,100-$31,400).

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 they are registered as official charities, 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 their 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 Regulations on Religious Affairs require members of religious groups to seek approval to travel abroad for “religious training, conferences, pilgrimages, and other activities.”  Anyone found organizing such activities without approval may be fined between RMB 20,000 and 200,000 ($3,100-$31,400).  Illegally obtained income connected to such travel may be seized and, “if the case constitutes a crime, criminal responsibility shall be investigated according to law.”

The regulations specify that no religious structure, including clerical housing, may be transferred, mortgaged, or utilized as an investment.  SARA regulations 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 charities 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 such donations must be used for activities that authorities deem appropriate for the group and the site.  Regulations state that any donations exceeding RMB 100,000 ($15,700) must be submitted to the local government for review and approval.  Religious groups, religious schools, and “religious activity sites” may not accept donations from foreign sources that have conditions attached.

The regulations require that religious activity “must not harm national security” or support “religious extremism.”  The regulations do not define “extremism.”  Measures to safeguard national unity and respond to “religious extremism” include monitoring groups, individuals, and institutions.  Penalties for “harm to national security” may include suspending groups and canceling the credentials of clergy.

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, may permit followers of certain unregistered religions to carry out religious practices.

By law, prison inmates have the right to believe in a religion and maintain their religious faith while in custody, but not a right to exercise their faith, such as by accessing prayer facilities or meeting with clergy.  Muslim prisoners are reportedly allowed to have meals with the “halal” label.

The law does not define what constitutes proselytizing.  The constitution states that no state unit, social organization, or individual may 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 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, as well as a concurrent fine.  Neither the amendment nor the judicial interpretation defines what garments or symbols the law considers “extremist.”

Publication and distribution of literature containing religious content must follow guidelines determined by the State Publishing Administration.  Publication of religious material must also conform to guidelines determined by the Propaganda Department of the CCP Central Committee.  Online activities (“online religious information services”) of religious groups require 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.

In December, the government published new regulations to limit online religious content.  The Measures for the Administration of Internet Religious Information Services, set to go into effect on March 1, 2022, would prohibit overseas organizations and individuals from operating online religious information services in the country.

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 first 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 room or an apartment, they must seek a separate approval from government authorities for that specific 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 and is subject to criminal or administrative penalties.

By regulation, if a religious structure is to be demolished or relocated because of city planning or the construction of “key” projects, the party responsible for demolishing the structure must consult with its local bureau of religious affairs (guided by the 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 to 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 younger than 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 SARA also issued new regulations on September 1 entitled “Administrative Measures for Religious Schools” that stipulate religious schools should ensure CCP ideological training is included in all religious education, including required classes on Xi Jinping Thought, ideological and political theory, and socialism.

The Regulations on Religious Affairs of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region state, “Minors shall not participate in religious activities.  No organization or individual may organize, induce or force minors to participate in religious activities.”  Minors are also prohibited from entering religious venues.  Multiple provinces send letters instructing parents that “teachers and parents should strictly enforce the principle of separation between education and religion and ensure that minors are not allowed to enter religious places, participate in religious activities, or to attend religious trainings.”  Individuals, including parents, who violate these regulations may be criminally liable.  Implementation of these rules, however, varies greatly across and within regions.

On September 1, the Ministry of Education published the “Administrative Measures for Off-campus Training Materials for Primary and Secondary School Students.”  “Off-campus training” refers to private tutoring services designed to help students prepare for entrance exams.  The regulations prohibit private tutors, including those based abroad, from using textbooks “propagating religious teachings, doctrines, canons, or xie jiao, or feudal superstitions, etc.”

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

In 2020, the Administrative Measures for Religious Groups went into effect.  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 state that only registered groups may operate legally and stipulate that religious organizations must support the leadership of the CCP, adhere to the direction of Sinicization, and implement the values of socialism.  Article 17 states that religious organizations shall “follow the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics, abide by laws, regulations, rules, and policies, correctly handle the relationship between national law and canon, and enhance national awareness, awareness of the rule of law, and citizenship.”

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

Authorities 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.  Authorities reportedly 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.

NGOs, religious groups, and media sources continued to report deaths in custody, enforced disappearances (often through “residential surveillance at a designated location” – a form of black-site detention utilized by authorities against individuals accused of endangering state security), and organ harvesting in prison of individuals whom authorities targeted based on their religious beliefs or affiliation.  NGOs and media reported authorities used violence during arrests and tortured detainees, including by forcing them to maintain stress positions, beating them, and depriving them of food, water, and sleep.  NGOs reported that some previously detained individuals were denied freedom of movement even after their release.

The NGO Human Rights Without Frontiers estimated that the government imprisoned 2,987 individuals for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief as of December 7.

The Political Prisoner Database of the human rights NGO Dui Hua Foundation counted 3,793 individuals imprisoned as of September 30 for “unorthodox” religious beliefs, including 2,751 Falun Gong practitioners, 578 CAG members, and 147 members of other Protestant groups.

Minghui reported 101 Falun Gong practitioners died as a result of persecution suffered because of their faith, compared with 107 in 2020.  It also reported that authorities arrested 5,045 (8,160 in 2020) and harassed 9,245 (10,973 in 2020) Falun Gong practitioners during the year.  The Falun Dafa Infocenter reported police arrested more than 5,000 practitioners and harassed more than 9,000 others during the year.

Minghui stated police often used violence during arrests of Falun Gong practitioners and that individuals were tortured in custody.  Police in Anyang City, Henan Province, arrested shopkeeper Li Xianxi on May 11 for talking about Falun Gong in a market.  When he performed Falun Gong exercises at the local detention center following his arrest, authorities handcuffed and shackled him.  On June 13, authorities informed his family that Li had died on June 12.  According to those who saw his body, he was emaciated, his head was swollen, and there were injuries to his back and knees.

Bitter Winter, an online publication that tracks religious liberty and human rights abuses in the country, reported that on April 12, authorities informed the family of Colonel Gong Piqi, a Falun Gong practitioner and former deputy chief of staff of the Shandong Provincial Reserve Artillery Division, that Gong had died in prison.  He had been forced to retire when authorities discovered he was a practitioner.  Authorities arrested Gong in 2017 and sentenced him in 2018 to seven and a half years and a fine of RMB 20,000 ($3,100) for being active in a banned religious group.  According to authorities, Gong experienced a “sudden cerebral hemorrhage” and died despite receiving medical treatment.  His family and friends reported seeing signs of torture on his body, causing them to doubt he died of natural causes.

Minghui reported that Hubei Province resident Hu Hanjiao died in prison while serving a four-year sentence for practicing Falun Gong.  Authorities arrested Hu on March 15 for talking to people about Falun Gong and the Xiaochang County Court sentenced her in late June.  During the seven months authorities held her at the Hanchuan City Detention Center, Hu staged a hunger strike in protest and was force fed.  Thirteen days after she was transferred to the Hubei Province Women’s Prison, prison authorities called Hu’s husband to inform him she had died.  They refused to release her body to her family.

In June, Bitter Winter reported that government and police officers confirmed that, in the context of the 100th anniversary of the CCP’s founding, the government ordered increased arrests for members of all dissident groups, particularly CAG members.  One document issued by the Office of State Security in Shanxi Province ordered officials to “put real efforts to strengthen surveillance over key personnel and carry out a severe crackdown on The Church of Almighty God.”  According to Bitter Winter, authorities throughout the country arrested more than 1,000 CAG members in the first half of the year.  From May 19 to 25, Guangdong Province police arrested approximately 160 CAG members in Foshan, Guangzhou, Zhuhai, and other cities.  Authorities also arrested 403 CAG members in Shanxi Province from the beginning of the year through June, and at least 265 CAG members in Henan Province from mid-April to mid-June.  In April, the government in Anhui Province arrested at least 116 CAG members after a long-term surveillance and tracking operation and confiscated at least RMB 750,000 ($118,000) of church and personal assets.

During the year, Bitter Winter reported on several cases of authorities imprisoning CAG members, pressuring them to sign statements renouncing their faith, and subjecting them to psychological and physical abuse, including beatings and stress positions, when they refused.  One CAG member from the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region said during his imprisonment, a guard tightly wrapped a copper wire as thick as a little finger around his body five times, cutting off his circulation.  After authorities forced him to stand for four hours, the man’s legs became swollen, his hands were numb and trembling, and his abdomen became numb to the touch.  One CAG member from Anhui Province said authorities forced her into a stress position eight hours a day for five consecutive days during which she had to squat while keeping her torso upright, her hands raised above her head, and her body unmoving.  Another CAG member reported being deprived of sleep for five nights.  Two CAG members said when they refused to sign a statement renouncing their faith, guards encouraged fellow inmates to beat them, resulting in bruises and broken teeth.  Another CAG member described fellow prisoners, at the guards’ instigation, smearing feces on his body.

In April, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported authorities in Sichuan Province detained members of Christian house churches in unofficial detention facilities where they pressured individuals to renounce their faith.  One Protestant individual said authorities held him in a windowless basement for eight or nine months, during which time they physically and mentally abused him.  He said, “You can’t see the sun, so you lose all concept of time,” and that suicidal thoughts and self-harm among detainees were commonplace.  Secret police attempted to coerce inmates into signing confessions of guilt and held those who refused in solitary confinement for prolonged periods.  Another Christian told RFA that similar facilities were being used to abuse members of the underground Catholic Church and Falun Gong practitioners.

According to the annual report released by the CAG, during the year, at least 68,456 Church members were directly persecuted by authorities, compared with at least 42,807 in 2020.  The report stated that authorities harassed at least 57,300 Church members (at least 35,752 in 2020), arrested 11,156 (7,055 in 2020), detained 3,636 (4,045 in 2020), tortured or subjected to forced indoctrination 6,125 (5,587 in 2020), sentenced 1,452 (1,098 in 2020), and seized at least RMB 250 million ($39.23 million) in Church and personal assets.  At least nine Church members died as a result of being physically abused during detention (at least 21 in 2020).

The NGO ChinaAid reported that on May 23, police in Guiyang, Guizhou Province, arrested Pastor Yang Hua of the Guiyang Living Stone Church for conducting religious activities.  At the station, leaders of the Guiyang Yunyan District Party Committee reportedly struck Yang, causing injuries that required medical attention.

Media reported authorities used measures ostensibly intended to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including facial recognition software and telephone tracking, to identify and arrest members of unregistered or banned religious groups.  The government installed surveillance cameras outside unregistered churches during the pandemic.

Bitter Winter reported that on June 7, the Qinnan District People’s Court in Qinzhou City, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, sentenced 21 members of the Blood and Water of Jesus Christ and Holy Spirit Full Gospel Evangelistic Group to prison for being active in a cult.  They were part of a group of Church members detained by the Qinnan Branch of the Qinzhou Public Security Bureau in August 2020.  Police also seized 113 books, 989 loose “propaganda materials,” 183 CDs, 3 calendars, 2 diaries, and 48 signs, among other items.  The movement was founded in Taiwan and the government declared it a cult in 1995.

According to Minghui, police arrested and harassed Falun Gong practitioners throughout the country.  Harassment spiked in April and May, around the “sensitive dates” of April 25, the anniversary of 10,000 Falun Gong practitioners’ appealing in 1999 outside the central government compound for the right to practice their beliefs, and May 13, the 29th anniversary of Falun Gong’s introduction to the public.  According to Minghui, harassment was also driven by the “stability maintenance” campaign prior to the CCP’s centennial anniversary.  From July to August, Hebei, Heilongjiang, Shandong, Jilin, Sichuan, Shanxi, and Liaoning were the provinces where the highest number of practitioners were targeted.  Those arrested included teachers, restauranteurs, librarians, construction workers, factory workers, academics, nurses, engineers, farmers, shop owners, and many retirees.

On September 12, Minghui reported multiple examples of police harassment and arrests of practitioners of Falun Gong.  On March 10, police in Fushun City, Liaoning Province, arrested Yang Xiaozhi for distributing Falun Gong materials.  She reported that detention officers shocked her with electric batons before releasing her on bail on March 15.  On May 14, police in Jilin City, Jilin Province, arrested 98-year-old Cai Xiufang for talking to people about Falun Gong.  They held her in a metal cage at the police station for several hours and ransacked her home before releasing her on bail.  Authorities arrested Gong Ruiping, a former elementary school teacher in Beijing, on July 20 in connection with practicing Falun Gong.  Guards force fed her when she attempted a hunger strike.  On July 23, authorities arrested Li Lihong, a middle school teacher in Ningxiang City, Hunan Province, for talking to people about Falun Gong.  Minghui reported that Baimaqiao police station head Zhang Jie threatened to shoot and kill her.  On August 15, a plainclothes police officer in Handan City, Hebei Province, beat Wang Shuqin for talking to him about Falun Gong.  Wang suffered two broken ribs and was taken to the hospital.

ChinaAid reported that in January in Hengyang City, Hunan Province, officials detained Chen Wensheng for 25 days for preaching Christian teachings on the streets.  Following his release from detention on January 29, local authorities came to his home to persuade him to stop “street evangelism.”

On June 14, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights published a statement from a group of 11 UN-affiliated independent human rights experts, including UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief Ahmed Shaheed, who were “alarmed by reports of alleged organ harvesting targeting minorities including Falun Gong practitioners, Uyghurs, Tibetans, Muslims, and Christians, in detention in China.”  The independent experts reported receiving credible information from NGOs and activists stating that authorities “may have forcibly subjected… detainees from ethnic, linguistic, or religious minorities” to blood tests and organ examinations such as ultrasounds and x-rays without their informed consent, while other prisoners were not required to undergo such examinations.  The results of the examinations were reportedly registered in a database of living organ sources that facilitated organ allocation.  The independent experts stated, “According to the allegations received, the most common organs removed from the prisoners are reportedly hearts, kidneys, livers, corneas and, less commonly, parts of livers.  This form of trafficking with a medical nature allegedly involves health sector professionals, including surgeons, anaesthetists and other medical specialists.”  The experts said that despite the gradual development of a voluntary organ donation system, “[I]nformation continues to emerge regarding serious human rights violations in the procurement of organs for transplants in China,” and concern remained at the lack of independent oversight as to whether consent to donation and organ allocation was effectively given by prisoners or detainees.  The experts noted that authorities reportedly prevented families of deceased detainees and prisoners from claiming their bodies.

On August 9, the government responded to the High Commissioner, asserting the experts’ report was “based on false information and makes groundless accusations against China” and was “filled with malice and prejudice.”  The government said witnesses were “‘actors’ who repeatedly engage in slander and rumour-mongering on the issue of human rights in China[.]”  The government stated that regulations required medical examinations for persons entering detention facilities “for the purpose of determining the detainee’s physical condition at the time of admittance to the facility and providing prompt treatment in the event of illness.”  It stated that, by law, organ donation was “voluntary and nonremunerative” and that organ trading and involuntary organ harvesting had been criminalized.

In July, Minghui reported authorities collected DNA, blood samples, and other biometrics from Falun Gong practitioners against their will.  During the first half of the year, this reportedly occurred in 18 provinces and municipalities – Beijing, Shanghai, Shandong, Heilongjiang, Jilin, Zhejiang, Liaoning, Gansu, Jiangxi, Jiangsu, Guizhou, Hebei, Hubei, Henan, Shanxi, Sichuan, Guangdong, and Shaanxi.  Between April 26 and 29, four practitioners in Shanghai reported police broke into their homes and forcibly collected blood samples.  Practitioners reported police also collected handwriting samples, fingerprints, height information, photographs, and phone numbers.  According to Minghui, some practitioners suspected authorities were collecting these biometrics and blood samples to establish a DNA and organ matching database, as well as to enhance the surveillance of practitioners.

According to the CAG annual report, harassment of members included the collection of biological data, such as blood samples and hair.

The Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News) reported local Catholic sources said authorities abducted Bishop Peter Shao Zhumin of Yongjia (Wenzhou) Diocese in Zhejiang Province on October 25 and held him incommunicado for two weeks before releasing him.  Shao was ordained a bishop in 2011 with Vatican approval, but his appointment was not approved by the two state-sanctioned church bodies – the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China (BCCCC) and the CCPA – and he was not among the Vatican-approved bishops recognized by the CCPA as a result of the 2018 Sino-Vatican provisional agreement.  According to UCA News, this was the seventh time since 2016 that authorities detained Shao, and his prior arrests stemmed from his refusal to join the CCPA.

Media reported the status of Catholic Bishop Taddeo Ma Daqin, whom authorities placed under house arrest in Shanghai following his resignation from the CCPA in 2012, remained unchanged at as of April.

RFA reported that on April 21, police in Chengdu City, Sichuan Province, raided the Early Rain Covenant Church (ERCC) during a study session and detained 19 Church members, including 12 children.  At the local police station, officers questioned the children without their parents present, in contravention of the law regarding detention of minors.  According to a Church member, police released 16 of the 19 persons after detaining them for 11 hours and continued to hold three individuals without giving a reason to their families.

International Christian Concern reported that on August 22, police in Chengdu City entered the home of an ERCC member during a Sunday worship service and arrested 28 individuals, including 10 children.  During the arrests, police injured Pastor Dai Zhichao on his arm and confiscated his mobile phone.  An ERCC member said police beat many individuals in detention and when the children became unruly, officers threatened to hit them on their heads.  Police held Dai and the homeowner, He Shan, in detention for 14 days and fined He RMB 1,000 ($160) for holding an illegal religious gathering.

Bitter Winter reported that in May the Beijing Municipal Court sentenced Lin Xianzan, a member of the Shouters, to three years in prison for being active in a banned religious group.

There were reports that authorities continued to crack down on qigong movements that it classified as cults or equivalent to cults.  Bitter Winter reported that on April 27, the Zhaouyan City People’s Court in Shandong Province sentenced Sun Xuhui to two years in prison after she confessed to leading a branch of Zhonggong, a qigong movement, and “brainwashing” followers.  According to Bitter Winter, the Ministry of Public Security set up a special task force with anti-Zhonggong divisions in Beijing and Tianjin municipalities, and Yunnan, Hebei, Liaonin, and Shandong Provinces.  In May, police in Luoyang, Henan Province, arrested several followers of the Buddhist master Tian Ruisheng (also known as Shijakai), and accused them of spreading the teachings of the banned movement Xiang Gong, originally known as Buddhist Qigong.

ChinaAid reported that on March 7, authorities in Chengdu City, Sichuan Province, raided the Fountain of Life house church during a Sunday service and took Pastor Zha Changping, his wife, and three other church members to the local police station for questioning.  Authorities released them after several hours.

According to Bitter Winter, authorities arrested 181 Association of Disciples members in a large operation carried out in late 2020 and early 2021 in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.  They charged the members with being active in a cult.  Authorities told local media the arrests were the result of the program implemented in 2018 to grant rewards up to RMB 50,000 ($7,800) to those who denounced their neighbors or acquaintances as cult members; the program included a tip line for doing so.

On May 5, RFA reported that authorities arrested two elders of Zion Church in Beijing, as well as elder Zhang Chunlei of the Renai Reformed Church in Guiyang City, Guizhou Province, on suspicion of fraud.  Zhang’s defense attorney said the fraud accusations were related to his receiving his living allowance from member donations and said, “This [practice] happens in all religions, and it doesn’t constitute fraud.”

Bitter Winter reported that authorities arrested 10 teachers at a Christian school in Wuhu City, Anhui Province, on May 27.  Authorities claimed the school was an illegal operation because it was not affiliated with the TSPM.  According to Bitter Winter, local Christians viewed the raid as part of a larger crackdown on all forms of education not directly controlled by the CCP.

On May 27, a ChinaAid source reported the arrests and imprisonment of numerous Christians affiliated with the Local Assembly, a house church, in Wuxi City, Jiangsu Province, Nanning City, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, and Beijing, accusing them of “using a cult to undermine the enforcement of law.”

ChinaAid reported that on November 16, the Xi’an Municipal Intermediate Court in Shaanxi Province upheld a lower court’s sentencing of Chang Yuchun and Li Chenhui to seven years’ imprisonment and a RMB 250,000 ($39,200) fine for an “illegal business operation.”  Chang and Li printed and sold Christian books from 2015 to 2020, when local police shut down their business, confiscated more than 210,000 books, and forcibly disappeared them into “residential surveillance at a designated location.”

On August 7, RFA reported that police in Taiyuan City, Shanxi Province, detained nine Golden Lamppost Church leaders and members who refused to join the TSPM, including Pastor Wang Xiaoguang and preacher Yang Rongli.  According to sources, the group was carrying out a house church baptism when police arrested them.  Shortly afterwards, local authorities used dynamite to demolish a Golden Lamppost church in Taiyuan City.  On September 27, police arrested seven Church members.  On December 27, authorities charged them with fraud.  RFA said the detentions and demolition came amid a series of raids on unofficial Protestant house churches in Linfen County, Shanxi Province.

Bitter Winter reported on that on August 14, a court in Kaili City, Qiandongnan Miao and Dong Autonomous Prefecture, Guizhou Province, convicted four Seventh-day Adventist Church clergy of fraud for collecting offerings outside of the purview of the TSPM.  The court sentenced one member to 12 years in prison, and the others to three to six years.

In November, Minghui reported that on October 14, nine officials came to Yi Shuying’s home and ordered her to sign a letter renouncing Falun Gong.  They threatened officials would deny her granddaughter, a junior high school student, admission to college in the future if Yi did not renounce Falun Gong.  Yi refused to comply.

In June, ChinaAid reported that ERCC Pastor Wang Yi, whom authorities sentenced to nine years in prison in December 2019, was “being treated very badly in prison,” held in solitary confinement in Chengdu Province’s Jintang Prison under constant supervision, and malnourished.  ChinaAid stated prison officials continued to prevent family members and lawyers from visiting him and withheld medical treatment.  According to the NGO International Christian Concern, since his arrest, Wang’s wife and child were living in an unknown location, under surveillance.

On April 20, RFA reported the police department of Yulin City, Shaanxi Province, confirmed to his wife that it was still detaining Gao Zhisheng, a human rights lawyer taken into custody in September 2017.  Previously, Gao’s family had not known his whereabouts or whether he was alive.  Gao had previously defended on-trial members of Christian groups, Falun Gong practitioners, and other minority groups.

On July 20, ChinaAid reported that the Xiamen City religious affairs bureau fined Pastor Yang Xibo of Xingguang Church, an unregistered church in Xiamen City, Fujian Province, and his wife RMB 200,000 ($31,400) for organizing an “illegal religious activity.”  According to RFA, several dozen state security police and officials from the local religious affairs bureau raided worship services at the church in April and May 2020.  Yang told RFA the congregation was targeted for refusing to join the state-sanctioned TSPM.

During the year, authorities continued to detain Hui Muslim poet Cui Haoxin, known by his pen name An Ran, for Twitter posts in which he criticized the government for the imprisonment, surveillance, and persecution of Muslims in Xinjiang and throughout the country.  Authorities took Cui into custody in January 2020 and accused him of “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble.”

On April 9, Bitter Winter published an article in which it described several CAG members being forced to perform labor during their imprisonment.  One CAG member said she had to produce 250 artificial flowers per day, and if she failed to reach her quota, authorities forced her to stand four to six hours per night.  The article stated that the plastic used in the artificial flowers contained chemicals and heavy metal elements harmful to the human body, such as vinyl chloride, formaldehyde, and lead, leading to endocrine disorders, decreased immunity, aplastic anemia, leukemia, and other blood diseases.  The report also stated that exposure to the chemicals disrupted women’s menstrual cycles.  Another female CAG member who was sentenced to three years in a women’s prison described working on 550 dresses per day in a dressmaking shop while standing for 13 hours.  After her release, she was diagnosed with a herniated disc, which caused her pain if she sat for more than 10 minutes.

AsiaNews reported that the new SARA regulations entitled “Administrative Measures for Religious Clergy,” which took effect on May 1, placed additional ideological controls over the training, selection, and monitoring of clergy, including emphasizing allegiance to the CCP and socialism.  The new regulations also stipulated the government would hold religious organizations and institutions responsible for the behavior of clergy and created a new centralized database to record information about clergy, as well as to track their behavior and “misdeeds.”  Local governments were instructed to update the database with information on “rewards and punishments” of clergy.  On February 11, Bitter Winter published an English-language translation and analysis of the new regulations.  According to Bitter Winter, registration in the government database was “complicated.”  Individuals who were not listed in it but claimed to be clergy would be committing a crime.  Individuals unable to obtain a “clergy card” would include anyone not belonging to one of the five officially recognized patriotic religious associations, such as pastors of Protestant house churches, Catholics who rejected the government’s 2018 provisional agreement with the Holy See and refused to join the CCPA, teachers and clergy at independent mosques and Buddhist and Taoist temples, rabbis, and religious personnel of new religious movements.  According to AsiaNews, “living buddhas,” under the regulations, “will not be able to exercise any ministry, nor will they be considered true reincarnations without the permission of the [CCP].”  According to Bitter Winter, individuals had to prove they “support[ed] the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and support[ed] the socialist system.”  Bitter Winter stated the regulations created “an Orwellian system of surveillance, and strengthen[ed] the already strict control on all clergy.”

The SARA continued to maintain publicly available statistics on some, but not all, registered religious groups.  According to the SARA, there were 42,439 Buddhist temples and 8,349 Taoist temples registered in the country as of year’s end.  The SARA did not publish the number of registered Islamic mosques, Catholic churches, and Protestant churches.  According to 2014 SARA statistics (the latest available), more than 5.7 million Catholics worshipped in sites registered to the CCPA.  The SCIO’s April 2018 white paper stated approximately 144,000 places of worship were registered to conduct religious activities in the country, among which were 33,500 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 mosques, 6,000 CCPA churches and places of assembly spread across 98 dioceses, and 60,000 TSPM churches and places of assembly.  The SCIO white paper also estimated there were more than 384,000 religious personnel in the country:  222,000 Buddhist, 40,000 Taoist, 57,000 Islamic, 57,000 Protestant, and 8,000 Catholic.

The government continued to close down or hinder the activities of religious groups not affiliated with the state-sanctioned religious associations, including unregistered Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, and other groups.  At times, authorities said they shuttered a group because the group or its activities were unregistered; at 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.

International media and NGOs reported the government continued to carry out its nationwide campaign to “Sinicize religion” by altering doctrines and practices across all faith traditions to conform to and bolster CCP ideology and emphasize loyalty to the CCP and the state.  The CCP’s Administrative Measures for Religious Groups, promulgated in 2020, further formalized the administrative procedures for Sinicizing all religions.  Commenting on the administrative measures, one Catholic Priest told AsiaNews, “In practice, your religion no longer matters, if you are Buddhist, or Taoist, or Muslim or Christian; the only religion allowed is faith in the Chinese Communist Party.”

The five-year plan to promote the Sinicization of Christianity, issued in 2018, called for “incorporating Chinese elements into church worship services, hymns and songs, clerical attire, and the architectural style of church buildings,” and it proposed to “retranslate the Bible or rewrite biblical commentaries.”  On its website in 2018, the TSPM pledged to “cultivate and practice core socialist values,” “carry out patriotic education,” and incorporate Sinicization into Christian theology, TSPM rules and regulations, theological education, and believers’ faith practice via symposiums, seminars, essay contests, and commemorative activities such as art exhibitions.  During the year, the TSPM celebrated the 100th anniversary of the founding of the CCP and sponsored activities to “cultivate a Christian charity culture with Chinese characteristics.”  The TSPM website stated that in 2022, it planned to examine experiences of Sinicization in various regions, determine best practices from the 2018-2022 five-year plan, and formulate a 2023-2027 work plan for further promoting the Sinicization of Christianity.

On March 31, the Economist reported that the government targeted all religions for Sinicization and instructed Christian preachers to promote “core socialist values.”  The Economist stated that government policy dictated “[i]nterpretations of the Bible should become more Sinified – meaning, presumably, that they should help to bolster belief in socialism.”  Authorities required state-approved churches to display national flags and portraits of President Xi, a move some TSPM pastors resisted, and encouraged them “to use Chinese architecture and Chinese tunes for hymns, as well as Chinese-style painting, calligraphy and other ‘popular cultural forms.’”  According to the Economist, despite increased pressure on house churches, authorities faced difficulties imposing Sinification on these unofficial, unregulated religious communities.

UCA News reported that according to the state-controlled BCCCC and the CCPA, on September 24, Catholics from two churches in Zibo City, Shandong Province, attended an event organized by the BCCCC called “One Hundred Sermons” that sought to explain President Xi’s instructions on religious activities and the promotion of Sinicization in the Catholic Church and how to adapt Catholicism to the socialist society.  On September 27-29, 18 key members of the CCPA from various provinces and cities met in Xibaipo village, Hebei Province, for an educational program based on the theme, “Take the Red Footprints and Inherit the Red Spirit,” intended to cultivate positive feelings toward the CCP, patriotism, and socialism.

According to Bitter Winter, in some parts of the country, local authorities regularly reviewed sermons of TSPM pastors to ensure they were consistent with CCP ideology and contained praise for government leaders.  Bitter Winter reported that on October 26, authorities in Shangqiu City, Henan Province, held a “Sinicization Seminar and Exchange Conference” for TSPM pastors and teachers.  During the conference, participants raised the national flag and sang patriotic songs.  Authorities told participants Christian social teaching should be Sinicized and that they would establish a “Research Office of Sinicization of Christianity” in Shangqiu.  They said sermons should be preached on socialist themes.

Bitter Winter reported that at the national conference of the TSPM and the China Christian Council on July 8, state-appointed heads of the TSPM and the council ordered pastors to study and preach about President Xi’s July 1 speech on the 100th anniversary of the CCP’s founding.  During the conference, religious authorities told pastors to make President Xi’s speech a principal topic of sermons and Bible study groups.  TSPM chairman Xu Xiaohong offered pastors a model sermon based on nine points in the speech that glorified the nation, the CCP, and President Xi.  He said pastors should instruct Christians to say, “Long live the great, glorious, and correct Chinese Communist Party.  Long live the great, glorious, and heroic Chinese people.”  Wu Wei, chairman of the China Christian Council, said pastors should direct Christians in “thanking God for putting us in this great era” and “continuing to learn the spirit of General Secretary Xi’s speech.”

Bitter Winter reported that on October 29 in Tianjin Municipality, Huasheng Temple authorities required Buddhist monks to watch a film entitled, “The Battle at Lake Changjin.”  On its WeChat account, the temple stated the activity was “to carry out in-depth education on Party history and promote the spirit of patriotism.”  The film depicted the “story of Chinese soldiers defeating American troops, despite great odds” at the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir during the Korean War.  One monk told Bitter Winter, “Party classes are supposed to be an activity that only Communist Party members need to attend.  Compelling monks to take a Party movie class is something incestuous, making the temple look like a branch of the Communist Party.”

According to the UFWD, from May 20-24, the Nanhai Buddhist Academy held a training session for more than 50 Buddhist deacons in Hainan Province.  The training, themed “Love the Party, Love the Country, Love Socialism,” included studying President Xi’s speeches and PRC religious laws and regulations and viewing patriotic documentary films.  Deputy minister of the provincial UFWD Liu Geng praised the Party, urged attendees to learn its history, promoted the Sinicization of religion, and advocated for socialist values in religious settings.  He urged the deacons to be “politically reliable, religiously accomplished, and morally convincing.”

According to the religious affairs bureau of Guangzhou City, Guangdong Province, on August 11, the Guangdong Taoist Association hosted an interfaith conference on the theme “Love the Party, the Country, and Socialism” to study Xi Jinping’s speech commemorating the 100th anniversary of the CCP’s founding, and to view “patriotic” films and exhibits.  The chairmen, vice chairmen, and secretaries general of the Guangdong Buddhist Association, Islamic Association, Catholic Association, and Christian Association attended.  Participants vowed to promote Sinicization in their respective religious teachings.

According to the Haixia Buddhist Network website, on February 26, monks and employees of Guangdong Buddhist Association and Guangxiao Temple in Guangzhou City, Guangdong Province, celebrated the 100th anniversary of the founding of the CCP by watching a video lecture on CCP history presented by the Central Party School.  According to the network’s website, monks in attendance said the CCP’s history was “a history of seeking happiness for the people” and that “the Chinese people have become prosperous and strong under the leadership of the CCP.”  Master Mingsheng, president of the Guangdong Buddhist Association, called on Buddhists to adhere to the Sinicization of Buddhism and to “guide Buddhism to be compatible with Socialism.”

According to a TSPM news outlet, the Guangdong Provincial Two Christian Councils held a ceremony at the Guangdong Union Theological Seminary on March 5 to launch a series of programs celebrating the CCP’s 100th anniversary.  Pastoral personnel and approximately 200 teachers and students participated.  The programs included lectures on Party history and a knowledge contest on the themes of “knowing the Party’s history, feeling the Party’s favor, listening to the Party, and following the Party.”  There was also a seminar on the Sinicization of Christianity.  Pastor Fan Hongen told participants the Guangdong Provincial Two Christian Councils was actively adapting to socialist society and strengthening the mission of Sinicizing Christianity.

According to ChinaAid, on June 25, the TSPM-affiliated Shandong Theological Seminary in Shandong Province held a theatrical performance with the theme of “Sing a Praise to the Party” to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the CCP’s founding.

According to the UFWD of Guangdong Province, from March 22 to 28, the Guangdong Islamic Association organized imam training classes at the Guangdong Provincial Institute of Socialism.  Thirty-six imams from nine cities in the province attended the one-week training session, at which they studied the history of the CCP, socialism, and how to “adhere to the direction of the Sinicization of Guangdong Islam.”  Imams attending the training said they would “unswervingly” listen to the Party.

According to the CCPA website, the Guangdong Catholic Association celebrated the 100th anniversary of the CCP by organizing a CCP training session in Guangxi Province from April 12 to 16 for 40 priests from 21 different cities.  The participants toured several CCP “red education” sites, learned the “heroic deeds of revolutionary martyrs,” and were encouraged to “love the party.”

In May, the Minnan Buddhist Institute, located in Nanputuo Buddhist Temple, Xiamen City, Fujian Province, held a public speaking contest on the theme of “studying the history of the Party, thanking the Party, and following the Party.”  Approximately 700 faculty members and students attended the contest to praise the Party’s “brilliant history and great accomplishments,” according to the Nanputuo Buddhist Temple’s website.  RFA reported that a Shandong monk criticized the contest, saying that the Buddhist Institute coerced monks into participating.  He stated that the institute would prohibit students who did not participate from studying there.

Media reported that throughout the year, crackdowns on some churches with foreign ties intensified significantly throughout the country.  Many religious groups, including groups connected to the five “patriotic religious associations,” faced comprehensive investigations that included checking their background, organizational setting, membership, online evangelism, and finances.  On April 3, International Christian Concern reported that the Ministry of Civil Affairs (MCA) planned to intensify efforts to shut down social organizations, private nonenterprise units, and foundations that were not registered with relevant authorities.  Organizations that had their registration revoked but nevertheless continued with their activities would also be targeted, the ministry said.  According to RFA, “The MCA’s latest campaign has already begun in some provinces, such as Sichuan.  The Department of Civil Affairs in Sichuan published a list of 84 ‘Illegal Social Organizations’ on March 25 which contain[ed] several Buddhist and Christian groups, including the heavily persecuted house church Early Rain Covenant Church.”

ChinaAid reported that authorities continued to harass members of the Trinity Gospel Harvest Church in Shenzhen City, Guangdong Province, during the year.  On March 1, security officials warned members against gathering to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Church’s founding.  On April 25, police and religious affairs officers raided Church services and detained pastors Mao Zhibin and Cao Yuan and eight members for questioning, without explanation.  On July 11, authorities again raided Sunday worship services.  The government formally banned the Church at the end of April.  According to ChinaAid, in May, authorities closed a beach where baptisms of new members were to take place in order to prevent the baptisms, causing the group to move to another beach.  In September, under instructions from the local police, a Shenzhen hotel refused service to Church members and refunded fees they paid to stay there.

Bitter Winter reported authorities cracked down on religious groups that organized prayer meetings in hotel rooms.  On March 16 in Guiyang City, Guizhou Province, the Renai Reformed Church organized a prayer meeting in the Wenzhou Hotel complex.  Police raided the room and arrested several congregants.  When Church elder Zhang Chunlei went to the station to negotiate the release of the Church members, police arrested him as well and held him in detention for 15 days.  They raided the houses of followers and confiscated computers and religious materials.  Reporting on the same March 16 raid, RFA said officials stated they detained the individuals because gatherings were restricted to family members due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In October, ChinaAid reported that the local government of Jiake village, Yunnan Province, the TSPM, and the Chinese Christian Council banned Kai Yiduo from taking part in religious activities in what ChinaAid said was retribution for his dispute with the local government.  Yiduo said the government had not compensated him after demolishing his home.

In November, the Jerusalem Post reported that authorities again did not permit Jews in Kaifeng City, Henan Province, to celebrate Hanukkah.  Sources reported that on November 28, the Jewish community in Shanghai was able to hold a Hannukah commemoration.

In September, Bitter Winter reported the China Christian Council instructed all churches and congregations to “organize worship activities” to commemorate the 76th anniversary of China’s victory over Japan in World War II and to “further promote the fine tradition of patriotism and love of religion and to demonstrate the good image of peace-loving Christianity in China.”  The directive stated, “Churches are requested to submit evidence of the relevant activities (text, video and photo materials) to the Media Ministry Department of the China Christian Council by September 10.”  A photograph accompanying the Bitter Winter article showed students at Fujian Theological Seminary in Fujian Province praying for Red Army “martyrs.”

Throughout the year, the government closed venues throughout the country, including religious venues, and prohibited mass gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Media reported authorities tried to stop many religious groups from congregating or holding services online during the COVID-19 lockdown.  According to media, in some localities, government officials used COVID-19 precautions as a pretext to prevent religious organizations from recommencing their activities long after restrictions had been lifted in analogous nonreligious contexts.  According to the National Catholic Reporter, authorities prevented Catholics from celebrating the Feast of Mary on May 24 at the Sheshan Shrine in Shanghai, the country’s most famous Marian shrine and traditionally a pilgrimage site.  Authorities cited the COVID-19 pandemic, but critics noted the government permitted amusement parks and a golf club in the area to remain open during the same period.  There was at least one case, however, where authorities relaxed restrictions:  when monks at the Shenyang Ci’en Buddhist Temple in Shenyang City, Liaoning Province, declared, “Monks and believers love the Party and will continue to follow the party to accomplish Sinicization,” government officials authorized them to resume large-scale services.

One source said the government used COVID-19 prevention as a pretext to close Islamic venues, particularly in Qinghai and Gansu Provinces and Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, where Hui Muslims are concentrated, while allowing Buddhist temples to remain open.

RFA reported that on April 30, officials in Yunnan Province shut down the Bulai Protestant Church in Lao Muden village, Fugong County, ostensibly to prevent the spread of COVID-19, despite the church’s having been allowed to meet previously throughout the pandemic.  China Christian Daily reported that on August 1, an unregistered church in Suzhou City, Jiangsu Province, was forced to interrupt its on-site Sunday service when local officials, citing “reducing crowds for epidemic prevention and control,” cut off the electricity and pasted seals on the doors.  Authorities also suspended services at other local churches in Suzhou, China Christian Daily reported.

According to the Economist, many house churches held services online and there were numerous Bible study groups and church forums on WeChat.  Some unauthorized seminaries and missionary training schools moved online.  One pastor said some online congregations were 50 percent larger than in-person meetings.  However, in March, Open Doors USA reported officials monitored online activities and “even officially registered churches were ordered to stop online services.”

In December, Bitter Winter reported that authorities, citing the COVID-19 pandemic, took measures to stop Christians from gathering for Christmas celebrations, although they allowed some musical and cultural events to take place in what Bitter Winter described as “cosmetic” activities designed to give the appearance of religious tolerance.  Bitter Winter reported that authorities in Rong’an County, Liuzhou City, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region ordered elementary and kindergarten teachers and students not to celebrate Christmas at school or at home, calling the holiday a “Western celebration.”  The directive included the name and contact number for a tip line for people to report individuals “doing any event” for Christmas.

Media and human rights organizations reported SARA regulations stating that only the Islamic Association of China was permitted to organize Muslim pilgrimage trips, issued in 2020, remained in effect.  The regulations stated that those who applied to join the Hajj must be “patriotic, law-abiding, and have good conduct,” must have never before participated in the Hajj, and be in sound physical and mental health.  They also had to be able to pay all costs associated with Hajj travel and to oppose religious extremism.  According to a notice issued by the Islamic Association of China on June 15, citing the risk of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government suspended all Hajj activities during the year.

The government continued to label several religious groups, including the CAG, Shouters, Association of Disciples, All-Sphere Church, and many others, as cults or xie jiao organizations.  The government also continued to ban groups, such as Falun Gong, that it classified as illegal organizations.

Bitter Winter reported that on July 26, the Supreme People’s Court published its “Opinion on Providing Judicial Services and Protection for Accelerating the Modernization of Agriculture and Rural Areas.”  The “opinion” included provisions to “intensify the punishment of illegal religious activities and overseas infiltration activities” in rural areas, “crack down on organizing and using xie jiao organizations to commit crimes,” and “stop the use of religion and xie jiao from interfering in rural public affairs.”

Bitter Winter reported that on October 23, approximately 100 children from preschools of the district of Jiaocheng in Ningde City, Fujian Province, underwent a program of “preventive education.”  The children, ages three to six, received picture booklets, viewed a panel exhibition, and watched cartoons warning against “xie jiao and illegal religion.”  One film presented the CAG as a cult, and others admonished against “superstition” and “illegal religion” in general.

Bitter Winter reported provincial governments shut down local branches of the Good News Mission, a Protestant religious group with ties to South Korea.  On March 30, the Civil Affairs Bureau of Shaoxing City, Zhejiang Province, banned the group and raided local communities.  On April 30, the government in Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, Jilin Province, announced prefecture authorities had banned the Good News Mission and shut down its churches.  According to Bitter Winter, the Good News Mission was “not in the list of xie jiao, but it is now a common strategy to ban a religious movement in one region and province after the other, leading to a de facto national ban.”

Bitter Winter reported authorities continued to link xie jiao to criminal activities and other social ills.  In November, border police and “legal education” officers carried out a surveillance and propaganda operation in Ningming County, Guangxi Province, and Honghe Hani and Yi Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan Province, both on the border with Vietnam, prompted by what Bitter Winter said were fears that illegal religious groups might enter the country via Vietnam.  The campaign against drug smuggling and HIV/AIDS included indoctrinating residents against “illegal religion” and xie jiao.  It targeted 600,000 Hani, who hold predominantly shamanistic beliefs, and 900,000 Yi, who practice both Christianity and shamanistic religions.

Bitter Winter reported that on National Security Education Day on April 15, authorities mounted exhibitions as part of an anti-xie jiao campaign, and students across the country signed pledges to renounce illegal religious activities by groups labeled cults.  Zhou Qiang, president of the Supreme People’s Court, called cults “a cancer” and stated the CCP had three main targets:  Falun Gong, CAG, and the Association of Disciples.  He also said cults colluded with Western anti-China forces, and he accused the Association of Disciples of manipulating some local elections.  The article included a photograph from the social media site Weibo showing students from Chongqing University of Posts and Telecommunications in Chongqing Province signing a large billboard pledging to renounce xie jiao.

State-run media reported that on September 10, Qiongshan District in Haikou City, Hainan Province, organized a series of anti-illicit drugs and anticult propaganda activities in middle schools.  Government officials distributed brochures, hung propaganda banners, and gave lectures to teachers and students on how to recognize a cult and “consciously resist it.”

Media reported that in June in Guangzhou City, Guangdong Province, volunteers conducted large-scale COVID-19 testing at multiple locations, where they distributed educational literature warning against xie jiao alongside personal protective equipment and hand sanitizer.  The volunteers reportedly posted signs publicizing an “anti-xie jiao” app, and digital billboards warned residents about the harmful influence of xie jiao and advised them to “be wary of cult organizations taking advantage of the epidemic to spread rumors and create chaos.”

According to Bitter Winter, in October, prefecture-level city authorities in Hui’an County and nearby Quanzhou City, Fujian Province, launched an anti-xie jiao program as part of their celebration of the CCP’s centennial anniversary.  Teachers organized lessons in all elementary and middle schools and distributed propaganda material against xie jiao and “illegal religion.”  Individuals played a WeChat game in which they proved they had read the propaganda material by answering questions.  Those who answered the most questions correctly won prizes.  According to Bitter Winter, the names of those who scored low were sent to the local CCP secretaries.  Local CCP officials said the initiative was needed because during the COVID-19 pandemic, “illegal religion” and xie jiao had increased in Fujian.

According to media, authorities maintained a near ubiquitous surveillance system through the development and widespread deployment of advanced technology such as artificial intelligence, CCTVs, and social media applications.  In October, an academic who studies the subject told the Diplomat that domestic police departments in ethnic minority areas in Ningxia, Sichuan, and Yunnan Provinces and elsewhere purchased digital forensics tools to scan mobile phone hard drives for “more than 50,000 markers or patterns of illegal activity.”  More than 500 cities and municipalities across the country developed “smart city systems” that used forms of biometric surveillance that could surveil ethnic and religious minorities.

According to ChinaAid, on March 19, the Siming District Religious Affairs Bureau in Xiamen City, Fujian Province, released a circular that instructed police officers to patrol office buildings and hotels in the district on Saturday evenings and Sundays to prevent a resurgence of house church gatherings that were suppressed in past months and years.  The circular identified several buildings and streets for priority patrol.

CBN News reported in August that the government encouraged citizens to report anyone distributing printed religious material or holding worship gatherings.  Authorities offered informants RMB 1,000 ($160).  One Hui Muslim source said officials instructed children to report on their parents’ and family’s religious and cultural practices.  ChinaAid reported that in early January, authorities in Shijiazhuang, Baoding, Xingtai, and other areas in Hebei Province encouraged the public to report house churches.  Authorities in Xingtai issued a “Notice on Rewards for Reporting Religious Activities during the Epidemic,” promising whistleblowers a reward of more than RMB 500 ($78).  In early August, authorities in Meilisi Daur District, Qiqihar City, Heilongjiang Province, announced a “Reward System for Reporting Illegal Religious Activities and Crimes,” under which individuals could make reports by phone, email, or letter, and receive RMB 1,000 ($160).  According to ChinaAid, reportable violations included “unqualified religious personnel, unauthorized cross-regional activities, preaching and distribution of printed religious works, audiovisual products outside of worship venues, unauthorized donations, and private family gatherings.”

In January, the Christian rights advocacy NGO World Watch Monitor reported authorities in Henan and Jiangxi Provinces placed surveillance cameras in all state-approved religious venues.  Many of the cameras were reportedly installed next to standard CCTV cameras but were linked to the Public Security Bureau, meaning artificial intelligence could instantly connect with other government databases.

The New York Times reported in February that authorities in Sanya City, Hainan Province, continued to take measures against the 10,000-member, predominantly Muslim Utsul ethnic minority, including efforts to ban girls from wearing traditional dress, including hijabs and long skirts, in school.  Signs on shops and homes that read “Allahu akbar” (God is greatest) in Arabic were covered with foot-wide stickers with the words “China Dream,” a nationalistic official slogan.  Restaurants removed the Chinese characters for halal from signs and menus.  Authorities closed two Islamic schools.  Local mosque leaders said authorities told them to remove loudspeakers that broadcast the call to prayer from the tops of minarets, place them on the ground, and turn down the volume.  Authorities halted construction of a new mosque because of its supposedly “Arab” architectural elements.  According to residents, the city barred children younger than 18 from studying Arabic.  The restrictions followed a 2019 government-issued “Working Document Regarding the Strengthening of Overall Governance over Huixin and Huihui,” which referred to the only two predominantly Utsul neighborhoods in the island province.  One academic, commenting on the measures, told the New York Times, “This is about trying to strengthen state control.  It’s purely anti-Islam.”

According to a National Review article published in July, the government continued to require churches to display banners with CCP slogans, perform the national anthem before singing Christian hymns, and “demonstrate their loyalty to the CCP above all, and only secondarily to the church.”  According to the National Review, “Consistent indoctrination and blatant submission to communist standards [was] spreading across all religious groups.”

According to Open Doors USA, in Shanxi, Henan, and Jiangxi Provinces, authorities threatened Christians with the removal of social welfare benefits and pensions if they refused to replace Christian imagery, such as crosses, with pictures of Xi Jinping.  One Christian on welfare assistance reported officials told him that since he believed in God, he should ask God for food instead of living off the CCP.

In April, UCA News reported that authorities in Zhaoxian City, Hebei Province, closed the House of the Dawn orphanage operated by Catholic nuns from the Sisters of the Child Jesus congregation, accusing the nuns of “illegal adoption practices.”  Local sources stated authorities actually closed the orphanage as part of a crackdown on church facilities operated by the unregistered Catholic Church.  The orphanage served more than 100 children, many with special needs.  According to UCA News, authorities accused Christian-run organizations of proselytizing and converting children through their social and charitable work.

According to ChinaAid, on September 4 in Harbin City, Heilongjiang Province, more than 30 CCP officials, including SWAT officers, police, religious affairs bureau officials, and local school district administrators, raided the Maizi Christian Music High School and arrested all staff members and several students.  They seized school assets, including pianos, computers, and documents.  Prior to the raid, police took the school’s principal into custody.  The students were released after 24 hours, but authorities held staff for questioning for several days.  According to AsiaNews, there were reports authorities would charge the school principal with proselytizing.

Authorities continued to restrict the printing and distribution of the Bible, the Quran, and other religious texts.  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.  During the year, however, many provinces conducted campaigns cracking down on “illegal religious publications” emanating from unofficial distribution channels.

ChinaAid reported in July that the Bao’an District Court in Shenzhen City, Guangdong Province, found four Christian employees of the Shenzhen Life Tree Technology Development Company guilty of “illegal business” and gave them sentences ranging from fifteen months to up to six years in prison, with fines of up to RMB 200,000 ($31,400).  Authorities arrested the individuals in 2020 for illegally selling audio Bible players and confiscated their electronics and other belongings.

Local authorities throughout the country continued to ban the sale and display of religious couplets (banners with poetry) traditionally displayed during Lunar New Year.  Local authorities threatened to fine or imprison anyone caught selling them.  According to ChinaAid, officials in Pingdingshan, Henan Province, went house to house tearing couplets off the doors of Christian families that displayed faith-related messages.

In October, the BBC reported that Apple, at the request of the government, removed from its store the app Quran Majeed, which allows users to download the Quran.  The media outlet stated, “The BBC understands that the app was removed for hosting illegal religious texts.”  Apple declined to comment to the BBC.

Christian organizations seeking to use social media and smartphone apps to distribute Christian materials reported the government increased censorship of these materials.  According to International Christian Concern, authorities removed Bible-related apps from app stores.  Catholic News Agency reported in October that a digital Bible company removed its app from the Apple app store after Apple stated the company must demonstrate it had authorization from the government to distribute an app with book or magazine content in mainland China.

In May, International Christian Concern reported that according to a tweet by Father Francis Liu from the Chinese Christian Fellowship of Righteousness, the home pages of some Christian WeChat accounts, such as “Gospel League” and “Life Quarterly,” no longer showed any content.  Instead, visitors saw a message reading, “[We] received a report that [this account] violates the ‘Internet User Public Account Information Services Management Provisions’ and its account has been blocked and suspended.”

China Christian Daily reported the government blocked many registered churches’ WeChat accounts during a crackdown on online Christian content.  The banned accounts were managed by TSPM-approved churches in Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Guangdong, Heilongjiang, Jilin, and Yunnan Provinces.  The Shanghai Pure Heart Church, Huai’an Church of Jiangsu Province, and Nanjing Holy Word Church of Jiangsu Province were among the churches whose official WeChat accounts that authorities blocked.  “Today’s Nanjing Union Life,” the WeChat page of Nanjing Union Theological Seminary, the only national Protestant seminary in the country, was inaccessible from May to the end of the year.  China Christian Daily further reported that WeChat censored the words “Christ,” “gospel,” and “fellowship.”  ChinaAid also reported that authorities blocked key words related to Christianity from search engines.

International Christian Concern stated Bibles in hard copy were not available for sale online and said TSPM-owned bookstores were increasingly selling books promoting Xi Jinping Thought and CCP ideology.  According to International Christian Concern, “Even their WeChat accounts are turning into propaganda channels for CCP.”

ChinaAid reported that at the end of the year, a court upheld the initial verdict in the second trial of Chen Yu (also known as Zhang Xiaomai).  Chen owned and operated the Xiaomai Bookstore in Linhai, Zhejiang Province, which sold Christian books online and in-store.  In September 2019, the government arrested Chen for selling online “illegal religious overseas publications” and sentenced him to seven years in prison and a fine of RMB 200,000 ($31,400).  Authorities also confiscated 12,864 books and investigated more than 10,000 individuals who bought from Chen.  Nationwide, authorities confiscated all copies Chen sold of ERCC Pastor Wang Yi’s Transformation of the Gospel.

ChinaAid reported that the Propaganda Department of the CCP Central Committee censored information related to Christianity in school textbooks.  In one textbook containing a picture of Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam” on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, authorities changed the word in the description from “God” to “Old Man,” and in the description of a painting of the Virgin Mary and Jesus, they changed “Holy Mother and Holy Son” to “mother and son.”

A Hui Muslim source told international media the government was attempting to remove characteristics of Hui religion and culture to make Hui citizens indistinguishable from Han citizens, with whom they share physical characteristics and language.  Authorities took down minarets and domes and consolidated mosques.  He said authorities trained clergy in Party doctrine and instructed them to pass those teachings on to their religious communities.  The government targeted Hui cultural and business elites to remove Hui texts and art and cut off independent financial support to the community.  The source called this a kind of “cultural genocide.”

On October 24, National Public Radio (NPR) reported that the government had removed domes and minarets from thousands of mosques across the country, saying these were evidence of “foreign religious influence,” and to replace them with more traditionally Chinese architectural features.  Authorities removed the dome and minarets from the Dongguan Mosque in Xining City, Qinghai Province.  According to one local resident, “The government says they want us to ‘Sinicize’ our mosques so that they look more like Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.”  NPR stated the campaign coincided with rising anti-Muslim sentiment in the country and growing religious restrictions.

According to ChinaAid, on February 1, authorities for the second time removed a 100-year-old cross from Shuixin Church in Wenzhou City, Zhejiang Province, against the wishes of the congregation.  They first cut the building’s electricity and then took the church’s night watch staff into custody.  According to one Christian observer, several security guards held one church member in a headlock and confiscated his mobile phone.  They warned him, “Do not fight back.  We are enforcing orders from higher officials.”  Authorities had removed the cross in June 2014, but the church later reinstalled it.

ChinaAid reported that on July 28, authorities in Zhoushan City, Zhejiang Province, forced several fishermen to remove crosses from their privately owned fishing vessels.  Authorities also erased “Emmanuel” slogans painted on boats and threatened that if the fishermen refused to cooperate, authorities would not grant them fishing permits or allow them to purchase gasoline for their boats.  The authorities did not present any legal documents supporting their actions.  The fishermen wrote on social media, “The government is completely unreasonable.  Fishing boats are our personal property.  We have the right to put crosses on our boats.  Religious freedom is written in the constitution.  However, it is just empty talk.  The government never enforces the constitution.”

According to Bitter Winter, in January authorities sentenced Pastor Li Juncai of the Yuan Yang County House Church in Xinxiang City, Henan Province, to five and a half years in prison.  In early 2019, Li had resisted government orders to remove the cross from his building and change the Church motto from “Love God and Love Others” to “Love the Country and Love Religion.”  He also objected to constructing a stand within the church where a national flag would be placed.  Authorities arrested Li in February 2019, and the Yuan Yang County prosecutor’s office charged him with “misappropriation of office, obstruction of official duties, and destruction of accounts.”  He remained in jail until his trial.  The court found him guilty on all three counts.

According to the SARA data, at year’s end, religious groups ran 87 schools in the country, including 37 Buddhist, 10 Taoist, 10 Islamic, nine Catholic, and 21 Protestant.  Authorities barred students younger than 18 from receiving religious instruction, but enforcement and implementation of the prohibition varied widely across and within regions.  According to the SARA, there were six national-level religious colleges.  Although there were two CCPA seminaries in Beijing, civil society sources said one of these institutions was primarily used as CCPA propaganda for international visitors.

In March, Open Doors USA reported authorities using CCTV observed a woman in Shandong Province taking her child to a state-affiliated church.  Officials reprimanded her for violating the ban on children participating in religious activities, such as attending church.

In May, Bitter Winter reported that police came to the home of Zhao Weikai, a worker at Taiyuan Reformed Church in Taiyuan City, Shanxi Province, with an arrest warrant for “religious fraud.”  Police arrested Zhao and confiscated his mobile phone and other items.  They reportedly told Zhao to stop homeschooling minors, which is prohibited by law.  Individuals present questioned the summons’ validity, saying that court officials had neither signed nor stamped it.

In November, ChinaAid reported that during the year, the government shut down several informal Christian schools.  On May 27, authorities raided the Xuan De learning center, affiliated with the Wuhu Jiamishan Christian Church in Anhui Province.  They confiscated books, computers, and mobile phones, and detained the school’s headmaster and teachers.  On May 28, the Wuhu civil affairs bureau labeled the center an “illegal social organization,” and in July, the Wuhu local government deemed the Church an “illegal gathering.”  On October 12, police arrested five educators from the Abeka Academy, a U.S.-based Christian homeschool education program in Zhenjiang City, Jiangsu Province, and detained children, parents, and teachers.

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 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.

National regulations required Muslim clerics to meet the following requirements:  “Uphold the leadership of the CCP; love Islam and serve Muslims; possess a degree in or receive formal training in Islamic scriptural education; have graduated from junior high school or above, in addition to attaining competency in Arabic; and be at least 22 years old.”  According to sources, imams had to pass an exam testing their ideological knowledge to renew their license each year.

The government and the Holy See remained without formal diplomatic relations, and the Holy See had no official representative to the country.  Media stated the SARA’s “Administrative Measures for Religious Clergy” made no provision for the Vatican to have a role in the selection of Catholic bishops, despite the 2018 Sino-Vatican provisional agreement reportedly involving both Chinese authorities and the Holy See in the process of appointing bishops.  AsiaNews stated the regulations undermined the Sino-Vatican provisional agreement.  The news outlet said, “Even Catholic bishops, although ‘approved and ordained’ by the Council of Chinese Bishops, can only exercise their ministry after registering with the SARA.  In this way, the state and not the Church retains management of the pastoral ministry of bishops.”  According to AsiaNews, the provisions reenforced the distinction between official and unofficial priests and bishops, “thus endorsing and supporting the division imposed by the regime.”  Some senior Chinese sources, however, told the Catholic news outlet The Pillar that the new rules would not invalidate the agreement.  One Catholic cleric said provisions on financial management were aimed not at Catholic churches but rather at Buddhist temples, while those pertaining to “foreign domination” were aimed primarily at underground Protestant house churches.  He said the government had omitted the Vatican from the regulations because the CCP would not want to publicly identify a foreign power in any way, despite coordinating on the selection of bishops.

Media reported that on May 20, authorities detained seven priests and an unspecified number of seminarians in Xinxiang City, Henan Province, for using an abandoned factory as a seminary to train priests.  On May 21, they arrested Vatican-approved Bishop Joseph Zhang Weizhu.  All were accused of violating the SARA’s May 1 regulation outlawing religious activities, including worship, in places not registered with the state.  The CCPA does not recognize Xinxiang as a diocese, although it was created by the Vatican in 1936.  Zhang was ordained by the Vatican as a bishop in 1991, but his appointment was not approved by the two state-sanctioned church bodies – the BCCCC and CCPA – and he was not among the Vatican-approved bishops recognized as a result of the Sino-Vatican provisional agreement.

Media reported in April that authorities in Cangnan County, Wenzhou City, Zhejiang Province, fined Catholic Huang Ruixun RMB 200,000 ($31,400) for offering his private chapel to Bishop Peter Shao Zhumin and approximately 20 worshippers to conduct services.  They charged that the event was an illegal religious activity.  Shao was ordained by the Vatican as Bishop of Yongjia/Wenzhou Diocese in 2016, but he was not among the Vatican-approved bishops recognized as a result of the Sino-Vatican provisional agreement.

On September 8, Franciscan Father Francis Cui Qingqi was ordained Bishop of Hankou/Wuhan Diocese, with the approval of the state and the Catholic Church, making him the sixth bishop ordained since the Sino-Vatican provisional agreement of 2018, and the fourth since it was extended in 2020.  The Vatican press office director told journalists that Pope Francis appointed Cui on June 23, 2020.  Media stated the state-sanctioned BCCCC had elected him “democratically” on September 27, 2020.

A number of Catholic clergy, including some bishops appointed by the Pope, remained unable or unwilling to register with the CCPA.

The South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported that during an August 27-28 conference on ethnic affairs attended by CCP leaders, legislators, and the political advisory body, including all seven Politburo Standing Committee members, President Xi told attendees to “continue to eradicate poisonous thoughts of ethnic separatism and religious extremism.”  SCMP reported that Xi’s statements were an apparent attempt to “rebuff international allegations of human rights abuses.”

According to the State Council website, the government convened a national conference on religious affairs on December 3-4, the first since 2016, that called on clergy, the CCP, and government officials to ensure religious doctrine followed the CCP.  At the conference, President Xi said religions in the country had made progress in “enhancing their recognition” of the Chinese nation and culture, along with the CCP and socialism.  Xi emphasized the need to “uphold and develop a religious theory of socialism with Chinese characteristics, work in line with the Party’s basic policy on religious affairs, and uphold the principle that religions in China must be Chinese in orientation.”  Xi urged “full and strict governance of religions.”  He told CCP and government officials to train individuals who were “adept at the Marxist view on religion, familiar with religious affairs, and competent to engage in work related to religious believers.”  According to media reports, Xi further emphasized strengthening “the management of online religious affairs,” which critics said implied that religious practitioners would be disciplined for inappropriate online commentary.

The Associated Press reported that on May 18, the host of a program on CGTN, the overseas channel of state broadcaster CCTV, used antisemitic tropes.  Speaking in English, Zheng Junfeng said, “Some people believe that U.S. pro-Israeli policy is traceable to the influence of wealthy Jews in the U.S. and the Jewish lobby on U.S. foreign policy makers… Jews dominate finance and internet sectors.”  Responding on Twitter, the Israeli embassy in China stated, “We have hoped that the times of the ‘Jews controlling the world’ conspiracy theories were over, unfortunately antisemitism has shown its ugly face again.  We are appalled to see blatant antisemitism expressed in an official Chinese media outlet.”

In a June SCIO white paper entitled, “The Communist Party of China and Human Rights Protection – A 100-Year Quest,” the government stated that it protects “normal religious activities” and “does not interfere in the internal affairs of religions.”

On August 13, the outlet Algemeiner described as antisemitic a caricature of the U.S. Secretary of State that the state-owned Xinhua news agency published alongside Xinhua’s article on the Secretary’s July meeting with World Health Organization head Tendros Ghebreyesus.  The cartoon depicted the Secretary as a devil with red skin, horns, and a large, elongated nose, holding a report entitled “COVID-19 Origins Tracing.”  The American Jewish Committee denounced the cartoon on Twitter, calling it “despicable.”

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.

Despite labor law provisions against discrimination in hiring based on religious belief, some employers continued to discriminate against religious believers.  Religious minorities continued to report employers terminated their employment due to their current or prior religious activities.

In 2020, the Economist reported employment discrimination against ethnic minorities was pervasive, citing a study that found that Hui job seekers had to send twice as many applications as Han applicants and that Uyghurs had on average to send nearly four times as many applications just to hear back from potential employers.  The study found the gap was greater for highly educated workers, with Uyghur candidates who were in the top 1 percent academically having to send six times as many applications as their Han counterparts.  According to the Economist, the application gap was “similar in both smaller cities and in the provincial-level regions of Guangdong, Beijing and Shanghai.  State-owned enterprises, which have an official mandate to hire more minority workers, appeared at least as biased as other firms.”

Discrimination against potential or current tenants based on their religious beliefs reportedly continued.  Since 2017 and 2018, when articles in the 2005 Public Security Administration Punishment Law related to “suspicious activity” began to be enforced in earnest, Falun Gong practitioners reported ongoing difficulty in finding landlords who would rent them apartments.  Sources stated government enforcement of this law continued to move the country further away from informal discriminatory practices by individual landlords towards a more formalized enforcement of codified discriminatory legislation.

In June, the Diplomat reported growing anti-Muslim sentiment in society as a result of the government’s Sinicization campaign, which the Diplomat said could lead to violence.  Sources said government propaganda portraying Uyghurs as radicals, extremists, and terrorists had created societal hostility toward that group.  Anti-Muslim speech in social media reportedly remained widespread.

There were reports that Uyghur Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, and other religious minorities continued to face difficulties in finding accommodation when they traveled.

In January, media reported messages on social media blamed local Catholics from Shijiazhuang City and “several priests from Europe and the United States” for the spread of COVID-19 in Hebei Province that resulted in a lockdown on January 6.  Local priests denounced the posts, saying there had been no religious activities, masses, or meetings since December 24, 2020.


Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of faith and conscience and the practice of one’s religion.  The country’s 16 states exercise considerable autonomy on registration of religious groups and other matters.  Unrecognized religious groups are ineligible for tax benefits.  The federal government banned the Muslim association Ansaar International, stating it financed terrorism, and Hamburg’s intelligence service said it would classify the Islamic Center Hamburg (IZH) as an organization receiving “direct orders from Tehran.”  Federal and some state offices of the domestic intelligence service continued to monitor the activities of numerous Muslim groups and mosques, as well as the Church of Scientology (COS).  Certain states continued to ban or restrict the use of religious clothing or symbols, including headscarves, for some state employees.  A ruling on two German cases by the Court of Justice of the European Union said the needs of employers could outweigh an employee’s right to wear religious clothing and symbols.  Senior government leaders continued to condemn antisemitism and anti-Muslim sentiment and acts.  In speeches in September and October, then Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed regret that public antisemitism had increased in the country and said Germany would expend great strength to resist it.  The first antisemitism commissioner for the state of Hamburg assumed office in July; Bremen remained the only state without such a position.

There were numerous reports of antisemitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian incidents.  These included assaults, verbal harassment, threats, discrimination, vandalism, and demonstrations.  In separate incidents, two Jewish men were hospitalized after being severely beaten and suffering broken bones in the face.  In May, there was an outbreak of antisemitic demonstrations and attacks, some of them violent, as well as vandalism and assaults across the country, during violence in the Middle East.  According to figures collected by the Federal Criminal Police Office, as of November 5, there had been 1,850 antisemitic crimes reported during the year, including 35 involving physical violence leading to 17 persons injured.  Ministry of Interior crime statistics for 2020, the most recent year for which complete data were available, cited 2,351 antisemitic crimes, an increase of 15.7 percent from 2019, attributing 2,224 (94.6 percent) of them to the far right.  Fifty-seven of the antisemitic crimes involved violence.  The ministry registered 929 crimes targeting Muslims and Muslim institutions – including 79 against places of worship and 51 involving battery – and 141 anti-Christian crimes, including seven involving violence.  The ministry classified most of the perpetrators of anti-Muslim crimes as right-wing extremists; the composition of those acting against Christians was mixed.  The partially government-funded Federal Association of Departments for Research and Information on Antisemitism (RIAS) attributed the increase in antisemitic incidents to the large number of demonstrations against measures to contain COVID-19 or to other COVID-related issues, classifying 489 antisemitic incidents as connected to the pandemic.  Demonstrations also occurred expressing anti-Muslim sentiment.  In September, the Brussels-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey, which found that 10 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in Germany said they had negative feelings towards Jews.

In June, then Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and the U.S. Secretary of State launched the U.S.-Germany Dialogue on Holocaust Issues to promote accurate Holocaust education and information and to combat Holocaust denial and distortion and antisemitism.  The U.S. embassy and five consulates general assessed the government’s responses to incidents of religious intolerance and met with a wide range of officials at all levels and with federal and state legislators.  They expressed concerns regarding antisemitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian acts, and advocated for more law enforcement and other resources to prevent violent attacks on religious communities.  Consuls General met with state-level government representatives, including antisemitism commissioners.  The embassy and consulates general maintained a dialogue with a broad spectrum of religious communities and human rights NGOs on their concerns regarding religious freedom and on ways to promote tolerance and communication among religious groups.  The embassy and consulates worked closely with Jewish communities to support programs promoting religious tolerance and understanding, while countering antisemitism and extremism targeting religion.  The embassy utilized virtual and in-person speaker programs and workshops to help preserve accurate Holocaust narratives and expand discussion of religious freedom issues.  The Frankfurt Consul General visited Ulm’s Jewish community in June following an attack on a synagogue there.  The Charge d’Affaires and the Leipzig Consul General visited Halle, the site of a fatal 2019 attack on a synagogue, where they met with members of the Jewish community to discuss antisemitism, religious tolerance, and Jewish life in the east of the country.  The embassy made extensive use of social media to amplify U.S. government messaging and disseminate its own original content advocating religious freedom.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 79.9 million (midyear 2021).  Unofficial estimates based on the census and figures provided by religious groups indicate approximately 27 percent of the population is Catholic and 25 percent belongs to the Evangangelische Kirche in Deutschland (EKD) – a confederation of Lutheran, Reformed (Calvinist), and United (Prussian Union) Protestant regional churches.  Other Protestant denominations, including the New Apostolic Church, Baptist communities, and nondenominational Christians, account for approximately 2 percent of the population.  Orthodox Christians represent 1.9 percent of the population.

According to government estimates published in April, approximately 6.6 percent of the population is Muslim, of which 74 percent is Sunni, 8 percent Alevi, 4 percent Shia, 1 percent Ahmadi, and 1 percent other affiliations such as Alawites and Sufis.  The remaining 12 percent of Muslims in the country say they are not affiliated with any of the above groups or are unwilling to disclose an affiliation.  Intelligence officials estimate there are approximately 12,150 Salafi Muslims in the country.  Estimates of the Jewish population vary widely; the Federal Ministry of the Interior estimates it at 95,000, while other estimates place the number at approximately 190,000 when including Jews who do not belong to a specific Jewish community.  According to the secular NGO Religious Studies Media and Information Service (REMID), Buddhists (270,000); Jehovah’s Witnesses (167,000); Hindus (100,000); Yezidis (100,000); members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ) (40,000); Sikhs (10,000-15,000); and members of the COS (3,400) together constitute less than 1 percent of the population.  All of REMID’s estimates are based on members who have registered with a religious group.  According to the nonprofit Research Group Worldviews Germany, approximately 39 percent of the population either has no religious affiliation or belongs to religious groups not counted in government statistics.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on religious opinion and provides for freedom of faith and conscience, freedom to profess a religious or philosophical creed, and freedom to practice one’s religion.  It also prohibits an official state church.  It stipulates no one shall be required to disclose his or her religious convictions nor be compelled to participate in religious acts.  The constitution states religious instruction shall be part of the curriculum in public schools, and parents have the right to decide whether their children receive religious instruction.  It recognizes the right to establish private denominational schools.  The constitution guarantees the freedom to form religious societies and permits groups to organize themselves for private religious purposes without constraint.  It allows registered religious groups with Public Law Corporation (PLC) status to receive public subsidies from the states and to provide religious services in the military, hospitals, and prisons.

A federal law prohibits discrimination on the grounds of race or ethnic origin, gender, religion or belief, disability, age, or sexual orientation.

The federal criminal code prohibits calling for violence, inciting hatred, or taking arbitrary measures against religious groups or their members.  Violations are punishable by up to five years in prison.  It also prohibits “assaulting the human dignity of religious groups or their members by insulting, maliciously maligning, or defaming them,” specifying a maximum penalty of five years in prison, although prison sentences are rare.  The prohibition and penalties apply equally to online speech.  In addition, the federal criminal code prohibits insulting a domestic religious organization, its institutions or practices, or the religious beliefs or world views of another person, if doing so could disturb the public peace.  Violations are punishable by a fine or up to three years in prison but are rarely prosecuted.  The federal criminal code prohibits disturbing religious services or acts of worship, with violators subject to a fine or imprisonment for up to three years.  The law bans Nazi propaganda, Holocaust denial, and fomenting racial hatred, specifying a penalty of up to five years’ imprisonment.

By law, social media companies with more than two million registered users in the country must implement procedures to review complaints and remove or block access to illegal speech within seven days of receiving a complaint and within 24 hours for cases considered “manifestly unlawful.”  Noncompliance may result in fines of up to 50 million euros ($56.69 million).  Unlawful content includes actions illegal under the criminal code, such as defamation of religions and denial of historic atrocities.

The law permits the federal government to characterize “nontraditional” religious groups – such as the COS – as “sects,” “youth religions,” and “youth sects” and allows the government to provide “accurate information” or warnings about them to the public.  The law does not permit the government to use terms such as “destructive,” “pseudo-religious,” or “manipulative” when referring to these groups.  Several past court decisions ruled that the government must remain neutral toward a religion and may provide a warning to the public only if an “offer” by a religious group would endanger the basic rights of an individual or place the individual in a state of physical or financial dependence.

Religious groups wishing to qualify as nonprofit associations with tax-exempt status must register.  State-level authorities review registration submissions and routinely grant tax-exempt status; if challenged, their decisions are subject to judicial review.  Those applying for tax-exempt status must provide evidence they are a religious group through their statutes, history, and activities.

A special partnership exists between the states and religious groups with PLC status, as outlined in the constitution.  Any religious group may request PLC status, which, if granted, entitles the group to levy tithes (8 percent of income tax in Bavaria and Baden-Wuerttemberg, 9 percent in the other states) on members, who must register their religious affiliation with federal tax authorities.  Each state collects the tithes on behalf of the religious community through the state’s tax collection process, separately from and in addition to income taxes.  PLCs pay fees to the government for the tithing service, but not all groups with PLC status utilize the service.  PLC status also allows for benefits, including tax exemptions (larger than those given to groups with nonprofit status), representation on supervisory boards of public television and radio stations, and the right to special labor regulations.  State governments subsidize institutions with PLC status that provide public services, such as religious schools and hospitals.  In addition, due to historic “state-church contracts” dating back to before 1919, all state governments except for Bremen and Hamburg subsidize the Catholic Church and the EKD with different yearly amounts.

According to the constitution, the decision to grant PLC status is made at the state level.  Individual states base PLC status decisions on a number of varying qualifications, including an assurance of the group’s permanence, size, and respect for the constitutional order and fundamental rights of individuals.  An estimated 180 religious groups have PLC status, including Catholics, the EKD, Baha’is, Baptists, Christian Scientists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, Mennonites, Methodists, the Church of Jesus Christ, the Salvation Army, and Seventh-day Adventists.  The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has PLC status in the states of Hesse and Hamburg; no other Muslim communities have PLC status.  The COS does not have PLC or nonprofit status in any state.

Federal animal protection laws prohibit the killing of animals without anesthesia, including as part of halal and kosher slaughter practices.  Pursuant to a Federal Administrative Court decision, however, trained personnel may kill animals without anesthesia in a registered slaughterhouse under observation of the local veterinary inspection office if the meat is for consumption only by members of religious communities whose beliefs require slaughtering animals without anesthesia.

On July 6, a federal law took effect that enables authorities to restrict the tattoos, clothing, jewelry, and hair or beard styles of civil servants if this is necessary to ensure the functionality of public administration or fulfill the obligation for respectful and trustworthy conduct.  The law specifies that if these symbols are of a religious nature, they may only be restricted if they are “objectively suited to adversely affecting trust in a civil servant’s neutral performance of his official duties.”

According to a ruling by the Federal Constitutional Court, general headscarf bans for teachers at public schools are a violation of religious freedom, but implementation is left to the states, which may determine if special circumstances apply.  The states of Bavaria, North-Rhine Westphalia (NRW), and Saarland render decisions on a case-by-case basis.  Schleswig-Holstein, Hamburg, Bremen, and Lower Saxony do not prohibit headscarves for teachers.  Hesse permits teachers to wear headscarves as long as doing so does not impair “school peace” or threaten perceptions of state neutrality.  Rhineland-Palatinate and Baden-Wuerttemberg prohibit teachers from wearing full-face veils (i.e., niqabs or burqas).  Berlin bans visible signs of religious affiliation for police, lawyers, judges, and law enforcement staff but not for primary and secondary school teachers.  In Lower Saxony and Bavaria, judges and prosecutors may not wear religious symbols or clothing in the courtroom.  Other states have laws that restrict religious attire in certain circumstances.

Citing safety reasons and the need for traffic law enforcement, federal law prohibits the concealment of faces while driving, including by a niqab.  Infractions are punishable by a 60 euro ($68) fine.

State law in Rhineland-Palatinate and Baden-Wuerttemberg forbids students in primary and secondary schools from full-face veiling at school (i.e., wearing a niqab or burqa).  This state ban on full-face covering does not apply in higher education.

According to federal law, religious groups may appoint individuals with special training to carry out circumcision of males younger than six months.  After six months, the law states circumcisions must be performed in a “medically professional manner” and without unnecessary pain.

All states offer religious instruction and ethics courses in public schools.  Religious communities with PLC status (or those without such status that have concluded a special agreement with the state granting them this right) appoint religion teachers and work with the states to ensure the curriculum is in line with the constitution; the states pay the teachers’ salaries.  Most public schools offer the option of Protestant and Catholic religious instruction in cooperation with those Churches, as well as instruction in Judaism if enough students (usually 12, although regulations vary by state) express an interest.  Bavaria, Baden-Wuerttemberg, Berlin, Hesse, Lower Saxony, NRW, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland, and Schleswig-Holstein also offer some religious instruction in Islam.  In most federal states, Muslim communities or associations provide this instruction, while in Bavaria and Schleswig-Holstein, the state does.  In Hamburg and Bremen, nondenominational religious instruction is offered for all students by the EKD and the state, respectively.

Students who do not wish to participate in religious instruction may opt out; in some states, those who opt out may substitute ethics courses.  State authorities generally permit religious groups to establish private schools as long as they meet basic curriculum requirements.  Schooling is constitutionally mandated, and homeschooling, including for religious reasons, is prohibited in all states.

The government provides annual payments to Holocaust victims and their descendants, and regularly expands the scope of these programs to broaden the eligibility requirements.

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

Government Practices

In May, then federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer banned the Duesseldorf-based Muslim association Ansaar International and related suborganizations for financing terrorism and opposing the country’s constitutional order.  The NRW Office for the Protection of the Constitution (OPC, the state’s intelligence service) had been observing these organizations since 2013.  More than 1,000 officers were deployed in 10 states (Baden-Wuerttemberg, Bavaria, Berlin, Brandenburg, Hamburg, Hesse, Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate and Schleswig-Holstein) to enforce the ban.

In July, Hamburg’s domestic intelligence service announced that, based on new evidence, it would officially classify the IZH as an organization that is not independent, but rather one that “receives and depends on direct orders from Tehran.”  The IZH challenged this and previous claims in court; a verdict was pending at year’s end.  Hamburg opposition parties and civil society actors continued to advocate an end to Hamburg’s formal relationship with the IZH, which they said was an important Iranian regime asset.

Federal and state OPCs continued to monitor numerous Muslim groups, including the U.S.-designated terrorist groups ISIS, Hizballah, and Hamas, as well as groups such as Turkish Hizballah, Hizb ut-Tahrir, Tablighi Jama’at, Millatu Ibrahim, the IZH, the Muslim Brotherhood, Milli Gorus, and various Salafist movements.

The OPC in Saxony continued to monitor two mosques it said were dominated by Salafists.

According to reports from the federal OPC and COS members, the federal OPC and the OPCs of six states – Baden-Wuerttemberg, Bavaria, Berlin, Bremen, Hamburg, Lower Saxony, NRW, and Saxony-Anhalt – continued to monitor the activities of the COS, reportedly by evaluating COS publications and members’ public activities to determine whether they violated the constitution.  At least four major political parties – the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Christian Social Union (CSU), Social Democratic Party (SPD), and Free Democratic Party (FDP) – continued to exclude Scientologists from party membership.  “Sect filters,” signed statements by potential employees to confirm they had no contact with the COS, remained in use in the public and private sectors.

Groups under OPC observation continued to say that OPC scrutiny implied they were extremist and that this constrained their ability to apply for publicly funded projects.

In speeches in September and October, then Chancellor Merkel expressed regret that expressions of public antisemitism had increased in the country and said the country would expend great strength to resist it.  At the presentation of a prize for tolerance in September, she stated that support for Jewish life was a special obligation of the government and that the country would not tolerate racism, antisemitism, or hate directed at a group of persons.  She also acknowledged a strong increase in antisemitic acts in 2020 and expressed concern that antisemitism was becoming bolder and more open than before.

In August, the federal government announced it would spend an additional 12 million euros ($13.61 million) on research networks focusing on antisemitism between 2021 and 2024, complementing the one billion euros ($1.13 billion) in spending already planned for 89 measures against right-wing extremism, antisemitism, and racism during that period.  Then Education and Research Minister Anja Karliczek said the government wanted to invest millions in researching the causes of anti-Semitism in order “to efficiently fight” it, adding that there was reason to worry that the 2,351 cases of antisemitism reported in 2020 were “only the tip of the iceberg and that the unreported number of daily attacks on Jews is substantially higher.”

In July, the Duisburg public prosecutor’s office charged six law enforcement officers with sedition and spreading symbols of unconstitutional organizations by participating in right-wing extremist chat groups with names such as “Alphateam” and “Kunte Kinte.”  According to the NRW Interior Ministry, officers exchanged anti-Muslim content in the groups, including praise for the 2019 anti-Muslim attacks at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.  The groups had been found entered into an officer’s phone in September 2020.  Investigations against seven other accused members of the chat groups were dropped due to statutes of limitation or lack of sufficient evidence.  Investigations continued in 13 other cases, all involving law enforcement officers.  In September, the NRW Interior Ministry’s unit examining police right-wing extremism published its report of conclusions, in which it recommended 18 separate measures to fight right-wing extremism within the police.

In June, Frankfurt prosecutors launched investigations of 20 members of the city’s elite police special forces (SEK) for exchanging right-wing extremist material in a chat group, including material venerating Nazi organizations and expressing hate against minority groups.  On August 26, Hesse Interior Minister Peter Beuth dissolved the Frankfurt SEK and announced a statewide reorganization of SEK units.  Investigations against a majority of the officers continued at year’s end, but investigations of two superior officers for failing to report the activity were closed.  Frankfurt Police president Gerhard Bereswill said in September that parts of the city’s police force would be reformed to address antisemitic tendencies and other discriminatory attitudes within it.

In July, the chair of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, Ayman Mazyek, and other representatives of the Muslim community said that military chaplains were not available to the estimated 3,000 Muslim soldiers who “put their heads on the line for Germany.”  The Ministry of Defense said that the lack of an umbrella organization for Muslims with which the ministry could negotiate made it difficult to appoint imams as chaplains.

In June, the Bundeswehr (military) appointed its first military rabbi, the first of up to 10 rabbis scheduled to serve the 150-300 Jews in the armed forces.  The Central Council of Jews in Germany and leading politicians of all major parties welcomed the move.

According to the Rhineland-Palatinate Ministry of Justice, the state employed four Muslim prison chaplains, all of whom are state employees and had to pass a multistep recruitment process.  The states of Hesse, Rhineland-Palatinate, and Bavaria also employed Muslim chaplains, according to media reports, and in Lower Saxony, 11 Muslim chaplains worked for the prison system on a freelance basis.

In May, the Stuttgart Administrative Court decided in favor of the Wuerttemberg EKD, ruling that the federal government’s COVID-19 restrictions for areas with high infection rates did not apply to church funerals.  The EKD had argued in April that church funerals were religious services, not private events, and should therefore be exempt from the 30-person attendance limit mandated by the COVID-19 regulations.  The court also found that the federal regulation constituted an infringement on religious freedom.

Religious groups, including the Coordination Council of Muslims, whose members included the country’s largest Muslim organizations, expressed concern that authorities might restrict civil servants from wearing headscarves or other religious symbols after the law allowing such restrictions in some circumstances came into effect in July.

On March 22-23, then Chancellor Merkel and the minister-presidents (governors) of the 16 states decided the government would ask churches to cancel in-person Easter services on April 4 as part of heightened COVID-19 restrictions during a five-day “quiet period” of no in-person gatherings.  According to media reports, the Chancellor and minister-presidents did not consult with church leaders or government advisors on religious affairs before announcing the decision.  On March 24, following strong protests by the Catholic Church, the EKD, and business leaders, the federal government withdrew the plan for the quiet period.  The government, however, still encouraged churches to avoid in-person Easter services.

In April, NRW Interior Minister Herbert Reul suggested that religious congregations suspend in-person services due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The suggestion followed a COVID-19 outbreak at a church in Euskirchen.  Religious groups followed strict social distancing rules for in-person worship but also offered virtual and drive-in services.

Also in April, local officials and mayors across NRW encouraged Muslims to celebrate Ramadan virtually, as large gatherings were prohibited due to COVID-19 regulations.  To comply with social distancing regulations, many mosques offered in-person services for smaller numbers of participants, as well as online prayers.

In August, the NRW state government established a reporting office for antisemitic incidents that do not rise to the level of criminal charges.  The North Rhein State Association of Jewish Communities temporarily administered the office until the government could establish a new organization.

In March, the city of Cologne established a reporting and documentation office for antisemitic incidents at its National Socialist Documentation Center that it said would coordinate its efforts with similar institutions at the state and national level.

In April, the Hamburg government appointed Stefan Hensel, the local chair of the German Israeli Society (DIG), as the city-state’s first independent antisemitism commissioner.  Hensel’s three-year term began on July 1.  Hamburg’s largest Jewish congregation, led by Chief Rabbi Shlomo Bistritzky, as well as the smaller Liberal Jewish Community, endorsed the appointment.  Hensel stated that he was committed to fighting both antisemitism and anti-Zionism, adding that the city should appreciate Hamburg Jews as modern citizens.

Bremen remained the only state in the country without an antisemitism commissioner.  In previous years, the deputy chair of the Jewish community in Bremen said the community preferred to address antisemitism and other issues of concern in an existing forum that included the mayor and president of the legislature.

In August, the government of Baden-Wuerttemberg announced that the annual budget of the state’s antisemitism commissioner would be doubled to more than 2.2 million euros ($2.49 million).

In January, the Baden-Wuerttemberg State Criminal Police Office and the state Interior Ministry announced a new prevention program called “Safe in Religious Communities” aimed at improving communication between law enforcement agencies and religious communities, while giving community representatives tools to safely organize events and identify extremism.  Police officers at regional headquarters were trained to act as liaisons to the Jewish and Muslim communities.  According to a press release by the Baden-Wuerttemberg government, more religious communities might be added at a later date.

On August 23, Baden-Wuerttemberg Interior Minister Thomas Strobl officially inaugurated the country’s first two police rabbis, Moshe Flomenmann from Loerrach and Shneur Trebnik from Ulm.  According to Strobl, the police rabbis would serve as counselors and points of contact for prospective and current police officers, as well as for community members.

In September, the Central Archive for the History of Jews in Germany reopened at a new location in Heidelberg.  The federal Ministry of the Interior funded the archive with 900,000 euros ($1.02 million) annually.

On October 7, the Berlin Administrative Court dismissed a lawsuit filed by two supporters of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement in which they said the Bundestag had infringed upon their fundamental rights when it passed a resolution criticizing the BDS as antisemitic in 2019.

In May, the Moenchengladbach District Court of Appeals overturned a man’s eight-month suspended sentence imposed by a lower court for distributing the antisemitic manifesto of the 2019 Halle synagogue attacker online, and instead fined him 900 euros ($1,000).  The court stated it found the defendant’s claims that he had shared the manifesto only to mock its contents to be credible.

In May, the NRW Higher Administrative Court in Muenster rejected an exemption for a woman from Duesseldorf who wanted to drive a car while wearing a niqab.  The court cited the law prohibiting drivers from fully covering their face except for the eyes.  The decision could not be appealed.

According to a 2020 survey of state-level education ministries, the most recent available, more than 900 schools in the country offered Islamic religious instruction.  Almost 60,000 students took part in Islamic religious instruction in the school year 2019-20, an increase of 4,000 from the previous year.  Since 2017-18, approximately 35 schools had added Islamic religious instruction.

In May, the NRW Ministry of Education created a new commission to cooperate on Islamic religious instruction in public schools.

In July, the Wiesbaden Administrative Court ruled the Hesse state government had unlawfully ended cooperation with the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB) on Islamic religious education in public schools in April 2020.  The state government appealed the decision in August; the appeal was pending at the end of the year.

In the 2021-22 school year, 364 schools in Bavaria began offering Islamic religion courses, similar to existing religion courses on Christianity and Judaism.  All pupils in Bavaria must receive instruction in one of these religions, or an ethics course if courses in their religion are not available.  Approximately 100 Muslim instructors were expected to teach approximately 17,000 Muslim pupils, although demand for Islamic religion courses was much higher than 17,000, according to parents, schools, and education ministry officials.  Muslim communities complained that the state government, not the religious community, set the curriculum of the course.

In October, Saxony-Anhalt also began offering pupils Judaism instruction for the first time as a pilot project at an elementary school in Magdeburg.  Fourteen pupils enrolled in the course.

In April, the Mainz Administrative Court ruled that the 2019 closure of Rhineland-Palatinate’s only Islamic daycare center, the al-Nur center in Mainz, was lawful.  State authorities had closed the center, saying it was linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist organizations.

In May, the Sunni School Council Foundation, which oversees Islamic religious education in Baden-Wuerttemberg public schools, rejected the teaching license of Abdel-Hakim Ourghi, head of the Islamic Theology department at the University of Education in Freiburg.  While the foundation cited missing credentials as a reason for its decision, critics, including members of the Muslim community, academics, and politicians, accused it of trying to silence a prominent voice of a liberal interpretation of Islam.  The Baden-Wuerttemberg Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs defended the decision, which could be appealed.

The government continued to subsidize some Jewish groups.  Based on an agreement between the federal government and the Central Council of Jews in Germany, the federal government contributed 13 million euros ($14.74 million) to help maintain Jewish cultural heritage and support integration and social work.  In addition, the federal government provided financial support to the Institute for Jewish Studies in Heidelberg, the Rabbi Seminar at the University of Potsdam, and the Leo Baeck Institute, an international group researching the history and culture of German Jewry.

State governments continued to provide funds to Jewish communities and organizations in various amounts for such purposes as the renovation and construction of synagogues.  The federal government continued to cover 50 percent of maintenance costs for Jewish cemeteries.  State and local police units continued to provide security for synagogues and other Jewish institutions.

In March, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany (also known as the Jewish Claims Conference) and the government announced an agreement to provide transitional payments to surviving spouses of Jewish victims of the Nazis who had been receiving a pension from the government.

In January, the Baden-Wuerttemberg state government signed a contract with the state’s Jewish communities to protect Jewish institutions and combat antisemitism.  The contract stipulated the state government would provide funds to protect Jewish facilities totaling one million euros ($1.13 million) in 2021 and 1.17 million euros ($1.33 million) in each of the ensuing three years, as well as 200,000 euros ($227,000) yearly for three years for the construction of a Jewish academy.

On April 22, the Dresden city council voted to establish a museum on the history of Jewish life in the states of Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, and Thuringia and in Poland and the Czech Republic.

After many years of renovation, the Goerlitz synagogue reopened on July 12.  Consecrated 110 years earlier, it had survived the Nazi pogrom of November 1938 (also referred to as Kristallnacht) and been neglected during the German Democratic Republic period.  The federal government supported the construction with 2.8 million euros ($3.17 million).

Construction of Frankfurt’s Jewish Academy began in September.  The academy, due to open in 2024, would function, according to sponsors, as an intellectual center of Jewish life, philosophy, and culture.  The costs of construction, estimated at 34.5 million euros ($39.12 million), was to be shared by the federal government, the state of Hesse, the city of Frankfurt, and the Central Council of Jews in Germany.

In September, the city of Frankfurt and its Jewish community signed an extension to the contract that governs cooperation between them.  The contract stipulated the city would provide an additional one million euros ($1.13 million) for the protection and security of the Jewish community, starting with the 2022 fiscal year.

According to media reports and the Humanistic Union, an organization that describes its mission as working to protect and enforce civil rights, including the right to free development of the personality, total state government contributions during the year to the Catholic Church and the EKD totaled approximately 581 million euros ($658.73 million).  The union said it calculated its estimate based on budgets of the 16 states.  The Humanistic Union advocates the abolition of state church privileges such as faith-based religious education as a regular school subject, collection of church taxes, and other financial aid to religious groups.

On June 16, the country’s first publicly funded Islamic seminary opened in Osnabrueck with a class of 50 students.  Five Muslim federations, including the Central Council of Muslims in Germany and the Muslim Community of Lower Saxony, founded the seminary.  A commission of their representatives sets the curriculum, which is taught in German.  The federal and Lower Saxony governments committed to provide 5.5 million euros ($6.24 million) in funding to the school over five years.

The government continued the German Islam Conference dialogue with Muslims in the country.  The dialogue’s stated aim was to improve the religious and social participation of the Muslim population, give greater recognition to Muslims’ contributions to society, and – in the absence of a central organization representing all Muslims in the country – further develop partnerships between the government and Muslim organizations.  Among the specific outcomes of the dialogue were the April publication of a large study on Muslim life in the country that included new official estimates of the size of the Muslim population, the first in years; a May conference on young Muslims’ perspectives on issues affecting Islam in the country; the establishment of an Islamic seminary in Osnabrueck in June, including government funding for it; and support for efforts to inform the Muslim community about the COVID-19 pandemic throughout the year.

The country is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and held the organization’s chairmanship for the year ending March 31.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

There were numerous reports of antisemitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian incidents across the country, including assaults, verbal harassment, threats, discrimination, and vandalism.  According to figures collected by the Federal Criminal Police Office, as of November 5, there had been 1,850 antisemitic crimes reported, including 35 involving physical violence leading to 17 persons injured.

In August, a group insulted and severely beat a young Jewish man wearing a kippah while he was sitting in a Cologne park.  The victim was hospitalized with broken bones in his face.  The two attackers were arrested and released; police investigations into the crime continued at year’s end.  Cologne Mayor Henriette Reker, Catholic Archbishop of Cologne Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, and President of the Jewish Community in Munich and Upper Bavaria Charlotte Knobloch condemned the attack, which police said they suspected was motived by antisemitism.

In Hamburg on September 18, a man and his companion shouted antisemitic slogans before attacking a 60-year-old Jewish man, leaving him hospitalized with potentially lifelong injuries, according to media reports.  Hamburg Anti-Semitism Commissioner Stefan Hensel said the attacker and his companions were shouting antisemitic and anti-Israel insults at a pro-Israel vigil in central Hamburg and, when vigil participants asked them to stop, the attacker punched the Jewish man in the face, breaking his nose and cheek bone.  Hamburg Deputy Mayor (equivalent to deputy governor) Katharina Fegebank condemned the attack.  Police arrested a 16-year-old suspect, Aram A., in Berlin in late September.

In May, during clashes in Gaza and Israel, there was an outbreak of antisemitic demonstrations, some of them violent, as well as vandalism and assaults across the country.  On May 10, unknown individuals burned a memorial plaque at the site of the former Duesseldorf synagogue, and on May 11, demonstrators burned Israeli flags in front of synagogues in Bonn and Muenster.  Demonstrators also threw stones at the Bonn synagogue.  Approximately 180 persons attended an anti-Israel demonstration in Gelsenkirchen May 12, chanting antisemitic insults describing Jews as subhuman.  Some made the hand signal of the Grey Wolves, a Turkish right-wing extremist group.

The NRW Interior Ministry reported a total of 77 incidents with antisemitic or anti-Israeli connections (the ministry did not separately categorize antisemitic from anti-Israeli incidents) at pro-Palestinian demonstrations in May, for which it believed at least 125 individuals were responsible; it identified 45 persons by name.

On May 15, 3,500 persons participated in a pro-Palestinian demonstration in the Neukoelln district of Berlin that turned antisemitic.  Demonstrators chanted antisemitic slogans and displayed signs equating Israel with the Nazis.  According to media reports, participants included members of the Grey Wolves and left-wing extremist groups.  After police tried to end the demonstration due to noncompliance with COVID-19 requirements, participants became violent, throwing bottles, stones, and burning objects at police and journalists covering the event.  Ninety-three police officers were injured, and 59 persons were arrested for battery, assaulting police, and other charges; police restored order after several hours.  Police investigations were underway at year’s end.  The then mayor of Berlin, Michael Mueller, condemned the demonstration as “unacceptable.”

In a statement delivered by the federal government spokesman, then Chancellor Merkel condemned the demonstrations and attacks on Jewish institutions as antisemitic abuses of the right to free assembly.  They had shown that those involved were not protesting a state or government but expressing hate against a religion and those that belong to it, she said.  Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier also condemned the demonstrations and attacks, saying that that country “will not tolerate hate against Jews, no matter who it comes from … Nothing justifies threatening Jews or attacking synagogues in our cities.”  Then Bundestag President Wolfgang Schaeuble issued a statement that there was “no justification for antisemitism, hate, and violence at the protests,” while acknowledging the existence of antisemitism in the country.  Then Interior Minister Seehofer said that attacks on synagogues and spreading antisemitism would be met with the full force of the law.  President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany Josef Schuster and Chairman of the Central Council of Muslims Mazyek also condemned the incidents.  The president of the Central Council of Jews and the German Conference of Bishops issued a joint press statement warning of growing antisemitism and a “combination of political conflict and religious fanaticism.”  Several state-level religious leaders and government officials, including DITIB Hesse Managing Director Onur Akdeniz, Bishop of Limburg Georg Baetzing, and Hesse Antisemitism Commissioner Uwe Becker, spoke out against antisemitic propaganda at the pro-Palestinian demonstrations.

In May, the Hessian State Criminal Police Office arrested a Berlin-based man, identified only as Alexander M., for sending more than 85 threatening letters with right-wing extremist content, sometimes including antisemitic content, to politicians, journalists, and other prominent figures from late 2018 through 2020.  Many of the most visible targets were Muslim women.  Among the recipients were the heads of the Central Council of Jews in Germany and the Central Council of Muslims in Germany.

In June in Moenchengladbach, two men assaulted a Jewish man, speaking to him in Arabic.  Police were investigating but had not identified any suspects at year’s end.

During a September 30 soccer match in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium between 1.FC Union Berlin and Haifa Maccabi – the first time an Israeli team had played in the stadium opened by the Nazis for the 1936 Olympic games – Maccabi supporters reported that some Union supporters threatened them, used antisemitic insults, and threw objects at them.  According to press reports, one Union fan also attempted to burn an Israeli flag.  1.FC Union apologized for the flag burning, insults, and physical attacks, all of which it termed antisemitic, and banned one person from attending games in the future.  Police were investigating at year’s end.

In April, on Easter Sunday, three unidentified men entered a church in Nidda, Hesse, shouted slogans such as “There is only one God, and that is Allah,” and “Allah is greatest,” and insulted a worshipper attending the church service.  The political crimes unit of the Hesse state police investigated the incident as a possible infringement of the free exercise of religion.

In September, a Halle police officer was suspended for repeatedly corresponding with Stephan Balliet, who had attacked the Halle synagogue on Yom Kippur in 2019.  The officer wrote Balliet at least 10 letters using a pseudonym and false address and reportedly expressed sympathy for the attacker, while minimizing his crimes, in conversations with colleagues.  The police officer had left the force as of October 31, according to newspaper Mitteldeutsche Zeitung.

On June 15, the Erfurt newspaper Thueringer Allgemeine reported that local construction companies had repeatedly declined orders for the construction of a mosque in Erfurt because they feared their involvement would precipitate attacks on their vehicles by opponents of the mosque.  Another newspaper reported in 2020 that construction companies had also declined to participate in the mosque construction at that time.  Suleman Malik, the spokesman for the Ahmadiyya Muslim community in Erfurt, said the reaction of the construction companies had delayed the construction of the mosque by two years.

In July, according to press reports, the Duesseldorf Hyatt Hotel cancelled the reservation of the Baba Sheikh, the spiritual leader of the Yezidis, and his two companions.  The hotel said the cancellation was due to technical issues, apologized for the misunderstanding, and upheld the reservation.

In October, Jewish singer Gil Ofarim reported that hotel staff told him to remove his Star of David necklace during check-in at the front desk of Leipzig’s Westin Hotel.  Hotel employees denied doing so and filed a defamation suit against the singer.  In response, Ofarim accused employees of filing a false report.  Ofarim’s discrimination lawsuit against the hotel was pending at the end of the year.  According to the hotel, it conducted its own investigation that exonerated its employees.

Media again reported that women who wore a hijab faced employment discrimination and that discrimination was made easier by the customary practice of requiring photographs as part of job applications.  According to one March report, a job seeker who wore a headscarf said that she had to submit 450 applications before she got an interview, while hearing about others who did not wear headscarves and received interviews after four applications.

In June, a man attempted to set fire to the Ulm synagogue, resulting in limited damage to the building.  The suspect was a German-born Turkish national who fled to Turkey after the attack.  According to Baden-Wuerttemberg authorities, the Turkish government refused to extradite the suspect.  Following the incident, nearly 500 persons, including various city and state politicians, attended two separate support vigils, and the Baden-Wuerttemberg state parliament passed a resolution denouncing antisemitism.

In April, an unknown perpetrator shot at the Bochum synagogue and a nearby planetarium.  According to police, the attack destroyed windows in both buildings.  Police did not rule out an antisemitic motive for the crime.  In May, police announced they had surveillance camera footage and issued an appeal to the public to help identify the suspect.  The Bochum prosecutor’s office closed the investigation in December, citing insufficient evidence.

On July 24, unknown persons set on fire a banner announcing the construction of a new synagogue in Magdeburg.  Police were investigating the case.  The state of Saxony-Anhalt earmarked 2.8 million euros ($3.17 million) for the construction of the synagogue, out of a total construction cost of approximately 3.4 million euros ($3.85 million).

In June, a swastika was found painted on the Torah ark in a Jewish prayer room at Frankfurt International Airport.  The country’s Orthodox Rabbinical Conference denounced the act of vandalism, saying, “This hatred of Jews must finally stop.”

According to Ministry of Interior federal crime statistics, there were 2,351 antisemitic crimes committed during 2020 (the most recent year for which complete statistics were available), including 57 crimes involving violence.  This represented a 15.7 percent increase from the 2,032 antisemitic crimes reported in 2019, of which 73 were violent; federal crime statistics classified 2,224 crimes (94.6 percent) as motivated by far-right ideology.  RIAS attributed the increase in antisemitic crimes and incidents to the large number of demonstrations against measures to contain COVID-19 or to other COVID-related issues, and it reported 489 antisemitic incidents connected to the pandemic.

The federal OPC annual report stated that, of the 57 violent antisemitic crimes committed in 2020, 48 were motivated by right-wing extremism, a 14 percent drop compared to 2019, when it reported 56 such crimes.  According to the report, membership in right-wing extremist parties such as the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party dropped slightly, from approximately 13,330 persons in 2019 to 13,250 in 2020.

In May, the NRW commissioner for antisemitism published the second NRW antisemitism report, which cited 276 antisemitic crimes (down from 310 in 2019) registered in the state in 2020, of which 254 (down from 291) were motivated by right-wing ideologies.  The crimes ranged from verbal abuse to physical injury; all cases resulted in criminal investigations.  The NRW commissioner stated that 500 antisemitic incidents were reported to her office, including incidents that did not rise to the level of criminal complaints.

A July study by RIAS based on Jewish residents in the state and other sources found that antisemitism was an everyday experience of Jews in Baden-Wuerttemberg, ranging from mundane to virulent forms.  A leading Jewish community representative described antisemitism as “background noise of Jewish life.”  The study analyzed 671 antisemitic crimes that occurred in the state between 2014 and 2018.  A spokesperson of the state’s youth foundation pointed to an increasing online dimension to antisemitism, stating there were 200 such incidents reported in 2020, and 300 in the first half of 2021 alone.

RIAS, to which victims may report antisemitic incidents regardless of whether they file charges with police, reported 1,437 such incidents in the states of Berlin, Brandenburg, Bavaria, and Schleswig-Holstein in 2020, compared with 1,253 in 2019, an increase of 14.6 percent.

Lower Saxony’s government recorded 189 antisemitic crimes in 2020, down from 212 in 2019.  The Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania government counted 73 such crimes in 2020, up from 52 in 2019.

In 2020, the Ministry of Interior registered 929 crimes targeting Muslims and Muslim institutions, including 77 against places of worship and 51 incidents of battery.  The ministry classified most of these incidents as having been carried out by right-wing extremists.  Other recorded incidents included online hate speech against Muslims, hate mail, and aggressive public behavior against persons who appeared to be Muslim.

The Ministry of Interior counted 141 anti-Christian crimes in 2020, including seven cases involving violence, up from 128 in 2019, an increase of 10 percent.  The ministry classified 30 percent of these crimes as motivated by right-wing ideology and 12 percent as motivated by left-wing ideology.

In May, the Ministry of Interior presented its annual report on politically motivated crime, according to which police registered 1,026 crimes motivated by antireligious sentiment.

In January, an unknown person threw stones and paint at St. Luke’s, a confessional Lutheran church in Leipzig, breaking windows and damaging a newly restored mosaic.  An anonymous letter claiming responsibility for the attack was posted online; the writer accused Martin Luther of sexism and tyranny and called churches “one of the best targets” for attacks against western morals.  At year’s end, police had not identified a suspect.

In April, an unknown man broke the windows of the prayer room of a Hildesheim mosque and entered its courtyard before fleeing.  Police arrested and charged a suspect.  A trial was scheduled for 2022.

In August, a man assaulted a woman wearing a headscarf at a subway station in Berlin.  The unknown assailant beat her severely and tore off her headscarf while shouting xenophobic insults.  As she attempted to flee, he knocked her to the ground with his bicycle and left the scene.  The woman required hospitalization; the police unit responsible for hate crimes and political violence was investigating the incident at year’s end.

In September, unknown persons threw stones through six windows of what police called “a Muslim institution” in Zwickau, shattering them; media reports called the building a mosque, which had been the target of vandalism in the past.  Police had not arrested a suspect at year’s end.

In February, the Hamburg District Court found a man who had assaulted a Jewish student with a shovel in October 2020 guilty of attempted murder and aggravated battery.  The court, however, ruled the man was mentally ill and therefore not criminally liable, sentencing him to psychiatric institutionalization.  The man, who was wearing a military-style uniform, assaulted the student at a Sukkot celebration at the Hohe Weide Synagogue in Hamburg, leaving him with a serious head injury.

In January, the Hildesheim District Court in Lower Saxony ruled that a Hildesheim resident arrested in 2020 upon suspicion of planning attacks against Muslims and mosques was suffering from a severe mental illness and could not be held responsible for his behavior.  It ordered him placed in temporary psychiatric care.  Police had found weapons in his apartment, and the suspect had said in an online chat that he wanted to carry out an attack similar to the 2019 mosque attacks in New Zealand and “kill Muslims.”

On June 16, the Bavarian Court of Administrative Appeals ruled in favor of a COS member whose 2018 application for a 500 euro ($570) electric bicycle subsidy was rejected by the city of Munich because she refused to sign a written statement pledging not to employ COS methods or spread COS ideas.  The state of Bavaria and some other states and many cities require persons to sign such a declaration before they can accept public employment or government grants.  The court ruled that, as a citizen, the plaintiff had a right to the subsidy from the city, just like anyone else.

In July, the Court of Justice of the European Union, addressing appeals in two cases, one from Hamburg and one from Bavaria, ruled that employers could ban employees from wearing headscarves under certain circumstances.  Both cases were brought by employees who did not wear headscarves when they started their jobs but decided to do so after returning to work from maternity leave.  Their employers refused to allow them to do so, saying that the employees had to project a neutral image to clients.  The court agreed with the employers.  Muslim organizations and NGOs criticized the verdict, saying it made it difficult for Muslim women to choose a profession.

In September, a trial of two individuals arrested for the vandalism of a Jewish cemetery in Geilenkirchen began.  According to police, the pair knocked over more than 40 gravestones in the cemetery and defaced gravestones with blue paint and Nazi symbols in 2019.  They were charged with property damage and disturbing the peace of the dead.  Prosecutors said both were members of a Neo-Nazi group.  The trial started in September and continued at year’s end.

In September, the Moenchengladbach District Court convicted a man of placing a bloody pig’s head, plastic bags filled with blood, right-wing extremist slogans, and swastikas in front of the al-Rahman Mosque in Moenchengladbach in 2019 and sentenced him to four months’ probation.

In October, a man claiming that Christianity is a false religion forcibly removed sacred religious objects from a church in Nordhausen, Thuringia, including its crucifix and a medieval wooden altarpiece, damaging both.  Police stated they intended to press charges against the man, whose asylum claim had been denied.

The Catholic Church and the EKD continued to oppose the COS publicly.  “Sect commissioners” or “departments on sects and worldview matters” of the EKD and the Catholic Church continued to investigate “sects and cults” and publicize what they considered to be the dangers of those groups.  On its website, the EKD Center for Questions of World Views continued to warn the public about what it said were the dangers posed by multiple religious groups, including the COS, the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (Unification Church), Bhagwan-Osho, Transcendental Meditation, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Universal Life, and continued to produce literature criticizing the groups.

In September, the Brussels-based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey based on data from December 2019-January 2020.  According to the survey, 10 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in Germany said they had negative feelings towards Jews.  Fifteen percent said they would be “totally uncomfortable” or “uncomfortable” with having Jewish neighbors.  The survey cited stereotypical statements about Jews and asked respondents the degree to which they agreed or disagreed.  The proportion who responded “strongly agree” or “tend to agree” with the following statements were – “the interests of Jews in this country are very different from the interests of the rest of the population” (23percent); “there is a secret Jewish network that influences political and economic affairs in the world” (15 percent); “Jews have too much influence in this country” (12 percent); “Jews will never be able to fully integrate into this society” (20 percent); “Jews are more inclined than most to use shady practices to achieve their goals” (15 percent); “many of the atrocities of the Holocaust were often exaggerated by the Jews later” (8 percent); “Jews are also to blame for the persecutions against them” (7 percent); “Jews exploit Holocaust victimhood for their own purposes” (23 percent).

In a nationwide, representative survey conducted for the Alice Schwarzer Foundation, Giordano Bruno Foundation, and WZB Berlin Social Science Center published on June 11, 65 percent of respondents said it was “right” that freedom of religion applied to Muslims as well as Christians, whereas 18 percent said it was “not right” and 17 percent were unsure.  When asked whether “Islam is part of Germany,” 44 percent said “yes, but only peaceful, non-radical groups” and 44 percent answered “absolutely not,” excluding all Muslim groups.  Only 5 percent said they would completely agree that Islam was part of the country.  The survey also showed support for a ban on burqas among the general population had grown to 73 percent, from 56 percent in 2016.  Another 17 percent supported a ban in certain situations (32 percent in 2016), and 5 percent were generally opposed to such a ban (8 percent in 2016).  Majorities also supported banning headscarves for certain groups:  61 percent supported headscarf bans for public school teachers, 58 percent for public-sector employees, 56 percent for child-care workers, and 53 percent for girls younger than 14 years of age.

In February, Bundestag member Norbert Roettgen removed a social media post and image of a discussion he had held with Muslim students after the post was flooded with anti-Muslim insults.  Roettgen said he removed the image to protect the identities of the participants and decried what he described as the anti-Muslim hate the post had exposed.

In September, authorities initially did not allow a woman in Bergheim, Hesse, to cast her vote at a local polling station because she was wearing a headscarf and a medical mask.  Poll workers insisted she remove her headscarf to identify herself, stating that the law required that a person’s face not be covered when voting.  According to the electoral committee, the scarf only covered the woman’s hair and neck, not her face.  The woman protested to city election authorities and was later allowed to vote while wearing the headscarf.  The city apologized for the incident.

The far-right group Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident (PEGIDA) continued to organize weekly demonstrations in Dresden, although media reports indicated significantly fewer demonstrators than in years prior to 2020.  Approximately 300 to 400 supporters continued to join PEGIDA rallies, even after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Participants regularly expressed anti-Muslim sentiments during the rallies, including by carrying posters expressing opposition to women who wore religious head coverings.  Authorities approved the demonstrations contingent upon participants adhering to masking and social distancing requirements.

Protesters at demonstrations against COVID-19 restrictions in Berlin, Kassel, Munich and other cities continued to use antisemitic rhetoric, including equating vaccines or the anti-COVID lockdown to Nazi-era persecution of Jews, or asserting that Jews were responsible for unleashing the corona virus.  For the year ending on March 17, RIAS registered antisemitic incidents, none of them violent, at 324 separate demonstrations against restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.  For example, in March, numerous antisemitic acts, including ones trivializing the Nazi regime and the Holocaust, were reported at a large demonstration against COVID-19 measures in Kassel.

In May, President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany Schuster remarked on the connection between COVID-19 conspiracy theories and antisemitism, saying, “The old antisemitic narrative of the Jewish world conspiracy has been adapted to the current situation.”  Federal Commissioner for Jewish Life in Germany and the Fight Against Anti-Semitism Felix Klein also cited the role of the internet, saying, “In times of crisis, people are more open to irrational explanations, including antisemitic stereotypes…. What is new, however, is that…groups that previously had little or nothing to do with each other are now making common cause at demonstrations against the corona measures or on the [inter]net.”

In June, the U.S.-based newspaper The Algemeiner cited a study by the London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue that found German-language antisemitic posts in major online platforms in January and February had increased 13-fold over the same period a year earlier.  According to the report, antisemitic narratives related to COVID-19 were frequent, and the most common narratives, 89 percent of the content, pertained to conspiracy theories about Jews controlling financial, political, and media institutions.

In May, NRW Antisemitism Commissioner Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger and the University of Bielefeld published a study on the influence of rap on antisemitic attitudes in young people.  The study found listeners of rap were more likely to have antisemitic and misogynistic views and were more prone to believe in conspiracy theories.

In July, a woman from Cologne was fined 700 euros ($790) for incitement for sharing an antisemitic Facebook post.  The woman said she had not read the full text of the post.

Approximately 20 churches continued to use bells bearing Nazi symbols and inscriptions.  A church in Berlin removed such a bell, and some churches in other part of the country said they had plans to do so.  In June, the Association of Protestant Churches in Central Germany held a conference on the issue; the association also offered financial support to churches under its jurisdiction to cover the cost of new bells.

In October, Cologne Lord Mayor Henriette Reker announced a two-year test phase for Muslim communities to issue calls to Friday prayer using outdoor speakers, if they applied to do so.  The call to prayer may only be made between noon and 3 p.m. and is limited to a maximum of five minutes.  The volume is to be based on the location of the mosque.  Of approximately 35 mosque congregations, two had requested permits by early December.

Hong Kong

Read A Section: Hong Kong

CHINA | Tibet | XinjiangMacau

Executive Summary

The Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR), as well as other laws and policies, state 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 2020, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) imposed a broad National Security Law (NSL) for the SAR with the stated aim of combating secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign powers.  The Falun Dafa Association and some churches active in the prodemocracy movement said the government had grown less tolerant since passage of the NSL.  Other religious leaders and advocates stated the NSL did not impair their ability to conduct or attend worship services in conformity with their religious norms; however, they continued to express concern regarding self-censorship and potential PRC targeting of civil society organizations affiliated with religious groups active in the 2019 prodemocracy movement.  An unknown assailant physically attacked the head of the Hong Kong Falun Dafa Association, and unknown assailants vandalized and destroyed printing presses at the contracted printer’s facility of the Falun Gong-affiliated publication Epoch Times.  On April 2 and April 3, masked individuals wielding knives and spray paint destroyed eight Falun Gong public information displays in what the group said appeared to be coordinated attacks across several locations.  In April, Lo Hing-choi, president of the Baptist Convention and a critic of the NSL, resigned and moved abroad, saying he feared government retaliation if he remained in Hong Kong.  In May, the Good Neighbor North District Church, which had supported the prodemocracy movement, ceased operations.  There were reports of emigration of other religious leaders.  Media reported that on October 31, bishops and religious leaders from mainland China briefed Hong Kong Catholic clergymen on the PRC central government’s policy of “Sinicizing” Christianity.  Authorities curtailed activities of Falun Gong practitioners during the year, banning their street kiosks under what practitioners said was a pretext of violating COVID-19 protocols.  In July, several members of the SAR Legislative Council urged the SAR government to outlaw the Falun Dafa Association under the NSL.  In September, an editorial in the PRC-owned media outlet Wen Wei Po called on SAR authorities to ban “cult organizations,” a term the PRC government has historically used to refer to Falun Gong, among other groups.  In April, Wen Wei Po reported that national security police blocked access to the website of the Taiwan Presbyterian Church for internet users in Hong Kong due to “national security” concerns.

In June, an unknown group hung banners defaming Cardinal Joseph Zen, an outspoken critic of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and Catholic Church policy on China, around each of the seven Catholic churches that were planning to hold a memorial Mass for the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing.  On May 17, Pope Francis named Reverend Stephen Chow Sau-Yan Bishop of Hong Kong.  The Vatican-affiliated outlet AsiaNews stated Chow was a “balanced” choice between prodemocracy and pro-Beijing camps.  Observers reported Christian churches in Hong Kong continued to provide spiritual and monetary support to underground churches in mainland China.

The U.S. Consul General and staff repeatedly raised concerns regarding the shrinking space for civil society, including religious groups, during meetings with a range of official counterparts in which they also affirmed U.S. government support for protecting freedom of religion and belief.  U.S. officials delivered similar messages to religious leaders, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and community representatives, as well as in public messages.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 7.3 million (midyear 2021).  According to SAR government statistics, there are more than one million followers of Taoism and approximately one million followers of Buddhism; 800,000 Protestants; 404,000 Catholics; 300,000 Muslims; 100,000 Hindus; and 12,000 Sikhs.  The Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong, which recognizes the Pope and maintains links to the Vatican, reported approximately 621,000 followers (404,000 local residents and 217,000 residents with other nationalities).  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reported it has approximately 25,100 members.  According to the World Jewish Congress, there are approximately 2,500 Jews, primarily expatriates.  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 Dafa Association estimates there are approximately 500 Falun Gong practitioners.

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

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The Basic Law states 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 counterparts in mainland China 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 the “manifestation” of religious beliefs may be limited by law when necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals, or the rights of others.  If a state of emergency is proclaimed, the rights may not be limited based solely on religion.

In 2020, the PRC National People’s Congress (NPC) imposed the NSL for Hong Kong.  The law prohibits secession, subversion, terrorism, and “collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security.”  The law states that it shall override local laws if there are inconsistencies.  The NSL states power to interpret the law lies with the NPC Standing Committee, not local courts.

PRC State Administration for Religious Affairs regulations entitled “Administrative Measures for Religious Clergy,” which came into force in mainland China on May 1, which require clergy to pledge allegiance to the CCP and promote the “Sinicization of religion,” do not apply to Hong Kong.

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, 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 NGOs, but the government makes no adjudication on the validity of any registered groups.  Religious groups may register as a society, a tax-exempt organization, or both, provided they have at least three members who hold valid SAR identity documents; the registration process normally takes approximately 12 working days.  The Falun Dafa Association is registered as a society rather than a religious group; as a society, it may 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 government curriculum mandates coursework on ethics and religious studies, with a focus on religious tolerance; it also includes elective modules on different world religions.

The NSL stipulates the SAR “shall take necessary measures to strengthen public communication, guidance, supervision and regulation over matters concerning national security, including those relating to schools, universities, social organizations, the media, and the internet.”  Pursuant to the NSL, the Education Bureau issued new guidelines on February 4 to incorporate lessons on “national security” into the government curriculum, beginning at the kindergarten level.  All schools following the Education Bureau curriculum, including those run by religious groups, must incorporate this material.  Private and international schools that do not receive funding from SAR authorities, including those run by religious groups, are not required to follow the new guidelines, but the guidelines state that these schools have the “responsibility to help their students… acquire a correct and objective understanding and apprehension of the concept of national security and the National Security Law.”

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.  A colonial-era law does not require new temples to register to be eligible for Temples Committee assistance.

In March, the PRC NPC Standing Committee imposed new measures to amend Hong Kong’s electoral system.  Hong Kong’s majority pro-Beijing legislature passed a bill in May incorporating these measures into local legislation.  The new electoral system creates a nomination and vetting system for all candidates for political office that Beijing and Hong Kong authorities described as designed to ensure that only “patriots” govern Hong Kong.  Hong Kong voters directly elect 20 of the Legislative Council’s newly expanded 90 seats.  Forty of the seats are elected by the Chief Executive Election Committee (CEEC) directly, while 30 are selected as representatives of “functional constituencies” from various economic and social sectors.  The CEEC comprises 1,500 members from five sectors.  The religious subsector, under the third sector (“Grassroots, labor, religious, and other”), is composed of the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong, Chinese Muslim Cultural and Fraternal Association, Hong Kong Christian Council, Hong Kong Taoist Association, Confucian Academy, and Hong Kong Buddhist Association.  These six bodies are each entitled to 10 of the 60 seats for the religious subsector on the CEEC.  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

The Falun Dafa Association and some churches active in the prodemocracy movement stated the government had grown less tolerant since passage of the NSL.  For example, Falun Gong practitioners reported that SAR authorities shut down their public information kiosks on May 27 and 28 on what practitioners said was the pretext of violating COVID-19 prevention rules under Food and Environmental Hygiene ordinances.  Other religious leaders and advocates stated the NSL did not impair freedom to conduct or attend worship services, although they continued to express concerns regarding self-censorship and potential PRC targeting of civil society organizations affiliated with religious groups active in the 2019 prodemocracy movement.  Archbishop Andrew Chan, the head of the Hong Kong Anglican Church, stated that all religious activities continued to be organized and carried out “as normal” but said preachers were “very cautious to use sensitive terminologies in their homilies.”

Some religious leaders and activists said they were concerned SAR and PRC authorities could target religiously affiliated groups using tactics they repeatedly applied to associations or groups affiliated with the prodemocracy movement.  SAR authorities began investigations into and cut existing government ties with civil society groups, pressuring these groups into disbanding.  Even after threatened groups disbanded, SAR authorities publicly stated that individuals associated with these groups could face further investigations or arrests.  Observers stated these government actions had set numerous legal precedents that undermined fundamental freedoms guaranteed under the Basic Law, including freedom of religion.

During the year, Falun Gong practitioners reported that unknown individuals for months surveilled Sarah Liang, head of the Hong Kong Falun Dafa Association, and a journalist with the Falun Gong-affiliated publication Epoch Times.  On May 11, an unidentified man struck Liang more than 10 times with a baseball bat, bruising her legs.  June Guo, director of the Hong Kong edition of the Epoch Times, said the CCP was behind the assault on Liang.

The Epoch Times reported that on April 12, unknown assailants vandalized and destroyed printing presses at its contracted printer, forcing the facility to suspend operations for several days.  Guo stated the safety of the staff at the outlet’s printing plant was a continuing concern.  Falun Gong practitioners reported that no one had been prosecuted for the attacks as of year’s end.

The Falun Dafa Infocenter reported that on April 2 and April 3, masked individuals wielding knives and spray paint destroyed eight Falun Gong public information displays in what the group said appeared to be coordinated attacks across several locations.  At one location, an assailant pushed a volunteer to the ground.  Practitioners said they believed the attacks were instigated by pro-CCP groups.  The Falun Dafa Infocenter spokesperson said, “These violent acts against a religious minority that unfolded in broad daylight on Hong Kong’s streets are a clear indication that basic freedoms, and even the rule of law, are indeed in jeopardy in Hong Kong.”

In August, an unknown group falsely claiming to represent the Falun Dafa Association posted on social media that the group would leave Hong Kong.  The Falun Dafa Association stated it had no plans to leave the city.

Media reported that Baptist pastor Lo Hing-choi, president of the Baptist Convention since May 2018, resigned and moved abroad in April.  According to media, Lo led the Baptist Convention to publicly campaign against the Hong Kong government’s extradition law, and Lo also personally criticized the NSL in June 2020.  In 2019, he openly supported prodemocracy protests, writing articles comparing protesters to Jews facing persecution in the Old Testament.  In July and September 2020, pro-Beijing newspapers such as Ta Kung Pao publicly criticized Lo, reportedly causing him to fear repercussions under the NSL if he remained in Hong Kong.

In May, the Good Neighbor North District Church ceased operations.  Hong Kong police had launched an investigation into the church in December 2020 for alleged money laundering and fraud, arrested two individuals affiliated with the church, and ordered a freeze of the church’s bank accounts.  The church’s former pastor, Roy Chan, who relocated in 2020 to the United Kingdom, continued to state the investigation was an act of political retaliation because some church members had formed a group called “Safeguard Our Generation” in 2019 in an attempt to deescalate violent clashes between police and prodemocracy protesters.  In October, the former pastor said accusations against religious leaders for “inciting subversion” had resulted in self-censorship within local churches and had caused some religious leaders to emigrate.

Reuters reported that on October 31, bishops and religious leaders from mainland China briefed Hong Kong Catholic clergymen on the government’s policy of “Sinicizing” Christianity to bring religious doctrine and practice in line with CCP doctrine.  Clerics who attended or had knowledge of the meeting said that while individual meetings with counterparts in mainland China had occurred in the past, this was the first formal meeting, and that PRC central government officials had arranged and monitored it.

In June, SAR authorities denied permission for gatherings to commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing, including the annual vigil in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park, but they did not interfere with memorial masses held at seven Catholic churches around the city honoring the victims of the massacre.  A spokesperson for the Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic Diocese, which organized the masses, said that police for the first time questioned the commission about arrangements for the masses and the number of attendees, citing COVID-19 concerns.

Falun Gong practitioners stated they still operated openly and engaged in behavior that remained prohibited in mainland China, including distributing literature, sharing information about the group on social media, and accessing and downloading online materials.  No Falun Gong rallies were permitted during the year due to COVID-19 health restrictions, but practitioners continued to publicly gather in small groups, adhering to COVID-19 restrictions.  Falun Gong practitioners reported the group gathered in front of the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government on July 20 to commemorate the 22nd anniversary of the mass arrest of practitioners in mainland China.  Practitioners reported the Hong Kong police instructed them to remove three of their four banners during the event.

Methodist-run Wa Ying College reported difficulties obtaining SAR authorization or funding to renovate school buildings.  The South China Morning Post reported in May that these difficulties may have stemmed from concerns several legislators had regarding the positions many Methodists and the school allegedly took during the prodemocracy protest movement.

In July, several members of the SAR Legislative Council – including Elizabeth Quat, Wong Kwok-kin, and Holden Chow Ho-ding – urged the SAR government to outlaw the Falun Dafa Association under the NSL.  Quat stated the group “aims to subvert state power and should be immediately outlawed,” while Wong called for SAR authorities to freeze the group’s assets.  The SAR Security Secretary promised to investigate the group.

On October 7, pro-PRC Hong Kong media HK01 reported that according to a Hong Kong Public Opinion Exchange Association survey conducted between September 1 and October 5 among 8,855 respondents, 72 percent believed Falun Gong was an “anti-China and Hong Kong” organization that violated the NSL and should be banned.  At a press conference announcing the survey’s findings, Legislative Council member Eunice Yung stated Falun Gong should be banned in Hong Kong “as soon as possible.”  Yung said that Falun Gong had established an “anti-CCP platform” in Hong Kong and called for authorities to investigate the group’s funding sources.

On September 14, an editorial in the PRC-owned media outlet Wen Wei Po identified the Buddhist movement called the True Buddha School as a “cult” and a national security risk.  The editorial requested SAR authorities create legislation banning “cult organizations,” a term that the PRC government has historically used to refer to Falun Gong and the True Buddha School, among other groups, “to prevent Hong Kong from becoming a haven for filth.”

In April, Wen Wei Po reported that national security police blocked access to the website of the Taiwan Presbyterian Church for internet users in Hong Kong due to “national security” concerns.  A pastor of the Church told Radio Free Asia the interference was done in retaliation for the Church’s support of the 2019 prodemocracy movement in Hong Kong and said, “Blocking the site like this is a warning sign that Beijing is extending more mainland China-style restrictions to Hong Kong.”

In the Legislative Council election in December, Peter Koon, the then secretary general of the Province of the Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui (the Anglican Church in Hong Kong), won one of the 40 seats in the Legislative Council elected by the CEEC.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In June, an unknown group hung banners around each of the seven Catholic churches that were planning to hold a memorial Mass for the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing.  The banners contained photographs of Cardinal Joseph Zen, an outspoken critic of the CCP, with the word “devil,” as well as slogans, including “A Cult Has Invaded the Faith” and “Incitement in the Name of Worship.”

Media reported that on May 17, Pope Francis named Reverend Stephen Chow Sau-Yan as the new Bishop of Hong Kong.  Chow, head of Hong Kong’s Jesuit order, replaced Cardinal John Tong, who had served as interim bishop since 2019.  According to one senior cleric, “The security law has made the job a lot more tricky and the pressure is intense.”  The Holy See and the PRC do not have formal diplomatic relations, but the 2018 Sino-Vatican agreement reportedly gives both Chinese authorities and the Holy See a role in the process of appointing bishops in mainland China.  According to Reuters, Vatican officials said the agreement did not apply to Hong Kong; however, some senior clergy stated the PRC was seeking to extend its control over the Diocese of Hong Kong.  The Vatican-affiliated outlet AsiaNews stated Chow was a “balanced” choice between prodemocracy and pro-Beijing camps.  On May 18, Chow told media, “Religious freedom is our basic right.  We want to really talk to the government not to forget that.  It is important to allow religious freedom, matters of faith – not just Catholic – but any religion should be free.”

Observers reported Christian churches in Hong Kong continued to provide underground churches in mainland China with spiritual and monetary support, including Bibles and Christian literature and visits from church members.  Some Hong Kong churches reported that they were able to conduct cross-border online services, while others, including the Catholic Church, reported PRC authorities prohibited individuals in mainland China from attending their online services.


Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of conscience and the right of all individuals to freely profess, practice, and propagate religion; mandates a secular state; requires the state to treat all religions impartially; and prohibits discrimination based on religion.  It also states that citizens must practice their faith in a way that does not adversely affect public order, morality, or health.  Ten of 28 states have laws restricting religious conversions.  Four state governments have laws imposing penalties against so-called forced religious conversions for the purpose of marriage although some state high courts have dismissed cases charged under this law.  In August, two Muslim men from Jamshedpur in Jharkhand State filed a complaint against local police alleging that seven police officers sexually abused them during interrogation and used anti-Islamic slurs.  According to media, police took no action on the complaint by year’s end.  Police made several arrests during the year under laws that restrict religious conversion, and several state governments announced plans to strengthen existing legislation or develop new legislation restricting religious conversion.  According to the United Christian Forum (UCF), a Christian rights nongovernmental organization (NGO), in the period between January and June, 29 Christians were arrested in three states on suspicion of forceful or fraudulent religious conversions under the laws restricting religious conversions in those states.  Some NGOs reported that the government failed to prevent or stop attacks on religious minorities.  A faith-based NGO stated in its annual report that out of 112 complaints of violence filed by Christian victims from January to August, police filed official reports (First Information Report or FIR) in 25 cases.  There were no updates on these cases by the end of the year.  Police arrested non-Hindus for making comments in the media or on social media that were considered offensive to Hindus or Hinduism.  NGOs, including faith-based organizations, continued to criticize 2020 amendments passed to the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA) as constraining civil society by reducing the amount of foreign funding that NGOs, including religious organizations, could use for administrative purposes and adding onerous oversight and certification requirements.  The government continued to say the law strengthened oversight and accountability of foreign NGO funding in the country.  According to media reports, FCRA licenses of 5,789 NGOs, including hundreds of faith-based organizations, lapsed after the government said the organizations did not apply for renewal in time.  In addition, during the year the government suspended FCRA licenses of 179 NGOs, including some that were faith-based.  The states of Assam and Karnataka enacted legislation imposing strict penalties for killing cattle; 25 of 28 states now have similar restrictions.  The most recent National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) report, Crime in India for 2020, released in September, said that the violence in New Delhi in February 2020 following passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC) resulted from a “feeling of discrimination” among the Muslim community.  During the year, Delhi courts acquitted some of those arrested on charges related to the protests and convicted one Hindu participant.  Various courts criticized the Delhi police for inadequate investigation of the protests.  Politicians made inflammatory public remarks or social media posts about religious minorities.  For example, Madan Kaushik, president of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Uttarakhand State, told the media in October that “Our party line is clear that no [religious] conversion [from Hinduism] will be tolerated.”  In May, the Assam government removed theological content from the curriculum of more than 700 state-run madrassahs and state-run Sanskrit schools, which converted them into regular public schools.  Analysts indicated that madrassahs were impacted in greater numbers.

Attacks on members of religious minority communities, including killings, assaults, and intimidation, occurred throughout the year.  These included incidents of “cow vigilantism” against non-Hindus based on allegations of cow slaughter or trade in beef.  According to the UCF, the number of violent attacks against Christians in the country rose to 486 during the year from 279 in 2020.  According to Catholic news agency Agenzia Fides, Hindus committed 13 instances of violence and threats against Christian communities in Uttarakhand, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Delhi.  According to UCF, most of the incidents were reported in states ruled by the BJP and included attacks on pastors, disruption of worship services, and vandalism.  The NGOs United Against Hate, the Association for Protection of Civil Rights, and UCF released a joint report that noted more than 500 incidents of violence against Christians reported to UCF’s hotline during the year.  Suspected terrorists targeted and killed civilians and migrants from the Hindu and Sikh minorities, including Hindu migrant laborers from Bihar, in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.  As of December, alleged terrorists had killed 39 civilians including two schoolteachers from the Hindu and Sikh communities.  According to media reports, the killings caused widespread fear among Hindus and Sikhs in the Kashmir valley, leading hundreds of migrants to depart Jammu and Kashmir.  There were reports of vandalism against Muslim facilities during the year, including by Hindu nationalist groups damaging mosques, shops, and houses belonging to the Muslim community across Tripura State in October.  Media reports said these attacks occurred in retaliation for attacks on minority Hindus in Bangladesh during the Durga Puja festival in that country.  A mob killed four Muslim men on June 20 in Tripura on suspicion of cattle smuggling.  On June 21, suspected cow vigilantes killed Muslim Aijaz Dar in Rajouri District of Jammu and Kashmir.  Cow vigilantes allegedly killed Babu Bheel, a member of a Rajasthan tribal community, on June 14.  Religious leaders, academics, and activists made inflammatory remarks about religious minorities.  During a Hindu religious gathering in Hardiwar, Uttarakhand State, December 17-19, Yati Narasinghanand Saraswati, described as a Hindu religious extremist, called upon Hindus to “take up weapons against Muslims” and “wage a war against Muslims.”  On December 21, police named Narasinghanand and seven others for “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings” in multiple FIRs; police arrested Narasinghanand a few weeks later, although he was subsequently released on bail.  The others had not been arrested by year’s end.  The Pew Research study on “Religion in India” released in July noted that most Indians valued religious tolerance but preferred living religiously segregated lives.  Eighty-nine percent of Muslims and Christians surveyed said they were “very free to practice their own religion” but 65 percent of Hindus and Muslims said they believed communal violence between religious groups was “a problem” for the country.  Freedom House downgraded the country’s ranking from “free” to “partly free” during the year in part due to policies described as advancing Hindu nationalist objectives.

During the year, U.S. embassy officials, including the Chargés d’Affaires, engaged with members of parliament, politicians from multiple political parties, religious leaders, representatives of faith-based organizations, and civil society members to discuss the importance of religious freedom and the responsibility of democracies to ensure the rights of religious minorities.  During engagements with political parties, civil society representatives, religious freedom activists, and leaders of various faith communities, U.S. government officials discussed the importance of religious freedom and pluralism; the value of interfaith dialogue, and the operating environment for faith-based NGOs.  Throughout the year, the Chargés d’Affaires met with religious communities, including representatives of the Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh faiths to discuss their perspectives and views on religious freedom issues.  In May, the embassy organized a virtual interfaith dialogue during Ramadan to emphasize the U.S. government’s commitment to religious freedom and interfaith harmony.  In July, the Secretary of State, during his visit to the country, addressed the importance of freedom of religion and belief in his opening remarks and held a roundtable with diverse faith leaders to discuss inclusive development.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 1.3 billion (midyear 2021).  According to the 2011 national census, the most recent year for which disaggregated figures are available, Hindus constitute 79.8 percent of the population, Muslims 14.2 percent, Christians 2.3 percent, and Sikhs 1.7 percent.  Groups that together constitute fewer than 2 percent of the population include Buddhists, Jains, Zoroastrians (Parsis), Jews, and Baha’is.  In government statistics, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs officially identifies as Hindus more than 104 million members of Scheduled Tribes – indigenous groups historically outside the caste system who often practice indigenous religious beliefs – although an estimated 10 million of those listed as Scheduled Tribe members are Christians according to the 2011 census.

According to government estimates, there are large Muslim populations in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Telangana, Karnataka, Kerala, and the Union Territories of Lakshadweep and Jammu and Kashmir.  In Lakshadweep and Jammu and Kashmir, Muslims account for 95 percent and 68.3 percent of the population, respectively.  Slightly more than 85 percent of Muslims are Sunni, with the remainder mostly Shia.  According to media reports during the year, there are an estimated 150,000 Ahmadi Muslims in the country.  According to government estimates, Christian populations are distributed throughout the country but in greater concentrations in the northeast as well as in the states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Goa.  Three northeastern states have majority Christian populations:  Nagaland (90 percent), Mizoram (87 percent), and Meghalaya (70 percent).  Sikhs constitute 54 percent of the population of Punjab.  The Dalai Lama’s office states there are significant resettled Tibetan Buddhist communities in Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, and Uttarakhand States, and Delhi.  According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and media reports, there are approximately 100,000 Tibetan Buddhists in the country.  According to media reports, approximately 40,000 Muslim Rohingya refugees from Burma live in the country.  UNHCR estimated it received 1,800 requests for refugee registration since August 2021 and projects it will receive 3,500-5,000 refugee registration requests by the end of 2022.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution mandates a secular state and provides for freedom of conscience and the right of all individuals to profess, practice, and propagate religion freely, subject to considerations of public order, morality, and health.  It prohibits government discrimination based on religion, including for employment, as well as religiously based restrictions on access to public or private establishments.  The constitution states that religious groups have the right to establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes, manage their own affairs in religious matters, and own, acquire, and administer property.  It prohibits the use of public funds to support any religion.  National and state laws make freedom of religion “subject to public order, morality, and health.”  The constitution stipulates that the state shall endeavor to create a uniform civil code applicable to members of all religions across the country.

Federal law empowers the government to ban religious organizations that provoke intercommunal tensions, are involved in terrorism or sedition, or violate laws governing foreign contributions.

Ten of the 28 states have laws restricting religious conversion:  Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and Uttarakhand.  Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and Uttar Pradesh States prohibit religious conversion by “force,” “allurement,” or “fraudulent means” including marriage “with the intention of conversion” and require district authorities to be informed of any intended conversions one month in advance.  Himachal Pradesh and Odisha States maintain similar prohibitions against conversion through “force,” “inducement,” or “fraud,” which would include the provision of any gifts, promises of a better life, free education, and other standard charitable activities, and bar individuals from abetting such conversions.  Odisha State requires individuals wishing to convert to another religion and clergy intending to officiate at a conversion ceremony to submit formal notification to the government.  The notification procedures state that police must ascertain if there are objections to the conversion.  Any person may object.  Four state governments have laws imposing penalties against “forced” religious conversions for the purpose of marriage (Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and Madhya Pradesh), although some state high courts have dismissed cases charged under this law.  By year’s end, four other state governments announced plans to enact similar legislative measures:  Haryana, Karnataka, Gujarat, and Assam.  Since March, Madhya Pradesh has required prior permission from a district official to convert to a spouse’s faith in case of interfaith marriage, has permitted the annulment of a fraudulent marriage, and set the penalties for violators at a prison term of up to 10 years without bail and fines up to 100,000 rupees ($1,300).

Violators, including missionaries, are subject to fines and other penalties, such as prison sentences of up to three years in Chhattisgarh and up to four years in Madhya Pradesh if converts are minors, women, or members of Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes.  on freedom of religion in April, Gujarat also imposes sentences of between three and 10 years in prison and fines of up to 50,000 rupees ($670) for forcible or fraudulent religious conversions through marriage.  In Himachal Pradesh, penalties include up to two years’ imprisonment, fines of 25,000 rupees ($340), or both.

The federal penal code criminalizes “promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion” and “acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony,” including acts causing injury or harm to religious groups and their members.  The penal code also prohibits “deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.”  Violations of any of these provisions are punishable by imprisonment for up to three years, a fine, or both.  If the offense is committed at a place of worship, imprisonment may be for up to five years.

There are no requirements for registration of religious groups unless they receive foreign funding, in which case they must register under the FCRA.  Federal law requires NGOs, including religious organizations, registered under the FCRA to maintain audit reports on their accounts and a schedule of their activities and to provide these to state government officials upon request.

Organizations conducting “cultural, economic, educational, religious, or social programs” that receive foreign funding are required to obtain a license under the FCRA.  The central government may also require that licensed organizations obtain prior permission before accepting or transferring foreign funds.  The central government may reject a license application or a request to transfer funds if it judges the recipient to be acting against “harmony between religious, racial, social, linguistic, regional groups, castes, or communities.”

NGOs, including religious organizations, may use 20 percent of their funding for administrative purposes and are prohibited from transferring foreign funds to any other organization or individual.

The constitution states that any legal reference to Hindus is to be construed to include followers of Sikhism, Jainism, and Buddhism, meaning they are subject to laws regarding Hindus, such as the Hindu Marriage Act.  Subsequent legislation continues to use the word Hindu as a category that includes Sikhs, Buddhists, Baha’is, and Jains, but it identifies the groups as separate religions whose followers are included under the legislation.

Federal law provides official minority status to six religious groups:  Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Parsis, Jains, and Buddhists.  State governments may grant minority status under state law to religious groups that are minorities in a particular region.  Members of recognized minority groups are eligible for government assistance programs.  The constitution states that the government is responsible for protecting religious minorities and enabling them to preserve their culture and religious interests.

Personal status laws establish civil codes for members of certain religious communities in matters of marriage, divorce, adoption, and inheritance based on religion, faith, and culture.  Hindu, Christian, Parsi, Jewish, and Islamic personal status laws are legally recognized and judicially enforceable.  Personal status issues that are not defined for a community in a separate law are covered under Hindu personal status laws.  These laws, however, do not supersede national and state legislation or constitutional provisions.  The government grants autonomy to the All India Muslim Personal Law Board and the Parsi community to define their customary practices.  If law boards or community leaders are not able to resolve disputes, cases are referred to the civil courts.

Interfaith couples and all couples marrying in a civil ceremony are generally required to provide public notice 30 days in advance – including addresses, photographs, and religious affiliation – for public comment, although this requirement varies across states.  Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, or Jains who marry outside their religions face the possibility of losing their property inheritance rights under those communities’ personal status laws.

The law recognizes the registration of Sikh marriages but does not include divorce provisions for Sikhs.  Other Sikh personal status matters fall under Hindu codes.  Under the law, any person, irrespective of religion, may seek a divorce in civil court.

The constitution prohibits religious instruction in government schools; the law permits private religious schools.  The law permits some Muslim, Christian, Sindhi (Hindu refugees), Parsi, and Sikh educational institutions that receive government support to set quotas for students belonging to the religious minority in question.  For example, Aligarh Muslim University must admit at least 50 percent Muslims.  St. Stephen’s College in Delhi and St. Xavier’s in Mumbai must admit at least 50 percent Christians.

Twenty-five of the 28 states apply partial to full restrictions on bovine slaughter.  Penalties vary among states and may vary based on whether the animal is a cow, calf, bull, or ox.  The ban mostly affects Muslims and members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes that traditionally consume beef.  In most of the states where bovine slaughter is banned, penalties include imprisonment for six months to two years and a fine of 1,000 to 10,000 rupees ($13-$130).  Since August, when the Assam state government enacted new legislation, penalties have included minimum imprisonment of three years or a fine between 300,000 and 500,000 rupees ($4,000-$6,700) or both, without being eligible for bail prior to trial, for slaughtering, consuming, or transporting cattle.  Since February, the slaughter of all cattle, except for buffalo older than age 13, has been illegal in Karnataka, with violators subject to imprisonment of between three and seven years and penalties between 500,000 and 1,000,000 rupees ($6,700-$13,500).  Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, and Jammu and Kashmir penalize cow slaughter with imprisonment of two to 10 years.  Gujarat state law mandates a minimum 10-year sentence and a maximum sentence of life imprisonment for killing cows, selling beef, and illegally transporting cows or beef.

One state, Madhya Pradesh, imposes fines of 25,000 to 50,000 rupees ($340-$670) and prison sentences of six months to three years for “cow vigilantism,” i.e., committing violence in the name of protecting cows.  This is the only law of its kind in the country.

The National Commission for Minorities, which includes representatives from the six designated religious minorities and the National Human Rights Commission, investigates allegations of religious discrimination.  The Ministry of Minority Affairs may also conduct investigations.  These agencies have no enforcement powers but conduct investigations based on written complaints of criminal or civil violations and submit findings to law enforcement agencies.  Eighteen of the country’s 28 states and the National Capital Territory of Delhi have state minorities commissions, which also investigate allegations of religious discrimination.

The constitution establishes the legal basis for preferential public benefit programs for Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe communities and members of the “Other Backward Classes,” a category for groups deemed to be socially and educationally disadvantaged.  The constitution specifies only Hindus, Sikhs, or Buddhists are eligible to be deemed members of a Scheduled Caste.  As a result, Christians and Muslims qualify for benefits if deemed to be members of “backward” classes due to their social and economic status.

The government requires foreign missionaries to obtain a missionary visa.

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

Government Practices

On September 26, a 14-year-old Christian boy in the Gaya District of Bihar died at a hospital in Patna after perpetrators threw acid on him, according to media reports.  The family members said police did not register a complaint despite threats to the family by Hindu groups and local individuals.  The boy’s father, Vakil Ravidas, had adopted Christianity with his family five years earlier and, according to family members, local community members threatened and warned them against attending church.  Police told media the boy died by self-immolation due to a familial dispute, a claim the victim’s family denied.  Media reported the family signed a consent letter declaring they did not want to pursue the matter with police or the courts.

According to media reports, two Muslim men from Jamshedpur in Jharkhand stated that during an interrogation on August 26 police used anti-Muslim slurs, forced them to strip naked at a city police station, and pressured them to have sexual intercourse with each other.  When they refused, they said they were “beaten and threatened to be sent to Afghanistan.”  Police released them the same day.  The men said they were called to the police station for questioning in connection with an alleged kidnapping case involving a Muslim man and a Hindu woman who had eloped.  They said seven police personnel, including the station officer in charge, sexually abused them.  The officer in charge denied the allegation.  On August 27, the two men — Mohammad Arzoo and Mohammad Aurangzeb — filed a complaint with Jamshedpur police that they were tortured by seven police personnel.  According to a media report, no action was taken against the accused police officers by year’s end.

The government did not release data on communal violence during the year.  Government data from 2020 reported a large increase in communal violence compared to 2019, largely due to the February 2020 violence and protests following passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).  The CAA provides an expedited path to citizenship for Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian migrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh who had entered the country on or before December 31, 2014.  Similarly situated Muslims, Jews, members of other faiths, and atheists from these three countries were not included.  The government argued the law was necessary to provide protections for religious minorities from those countries.

The National Crimes Record Bureau reported 857 instances of communal violence in 2020 compared to 438 in 2019.  According to both media and the Crime in India for 2020 report, released in September, police arrested 1818 individuals throughout 2020 for the protests in Northeast Delhi.  The report said that 53 persons including two security personnel were killed in the protests, and 581 individuals, including 108 police personnel, were injured.  Of those killed, 35 were Muslim and 18 Hindu.  Of those arrested, 956 were Muslim and 868 Hindu.  By the end of the year, 1204 individuals remained in jail, 544 individuals had been released on bail, various courts in Delhi were processing 250 outstanding criminal complaints, and Delhi police were investigating an additional 350 criminal complaints related to the riots.  Those numbers continued to fluctuate due to the ongoing hearings.  The first conviction was a Hindu male in December for setting a Muslim resident’s house on fire as part of a mob.

The Crime in India for 2020 report said the riots resulted from the Muslim community’s “feeling of discrimination” due to the NRC and the CAA, and certain groups with “vested interests capitalized on this feeling and further aroused the sentiments of this community against the central government.”  The Assam State government published its NRC in 2018 to define citizenship, and any Assamese resident who did not appear on the list would need to go before the Foreigners’ Tribunal, a quasi-judicial body, which would declare them a foreigner or citizen.  An estimated one-third of Assam’s 33 million residents are Muslim.  The Muslim community and media expressed concern that the NRC, a proposed list of all citizens being implemented only in the state of Assam, coupled with the national CAA, could result in Muslims being determined to be “illegal immigrants” and detained or deported.  None had been deported by the end of the year.

Opposition parties and civil society members continued to criticize the probe into the riot cases and accused Delhi police of targeting minorities, a charge Delhi police and the national Home Ministry (responsible for police oversight) denied.  In a press conference on September 13, several prominent civil society members and activists said Delhi police were responsible for “derailing” the probe and demanded release of individuals arrested for the rioting or protesting against the CAA.  Various courts also criticized the Delhi police for inadequate investigation of the riots, which Muslim academics, human rights activists, former police officers, and journalists said reflected police anti-Muslim bias, while deflecting the investigation away from those responsible.  A lower court in Delhi imposed a fine of 25,000 rupees ($340) on the Delhi police for “callous” investigation into the case of one man who said police shot him in the eye during the riots.  The judge said the police had “miserably failed” their duty in that case.  The Delhi High Court stayed the fine but upheld the lower court judge’s criticism of the riot investigation.  Critical court rulings led to the Delhi police setting up a Special Investigation Cell to monitor progress of the Delhi riots investigation.

During the year, Delhi courts released some of those arrested during the 2020 riots.  In July, for example, a court dropped charges against a Hindu man who was held for over a year in pretrial custody after being accused of joining a mob that burned and looted a shop the mob thought was Muslim-owned, according to media reports.

The case against activist and former Jawaharlal Nehru University student Umar Khalid, a Muslim, who told a court in 2020 he had spent time in solitary confinement after being arrested during the riots, remained ongoing at year’s end and he remained in custody.  Media reported that during a bail hearing, Khalid’s lawyer argued the police officer who originally filed charges against his client had been influenced by the communal tension during the riots and the charges were fabricated.  In September, prominent civil society groups demanded Khalid’s release, describing him a “defender of human rights” and a “peace activist.”

By year’s end, the government had not enacted rules to implement the CAA, and the Supreme Court had not heard any of the more than 100 legal challenges to the act.

Christians and Muslims were charged during the year under laws restricting conversions, and some state governments announced plans to strengthen existing legislation or develop new legislation.

Media reported Madhya Pradesh police filed 21 cases against 47 individuals and arrested 15 Muslims and six Christians between March and June for violations of the state’s law restricting conversions.  In 15 of the 21 cases, rape and molestation charges were added.

On March 8, a law went into effect in Madhya Pradesh that increased the penalties for forced religious conversion through marriage or any other fraudulent means.  The law requires prior notice to a district official, to which any person may object, to convert to the spouse’s faith.  The law also permits the annulment of a fraudulent marriage and increases the penalty for violators from a two-year prison term with bail possible to a term of up to 10 years without bail and fines that can exceed 100,000 rupees ($1,300).  Legal expert Sanjay Hegde said the state laws against conversion let the mobs have the final say.  “If you are born in a religion, you can’t change your religion, without the State’s consent,” said Hegde.  “These laws try to control women, rather than marriage, and assume that the women don’t have any agency of their own,” Hegde added.

According to the Christian NGO International Christian Concern (ICC), on January 11, Azad Prem Singh, a leader of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad Hindu nationalist group, sent a memorandum to the Jhabua District administrative head in Madhya Pradesh demanding a ban of all churches in tribal areas.  Singh said Christians were fraudulently mass converting individuals to Christianity.  “In the past 70 years, Christian missionaries have converted gullible indigenous people to Christianity and built churches specifically on protected tribal land,” Singh said.  “All the illegally built churches should be shut down immediately and action should be taken against all priests and pastors involved in the process.”  In the memorandum, Singh gave the local government 30 days to meet his demands and threatened to use violence if they were not met.  The state government did not agree to Singh’s demand to ban all churches in tribal areas.  The police continued to arrest Christians on charges of forced or induced conversion in the region, according to Christian community members.  On December 25, police arrested three persons, including a Catholic priest and a Protestant pastor, at Bicholi village in Jhabua District for allegedly luring tribal villagers into Christianity by offering free education and treatment in missionary-run schools and the hospital, media reported.  In September, the Christian community in Jhabua wrote to the district authorities and President Ram Nath Kovind complaining of attacks and false accusations by the various Hindu nationalist affiliates of the BJP and the Hindu nationalist organization RSS.

In Uttar Pradesh, between November 2020 and November 2021, police filed 148 cases against 359 persons for violating laws restricting conversion.  According to state police records, the police completed investigations in 113 cases and filed charges in 90, but media reported that no case had been decided by the courts in Uttar Pradesh by year’s end.  Media reported that 72 of the 359 had charges dropped against them for lack of evidence.  According to a faith-based NGO, between June and September, at least 71 Christian leaders were arrested in Uttar Pradesh after Hindu nationalists accused them of carrying out illegal conversions.

In June, the Uttar Pradesh Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) arrested Muslim clerics Mohammad Umar Gautam and Mufti Qazi Jahagir Alam Qasmi for performing illegal conversions.  Police told media the two had been running a “huge conversion racket.”  The ATS later arrested eight more individuals whom police said were performing conversions at the Islamic Dawah Centre by offering “education, marriage, and jobs” to poor people.  According to media reports, eight of those arrested, including the two clerics, were charged in September with “illegal conversions” and “waging war against India.”

On October 7, the Uttar Pradesh ATS arrested a Muslim man in connection with his activities as a member of a WhatsApp group that encouraged individuals to convert to Islam.  ATS told media that the man had been involved in illegal conversion activities since 2016 and that he and others “spread religious hatred” by inducing people to convert to Islam.

On October 10, seven Protestant pastors in Mau District in Uttar Pradesh were taken into judicial custody pending a police investigation after being arrested on charges of unlawful religious conversions.

In March, Uttar Pradesh police detained two nuns and two postulants from the Sacred Heart convent of the Syro-Malabar Church in Kerala after Hindu activists riding with them on a passenger train said the nuns were forcibly converting the postulants to Christianity, according to media reports.  According to the Evangelical Fellowship of India’s (EFI) report covering January-June, police immediately arrested the four and took them to the local police station followed by a crowd of 150 “religious radicals.”  The police released the four after five hours of questioning and did not press charges.  In a statement, the Church said the four continued their journey with police protection.

In January, according to the EFI report, police in Malkangiri District of Odisha arrested Raja Kartami for violating the state’s conversion restriction laws following a complaint from his Hindu in-laws that he was forcing his wife to become a Christian.  As of year’s end, Kartami was in jail awaiting trial.

In August, Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Khattar announced that the state would consider drafting legislation to stop forced religious conversions in response to incidents of “love jihad” (a derogatory term referring to Muslim men seeking to marry women from other faiths to convert them to Islam).  Such legislation had not been introduced by year’s end.

On September 21, Karnataka Home Minister Araga Jnanendra announced that his government would propose legislation to prevent forced religious conversions in the state.  Following this announcement, a delegation of Karnataka-based Catholic bishops, led by Archbishop of Bengaluru Peter Machado, met with state Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai to discuss the proposed legislation.  The delegation expressed concern, should the legislation become law, about the potential misuse of the law to falsely accuse the Christian community of engaging in forced conversions.  On December 23, the Karnataka State Legislative Assembly passed the “anti-unlawful conversion bill,” which would prohibit forced religious conversion in the state.  At year’s end, the bill was pending approval by the State Legislative Council.

In October, the Uttarakhand government stated it intended to amend existing law and empower police to register cases based on allegations of forced religious conversion.  The existing state law requires such allegations to be handled directly by the courts.  Madan Kaushik, the BJP’s president in Uttarakhand, told media in October that “Our party’s line is clear that no conversion will be tolerated.”  A civil rights attorney in the state expressed concern that such a change in the law could lead to abuse.  She said, “A citizen is somewhat protected if the court hears the complaint and proceeds with the matter.  However, if the state police are given the power to register FIRs [in forced conversion cases], there is no protection from misuse.”

In February, the Supreme Court declined to hear petitions from NGOs and activists challenging the constitutionality of the conversion restriction laws in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, deferring the challenges first to the respective state high courts.

On June 21, Gujarat police arrested a Muslim man for forcibly marrying a Hindu woman.  Police said the man was in violation of the state’s freedom of religion law, which had been amended in April to increase penalties for forced marriages.  According to media reports, after the victim’s mother filed a missing person complaint, Gujarat police opened an investigation and determined that the man, who was already married, kidnapped the woman and forced her to marry him.  Media also reported that the woman said the man raped her and threatened to harm her family if she did not marry.  The Muslim man was charged with kidnapping, rape, and criminal intimidation.  Investigation on the case continued at the end of the year.

On April 1, Gujarat government amended legislation enacted in 2003 on freedom of religion to explicitly prohibit the use of fraudulent marriage to convert partners of different religions.  The law’s preamble stated the amendment aimed to reduce the “emerging trend” of coerced religious conversion of women.  On August 19, the Gujarat High Court suspended seven provisions of the state’s amended freedom of religion law, stating an interfaith marriage by itself cannot be treated as a forceful or “unlawful conversion by deceit or allurement.”  On August 26, the state government asked that the suspension of those provisions be annulled; the High Court rejected the request.  On December 14, the Gujarat government challenged the stay in the Supreme Court; there was no ruling by the end of the year.

On October 13, the Gujarat High Court granted bail to all seven individuals arrested in the state’s first case under the amended freedom of religion law.  The case involved a Hindu woman who filed forced conversion charges against her Muslim husband, five of his Muslim family members, and the officiant at their wedding; all of whom were arrested on June 18.  On August 5, the woman filed a petition in the Gujarat High Court to retract her complaint, stating the police had “twisted” her complaint into a case of forced religious conversion, rape, and other charges.  According to the police report, her Muslim husband had claimed to be Christian before their wedding and, once they were married, the family pressured the wife to convert to Islam.  Police dropped the case after the woman retracted her complaint.

In September, media reported the MHA had suspended the FCRA licenses of six NGOs, including two Christian evangelical groups and one Islamic charity in Kerala, citing FCRA violations.  In December, the MHA stated that FCRA licenses of 5,789 NGOs had lapsed because they did not apply for renewal in time.  Media reported that hundreds of these NGOs were faith-based.  The MHA also stated that it had denied FCRA renewal to 179 NGOs during the year, including Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity.  The MHA reversed the denial several weeks later.  The original MHA announcement of the action cited unnamed “adverse inputs” against the NGO.  Some media reports noted that the government decision came days after police filed a complaint against the director of a children’s home run by the Missionaries of Charity in Gujarat state for attempting to convert young girls to Christianity although the Ministry of Home Affairs did not attribute a linkage between the two events.

NGOs, including faith-based organizations, continued to criticize the requirements of the FCRA as constraining civil society and religious organizations.  Opponents of the FCRA amendments called the requirements onerous and a barrier to organizations continuing to work in the country.  The government continued to say the FCRA law strengthened oversight and accountability of foreign NGO funding in the country.

In a July virtual session hosted by the U.S.-based nonprofit Indian American Muslim Council on Religious Freedom in India, Amnesty International USA said the organization was forced to halt all operations in the country in 2020 because of the FCRA requirements.  The Amnesty representative said the FCRA requirements were one example of “the Indian government activating their overall governmental framework” to crush opportunities for upholding religious freedom.

In March, the MHA stated 22,678 NGOs had been granted registration under the FCRA during the last five years.  The government also reported the registrations of 2,742 NGOs had been revoked from 2018 to 2020 for noncompliance, the most recent data available.

In its annual report, international NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the government adopted laws and policies that discriminated against religious minorities, especially Muslims.  HRW also said some BJP leaders vilified Muslims and police failed to act against some BJP supporters who committed violence, a combination that emboldened some Hindu nationalist groups to attack Muslims and government critics with impunity.

On January 4, police officials in Karnataka’s Hassan District banned a Christian prayer service, according to media reports.  A senior police officer asked the worshippers, who included 50 individuals from 15 families, to show proof they were Christians; he later accused them of having been converted to Christianity and misrepresenting their religion by claiming they had been Christian from birth.  Police did not charge the families and warned the worshippers against conducting prayer gatherings without permission.

According to ICC, police shut down a house church in Dharmapuri, Telangana on February 28 following a complaint from a local Hindu group, which had also disrupted the church service there.  The NGO stated that the police invoked a 2007 Andhra Pradesh state law, later adopted by the state of Telangana, to close down the church because Dharmapuri is designated by the law as a “temple town.”  The pastor told ICC he had been leading worship in his home for five years without problems.  While the town of approximately 78,000 persons is overwhelmingly Hindu, there are more than 300 Christians and more than 2,000 Muslims living there.

On July 24, Tamil Nadu police arrested Father George Ponnaiah, a Catholic priest based in Nagercoil, south Tamil Nadu, for alleged hate speech against Hindu gods, the Prime Minister, the Home Minister, and the state government in Tamil Nadu.  Ponnaiah was in custody for 16 days.  At year’s end, Ponnaiah was released on bail, awaiting trial.  If convicted, he could face a prison term up to five years.  Archbishop of Madurai Antony Pappusamy publicly criticized Ponnaiah for his statements.

On January 1, police in Indore, Madhya Pradesh, arrested stand-up comedian Munawar Faruqi and five associates after Eklavya Gaur, the son of state Member of Legislative Assembly Malini Gaur and the head of a local Hindu nationalist group, filed a police complaint stating he overheard the comedian and his associates using religiously offensive language during rehearsal.  On February 6, Indore prison authorities released Faruqi after the Supreme Court granted him bail.  The Madhya Pradesh High Court later granted bail to Faruqui’s five associates.

On January 14, Andhra Pradesh police arrested nondenominational Christian pastor Praveen Chakravarthi for “disturbing communal harmony” after one of his videos from 2013 circulated on social media.  In the video, in a conversation with the head of a U.S.-based NGO, Chakravarthi discussed his evangelism in the country.  After his arrest, Chakravarthi’s bank accounts were frozen.  He was later released on bail, and no further action was reported by the end of the year.

On August 19, Hyderabad police arrested Pastor Honey Johnson from Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh on the charge of making derogatory remarks against Hinduism and Hindu deities on his YouTube channel.  Members of his church held protests in Visakhapatnam demanding his release, and he was subsequently released on bail.

On July 20, the Supreme Court expressed concern about the Kerala government’s relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions during Eid al-Adha celebrations July 18-20.  In a ruling, the court said it could not block the state government’s actions after the fact, but it said, “The Kerala government failed to protect the fundamental rights of life and health of the people.”  The court said it would take action against the Kerala government if the loosened restrictions led to additional spread of COVID-19, but it took no further action on this issue by year’s end.  Earlier in July, the Supreme Court had cancelled the annual Hindu Kanwar Yatra festival in Uttar Pradesh due to a surge in COVID-19 cases there.  In April, activists had asked the government to cancel the Hindu Kumbh Mela festival for COVID-19 reasons, but the government declined to do so.  Also in April, the Supreme Court approved the petition of Muslim leaders to open the Nizzamuddin Mosque in New Delhi for Ramadan services.  Advocates for the mosque cited the Kumbh Mela celebrations in Haridwar, Uttarakhand, which were permitted, as well as at the Hindu temple dedicated to Hanuman in Karol Bagh, Delhi, which remained open despite COVID-19 restrictions, to support their request to reopen.

In June and July, residents of the predominantly Muslim Union Territory of Lakshadweep protested reforms proposed by Administrator Praful Khoda Patel in December 2020.  The reforms included banning cow slaughter and beef sales on the islands, removing beef and meat (except fish and eggs) from meals in schools, closing government-run dairy farms, permitting liquor sales, imposing a law allowing preventive detention, and disqualifying residents with more than two children from running in local elections.  Media reported the local residents considered the proposed reforms as anti-Muslim, and primarily affected Muslim families.  Protesters said Patel had been trying to transform the island culturally and demographically.  The Lakshadweep administration said the reforms were necessary to develop Lakshadweep as a global tourist destination like the Maldives.

NGOs, including faith-based organizations, continued to criticize the requirements of the FCRA as constraining civil society and religious organizations.  According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, 5,789 NGOs lost their FCRA licenses because they did not file for their renewal.  Some opposition political parties and faith-based NGOs described the regulations as “onerous” and difficult to comply with, making registration and renewal difficult.  The government continued to say the FCRA law strengthened oversight and accountability of foreign NGO funding in the country.

In October, media reported Hindu protesters in Haryana said Muslims had been using public property to conduct daily prayers for four weeks without authorization from local authorities.  The Muslim worshippers, who numbered 200 according to the media, had been praying outside in an area not designated for prayer.  The protestors said they would continue to “protest peacefully” until the police took action.  Haryana Chief Minister Khattar stated prayer in public spaces would be prohibited.  Muslim groups representing the worshippers stated they were offering prayers at places designated by Haryana government officials.  On December 16, Muslim former MP Mohammed Adeeb filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking action against Haryana government officials for not following directions to allow Muslims to offer prayers at designated public spaces.  The Supreme Court had not ruled on the matter at year’s end.

The government closed the 600-year-old Jamia Mosque, which serves the largest Muslim congregation in Jammu and Kashmir, for 45 of the 52 Fridays during the year.  According to media reports, the chief imam of Jamia Mosque remained in home detention during closure of the mosque.  Some other mosques in the region closed by the government in August 2019 when it abrogated Article 370 (state status) in Jammu and Kashmir were allowed to reopen during the year.  Since 2019, the government has continued to close mosques in the area periodically, sometimes for long intervals.

In May, authorities in Uttar Pradesh bulldozed a 100-year-old mosque in Barabanki on the grounds that it was an illegal structure.  The destruction followed a March 15 order from the state government to cease worship in the mosque so it could be demolished.  The government also said it blocked traffic.  Muslim leaders said the destruction violated a court order suspending destruction of all “illegal” structures until the end of May and said they would take the case to the Supreme Court.  The government then tried to block access to the mosque by building a wall, which according to media led to public protests in which activist Syed Farooq Ahmad stated at least 30 persons were arrested and others were beaten.  Two days after authorities demolished the mosque, the Sunni Waqf Board of Uttar Pradesh filed a petition in the Allahabad High Court demanding the government reconstruct the mosque.  The court had not ruled on the matter at the end of the year.

On September 6, opposition legislative assembly members from the BJP in Jharkhand protested the state government decision to offer a room in the state assembly building for Muslims to pray.  Media reported that BJP legislators loudly disrupted the assembly session that day with Hindu chants and instruments, calling for the prayer room decision to be rescinded or a separate Hindu prayer room also be designated in the building.  In a media interview, BJP national vice-president Raghubar Das said that the [Muslim] members of the state assembly from the Jharkhand government “openly support the Taliban.  A separate Namaz Hallim [Muslim prayer room] in the Jharkhand Legislative Assembly is a result of this ideology.  Otherwise, any person who believes in Indian democracy would not do such an act.”

In January, two residents of Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, filed a petition in the Allahabad High Court challenging the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court’s September 2020 acquittal of all 32 persons, including BJP politicians, charged in the 1992 demolition of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya.

In May, the Assam government implemented the 2020 Assam Repealing Bill, which abolished the 1995 Assam Madrassa Education (Provincialization) Act and 2018 Assam Madrassa Education (Provincialization of Services of Employees and Re-Organization of Madrassa Educational Institutions) Act.  Implementation of the act resulted in removal of the theological content from the curriculum at 700 state-run madrassahs and converted them into regular public schools.  Theological content was also removed from the state-run Sanskrit schools, but analysts indicated that madrassahs were impacted in greater numbers.  Privately-run madrassahs and Sanskrit schools were not impacted by the state government measure.

On October 19, 2020, the Allahabad High Court in Uttar Pradesh ruled that the state’s Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act “was being misused against innocent persons” and granted bail to a Muslim arrested under the act.  Uttar Pradesh police had filed charges in 1,716 cases of cow slaughter and made more than 4,000 arrests under the act as of August.  According to Uttar Pradesh State government data, the National Security Act (NSA) was also invoked in some cow slaughter cases; observers said this was to make the charges more serious.  Persons detained under the NSA could be held up to 12 months without formal charges.  A media investigation revealed that between January 2018 and December 2020, the Allahabad High Court had annulled detention orders and freed those arrested under the NSA in 94 of 120 cases it heard under the Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act in Uttar Pradesh.

Assam (in August) and Karnataka (in February) enacted legislation imposing strict penalties for killing cattle, bringing the total states with similar restrictions to 25 (of 28).  Opposition members of the Assam legislative assembly, including from Muslim parties, protested that state’s new legislation.  Faith-based organizations said the law could negatively affect the large Christian and tribal populations in the state that consumed beef.  Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma stated the law would promote harmony between Hindus and Muslims in the state, while some opposition party members said that it could stoke religious tensions, adversely affect livelihoods, and be detrimental to trade and food habits in the region.  Media reported that the new law in Karnataka would give police in the state the power to search and seize property based only on suspicion of violation of the law.

In September, the Gau Sewa Commission, a Punjabi organization dedicated to the preservation and welfare of cows, submitted a petition to the Governor of Punjab demanding the death penalty be instituted for cow slaughter.

In October, the Madras High Court ruled that displays of a Christian cross and other religious symbols and practices could not be cited as reasons to revoke Scheduled Caste (SC) community certificates, which are used by members of designated lower castes in the Hindu hierarchy to obtain government benefits.  The ruling was in response to an appeal by a Hindu medical doctor whose SC community certificate was revoked in 2013 because she married a Christian and the couple raised their children in the Christian faith.  The court ordered the restoration of her SC community certificate in October.

In February, Pratap Simha, a BJP MP, called for denying benefits of government affirmative action programs to individuals who converted to Christianity.  The MP made the remarks while attending a District Development Coordination and Monitoring Committee meeting on February 24.  The Bengaluru-based Christian Political Leaders Forum protested the remarks.

On April 6, the Gujarat High Court blocked the arrest of a Parsi man accused by a Hindu neighbor of selling land to a Muslim in 2020 in violation of the Gujarat Disturbed Areas Act, which mandates that buyers and sellers of different religions obtain permission for property transactions in specific neighborhoods.  The Hindu neighbor also said that the buyer concealed his religion and forged documents to evade provisions of the act.  There was no update by the end of the year.

In September, the government of the Muslim-majority Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir launched a program to address the grievances of migrants from the region, a majority of whom were Hindu.  Under this program, migrants who were forcibly displaced from the Kashmir Valley in the 1990s could reclaim their properties in Kashmir.  According to civil society reports, members of the Hindu Pandit caste may have sold land under duress and the central government measure was a means to address the displacement in the 1990s.  In March, the national government informed the parliament that 44,167 Kashmiri migrant families, including 39,782 Hindu families, had registered with a government-appointed Relief Office, and 3,800 Kashmiri migrants had returned to the Kashmir Valley in the last six years to take up government jobs under a special program announced by the Prime Minister in 2015 for infrastructure development and economic prosperity in Jammu and Kashmir.  According to media reports, mostly Hindus applied for those jobs.  Since the state status of Jammu and Kashmir was revoked in August 2019, 520 migrants had returned and another 2000 migrant candidates were likely to return during the year and in 2022, the government stated.

On August 10, thousands of Dalit Christians and Muslims observed the 71st anniversary of a 1950 petition still pending before the Supreme Court to maintain Scheduled Caste benefits such as quotas in government jobs and education.  The petition seeks to reverse a government order which limited such benefits to Hindu Dalits.  A Dalit Christian lawyer, Franklin Caesar Thomas, who has been arguing the case in the Supreme Court for 16 years, told media that Dalit Christians and Muslims continued to face caste discrimination because of their adopted faiths since they were not formally recognized as Scheduled Castes.  According to the National Council of Churches in India, approximately 70 percent of Christians in India belonged to Scheduled Castes before they converted.  A seven-member panel of Supreme Court judges formed in 2020 to hear the petition had not ruled on the matter by the end of the year.

In April, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee (All India Trinamool Congress Party) made a public appeal to Muslims to vote for her party in West Bengal elections.  Such a direct appeal from a sitting government official to voters from a particular religious group is prohibited in the constitution.  The national Election Commission reprimanded her for violating the election code of conduct.

On December 24, Asaduddin Owaisi, an MP and president of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), a predominantly Muslim political party, implied in remarks to parliament that Hindus would face consequences when Prime Minister Modi and Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath, both BJP, left office.  Police filed a FIR against Owaisi for communal hate speech.  The leader later clarified that he was speaking in the context of past police “atrocities against innocent Muslims” in Uttar Pradesh and was not making a threat.

In February, ahead of elections in Assam, state Health, Education, and Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma (BJP) told media that his party did not need or want the votes of Bengali-origin Muslims because they were “openly challenging Assamese culture and language and the composite Indian culture.”

While addressing Church members on September 9, Catholic Bishop Mar Joseph Kalarangatt of the Syro-Malabar Church in Kerala said Muslims were using the practices of “love jihad and narcotics jihad” to “destroy” non-Muslims.  Kalarangatt said, “In a democratic country like ours, jihadis have realized that they cannot destroy other communities by using arms.  The jihadis are using other weapons which cannot be identified easily by others.  In the perspective of jihadis, non-Muslims have to be annihilated.  When the agenda is spreading religion and eradication of non-Muslims, the ways for attaining that agenda get manifested in different manners.  The love jihad and narcotic jihad are two such ways.”  According to media reports, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said his government would not take action against the bishop.

In February, the Maharashtra state government petitioned the Supreme Court to dismiss pleas seeking a national-level CBI inquiry into the April 2020 killing of three Hindu monks by a crowd in Palghar.  The state government said it had already disciplined 18 police officials for their failure to control the crowd in that incident.  On January 16, a local court granted bail to 89 of the 201 arrested in the case.  The Supreme Court asked the Maharashtra government to submit a second charge sheet filed in the case by Maharashtra police but did not rule on the petition seeking a CBI investigation before year’s end.  In the 2020 incident, a mob pulled the three monks from a police vehicle and killed them, alleging that they were child kidnappers.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath on September 12 publicly stated that earlier governments in Uttar Pradesh had favored Muslim constituents in benefits distribution.

In July, Mohan Bhagwat, the chief of the RSS, which is commonly considered to be the ideological parent to India’s ruling party BJP, publicly stated that Hindus and Muslims in India had the same DNA and should not be differentiated by religion.  “There can never be any dominance of either Hindus or Muslims (in the country); there can only be the dominance of Indians,” Bhagwat said, adding that members of the Muslim community should not be afraid that Islam is in danger in India.  He also said that killing non-Hindus for cow slaughter was an act against Hinduism.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

On May 17, a Hindu group in the Mewat region of Haryana stopped the car in which Muslim Asif Khan was riding, verbally abused Khan and the other passengers, yelled “kill Muslims,” forced Khan to chant Hindu prayers and killed him when he tried to escape, according to media reporting.  Police opened an investigation but made no arrests by the year’s end.

On June 20, media reported that a Hindu mob killed four Muslim men in the Khowai District of Tripura on suspicion of being cattle thieves.  According to media, the men were killed when they were intercepted at Maharanijur transporting five cows in a truck.  Police arrested three persons in connection with the killing and two others for spreading communal hatred on social media.  There were no further developments in this case reported by year’s end.

On June 21, Muslim Aijaz Dar was beaten to death in Rajouri District of Jammu and Kashmir.  He was returning home after buying a buffalo when suspected cow vigilantes attacked him with stones and sticks, according to media reports.  Police arrested five suspects, but there were no further developments reported by year’s end.

According to media reports, on September 28, Muslim Arbaaz Aftab Mullah was decapitated in Khanapur village in the Belgavi District of Karnataka due to his relationship with a Hindu woman.  Police arrested 10 individuals, including members of the Hindu organization Sri Rama Sene, described as radical, the woman’s parents, and the man hired to kill Mullah.  There were no further developments by year’s end.

On April 3, police in Mangaluru, Karnataka arrested four Hindu activists and members of the Hindu nationalist group Bajrang Dal who were accused of stabbing to death a Muslim man traveling with a Hindu woman.  The woman who filed the police complaint against the assailants stated the victim was her friend for many years and was accompanying her on a bus to a job interview when he was killed.  She said the assailants stopped the bus, then attacked her and the other victim.  After police made the arrests, local Bajrang Dal members reportedly defended the attack claiming that they wanted to save the woman from “falling prey to love jihad.”  One local Bajrang Dal leader told media, “Our responsibility is to rescue girls from our community.”

According to EFI, a group of Hindus killed Pastor Alok Rajhans in the Balangir District of Odisha on May 20.  Police opened a case and arrested two suspects, but they were released shortly thereafter, according to Irish NGO Church in Chains.

On May 20, according to ICC, a group of Hindu nationalists attacked the family of Pastor Ramesh Bumbariya at his home in the Bansawra District in Rajasthan, killing the pastor’s father and beating the pastor and other family members when they refused to renounce their Christian faith.  The police arrested seven persons for the killing and the investigation continued at year’s end, according to Church in Chains.

Terrorist groups Lashkar-e-Taiyaaba and Hizbul Mujahideen killed several civilians and migrant laborers belonging to the minority Hindu and Sikh communities in the Muslim-majority Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir during the year.  In October, 11 civilians including two schoolteachers – Supinder Kour and Deepak Chand – were killed in targeted attacks.  Kour, a Sikh, and Chand, a Hindu, were killed on October 7 after terrorists forcefully entered their school in Srinagar and identified them as belonging to minority communities.  On October 5, local businessman Makhan Lal Bindroo, a member of the Hindu Pandit caste, was fatally shot at his pharmaceutical shop.  According to media reports, the killings caused widespread fear among Hindus and Sikhs in the Kashmir valley, leading hundreds to depart Jammu and Kashmir.

On October 15, Sikh farm laborer Lakhbir Singh was killed, and his mutilated body tied to a barricade.  In several videos released on social media, Nihang Sikhs claimed responsibility for the killing, saying Singh insulted the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh holy book.  Police arrested four members of the Nihang Sikh community and charged them with murder.

On December 19, an unidentified man was reportedly beaten to death by a group of Sikhs at a gurudwara (temple) in Kapurthala, Punjab, on suspicion that he had insulted the Nishan Sahib, the Sikh flag.  Police and Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi stated that there was no evidence that the victim had committed sacrilege.  Police arrested gurudwara caretaker Amarjit Singh on charges of murder.

On September 23, two Muslim men in Mathura, Uttar Pradesh, were beaten for carrying meat in their vehicle.  According to media reports, members of a cow-vigilante group attacked the two and posted video of the assault on social media.  The attackers claimed the Muslim men were carrying beef in violation of the state’s anti-cow slaughter law and the state government’s order banning the sale and transport of any meat in Mathura.  Police arrested the victims under the anti-cow slaughter law and violation of the meat ban order.  None of the attackers were arrested.  A Mathura council member said the two lacked the permit and refrigerator required to transport perishable goods such as meat.  He also said the two men had been jailed.  There was no further information available on the case by year’s end.

In September, the BBC reported views from freelance journalists and political opposition members that the number of attacks against the country’s Muslim community had increased in recent years as well as their views that the government often declined to condemn such attacks.

According to UCF, the number of violent attacks against Christians in the country rose to 486 during the year, from 279 in 2020.  According to UCF, most of the incidents were reported in states ruled by the BJP and included attacks on pastors, disruptions of Christmas celebrations, and vandalism.  A joint report entitled Christians under Attack in India, drafted by NGOs United Against Hate, the Association for Protection of Civil Rights, and the UCF, noted that more than 500 incidents of violence against Christians were reported to the UCF hotline during the year.  The report stated that 333 of 486 incidents were recorded in Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, and Karnataka States.  The report stated that only 34 FIRs were filed against the perpetrators through the year.  At the end of the year, 19 cases were pending against Christians in nine states under the conversion restriction laws, although no Christian had been convicted in the country for illegal religious conversion during the year, according to the report.

In a December New York Times article, Hindu nationalist Dilip Chouhan, who was recorded on video breaking into a church in Madhya Pradesh with a gun strapped to his back, said that senior police officials told him authorities would not pursue charges against him.  Instead, several local pastors were arrested on charges of illegal conversions.  Chouhan said his organization has more than 5000 members.  BJP youth leader Gaurave Tiwari said opposing forced conversion was an important issue for the party.  In Chhattisgarh State, BJP youth conducted several anti-Christian marches.  In September, a group of young BJP workers from the same chapter entered a Chhattisgarh police station, hurled shoes at two pastors and beat them up, reportedly in front of police officers.  Rahul Rao, an office holder in the BJP youth cell, was charged with assault by police and released on bail.  The article also quoted a leaked letter from a top police official in Chhattisgarh ordering police to “keep a constant vigil on the activities of Christian missionaries.”  Media reported the Chhattisgarh government transferred the senior police official from the station hours after the incident.  The investigation continued at the end of the year.

On September 18, media reported police arrested Christian pastor Ravi Gupta from Bihar’s Supaul District was arrested for converting 30 Hindu families to Christianity in his native village.  Members of Vishna Hindu Parishad (VHP), a Hindu nationalist organization affiliated with the RSS, detained Gupta and handed him over to police.  There were no further developments on this case reported by year’s end.

On September 21, according to media reports, a village council in Mangapat Sirsai in the West Singhbhum District of Jharkhand ostracized three tribal families who converted to Christianity.  In the presence of local police officials, the council reportedly asked the families to convert back to the local tribal Sarna religion and subsequently barred them from free movement inside the village when they refused to do so.  According to the district president, the council took the action to counter the influence of Christian missionaries, whom he said had been quite active in the area, luring tribe members with land and money to convert them.

On June 30, approximately 20 members of the Hindu organization Bajrang Dal allegedly attacked Pastor Hemant Meher in the Jajpur District of Odisha, according to a July 10 report from ICC.  The report said the group filmed the incident and beat the pastor before handing him over to the police and saying he had been forcibly converting people to Christianity.  According to ICC, police released Meher without charge, urging him to file a complaint against his assailants.  ICC said Bajarang Dal members attacked Meher again on July 1, forcing him to flee the area.

In April, media reported that a Muslim man posed as a Hindu to marry a Hindu woman in the Fatehabad District of Haryana.  The man allegedly revealed his religious identity seven years into the marriage and attempted to forcibly convert her to Islam.  When his wife refused, he forced her and their child out of their home.  She pressed the local police to take action.  Initially they took no action, but later, according to media reports, police opened an investigation and promised to take action against the police personnel who refused to register her original complaint.  There was no further action reported on this case by year’s end.

The Union of Catholic Asian News service and major international media reported that on January 26, approximately 100 Hindu activists attacked a prayer service at the Satprakashan Sanchar Kendra, a Catholic media center in Indore in Madhya Pradesh, accusing the center of conducting religious conversions.  The pastor told media the assailants beat worshippers and yelled at them.  He said when police arrived, they only jailed the pastors and other church elders for violating Madhya Pradesh’s new law outlawing conversions.  The pastor said he and eight other church leaders were jailed for two months before being released, and still faced charges.  According to national media, police pressed trespassing charges against 15 persons and opened investigations into the incident.  Their cases were pending in court at year’s end.

On January 5, according to media sources, members of the Hindu nationalist group Bajrang Dal disrupted a Christian prayer meeting in Uttar Pradesh.  The pastor told media the group beat them and forced them to chant Hindu prayers, threatening to kill them if they did not.  The Hindus turned the pastor and four others over to police, who charged them with forced conversion, based on the comments of one of the Hindus.  Police also seized copies of the Bible and musical equipment, according to media reports.  On January 6, the pastor and eight others filed a police report.  There were no further developments reported on the case during the year.

On January 6, a Christian group in Uttar Pradesh filed a complaint against members of VHP for disrupting a prayer meeting.  The Christians said 20 VHP members, including one police officer, entered their meeting uninvited, beat some worshippers, and damaged the facility.  Police charged five of the Christians with illegal conversion, according to media reports, but there were no further developments on this case reported by year’s end.

Media reported that on August 29 a group of more than 100 individuals targeted a Christian pastor for alleged religious conversion in Polmi village in Kabirdham District of Chhattisgarh.  The reports stated that the group physically abused the pastor and vandalized his residence during a prayer service.  Police opened an investigation into the incident.

On October 3, according to Catholic news agency Agenzia Fides, there were 13 instances of violence and threats committed by Hindus against Christian communities in Uttarakhand, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Madhya Pradesh states, and in New Delhi.  Drawing on reporting from EFI, Agenzia Fides said these incidents included disrupting worship services and prayer meetings and beating worshippers; police arresting pastors for forced conversion, based on complaints filed by Hindus; and Hindu groups vandalizing Christian places of worship.

In October, Giani Harpreet Singh, leader of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, a Sikh religious organization, and head priest of the Sikh community, said that Christian missionaries were “running a campaign for forced conversions in border areas of Punjab.”

NGO Sabrang reported that in Uttarakhand on October 3, 200 local members of Hindu organizations Bajarang Dal, VHP, and the youth wing of the BJP disrupted a worship service in Roorkee, shouting Hindu slogans, beating worshippers, and ransacking their meeting room.  According to media, police charged the assailants with rioting, vandalism, trespassing, and deliberately injuring others.

In September, Vellappally Natesan, a prominent Hindu Ezhava leader and patron of the Bharat Dharma Jana Sena political organization in Kerala, stated it was not the Muslim community but Christians who were at the forefront of conversions and “love jihad” in the country.

According to media, Hindu nationalist groups disrupted nine Christmas prayer meetings, six in Uttar Pradesh, two in Haryana, and one in Assam, vandalizing church property in some of the incidents.  In Agra, Uttar Pradesh, the regional general secretary of Bajrang Dal told the media that Christian missionaries used the season to “allure children by making Santa Claus distribute gifts to them and attract them towards Christianity.”

The investigation continued into the September 2020 killing of Hindu woman Priya Soni.  Soni was beheaded reportedly for refusing to convert to Islam after marrying Muslim Ajaz Ahmed in a civil ceremony, in Sonbhadra, Uttar Pradesh.  Police arrested Ahmed and Shoaib Akhtar, also a Muslim, for the crime and they remained in custody at year’s end.

In June, the Sikh minority community in Jammu and Kashmir protested over allegations of the forced conversion of two Sikh women, who subsequently married Muslim men.  A Sikh delegation met national Home Minister Amit Shah and requested passage of a conversion restriction law “similar to the one in Uttar Pradesh” in Jammu and Kashmir.

On August 6, according to The Christian Post, a Sikh family in Punjab attacked a Christian woman, her sister, and mother for their beliefs.  The report said that the attackers choked one victim unconscious.  Police opened an investigation, but there were no further developments by the end of the year.

On October 6, Sikh leaders in Punjab started a campaign in rural areas to counter the potential conversion of lower income Sikhs to Christianity.  The head priest of the Punjab Sikh community said, “Christian missionaries have been running a campaign in the border belt for forced conversions over the past few years.  Innocent people are being cheated or lured to convert.  We have received many such reports.”  He also called forced conversions [to Christianity] “a dangerous attack on the Sikh religion.”

In its Freedom in the World 2021 report, Freedom House downgraded the country from free to partly free due to “rising violence and discriminatory policies affecting the Muslim population” and crackdowns on dissent.

A Pew Research study “Religion in India:  Tolerance and Segregation,” released in July and based on interviews conducted in 2019 and 2020, found that 84 percent of those surveyed across different faiths said that “respecting all religions was very important to truly being Indian”; 80 percent said that “respecting other religions was very important to their religious identity”; and 91 percent said they were “very free to practice their own religion.”  These numbers ranged from highs of 93 percent of Buddhists and 91 percent of Hindus, and lows of 82 percent of Sikhs and 85 percent of Jains saying they are very free to practice their religion, with Christians and Muslims at 89 percent.  The survey also showed, however, that 83 percent of all respondents believed communal violence between religious groups was “a problem” for the country.  The study’s overview stated that Indians’ commitment to tolerance was accompanied by a strong preference for keeping religious communities segregated, which was true even for religious minority communities.  Large majorities of those surveyed said they did not have much in common with members of other religious groups, and large majorities in the six major religious groups said their close friends came mainly or entirely from their own religious community.  Nearly two-thirds of Hindus (64 percent) said it was very important to be Hindu to be truly Indian.  According to the report, Hindus who strongly link Hindu and Indian identities were more likely to also support religious segregation.

In its report covering the year, Christian NGO Open Doors said that overall violence against Christians and pressure against Christians “in all spheres of life” remained “very high.”  The NGO said the persecution of Christians had intensified as Hindu nationalists “aim to cleanse the country of their presence and influence.”  This led to the targeting of Christians and other religious minorities, including the use of social media to spread disinformation and stir up hatred.

On December 17-19, during a gathering in Haridwar, Uttarakhand, several Hindu leaders and activists called publicly for violence against religious minorities.  Yati Narasinghanand, characterized as a Hindu extremist, announced a reward of 10 million rupees ($135,000) for any Hindu leader who would lead a militant movement against Islam and Christianity.  Narasinghanand also called upon Hindus to “take up weapons” against Muslims and wage a war against “Islamic jihad” for the protection of Hindus.  Another Hindu religious leader, Sadhvi Annapurna, called for creation of a nation exclusively for Hindus and for raising an army against Muslims.  Uttarakhand police subsequently booked seven persons including Narasinghanand and Annapurna, on multiple charges under the criminal code, including promoting enmity between religious groups, deliberately intending to outrage religious feeling by insulting religious groups, and acting prejudicial to social harmony.  The spokesperson for the Uttarakhand government and director general of police condemned the statements and said that police would “take required action” against those responsible.  On December 26, a group of attorneys, including a former judge on the Patna High Court, wrote the Supreme Court urging action in the case, and stating that the speeches made at the event in Haridwar were not merely hate speeches but “an open call for the murder of an entire community” which not only posed “a grave threat to the unity of the country, but also endangered the lives of millions of Muslim citizens.”

According to media reports, on October 1, Hindu nationalists held a rally in the Surguja District of Chhattisgarh to protest a perceived spike in forced conversion of Hindus to Christianity in the area.  Media reported that World Hindu Congress leader Swami Parmatmanand attended the protest and called for those who engage in forced conversions to be beheaded.  Police took no action against him, according to the Chhattisgarh-based Christian community.

On August 8, a video was widely circulated on social media of a group shouting threats to kill Muslims and demanding that Muslims convert to Hinduism to remain in the country.  The incident took place during a demonstration near parliament in New Delhi in which the crowd was protesting colonial-era laws still in force, according to media reports.  MP Asaduddin Owaisi, a Muslim, stated in parliament that “genocidal slogans” were used against Muslims during the incident.  Media reported that several prominent Hindu activists took part.  Police officials told the media they were viewing video to identify suspects and had filed an FIR against “unknown persons” for shouting the threats.

On June 29, Hindu religious leader Mahamandaleshwar Yatindra Nath Giri in New Delhi stated that parliament should adopt a new constitution banning madrassahs, declaring religious conversion a crime, and punishing couples that have more than two children.

On October 15, Muslim cleric Abbas Siddiqui said persons who insulted the Quran should be “beheaded.”  Siddiqui’s comments were aired in a video shown by media.

Media and one NGO reported that on October 20, Hindu groups affiliated with the RSS, Hindu Jagran Manch, and the VHP attacked and vandalized at least six mosques and more than a dozen shops and houses belonging to Muslim communities across Tripura State, reportedly in retaliation for attacks on minority Hindus in Bangladesh during the Durga Puja festival there.  The NGO Centre for Study of Society and Secularism reported that attackers damaged 11 mosques, six shops, and two homes.  The NGO also said that the authorities took stronger action against the journalists and activists who were reporting the violations than on the rioters themselves.  The government rejected this claim and stated that action was taken against journalists for their “inflammatory social media posts” about the event.  Tripura police registered a case against Ranu Das, a leader from the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (the youth wing of the BJP) who allegedly threw stones at a mosque and burned Muslim properties, for provocation to cause riot, intent to hurt religious feelings, and causing public enmity.  The suspect fled and had not been arrested by year’s end.

According to media reports, on October 2, unidentified individuals vandalized a Hindu temple in the Anantnag District of Jammu and Kashmir.  Police opened an investigation into the incident.

EFI said that on January 20, members of the Bajrang Dal demolished the boundary wall of a church in the Mahabubabad District of Telangana, saying the church building was too close to a Hindu temple.

According to Pastor Upajukta Singh, in June Hindu villagers destroyed the homes of eight Christian families, expelling them from Ratagaya village.  The victims filed a police complaint.

In May, Hindu Jatav Dalit community villagers of the Muslim-majority Noorpur village in Aligarh District of Uttar Pradesh stated to media that Muslims were harassing them and discriminating against them.  The villagers also said Muslims stopped a marriage procession from passing in front of a mosque in the village.


Read A Section: Macau

ChinaTibet | XinjiangHONG KONG

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.  These rights may be limited in extraordinary situations for national security reasons.  The law protects the right of religious assembly and stipulates religious groups may develop and maintain relations with religious groups abroad.  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.  In June, a group of 25 representatives from various religious groups, accompanied by officials from Beijing’s Central Government Liaison Office in Macau, visited Zhejiang Province in mainland China.  The office said the visit was designed to maintain good relations between the PRC government and Macau’s religious communities.  Some religious activists in the diaspora called on the PRC government to allow for greater religious expression in Macau, as provided for by the Basic Law.  Some activists on social media criticized the meeting as insincere, stating the PRC has frequently cracked down on religious expression.

In May, a video showing more than 100 primary school students from a prominent Macau Catholic school singing “We Are the Successors of Communism” in front of a Catholic site sparked discussion online on the ability of religious schools to preserve their religious values and implement their educational mission while conforming to government ideology.  Falun Gong practitioners reported they continued to be able to discuss their beliefs openly with Macau residents.

In virtual meetings with civil society representatives, religious leaders, and nongovernmental organizations, representatives from the U.S. Consulate General Hong Kong and Macau stressed the importance of religious diversity and religious freedom 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 630,000 (midyear 2021).  According to a 2015 estimate by the research group Association of Religion Data Archives, 48.1 percent of the population are folk religionists, 17.3 percent Buddhist, 11 percent Taoist, 4.5 percent Catholic, 2.5 percent other Christian, 1.2 percent other religious groups (including Hindus, Muslims, and Jews), and 15.4 percent nonreligious.  The SAR Government Information Bureau 2021 yearbook states the majority of the population practices Buddhism or Chinese folk religions.  The yearbook does not provide an estimate for Buddhists, but it states they are numerous and individuals often practice a mixture of Buddhism, Confucianism, and Chinese folk religions.  The SAR Government Information Bureau estimates 4.5 percent of the population is Roman Catholic, of whom almost half are foreign domestic workers and other expatriates, and 2.5 percent of the population is Protestant.  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 officially recognized 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 extraordinary 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 PRC, safeguards religious freedom in the SAR.

PRC State Administration for Religious Affairs regulations entitled “Administrative Measures for Religious Clergy,” which came into force on the mainland May 1, requiring clergy to pledge allegiance to the CCP and promote the “Sinicization of religion,” do not apply to Macau.

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.  In 2020, the SAR enacted bylaws to the 2009 NSL allowing the Judiciary Police to create four new national security branches:  the National Security Information Division; the National Security Crime Investigation Division; the National Security Action Support Division; and the National Security Affairs Integrated Service Division, with investigative authority over religious groups and personnel, among others.

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 receiving financial assistance from the government.  Religious groups are required to 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 separately as a charity under a similar or different name in order to provide charitable services.

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

There is no religious education in public schools.  A small number of schools run by religious organizations receive no public funding, and these schools may require students to receive religious education.

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

Government Practices

In June, a group of 25 representatives from various religious groups, accompanied by officials from Beijing’s Central Government Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in Macau, visited Zhejiang Province in mainland China.  The delegation included representatives of Buddhism, Christianity, Catholicism, Taoism, and the Baha’i Faith.  The office stated the goal of the visit was to maintain good relations between the PRC government and Macau’s religious communities.  Some religious activists in the diaspora community called on the PRC government to allow for greater religious expression in Macau, as provided for by the Basic Law.  Some activists on social media criticized the meeting as insincere, stating the PRC has frequently cracked down on religious expression.

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.

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

In May, a video went viral on social media showing more than 100 primary school students from the Catholic Pui Ching Middle School singing “We Are the Successors of Communism” in front of the Ruins of St. Paul’s, the site of a former Catholic Church, as part of events commemorating the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party.  The event sparked discussion online among Macau residents about whether religious schools could preserve their religious values and implement their educational mission while conforming to government ideology.  Some educators stated they believed that politics should not be brought onto campus, and that patriotism did not equate to loving the Communist Party.

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.

Falun Gong practitioners reported they continued to be able to discuss their beliefs openly with Macau residents.


Executive Summary

The constitution states “Islam is the religion of the Federation; but other religions may be practiced in peace and harmony.”  Federal and state governments have the power to mandate doctrine for Muslims and promote Sunni Islam above all other religious groups.  Other forms of Islam are illegal.  Sedition laws criminalize speech that “promotes ill will, hostility, or hatred on the grounds of religion.”  The government maintains a parallel legal system, with certain civil matters for Muslims covered by sharia.  The relationship between sharia and civil law remains unresolved in the legal system, with state governments having responsibility for sharia law.  Individuals diverging from the official interpretation of Islam continued to face adverse government action, including mandatory “rehabilitation” in centers that taught and enforced government-approved Islamic practices.  Sources stated that there was selective persecution of non-Muslim faiths through legal and extralegal means.  The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) continued its public inquiry into the 2016 disappearance of a Christian pastor and his wife.  A government-appointed panel formed in 2019 to investigate SUHAKAM’s findings on the enforced disappearances of another Christian pastor and a social activist accused of spreading Shia teachings in 2016 did not release its findings on the grounds that the report is classified as “secret” under the Official Secrets Act.  In a case on same-sex sexual activity, the Federal Court (the country’s highest court) held that existing federal law preempted a Selangor State sharia law, although both laws restricted such activity.  The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) stated publicly it would monitor online activity of Malaysians amid concerns over the spread of false information and statements “that touch on the 3Rs – race, religion and royalty.”  The government continued to selectively prosecute persons for allegedly “insulting” Islam, such as in the case of transgender activist Nur Sajat, while it largely ignored criticisms of other faiths.  Reports continued of forced conversions, especially among indigenous populations.  Non-Sunni religious groups continued to report challenges in registering as nonprofit charitable organizations or building houses of worship, although some religious groups successfully registered as companies.  The High Court ruled that a regulation issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs in 1986 banning the use of the word “Allah” by non-Muslims was unlawful and unconstitutional.  The government appealed the ruling.  The Deputy Religious Affairs Minister said state governments were directed to take steps to ensure religions other than Islam would be further limited in propagating their beliefs to Muslims and announced his intent to introduce legislation to “control and restrict the development of non-Muslim religions.”  Federal and state governments sought to limit the ability for transgender individuals to worship in mosques.

Local human rights organizations and religious leaders again expressed concern that society was becoming less tolerant of religious diversity.  SUHAKAM Commissioner Madeline Berma said that it was increasingly common to see social media users mocking the Prophet Muhammad and Jesus.  Individuals lodged more than 5,000 reports to the police against Islamic preacher Syakir Nasoha, who made disparaging remarks about non-Muslims in a viral video, but nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) said the police took no action.  Religious organizations held virtual interfaith events and webinars to discuss religious freedom throughout the year.

U.S. embassy officials regularly discussed with government officials at the Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Royal Malaysian Police, and Prime Minister’s Department, among others, issues including constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion, an increase in religious intolerance, respecting religious minorities, the unilateral conversion of children by one parent without the permission of the other, and the disappearances of the three Christians and a Muslim activist in 2016 and 2017.  The Ambassador visited a number of houses of worship to show the importance of respecting religious pluralism.  Embassy representatives met with members of religious groups, including minority groups and those whose activities were limited by the government, to discuss the restrictions they faced and strategies for engaging the government on issues of religious freedom.  The embassy enabled the participation of religious leaders and scholars in virtual conferences and webinars that promoted religious freedom and tolerance.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 33.5 million (midyear 2021).  According to the most recent census in 2010, 61.3 percent of the population practices Islam; 19.8 percent, Buddhism; 9.2 percent, Christianity; 6.3 percent, Hinduism; 1.3 percent, Confucianism, Taoism, or other traditional Chinese philosophies and religions; and less than 1 percent each other religious groups that include animists, Sikhs, Jehovah’s Witnesses, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ), and Baha’is.  Almost all Muslims practice Sunni Islam of the Shafi’i school.  Ethnic Malays, defined in the federal constitution as Muslims from birth, account for approximately 55 percent of the population.  Rural areas – especially in the peninsular east coast of the country – are predominantly Muslim, while the states of Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo have relatively higher numbers of non-Muslims.  Ethnic Chinese Malaysians are mainly Buddhist and live mostly in the West coast states, especially in Kedah, Penang, Perak, Selangor, Melaka, and Johor.  There is a very small Malaysian Thai Buddhist community living in the northern parts of Kedah and Kelantan states.  Two-thirds of the country’s Christian population inhabits the East Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The federal constitution states, “every person has the right to profess and practice his religion,” but it gives federal and state governments the power to control or restrict proselytization aimed at converting Muslims to another faith.  The constitution names Islam as the “religion of the Federation” and gives parliament powers to make provisions regulating Islamic religious affairs.  Federal law allows citizens and organizations to sue the government for constitutional violations of religious freedom.  Federal and state governments have the power to “control or restrict the propagation of any religious doctrine or belief among persons professing the religion of Islam.”  The constitution identifies the traditional rulers, also known as sultans, as “Heads of Islam.”  Sultans are present in nine of the country’s 13 states and are the highest Islamic authority within their respective states.  In the remaining four states and the Federal Territories, the highest Islamic authority is the King, selected to a five-year term from among the nine sultans in an established rotation order.  Islamic law is administered by each state.  The office of mufti exists in every state to advise the sultan in all matters of Islamic law.  Sultans oversee sharia courts and appoint judges based on the recommendation of the respective state Islamic religious departments and councils, who manage the operations of the courts.  In states with no sultan and in the Federal Territories, the King assumes responsibility for this process.

Federal law has constitutional precedence over state law except in matters concerning Islamic law.  A constitutional amendment provides that civil courts have no jurisdiction with respect to any matter within the jurisdiction of the sharia courts.  However, since 2018, the Federal Court, the country’s highest, has held it has jurisdiction over the procedures of the sharia administrative authority in cases involving conversion of minors and that such jurisdiction may not be abrogated by a constitutional amendment.

The Sharia Judiciary Department (JKSM) is the federal agency charged with coordinating the sharia courts.  The federal Department of Development of Islam (JAKIM) is the permanent secretariat of the federal Fatwa Committee, which consists of 14 muftis, one from each state and one representing the Federal Territories.  The Sharia and Civil Technical Committee within the Attorney General’s Chambers oversee the process of sharia lawmaking at the federal level.  A 1996 fatwa, supported by state laws, requires the country to follow only Sunni teachings of the Shafi’i school and prohibits Muslims from possessing, publishing, or distributing material contrary to those teachings.

Muslims who seek to convert to another religion must first obtain approval from a sharia court to declare them as “apostates.”  Sharia courts seldom grant such requests, especially for those born Muslim and ethnic Malays, and are reluctant to allow conversion for those who had previously converted to Islam.  Penalties for apostasy vary by state.  In the states of Perak, Melaka, Sabah, and Pahang, apostasy is a criminal offense punishable by a fine or prison term.  In Pahang, courts may impose up to six strokes of the cane.  The maximum penalty for apostasy in the states of Kelantan and Terengganu is death, but courts have never imposed this penalty, and its legality remains untested.  NGOs report that most converts from Islam prefer to do so privately, without legal approval.  Nationally, civil courts generally cede authority to sharia courts in cases concerning conversion from Islam.  In some states, sharia courts allow one parent to convert children to Islam without the consent of the second parent.  The law does not restrict the rights of non-Muslims to change their religious beliefs and affiliation.  A non-Muslim wishing to marry a Muslim must convert to Islam for the sharia court to officially recognize the marriage.

A minor (under the age of 18, according to federal law) generally may not convert to another faith without explicit parental permission; however, some states’ laws allow conversion to Islam without permission after age 15.  A 2018 decision of the Federal Court ruled against the unilateral conversion of children by a sharia court without the consent of both parents.  The judgment said civil courts had jurisdiction to exercise supervisory powers over administrative decisions of state Islamic authorities.

Sedition laws regulate and punish, among other acts, speech considered hostile to ethnic groups, which includes speech insulting a religion, enforced most often for such speech regarding Islam.  The penal code punishes “offences relating to religion” including “injuring or defiling a place of worship,” “disturbing a religious assembly,” “trespassing on burial places,” or “uttering words with deliberate intent to wound the religious dealings of any person.”  Convictions for these offenses under sedition laws within the penal code may result in prison sentences of up to two years or a fine, the amount of which is not defined in the penal code, or imprisonment of up to 20 years if there is physical harm or damage to property.  The penal code also bars speech that “promotes ill will, hostility, or hatred on the grounds of religion,” with offenders facing imprisonment between two to five years.  NGOs report that prosecutions for blasphemy usually involve those who offend Islam, but an insult to any religion may be subject to prosecution.

Under sharia, which differs by state, individuals convicted of “deviant” religious activity face up to three years in prison, caning, or a 5,000 ringgit ($1,200) fine for “insulting” Islam.  According to some state laws, Muslims may be fined 1,000 ringgit ($240) if they do not attend “counseling” after being found guilty of wearing what authorities deem immodest clothing.  According to sharia in some states, individuals who sell food to fasting Muslims or Muslims who do not fast are also subject to a fine, a jail sentence, or both.

JAKIM and state Islamic authorities prepare all Friday sermons for congregations as well as oversee and approve the appointment of imams at mosques.  JAKIM and state Islamic officials must formally approve all teachers of Islam before they may preach or lecture on Islam in public.

There is no legal requirement for non-Muslim religious groups to register, but to become approved nonprofit charitable organizations, all groups must register with the government’s Registrar of Societies (ROS) by submitting paperwork showing the organization’s leadership, purpose, and rules, and by paying a small fee.  These organizations are legally required to submit annual reports to the ROS to remain registered.  The ROS may inspect registered organizations and investigate those suspected of being used for purposes “prejudicial to public peace, welfare, good order, or morality.”

Tax laws allow an exemption for registered religious groups for donations received and a tax deduction for individual donors.  Donors giving zakat (Islamic tithes) to Muslim religious organizations receive a tax rebate.  Donors to government-approved charitable organizations (including some non-Muslim religious groups) may receive a tax deduction on the contribution rather than a tax rebate.

Under sharia, caning is permitted in every state.  Offenses subject to caning, sometimes in conjunction with imprisonment, include consensual same-sex sexual relations and prostitution.  Caning is also permitted for a wider variety of offenses under provisions in the federal penal code such as for rape, drug trafficking, illegal migration, bribery, and criminal breach of trust.

The law forbids proselytizing of Muslims by non-Muslims, with punishments varying from state to state, including imprisonment and caning.  The law allows Muslims to proselytize without restriction.

State governments have exclusive authority over allocation of land for, and the construction of, all places of worship as well as land allocation for all cemeteries.

All Islamic houses of worship – including mosques and prayer rooms – fall under the authority of JAKIM and corresponding state Islamic departments; officials at these departments must give permission for the construction of any mosque or prayer room.

Islamic religious instruction is compulsory for Muslim children in public schools; non-Muslim students are required to take nonreligious morals and ethics courses.  Private schools may offer a non-Islamic religious curriculum as an option for non-Muslims.

Sharia courts have jurisdiction over Muslims in matters of family law and religious observances.  Non-Muslims have no standing in sharia proceedings, leading to some cases where sharia court rulings have affected non-Muslims who have no ability to defend their position or appeal the court’s decision, most frequently in rulings affecting custody, divorce, inheritance, burial, and conversion in interfaith families.  The relationship between sharia and civil law remains largely unresolved in the legal system.  When civil and sharia jurisdictions intersect, civil courts largely defer to sharia courts, creating situations in which sharia judgments can affect non-Muslims.

Two states, Kelantan and Terengganu, have enacted hudood (Islamic penal law) for Muslims, although the federal government has never allowed the implementation of that code.  The states may not implement these laws without amendments to federal legislation and the agreement of the sultan.

The legal age of marriage is 16 for Muslim females and 18 for Muslim males, except in Selangor state, where Muslim and non-Muslim females must be 18.  Sharia courts may make exceptions for marriage before those ages with the permission of parents.  Non-Muslims must be 18 to marry but may marry as young as 16 with the approval of their state’s chief minister.

National identity cards specify religious affiliation, and the government uses them to determine which citizens are subject to sharia.  The cards identify Muslims in print on the face of the card; for members of other recognized religions, religious affiliation is encrypted in a smart chip within the identity card.  Married Muslims must carry a special photo identification of themselves and their spouse as proof of marriage.

Foreign missionaries and international students enrolling in religious courses must apply for entry with the Department of Immigration.  These classes of visas are issued to applicants on a year-to-year basis and a national body representing the respective faiths must endorse the applicant’s qualifications.

JAKIM coordinates the Hajj, endowment (waqf), tithes, and other Islamic activities.

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

Government Practices

SUHAKAM’s public inquiry continued into the disappearance in 2016 of Christian pastor Joshua Hilmy and his wife, Ruth Sitepu.  SUHAKAM interviewed dozens of witnesses since the inquiry began in February 2020.  Philip Koh, a lawyer representing the family, criticized the Attorney General’s Chambers regarding what he stated was its lack of cooperation with the inquiry.  In November, Sitepu’s family issued a statement.  The family said, “Please return her remains to us.  People do not, and cannot, just vanish into thin air with no trace.”

The government did not release results from a government-appointed panel formed in June 2019 to investigate SUHAKAM’s determination that the Royal Malaysia Police intelligence unit, Special Branch, was responsible for the 2016/17 “enforced disappearance” of Shia Muslim social activist Amri Che Mat and Christian pastor Raymond Koh, and it made no progress in its investigation, according to SUHAKAM.  According to a lawyer for the two families, the government sent a reply affidavit in September stating it would not release the Special Task Force report, which was completed in 2019, because it was classified under the Official Secrets Act of 1972 and its release would undermine the “national interest.”

The wife of Pastor Raymond Koh, Susanna Liew, continued her legal action against the federal government and several senior officials for what she stated was failure to properly investigate her husband’s kidnapping in 2017, accusing them of negligence, misfeasance, and conspiracy to injure.  In May, a magistrate judge ordered court proceedings to continue in December 2022 against Lam Chang Nam for allegedly extorting 30,000 ringgit ($7,200) from Koh’s family by offering information on Koh’s whereabouts.  Prosecutors initially charged Lam with kidnapping Koh, although they later withdrew the charges.

Despite calls from the Kuala Lumpur High Court for police to locate Indira Gandhi’s former husband and their youngest child, whom he abducted in 2009, both remained missing as of the end of the year.  Gandhi, a Hindu, had earlier sued successfully to deny her former husband’s unilateral conversion of their three minor children to Islam.  In July, the High Court allowed Gandhi to file a suit against the police and the government for alleged inaction in executing a warrant to arrest her former husband for contempt and return her daughter.  At year’s end, the Inspector General of Police had not disclosed the daughter’s location nor announced any progress on the case.

In May, Member of Parliament Maria Chin Abdullah sought a High Court ruling to revoke an October 2019 Sharia High Court contempt order against her for her September 2019 press release stating that the sharia court discriminated against women.  The prosecution in the sharia case said Chin’s comments harmed the reputation of the court.  The High Court review remained pending at year’s end.

In February, the Federal Court held that a federal law preempted a similar Selangor State law outlawing same-sex sexual activity.  The ruling stemmed from an appeal of a Selangor State sharia court’s 2019 conviction of a man for “intercourse against the order of nature.”  The court found that existing federal legislation outlawing the same activity for the same reason preempted the state law, and on constitutional grounds ruled that the sharia court did not have jurisdiction.

Civil society activists said the government selectively prosecuted speech denigrating Islam and largely ignored criticisms of other faiths.  In January, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) said it would monitor social media platforms for the spread of false information and statements that “touch on the 3Rs – race, religion and royalty.”

In April, Datuk Abdul Aziz Sheikh Ab Kadir, chairman of the Negeri Sembilan State Islamic Religious Council, which administers Islamic religious affairs in the state, said the word “Allah” was sacred and specifically for Muslims and could not be used by other religions.

In February, the Federal Court ruled on an appeal of a Selangor High Court decision and Court of Appeals dismissal of Rosliza Ibrahim’s legal bid for a declaration that she was Buddhist and not Muslim.  The Federal Court found that Rosliza, born to an unmarried Muslim man and Buddhist woman, had not inherited her Muslim father’s faith, as the Islamic Family Law Enactment 2003 in Selangor did not recognize his paternity due to his unmarried status.

In April, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim called for an internal investigation into public university lecturer Dr. Kamarul Zaman Yusoff, accusing him of stoking religious tensions in comments he made about a member of parliament.  Kamarul accused Democratic Action Party Member of Parliament Steven Sim of providing a motorcycle to one of his constituents, a Malay youth facing financial difficulties, and characterizing it as an attempt at “Christianization.”  He also warned Malay Muslims against accepting help from “Christian evangelists.”

Lawyers continued to call for the Ministry of Education to issue a directive forbidding religious conversion of students in school.  In January 2020, a Christian family in Sarawak State sued authorities over the conversion of their son, a minor, to Islam by a ustaz (religious teacher) in his school without the parents’ knowledge or consent.  The case remained pending at year’s end.

In January, SUHAKAM called for legal action after receiving complaints of indigenous children in Sarawak State being forced to observe Islamic rituals such as mandatory attendance of religious classes and wearing veils and traditional Islamic attire.  SUHAKAM attributed this largely to interfaith marriages in which one of the spouses no longer wished to practice Islam, often leading to their children being registered as Muslims, despite being raised as followers of other faiths.

JAKIM continued to implement federal guidelines on what constituted deviant Islamic behavior or belief.  State religious authorities generally followed these guidelines.  Those differing from the official interpretation of Islam continued to face adverse government action, including mandatory “rehabilitation” in centers that taught and enforced government-approved Islamic practices.  The government forbade individuals to leave such centers until they completed the program, which varied in length but often lasted approximately six months.  These counseling programs continued to be designed to ensure detainees adopted the government’s official interpretation of Islam.  The Religious Affairs Ministry reported 14 state-level cases in the country involving “deviant” teachings or worship under sharia from January-September, compared with 33 cases in 2020.

In February, then-Religious Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Zulkifli Mohamad al-Bakri urged authorities to take “necessary action” against a Hindu man who claimed in a video that he convinced his wife to leave Islam and embrace Hinduism.  Zulkifli said the law empowered states to formulate laws to control the spread of other religions to Muslims, including attempts to persuade, coax, or invite the latter to leave their religion either through preaching, marriage, or any other means.  Police investigated the man under the Sedition Act, Multimedia and Communications Act, and the penal code, and the case remained pending at year’s end.

NGO sources reported it remained difficult for Muslims attempting to convert and for non-Muslims mistakenly registered as Muslims to change the religious designation on their identification cards.  In November, Kelantan State enacted new sharia laws that included making it illegal to convert from Islam with punishments including a maximum prison term of three years, a fine of up to 5,000 ringgit ($1,200), or six cane strokes.

In March, the High Court granted a woman’s bid to be declared a Buddhist and have her original name restored on a new identity card without the identification of “Islam.”  She woman said had been converted to Islam as a child by her father without her mother’s consent.

The government continued to prohibit Israeli citizens from entering the country without approval from the Ministry of Home Affairs, and it limited Malaysians’ ability to travel to Israel.

All foreign missionaries – both Muslim and non-Muslim – coming to the country to conduct religious talks were subjected to mandatory background checks for what the government termed national security reasons, to ensure these missionaries were free from “deviant” teachings.

In cases in which the government refused to register a religious group, the group could pursue registration as a private company.  Some religious groups reported registering as a company was generally relatively quick and provided a legal basis for conducting business, did not create limitations on the group’s religious activities, and allowed the organization to then conduct certain activities such as holding a bank account and owning property.  However, registering did not give the organization tax-exempt status or government funding.  Examples of religious groups that continued to be registered as companies included Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Church of Jesus Christ.

The government continued to maintain restrictions on religious assembly and practices, denying certain religious groups the ability to register as charitable organizations.  Many churches and non-Islamic NGOs continued to find registration difficult, with the ROS denying or delaying many applications without explanation or for technical reasons.  Representatives of religious groups continued to say the ROS had no consistent policy or transparent criteria for determining whether to register religious groups.

State-level Islamic religious enforcement officers continued to have the authority to accompany police on raids of private premises and public establishments and to enforce sharia, including for violations such as indecent dress, distribution of banned publications, alcohol consumption, or khalwat (close proximity to a nonfamily member of the opposite sex).  In January, the Islamic Affairs and Religious Department in Kelantan State detained seven Muslim couples on suspicion of committing khalwat during a seasonal “antivice” operation in conjunction with the Lunar New Year celebration.  A government representative said the operation was intended to “track down those who took the opportunity of the long public holiday to commit immoral behavior.”  Four Muslim women were also issued summonses for wearing “sexy and tight clothing in public.”

In March, Deputy Religious Affairs Minister Ahmad Marzuk Shaary said state governments had been directed to take steps to ensure that religions other than Islam would be further limited in propagating their beliefs to Muslims.  The Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department further posted on his official Facebook account that the constitution already empowered states and the federal territories to amend their laws to control and curb the propagation of non-Muslim religions.  His post stated, “This power is derived from Article 11(4) of the Constitution, which stipulates that everyone has the right to worship and practice their faith as they see fit but may not propagate or influence others into practicing their religion.”  He also stated the government would request states that already had legislation to control the propagation of non-Islamic religions to Muslims in place to further enhance their enforcement activities.

In September, Deputy Religious Affairs Minister Marzuk announced his intention to introduce legislation to “control and restrict the development of non-Muslim religions.”  In response, Hindu organizations reiterated that the constitution does not give the government the right to legislate any form of control or impose any restrictions on the beliefs and practice of non-Muslims and that the proposal was also against “Keluarga Malaysia” (the “Malaysia Family” concept promoted by Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob).  The president of the Federation of Taoist Associations of Malaysia described Marzuk as “totally unfit to be a deputy in charge of religious affairs in a multiracial country.”  Law Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said religious matters were under the jurisdiction of the respective states and if the federal government adopted this type of legislation, “It won’t be legally binding.”  The Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) welcomed the Law Minister’s assurance.

Officials at the federal and state levels continued to oversee Islamic religious activities, distribute all sermon texts for mosques to follow, use mosques to convey political messages, and limit public expression of religion deemed contrary to Sunni Islam.

Federal and state governments continued to forbid religious assembly and worship for groups considered to be “deviant” Muslim groups, including Shia, Ahmadiyya, and al-Arqam.  While Ahmadi Muslims in the country reported being able to maintain a worship center, government religious authorities did not allow them to hold Friday prayers, as these could only be performed in an officially registered mosque.

In July, Inspector General of Police Acryl Sani Abdullah Sani said police were tracking down a group known as Perjalanan Mimpi Yang Terakhir (PMYT), believed to be spreading “deviant” teachings, including that the group’s leader, Sittah Annur, could communicate directly with Allah, the angels, and the Prophet Muhammad, and that PMYT was revealed to her to guide the people.  In September, police arrested Annur and detained her for investigation under the section of the penal code that covers causing disharmony, disunity, feelings of enmity, hatred, ill will, or prejudicing the maintenance of harmony or unity on the grounds of religion, as well as under the communications law covering improper use of network facilities or network services.  Police subsequently released her on bail.

In January, the High Court said it would decide in March whether 39 Ahmadi Muslims should be considered Muslim following an appeal by the Religious Affairs Department (JAIS) against a 2018 High Court decision stating that the sharia court had no jurisdiction over the Ahmadi community, since JAIS refused to recognize them as adherents of Islam.  The High Court did not announce a decision in March and there were no follow-up reports by year’s end.

In January, the Kedah State government cancelled the public holiday for the Hindu festival of Thaipusam.  Federal Human Resources Minister M Saravanan said the state government, led by the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), should have consulted representatives of Indian descent in the federal parliament before making the decision.

In January, the Federal Court allowed the Selangor Islamic Religious Council to intervene in a hearing in which the NGO Sisters in Islam (SIS) asked the court to invalidate a Selangor State law that enabled sharia courts to review decisions made by state religious authorities.  In October, the court postponed a decision on the case.  In 2019, the High Court dismissed the NGO’s application to a civil court requesting review of a 2014 Selangor State fatwa that found the organization to be “deviant.”  SIS stated in the application that the fatwa infringed upon the constitutional rights of SIS and its members.  The fatwa said SIS deviated from the teachings of Islam because the group subscribed to the principles of liberalism and religious pluralism.  The fatwa did not define “liberalism” or “pluralism.”  The fatwa also ruled the NGO’s books and materials could be seized.  At year’s end, no action had been taken against SIS, which continued to function nationally.

Criminal cases remained pending against Abdul Kahar Ahmad and 16 followers for spreading the teachings of a “deviant sect” that had been banned in 1991.  In September 2020, JAIS arrested Kahar and 16 followers, although it subsequently released Kahar and three of them on bail, while the other 13 remained in custody.  Media reported Abdul Kahar “declared his repentance.”

In March the High Court ruled that a regulation issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs in 1986 banning the use of the word “Allah” by non-Muslims was unlawful and unconstitutional.  The judge stated that Bahasa Malaysia-speaking Christians in East Malaysia had been using the word “Allah” in their religious practice for generations.  The government appealed the decision, and the state Religious Councils of Selangor, the Federal Territories, and Johor filed bids to be included in the appeal.  In September, the Johor State Religious Council withdrew its bid to be included in the appeal.  The case leading to the ruling related to a Sarawak Christian who had CDs with “Allah” printed on them seized by customs officials upon her return from Indonesia.  Leaders of the Bersatu, United Malays National Organization (UMNO), and PAS political parties called for the government to appeal the decision.

In September, Perlis State issued a fatwa banning jokes that make fun of Islam or “can lead to immorality, sin and wickedness.”  In an edict released by Mufti Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin, the state fatwa committee said jokes were allowed in Islam, but not those made at the expense of the religion and that brought harm to others.

In September, the Film Censorship Board of Malaysia issued letters to two local broadcasters to stop displaying male and female undergarments on their home shopping networks, stating that the preservation of “manners, decency, and the sensitivities of a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society in Malaysia is of utmost importance.”

The government continued to ban books for promoting Shia beliefs, mysticism, and other beliefs the government determined “clearly deviated from the true teachings of Islam.”

Non-Muslim groups continued to report regular difficulties in obtaining permission from local authorities to build new places of worship, leading many groups to use buildings zoned for residential or commercial use for their religious services.

The Prime Minister’s office ordered government agencies, including the federal Department of National Unity and Integration, to encourage religious harmony and protect the rights of minority religious groups.  Many faith-based organizations, however, continued to state they believed that no entity had the power and influence of those that regulated Islamic affairs, and they cited the large footprint and budget for JAKIM compared to the more limited funding for the Department of National Unity and Integration.  The latter department’s annual budget was approximately 343 million ringgit ($82.16 million), while 1.5 billion ringgit ($359.28 million) was designated for the development of Islam under JAKIM.

During the year, JAKIM continued to fund a wide variety of Islamic education- and mosque-related projects, such as signing a memorandum of understanding with the Islamic Tourist Center to provide programs to attract Muslim tourists.  There were no funds in the government budget specifically allocated to non-Muslim religious groups, although some religious groups reported continuing to receive sporadic funding for temple and church buildings and other activities.  In June Malaysian Hindu Sangam President Moham Shan announced 2.45 million ringgit ($587,000) of federal funds were distributed to 1,145 registered Hindu temples throughout the country from December 2020 through May.

At public primary and secondary schools, student assemblies frequently commenced with the recitation of an Islamic prayer by a teacher or school leader, although this occurred less often than in past years, as most schools met virtually due to COVID-19 protocols.  Critics expressed concern over the religious overtones and symbols in schools.  Particularly in the country’s peninsula, community leaders and civil liberties groups said religion teachers in public schools pressured Muslim girls to wear the tudong (Islamic head covering) at school.  Some private schools required Muslim girls to wear veils covering their faces, except for their eyes.

Homeschooling remained legal, but some families continued to report difficulty in obtaining approval from the Ministry of Education.

The government continued its policy of not recognizing marriages between Muslims and non-Muslims, and it considered children born of such unions to be illegitimate.

In September, the Perlis State fatwa committee declared that “men who appear like women,” such as transgender individuals, were forbidden from entering mosques while not in gender-conforming clothing and were prohibited from performing the Hajj or Umrah.  The statement accompanying the fatwa said the presence of such individuals would “disturb the worship environment of mosques.”  Deputy Religious Affairs Minister Marzuk said the government was looking into emulating Perlis State in banning transgender individuals from entering mosques in the federal territories because it was “appropriate to maintain the sanctity of mosques and avoid confusion among the community.”  Penang State Mufti Datuk Seri Wan Salim Wan Mohd Noor said transgender individuals should change their appearance if they want to be in mosques or surau (smaller houses of worship) so that they “do not look out of place and avoid making other worshippers uncomfortable.”  Representatives from SIS said, “The fatwa and statement of the mufti not only contradict the federal constitution but in fact [are] not in accordance with inclusive Islamic traditions.”  Media quoted a transgender man as saying the fatwa “is such a cruel ruling especially to those who attend prayers at the mosques or even Friday prayers.  This goes against Islam’s nature of inclusivity and acceptance.’’

In January, the Selangor JAIS brought in transgender social media influencer Nur Sajat for questioning relating to a video posted online of her reciting Islamic prayers while dressed in women’s clothing in 2018.  JAIS officers allegedly beat and slapped her while in custody.  They subsequently charged her with “defamation of Islam,” punishable with a fine not exceeding 5,000 ringgit ($1,200) or imprisonment not exceeding three years, or both, and released her on bail.  Sajat did not appear for her court date on February 23, citing a medical condition.  JAIS then issued a warrant for her arrest without bail and sent JAIS officers looking for Sajat, with police support.  Nur Sajat then fled the country, saying she feared that the religious authorities would criminally prosecute her for practicing her faith.

Wan Norhayati Wan, known as “Ibu Yati,” stated that from March 3 through July 29, Selangor Islamic Religious Authorities detained her without charge, based on controversial comments she posted on social media about the “Arabization” of Malay culture.  She said that during this time, authorities repeatedly questioned her, deprived her of contact with her lawyer, and detained her in unsafe conditions, provided inadequate water, food, and access to medicine, and at times held her with possible COVID-19-positive detainees.  In July, the Selangor Sharia High Court charged Ibu Yati and two others with “expounding religious doctrines contrary to Islamic law” and spreading them through Facebook between December 2020 and February 2021.

In May, the High Court dismissed a libel and sedition lawsuit filed by Christians Maklin Masiau and Lawrence Jomiji Kinsil Maximilhian against PAS President Abdul Hadi Awang, who published an article in 2016 accusing Christian missionaries of preying on poor and uneducated people in impoverished communities in states such as Sabah by paying them to convert to Christianity.  In dismissing the case, Judge Akhtar Tahir called the lawsuit “frivolous” and “an abuse of the court process,” and he ordered the plaintiffs to pay 50,000 ringgit ($12,000) each to cover Hadi’s legal costs.  The judge also said Hadi’s comments in 2016 concerned only Christian missionaries and not Christians in general and that the plaintiffs should instead be blamed for seditious tendencies because “they resurrected it [Awang’s article] to make it a new issue.”

In November, the High Court set March 2022 as the date for judicial review of Buddhist Ong Seng Teng’s 2020 complaint over the National Registration Department’s (NRD) refusal to issue a birth certificate for his son, born in November 2019.  The NRD cited the refusal as a religious issue because Ong’s wife (the boy’s mother) was born Muslim, and sharia courts had never granted her 2016 application to leave Islam and convert to Buddhism.  The NRD denied the family’s request to list the boy’s religion as “Buddhist” on his birth certificate because the mother’s religious status mandates the child be registered as a Muslim.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

As in years past, local human rights organizations and religious leaders said society continued to become less tolerant of religious diversity.  In February, SUHAKAM Commissioner Berma said that it was increasingly common to see social media users mocking the Prophet Muhammad and Jesus.

In June, the Islamic Center at the government-run Universiti Teknologi Malaysia cancelled for “undisclosed reasons” a virtual talk by renowned Malay-Muslim classical dancer Ramli Ibrahim on how multicultural performing arts should transcend race.  Ramli said there were religious motivations underlying the cancellation.

In June, two Hindu groups went to court to compel police to detain and investigate Muslim preacher Muhammad Zamri Vinoth Kalimuthu for allegedly uploading to social media in 2019 a sermon that the groups found insulting.  The two groups said police had been negligent in failing to detain and fully investigate Zamri, despite having received nearly 800 reports regarding the preacher’s alleged offenses.  The groups sought a declaration stating that Zamri was “a threat to the security and peace of the multi-ethnic and multi-faith country of Malaysia.”  In September, Zamri’s lawyers filed a motion to dismiss the case.

In October, individuals lodged more than 5,000 reports with the police against Islamic preacher Syakir Nasoha, who made disparaging remarks about non-Muslims in a video posted to TikTok October 1.  In the one-minute clip, Nasoha said, “At the end of time, disciples of non-Muslim religions will be scrambling together to kill Muslims.”  Local NGO Global Human Rights Federation President S. Shashi Kumar said, “This is a deliberate attack on non-Muslims,” and he called on police to arrest Nasoha.  He also asked that National Unity Minister Halimah Mohamed Sadique immediately introduce a National Harmony and Reconciliation bill in parliament to help address racial discrimination and sectarianism in the country.  In December, 60 multiracial civil society groups presented a memorandum to police headquarters in Kuala Lumpur questioning the delay in arresting Nasoha and stating police had taken no action.

In March, police investigated Puteri Mujahidah Wan Asshima Kamaruddin for a video she uploaded on Facebook threatening to “destroy the Christian community” in response to the High Court’s ruling that allowed non-Muslims to use the word “Allah” in religious publications.  In the video, which went viral, Mujahidah said, “We don’t want to share the word ‘Allah’ with people from other religions,” and she referred to non-Muslims as “heathens.”

Religious converts, particularly those converting from Islam, sometimes faced severe stigmatization.  In many cases, converts reportedly concealed newly adopted beliefs and practices from Muslims, including friends and relatives.

Religious identities continued to affect secular aspects of life.  Muslim women who did not wear headscarves or conform to religious notions of modesty were often subject to shaming in public and on social media.

Religious groups hosted virtual interfaith dialogues and intercultural celebrations throughout the year.  In May, the NGO Komuniti Muslim Universal hosted a webinar on “The Future of Freedom of Religion & Belief in Malaysia Post General Election 15” to foster collaboration between parliamentarians and faith and civil society leaders in strengthening the protection of freedom of religion and belief in the country.


Executive Summary

The constitution establishes Islam as the state religion and requires all provisions of the law to be consistent with Islam.  The constitution states, “Subject to law, public order, and morality, every citizen shall have the right to profess, practice, and propagate his religion.”  It also states, “A person of the Qadiani group or the Lahori group (who call themselves Ahmadis) is a non-Muslim.”  According to NGOs, police failed to protect religious minorities and those accused of blasphemy.  The courts continued to enforce blasphemy laws, punishment for which ranged up to the death penalty, although the government has never executed anyone for blasphemy.  According to the Center for Social Justice (CSJ), a national nongovernmental organization (NGO), 84 persons were accused of blasphemy in 2021, a significant decrease from the 199 individuals accused in 2020.  Other NGOs also assessed 2021 had seen a decrease in blasphemy cases compared with the previous year, but they could not verify actual case numbers.  According to civil society reports, at least 16 of those charged with blasphemy during the year received death sentences.  The Ahmadiyya community reported that two of the blasphemy cases registered against Ahmadis during the year could result in the death penalty.  They reported that the cumulative number of Ahmadis charged under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws since 2019 was 61.  Ahmadiyya community leaders continued to report they were affected by discriminatory and ambiguous legislation and court judgments that denied them basic rights, including issuance of national identification cards, driver’s licenses, and passports.  Ahmadi Muslims also remained barred from representation on the National Commission for Minorities within the Ministry of Religious Affairs.  The Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial governments passed a series of laws targeting Ahmadi Muslim beliefs.  The Ahmadiyya community reported that police registered 49 cases against Ahmadi Muslims under these laws during the year.  Throughout the year, some government officials and politicians around the country engaged in anti-Ahmadi rhetoric and attended events that Ahmadi Muslims said incited violence against members of their community.  NGOs expressed concern that authorities often failed to intervene in instances of societal violence against religious minorities due to fear of retaliation, inadequate staff, or apathy.  NGOs reported perpetrators of societal violence and abuses against religious minorities often faced no legal consequences due to a lack of follow-through by law enforcement, bribes offered by the accused, and pressure on victims to drop cases.  The government took some measures to protect religious minorities, including establishing a special police unit in all provinces to protect religious minorities and their places of worship.  Police and security forces enhanced security measures during religious holidays in consultation with religious leaders.

Throughout the year, unidentified individuals and mobs targeted and killed Christians, Hindus, Ahmadi Muslims, Sunni Muslims, and Shia Muslims in attacks believed to be motivated by religion or accusations of blasphemy.  On December 3, several hundred Muslim workers from a factory in Sialkot, Punjab, attacked Priantha Kumara, a Sri Lankan Christian manager of the factory, for allegedly committing blasphemy by removing far-right extremist Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) political party posters that included Islamic prayers.  Attackers beat, kicked, and stoned him to death and set his corpse on fire, according to media reports.  Prime Minister Imran Khan said the attack was “horrific” and ordered a high-level inquiry.  Media reported that authorities arrested more than 100 individuals after the attack.  On March 25, six Sunni Muslims died and seven were injured in a Shia-majority area when assailants opened fire on a passenger van traveling from Gilgit to Naltar.  On February 11, a teenager shot and killed an Ahmadi homeopathic doctor, Abdul Qadir, in Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.  On September 2, unidentified assailants shot and killed Maqsood Ahmad, a dual British-Pakistani citizen and Ahmadi Muslim in Nankana Sahib, Punjab.  On August 19, three persons died, and 59 others were injured in a grenade attack on a Shia procession in Bahawalnagar, Punjab.  It was the third sectarian attack in the area in two months.  Armed sectarian groups, including factions of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), and ISIS-Khorasan (ISIS-K), continued to stage attacks targeting Shia Muslims, including the predominantly Shia ethnic Hazara community.  According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), the number of sectarian attacks and killings by armed groups increased compared with 2020, reversing the overall decline in terrorist attacks reported in previous years.  Human rights activists reported numerous instances of societal violence related to allegations of blasphemy; of efforts by individuals to coerce religious minorities to convert to Islam; and of societal harassment, discrimination, and threats of violence directed at members of religious minority communities.  Sunni groups held large sectarian rallies in Peshawar and Karachi in September and October, with speakers warning religious minorities, including Shia and Ahmadi Muslims, of dire consequences if anything they said was deemed blasphemous against the Prophet Mohammed’s companions.  NGOs expressed concern about what they stated was the increasing frequency of attempts to kidnap, forcibly convert, and forcibly marry young women and girls from religious minority communities, especially Hindus and Christians.  The Center for Social Justice recorded 41 cases of forced conversions through October 31.  There continued to be reports of attacks on Ahmadi, Hindu, and Christian holy places, cemeteries, and religious symbols.  The government continued to implement its National Action Plan against terrorism, by countering sectarian hate speech and extremism and by conducting military and law enforcement operations against violent groups.  According to Ahmadi civil society organizations, however, the government failed to restrict advertisements or speeches inciting anti-Ahmadi violence, as provided for in the National Action Plan.  Civil society groups continued to express concerns about the safety of religious minorities.  Multiple civil society groups and faith community leaders stated the government had increased efforts to provide enhanced security at religious minority places of worship.

Senior Department of State officials, including the Deputy Secretary of State, the Charge d’Affaires, and Consuls General, as well as other embassy officers, met with government officials and senior advisors to the Prime Minister, and officials from the Ministry of Law and Justice, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training, and Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony to discuss religious freedom issues.  These included blasphemy law reform; laws concerning Ahmadi Muslims; the need to better protect all religious minorities; sectarian relations; and religious respect.  Embassy officers continued to engage civil society leaders, local religious leaders, religious minority group representatives, and legal experts to discuss ways to combat intolerance and promote interfaith cooperation to increase religious freedom.  Visiting U.S. government officials met with religious minority community representatives, parliamentarians, human rights activists, and members of the federal cabinet to highlight concerns regarding the treatment of religious minority communities, the application of blasphemy laws, and other forms of discrimination on the basis of religion.  The embassy and consulates highlighted the principles of religious freedom and examples of interfaith dialogue in the United States on their social media platforms and organized several outreach events throughout the year.

On November 15, the Secretary of State redesignated Pakistan as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, as amended, for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom and announced a waiver of the sanctions that accompany designation in the national interests of the United States.  Pakistan was first designated as a CPC in 2018.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 238.2 million (midyear 2021).  According to the results of the most recent national census conducted in 2017, 96 percent of the population is Sunni or Shia Muslim.  According to government figures, the remaining 4 percent includes Ahmadi Muslims; Hindus; Christians, including Roman Catholics, Anglicans, and Protestants, among others; Parsis/Zoroastrians; Baha’is; Sikhs; Buddhists; Kalash; Kihals; and Jains.

Sources vary on the precise breakdown of the Muslim population between Sunni and Shia Muslims.  Sunnis are generally believed to be 80-85 percent of the Muslim population, and Shia Muslims, including ethnic Hazara, Ismaili, and Bohra (a branch of Ismaili), are generally believed to make up 15-20 percent.  Unofficial estimates vary widely with regard to the size of minority religious groups.  Religious community representatives estimate religious groups not identifying as Sunni, Shia, or Ahmadi Muslim constitute 3 to 5 percent of the population.

According to the 2017 census results, the population is 1.6 percent Hindu, 1.6 percent Christian, 0.2 percent Ahmadi Muslim, and 0.3 percent others, to include Baha’is, Sikhs, and Zoroastrians.  Taking into account the Ahmadi boycott of the official census, however, community sources put the number of Ahmadi Muslims at approximately 500,000 to 600,000.  Estimates of the Zikri Muslim community, located in Balochistan, range between 500,000 and 800,000 individuals.  Several minority rights advocacy groups dispute the results of the 2017 census and say the numbers underrepresent their true population and their political influence, because minority seat allocation in the national and provincial parliaments is based on census figures.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework


The constitution establishes Islam as the state religion but states, “Subject to law, public order, and morality, every citizen shall have the right to profess, practice, and propagate his religion.”  According to the constitution, every citizen has the right to freedom of speech, subject to “reasonable restrictions in the interest of the glory of Islam,” as stipulated in the penal code.  According to the penal code, the punishments for persons convicted of blasphemy include the death penalty for “defiling the Prophet Mohammed,” life imprisonment for “defiling, damaging, or desecrating the Quran,” and up to 10 years of imprisonment for “insulting another’s religious feelings.”  Speech or action intended to incite religious hatred is punishable by up to seven years of imprisonment.  Under the 2016 Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA), the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony is responsible for reviewing internet traffic and reporting blasphemous or offensive content to the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority for possible removal or to the Federal Investigative Agency (FIA) for possible criminal prosecution.

The constitution defines “Muslim” as a person who “believes in the unity and oneness of Almighty Allah, in the absolute and unqualified finality of the Prophethood of Mohammed… the last of the prophets, and does not believe in, or recognize as a prophet or religious reformer, any person who claimed or claims to be a prophet after Mohammed.”  It also states that “a person belonging to the Christian, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, or Parsi community, a person of the Qadiani group or the Lahori group (who call themselves Ahmadis), or a Baha’i, and a person belonging to any of the scheduled castes” is a “non-Muslim.”

According to the constitution and the penal code, Ahmadis may not call themselves Muslims or assert they are adherents of Islam.  The penal code bans them from “posing as Muslims,” using Islamic terms, carrying out Islamic customs, preaching or propagating their religious beliefs, proselytizing, or “insulting the religious feelings of Muslims.”  The punishment for violating these provisions is imprisonment for up to three years and a fine, the amount of which is at the discretion of the sentencing judge.

The penal code does not explicitly criminalize apostasy, but renouncing Islam is widely considered by clerics to be a form of blasphemy, which may carry the death penalty.

The government may use the antiterrorism courts, established as a parallel legal structure under the 1997 Antiterrorism Act, to try cases involving violent crimes, terrorist activities, and acts or speech deemed by the government to foment religious hatred, including blasphemy.

The constitution states no person shall be required to take part in any religious ceremony or attend religious worship relating to a religion other than the person’s own.

The constitution provides for “freedom to manage religious institutions.”  It states every religious denomination shall have the right to establish and maintain its own institutions.  The constitution states no person shall be compelled to pay any special tax for the propagation or maintenance of a religion other than the person’s own.  The government collects a mandatory, automatic 2.5 percent zakat (tax) from Sunni Muslims who hold savings accounts in banks.  It distributes the funds through a government-run charity as stipends for poor families and students, payment for medical treatment, and support to Sunni mosques and madrassahs registered with the government.  Sunni Muslims who want to distribute zakat themselves may request an exemption, and Shia Muslims are exempted by filling out a declaration of faith form.  Shia and Ahmadi Muslim communities run their own charity programs.

The constitution mandates that the government take steps to enable Muslims, individually and collectively, to order their lives in accordance with the fundamental principles and basic concepts of Islam and to promote the observance of Islamic moral standards.  It directs the state to endeavor to secure the proper organization of Islamic tithes, religious foundations, and places of worship.

The Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony is responsible for organizing participation in the Hajj and other Islamic religious pilgrimages.  Authorities also consult the ministry on matters such as blasphemy and Islamic education.  The ministry’s budget covers assistance to indigent minorities, repair of minority places of worship, establishment of minority-run small development projects, celebration of minority religious festivals, and provision of scholarships for religious minority students.

The law prohibits publishing any criticism of Islam or its prophets or insults to others’ religious beliefs.  The law bans the sale of Ahmadiyya religious literature.

The provincial and federal governments have legal responsibility for certain minority religious properties abandoned during the 1947 partition of British India.

The constitution states that no person attending any educational institution shall be required to attend religious instruction or take part in any religious ceremony relating to a religion other than the person’s own.  It also states that no religious denomination shall be prevented from providing religious instruction for pupils of its denomination in an educational institution maintained by the denomination.

The constitution states the government shall make Islamic studies compulsory for all Muslim students in state-run schools.  Although students of other religious groups are not legally required to study Islam, schools do not always offer parallel studies in their own religious beliefs.  In some schools, however, non-Muslim students may study ethics.  Parents may send children to private schools, including religious schools, at the family’s expense.  In Punjab, Sindh, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Provinces, private schools are also required to teach Islamic studies and the Quran to Muslim students.

By law, madrassahs are prohibited from teaching or encouraging sectarian or religious hatred or violence.  Wafaqs (independent academic boards) register seminaries, regulate curricula, and issue degrees.  The five wafaqs each represent major streams of Islamic thought in the country:  Barelvi, Deobandi, Shia, Ahle Hadith, and the Jamaat-i-Islami, which is considered ultraconservative.  The wafaqs operate through an umbrella group, Ittehad-e-Tanzeemat-e-Madaris Pakistan, to represent their interests to the government.  The government requires all madrassahs to register with the Ministry of Education in addition to registration with one of the five wafaqs.

The constitution states, “All existing laws shall be brought into conformity with the injunctions of Islam as laid down in the Holy Quran and Sunnah [Islam’s body of traditional social and legal custom and practice].”  It further states no law shall be enacted that is “repugnant” to Islam.  The constitution states this requirement shall not affect the “personal laws of non-Muslim citizens” or their status as citizens.  Some personal laws regulating marriage, divorce, and inheritance for minority communities date from prepartition British legislation.

The constitution establishes a Federal Shariat Court (FSC) composed of Muslim judges to examine and decide whether any law or provision is “repugnant to the injunctions of Islam.”  The constitution gives the FSC the power to examine a law of its own accord or at the request of the government or a private citizen.  The constitution requires the government to amend the law as directed by the court.  The constitution also grants the FSC “revisional jurisdiction” (the power to review of its own accord) over criminal cases in the lower courts relating to certain crimes under the Hudood Ordinance, including rape and those linked to Islamic morality, such as extramarital sex, alcohol use, and gambling.  The court may suspend or increase the sentence given by a criminal court in these cases.  The FSC’s review power applies whether the cases involve Muslims or non-Muslims.  Non-Muslims may not appear before the FSC.  If represented by a Muslim lawyer, however, non-Muslims may consult the FSC in other matters, such as questions of sharia or Islamic practice that affect them or violate their rights.  By law, decisions of the FSC may be appealed to the Supreme Court’s Shariat Appellate Bench.  A full bench of the Supreme Court may grant a further appeal.

The constitution establishes a Council of Islamic Ideology to make recommendations, at the request of the parliament and provincial assemblies, as to “the ways and means of enabling and encouraging Muslims to order their lives in accordance with the principles of Islam.”  The constitution further empowers the council to advise the legislative and executive branches when they choose to refer a question to the council as to whether a proposed law is or is not “repugnant to the injunctions of Islam.”

There is no specific language in the law authorizing civil or common law marriage; religious authorities sign marriage certificates, which are registered with the local marriage registrar.  The provincial-level Sindh Hindu Marriage Act and the national-level Hindu Marriage Act (applying to federal territory and all other provinces) codify legal mechanisms to formally register and prove the legitimacy of Hindu marriages.  In addition to addressing a legal gap by providing documentation needed for identity registration, divorce, and inheritance, the Hindu Marriage Acts allow marriages to be voided when consent “was obtained by force, coercion, or by fraud.”  The acts allow for the termination of the marriage upon the conversion of one party to a religion other than Hinduism.  The Sindh provincial government has legislation allowing couples to seek divorce and granting Hindu women the right to remarry six months after a divorce or a spouse’s death.  The Sindh Hindu Marriage Act also applies to Sikh marriages.  The Punjab Sikh Anand Karaj Marriage Act allows local government officials in that province to register marriages between a Sikh man and Sikh woman solemnized by a Sikh Anand Karaj marriage registrar.

Some court judgments have considered the marriage of a non-Muslim woman to a non-Muslim man dissolved if she converts to Islam, although the marriage of a non-Muslim man who converts remains recognized.

The constitution directs the state to “safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of minorities,” to secure the well-being of the people irrespective of creed, and to discourage sectarian prejudices.  It forbids discrimination against any religious community in the taxation of religious institutions.  The National Commission on Human Rights (NCHR), an independent government-funded agency that reports to parliament, is required to receive petitions, conduct investigations, and request remediation of human rights abuses.  The NCHR is also mandated to monitor the government’s implementation of human rights laws and review and propose legislation.  It has quasi-judicial powers and may refer cases for prosecution but does not have arrest authority.  A constitutional amendment devolves responsibility for minorities’ affairs, including religious minorities, to the provinces.

According to the constitution, there shall be no discrimination on the basis of religion in appointing individuals to government service, provided they are otherwise qualified.  There is a 5 percent minimum quota for hiring religious minorities (primarily Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Kalash, and Parsis but excluding Shia and Ahmadi Muslims) at the federal and provincial levels of government.

The constitution prohibits discriminatory admission based on religious affiliation to any governmental educational institution.  According to regulations, the only factors affecting admission to government schools are students’ grades and home provinces, although students must declare their religious affiliation on application forms.  This declaration is also required for private educational institutions, including universities.  Students who identify themselves as Muslims must declare in writing they believe Mohammed is the final prophet.  Non-Muslims are required to have the head of their local religious communities verify their religious affiliation.  There is no provision in the law for atheists.

The National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) designates religious affiliation on passports and requires religious information on national identity card and passport applications.  Those wishing to be listed as Muslims must swear they believe Mohammed is the final prophet and must denounce the Ahmadiyya movement’s founder as a false prophet and his followers as non-Muslim.  There is no option to state “no religion.”  National identity cards are required for all citizens upon reaching the age of 18.  Identification cards are used for voting, pension disbursement, social and financial inclusion programs, and other services.

The constitution requires the President and Prime Minister to be Muslim.  All senior officials, including members of parliament, must swear an oath to protect the country’s Islamic identity.  The law requires elected Muslim officials to swear an oath affirming their belief that the Prophet Mohammed is the final prophet of Islam.  This requirement prohibits Ahmadi Muslims from holding elected office, as they recognize a prophet subsequent to the Prophet Mohammed.

The constitution reserves seats for non-Muslim members in the national and provincial assemblies.  The 342-member National Assembly has 10 reserved seats for non-Muslims.  The 104-member Senate has four reserved seats for non-Muslims, one from each province.  In the provincial assemblies, there are three such reserved seats in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; eight in Punjab; nine in Sindh; and three in Balochistan.  Political parties elected by the general electorate choose the minority individuals who hold these seats; they are not elected directly by the minority constituencies they represent.

The country is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and maintains two reservations:  first, that ICCPR Article 3 regarding equal rights of men and women would be “applied as to be in conformity with Personal Law of the citizens and Qanoon-e-Shahadat Order, 1984 (Law of Evidence),” under which the in-court testimony of men in certain civil matters pertaining to contracts and financial obligations is given greater weight than that of women; and second, that ICCPR Article 25, on the equal right for citizens to take part in public service, would be subject to articles of the constitution mandating that the President and Prime Minister be Muslims.

Government Practices

According to NGOs, police failed to protect religious minorities and those accused of blasphemy, including a member of the Hindu religious minority, Dodo Bheel, who was physically abused and killed on June 30 by security guards at the Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company where he worked.  Authorities arrested the two guards involved, who were not Hindu, on July 14 and charged them with murder.  Dodo Bheel’s family filed murder charges against the mining firm’s security contractor.  In August, a fact-finding mission led by the Ministry of Human Rights recommended charges against police in Sindh Province for mismanaging the case, according to media reports.  A Sindh High Court judge directed district authorities to produce a report on the incident and members of the ministry’s fact-finding mission said Dodo Bheel’s postmortem report showed 19 injuries inflicted with a blunt object.  The investigation also revealed that security guards kept some of his Hindu coworkers in illegal detention for 14 days and physically abused them prior to handing them over to police.  The police allegedly asked their families not to disclose what had happened to the injured men.  On July 1, members of the local Hindu community blocked the mine access road and carried Bheel’s body in protest.  Protests spread to other cities in Sindh after authorities arrested 150 members of the Hindu community on terrorism charges for protesting, although the protests were reportedly peaceful.  On November 22, media reported Bheel’s brother appeared in court to withdraw murder charges against the mining firm’s security company.  Media reported that his family sought to reach an out of court settlement with the mining company.  At year’s end, the government had brought no charges against police, despite the recommendations of the fact-finding mission.

The NGO Center for Social Justice (CSJ) reported authorities charged and imprisoned 84 individuals in 2021 for blasphemy, compared with the 199 CSJ reported in 2020, when NGOs reported an uptick in blasphemy cases lodged against Shia Muslims due to heightened Sunni-Shia tension.  Of these 84 individuals, Sunni and Shia Muslims made up 54 percent (CSJ did not include separate Sunni and Shia figures), Ahmadi Muslims 30 percent, Hindus 8 percent, and Christians 8 percent.  At least 16 persons accused of blasphemy around the country during the year received death sentences, but none were carried out.  The Ahmadiyya community reported that two of the blasphemy cases against Ahmadis in 2021 were registered under section 295-C of the penal code, which carries the death penalty.  They reported that the cumulative number of Ahmadis charged under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws since 2019 was 61.  Leaders from other NGOs agreed the actual number of blasphemy cases involving Ahmadis was likely higher, but uneven reporting and lack of media coverage in many areas made it difficult to identify an exact number.  The government has never executed anyone specifically for blasphemy.  According to civil society reports, 81 percent of cases registered during the year against individuals accused of blasphemy were in Punjab.

In January, media reported that the Anti-Terrorism Court in Islamabad sentenced three men to death for sharing “blasphemous content on social media,” and a fourth man to 10 year’s imprisonment in a case that began in 2017.  According to security officials, two of the men – Rana Nouman Rafaqat and Abdul Waheed – operated fake profiles and disseminated blasphemous material on social media, while a third man – Nasir Ahmad – uploaded blasphemous videos to a YouTube channel.  The fourth man – Professor Anwaar Ahmed – was charged with voicing blasphemous views during a lecture at the Islamabad Model College where he was an Urdu teacher.  Police took Ahmed into custody and fined him 100,000 rupees ($560), but the other three were in hiding at year’s end.

Other blasphemy cases continued without resolution.  Several individuals were accused of spreading blasphemous content through social media under PECA.  In November, a group of Ahmadi Muslim citizens charged under PECA and facing blasphemy charges in 2019 for publishing copies of the Quran appeared before the Lahore High Court.  The petition against them was filed by Muhammad Hassan Muawiyah, brother of Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Religious Affairs and the Middle East Tahir Ashrafi.  Muawiyah said that the Ahmadi community and non-Muslims were not authorized to publish copies of the Quran.  The judge ordered police authorities to submit a report stating why they had not implemented the 2019 verdict to ensure that only “authorized entities” published the Quran and acted against the accused and those publishing “unauthentic” copies of the Quran.  The hearing was postponed on November 30, the case remained ongoing at year’s end with the accused free on bail.

The trial of the killers of Tahir Naseem, a U.S. citizen Ahmadi Muslim killed in a courtroom in August 2020 while on trial for blasphemy, was ongoing before the Anti-Terrorism Court in Peshawar at year’s end.

On September 27, a court in Lahore fined and sentenced Ahmadi Salma Tanveer, a former school principal, to death for blasphemy under section 295-C of the penal code for distributing writings denying the “finality of the Prophet” in 2013.  The court said, “It is proved beyond reasonable doubt that the accused Salma Tanveer wrote and distributed the writings which are derogatory in respect of Holy Prophet Mohammed.”  Police registered a blasphemy case against Tanveer for allegedly using derogatory remarks against Islam, based on the complaint of Qari Iftikhar Ahmad Raza, a prayer leader of a local mosque.  Tanveer remained in prison in Lahore at year’s end, where she had been since 2013.

According to NGOs and media reports, individuals convicted and sentenced to death in well-publicized blasphemy cases dating as far back as 2014 – including Nadeem James; Taimoor Raza; Junaid Hafeez; Mubasher, Ghulam, and Ehsan Ahmed; and Stephen Masih – remained in prison awaiting action on their appeals.  In all these cases, judges repeatedly delayed hearings, adjourned hearings without hearing arguments, or sent appeals to other judicial benches.  Civil society and legal sources said judges were generally hesitant to decide blasphemy cases due to fear of violent retribution.

In February, the courts granted Ahmadi Muslim Ramzan Bibi bail on her charge of blasphemy, 10 months after her arrest.  In April 2020, Bibi donated money for a ceremony being held in a Sunni mosque in her village in Punjab, but the mosque returned the money because Ahmadis are barred by law from “engaging in Moslem practices” such as giving to mosques.  She asked a non-Ahmadi relative why the money was returned, but the conversation turned into a dispute resulting in a verbal and physical altercation.  Clerics of the village informed the District Police Officer that Bibi had committed blasphemy.  Police arrested and charged her under Section 295-C of the penal code, which carries the death penalty.  Her trial remained pending at year’s end.

In March, a prominent Sufi cleric from rural Sindh and his followers threatened the life of Sindhi fiction writer Amar Jaleel, accusing him of committing blasphemy during a 2017 literature festival after a video clip of Jaleel reading one of his short stories during that festival appeared on social media on March 28.  Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) and Jamiat-e-Ulema-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) political party figures led the public campaign against Jaleel, supported by right-wing newspaper Daily Ummat.  On April 3, Sufi cleric Pir Umar Jan Sarhandi called for Jaleel’s death and offered money to anyone who carried out an assassination.  Social media users demanded Sindh authorities arrest Sarhandi, but they took no action.  The Sindh government promised that provincial authorities would not file blasphemy charges against Jaleel.  National media reported, however, that the FIA launched an investigation of Jaleel using cybercrime laws at the request of the TLP.

On April 9, police filed blasphemy cases against two Christian nurses of the District Headquarters Hospital.  Protesting hospital employees alleged that the two committed blasphemy by removing a sticker with a sacred Islamic inscription from a cupboard in the hospital.  According to media reports, the police locked one of the nurses inside a police van to keep her safe from the protesters.  In a similar incident, on January 28, police filed a blasphemy case against another Christian nurse, Tabitha Gill, at a maternity hospital in Karachi for “defiling the Prophet Mohammed” after she reportedly said she would pray for someone in the hospital.  Coworkers at the hospital accused Gill of blasphemy after an argument and were seen slapping and beating her in a video that went viral on social media, but none of those seen in the video striking her were arrested or charged.  An initial police investigation cleared Gill of any wrongdoing, but authorities subsequently registered a blasphemy case against her when a mob gathered outside the local police station demanding that she be recharged under blasphemy laws.

On August 7, police arrested Qaiser Zada, a transgender person, and her two brothers on charges of desecrating the Quran in Havelian, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.  Media reports say a witness saw Zada refuse sexual advances from a local Islamic scholar and was arrested along with her brothers after local residents accused them of burning a copy of the Quran.  According to media reports, the residents beat Zada before handing her over to police.  She and her brothers remained in custody at year’s end.

NGOs, legal observers, and religious minority representatives continued to raise concerns regarding the failure of lower courts to adhere to basic evidentiary standards in blasphemy cases.  They also raised concerns about the slow pace of adjudicating these cases, which led to some suspects remaining in detention for years as they waited for their initial trial or appeals, and some convicted persons spending years in prison before higher courts overturned their convictions and freed them for lack of evidence.  According to legal advocacy groups, some lower courts continued to conduct proceedings with spectators from groups supportive of harsh punishment for blasphemy, such as the TLP, who often threatened the defendants’ attorneys, family members, and supporters.  At other times, advocacy groups reported that for security reasons, blasphemy trials were held inside jails, resulting in a loss of transparency.  These observers said the general refusal of lower courts to hold timely hearings or acquit those accused of blasphemy persisted due to fear of reprisal and vigilantism.  Legal observers also reported judges and magistrates often delayed or continued trials indefinitely to avoid confrontation with, or violence from, groups provoking protests.

NGOs and legal observers continued to say that the law requiring a senior police official to investigate any blasphemy charge before a complaint may be filed contributed to an objective investigation and the dismissal of many blasphemy cases.  Some NGOs noted, however, that police did not uniformly follow this procedure.  In some cases, the court remanded the accused to police custody for 14 days before they had been charged formally so a senior officer might carry out an investigation.  In other cases, lower ranking police filed blasphemy charges without waiting for the required investigation by a senior police official.  NGOs and legal observers again stated police often did not file charges against individuals who made false blasphemy accusations.

During the year, courts overturned some blasphemy convictions upon appeal and acquitted others after the accused had spent years in prison.  On June 3, the Lahore High Court (LHC) acquitted and released a Christian couple, Shafqat Emmanuel and Shagufta Masih, from Punjab’s Toba Tek Singh District.  Authorities arrested them in 2013 for sending text messages to the complainants that the complainants said were blasphemous.  In April 2014, a lower court had sentenced the couple to death and fined them 100,000 rupees ($560) each.

There were reported cases of government intervention and assistance from courts and law enforcement in situations of attempted kidnapping and forced conversion.  Enforcement action against alleged perpetrators was rare, however.  Multiple cases of forced marriage and conversion of Christian women and girls were reported in Punjab.  On February 16, a court in Faisalabad ordered the release of a 13-year-old Christian girl who, according to media reports, had been abducted at the age of 12, forcibly converted to Islam, and married against her will to a 45-year-old Muslim man in June 2020.  Police rescued her in December 2020 and later moved her to a government-run shelter.  A court in Faisalabad later allowed her to rejoin her family.  Media reported that police dropped the investigation of the three Muslim men accused of abducting her and keeping her in chains for five months in 2020.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) reported forced conversions of young women of minority faiths, often lower-caste Hindu girls from rural Sindh, continued to occur along with multiple cases of forced marriages, child marriages, and forced conversions.  In March, the Hindu community in Tangwani protested what they said was the abduction and forced conversion to Islam of a 13-year-old girl.  A video of the girl went viral on social media in which she was seen sitting among men, who were shooting videos and taking photographs of her with their mobile phones.  The girl’s father filed a case with local police and reported that her abductors and their influential supporters from a local mosque had set his house on fire after he refused to withdraw the case against them.  On March 16, police rescued the girl and presented her before a court, which ordered that she be placed in a shelter.  Police issued no charges on the arson allegation.

On July 26, a court in Badin, Sindh ordered police to reunite a young Hindu girl with her parents after her abduction, forced marriage, and forced conversion to Islam.  Police had earlier rescued the girl from the illegal custody of a Muslim man after she posted a video widely seen on social media in which she was crying and pleading to be reunited with her parents.  Following the court’s order, police arrested her purported husband, Qasim Khaskheli, and his two brothers, and charged them for their alleged aiding and abetting the rape, kidnapping, torture, and intimidation of the girl.  She also declared that she had not converted to Islam and stated false documents were prepared by her purported husband.  Police returned the girl to her parents in July and later released those arrested in the case.

Religious minorities and several organizations protested the government’s response to alleged cases of forced marriage and forced conversion, noting such incidents continue to happen regularly in all provinces.  On May 21, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Religious Affairs and the Middle East Tahir Ashrafi stated that incidents of forced conversions and marriages had been rarely reported during the previous seven months.  Several NGOs tracking forced conversions criticized Ashrafi’s statement, noting that forced conversions and marriages remained prevalent and demanded the government do more to protect victims of forced marriage and conversion.

On October 13, a parliamentary committee to protect religious minorities from forced conversions rejected a draft bill proposing an anti-forced conversion law after the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Inter-faith Harmony opposed it.  Lawmakers from religious minority communities protested the decision and requested the government review it.  During a meeting of the Parliamentary Committee to Protect Minorities from Forced Conversions, Minister of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony Noor-ul-Haq Qadri said the “environment is unfavorable” for formulating a law against forced conversions and warned that approval of the draft could disrupt peace in the country and “make minorities more vulnerable.”  Qadri also urged the Prime Minister to “take other steps” to stop the conversions but did not suggest what those steps should be.  Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan said setting a minimum age for marriage in the forced conversion bill “goes against Islam and the Constitution of Pakistan.”

The Ministry of Interior maintained multitier schedules of religiously oriented groups it judged to be extremist or terrorist that were either banned or had their activities monitored and curtailed (Schedule 1) and individuals whose activities in the public sphere could also be curtailed, including during religious holidays such as Ashura (Schedule 4).  On August 11, the Sindh provincial government barred 309 “firebrand” speakers and religious scholars from leaving their home districts for 60 days to avoid violent disturbances during Shia commemorations in the month of Muharram, more than double the number barred in 2020.  These 309 individuals included both Shia and Sunni clerics who in the past had made controversial statements that the ministry said led to sectarian tensions.  The Rawalpindi district administration banned 39 Islamic Ulema religious figures belonging to different sects from entering the district during Muharram, stating this was in order to maintain peace and interfaith harmony during the commemorations and related processions held there during Muharram.

According to media reports and law enforcement sources, in the weeks leading up to and during Muharram, authorities at the federal level also restricted the movement and activities of clerics on the Ministry of Interior’s Schedule 4 listing to keep the peace.  Shia community representatives, however, accused authorities of bias by restricting their religious ceremonies and arresting community members.  In October, Shia leaders said Karachi police beat and harassed mourners participating in a religious procession during the Shia Chehlum holiday.

According to Ahmadiyya community leaders, authorities continued to target and harass Ahmadi Muslims for blasphemy, violations of “anti-Ahmadi laws,” and other crimes.  Ahmadiyya leaders stated the ambiguous wording of the legal provision forbidding Ahmadis from directly or indirectly identifying themselves as Muslims enabled officials to bring charges against members of the community for using the standard Islamic greeting or for naming their children Mohammed.  Ahmadi leaders said that during elections, their community members were more exposed to threats and physical intimidation, because authorities maintained the names of voters who registered as Ahmadi on separate voter lists.  Many Ahmadis therefore continued their longstanding practice of boycotting elections, according to the leaders.  Ahmadiyya community representatives continued to say that NADRA required Ahmadis to declare in an affidavit that they were non-Muslims to obtain a national identification card.

Ahmadiyya Muslim community representatives continued to state that Ahmadi families were unable to register their marriages with local administrative bodies, known as union councils, since those councils considered Ahmadis to be outside the authority of the Muslim Family Law of 1961.

On October 26, the Punjab Assembly passed a resolution requiring a declaration that Mohammed was the final prophet of Islam, which runs counter to Ahmadi beliefs, be included on government documents to register an Islamic marriage with the state.

In June, according to reports from the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, police who arrived at the scene of a fight between Sunnis and Ahmadis in Sheikupura District, Punjab, took no action to break it up.  The fight erupted when a group of Sunni Muslims attacked and blocked the funeral procession of an Ahmadi woman on its way to the cemetery.  The attackers, comprised of local villagers and led by clerics, opposed the woman’s burial, arguing the cemetery belonged to “Muslims” only.  According to bystanders, many suffered injuries in the fight.  Eventually, the Ahmadiyya Muslim community was able to bury the woman in that cemetery.

Community representatives reported Christians continued to face difficulties in registering marriages with Islamabad union councils because the councils claimed they had no authority to deal with unions recorded by Christian marriage registrars (usually church authorities).  Members of parliament, church leaders, and advocates continued to debate the text of a 2019 draft law to govern Christian marriages nationwide, because the existing regulation dated from 1872.  Members of parliament and officials of the Ministry of Human Rights and the Ministry of Law and Justice continued to consult with church leaders from prominent Christian denominations and with NGO representatives, but the denominations, church leaders, and NGO representatives had not agreed on elements of the draft law pertaining to divorce and interfaith marriage by year’s end.

Although the Sindh Hindu Marriage Act covers registration of Sikh marriages in that province, members of the Sikh community reportedly continued to seek a separate Sikh law so as not to be considered as Hindus for the purposes of the law.  In 2020, the Sindh provincial government began to implement the act, and NADRA began registering Hindu marriages in Sindh, according to Hindu community activists.  Some Hindu activists reported implementation of the law remained slow and officials who could solemnize Hindu marriages were not being registered with the government.

The government continued to prohibit citizens, regardless of religious affiliation, from traveling to Israel by marking Pakistani passports as “valid in all countries, except for Israel.”  Representatives of the Baha’i community said this policy particularly affected them because the Baha’i World Center – the spiritual and administrative center of the community – is in Haifa, Israel.  Christian advocates also called on the government to allow Christians to travel to Israel.

In March, hundreds of pilgrims clashed with police while trying to enter a shrine closed by the Sindh provincial government due to COVID-19 restrictions.  Police said the pilgrims broke open the main gate of the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, a 13th-century mystic Sufi saint, located in the town of Sehwan, Sindh.  The crowds attacked police and threw stones, police officer Mohammad Mushtaq said.  Several police suffered minor injuries.  Investigations were ongoing at year’s end.

Some religious minority leaders continued to state the system of selecting minority parliamentarians through the internal deliberations of mainstream parties resulted in the appointment of party stalwarts or those who could afford to “buy the seats,” rather than legislators who genuinely represented minority communities.  Others said parliamentarians occupying reserved seats had little influence in their parties and in the National Assembly because they did not have a voting constituency.  Women from religious minority communities criticized political parties for only nominating men to seats reserved for religious minorities in all legislative bodies and demanded amendments to the Election Act to make mandatory the appointment of religious minority women to these seats.

The government continued to permit limited non-Muslim foreign missionary activity and to allow missionaries to preach as long as they did not preach against Islam and they acknowledged they were not Muslim.  According to the government’s immigration website, the Ministry of Interior could grant visas to foreign missionaries invited by organizations registered in the country.  The visas were valid for one year and allowed one reentry into the country per year, although it was understood by missionary sources that only “replacement” visas for those taking the place of departing missionaries were available for long-term missionaries seeking to enter the country for the first time.  The website further stated the government could grant extensions for two years with two reentries per year, excluding applicants from India.

The government continued its warnings against blasphemy and other illegal content on social media through periodic print advertisements and text messages sent by the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA).  The text messages stated, “Sharing of blasphemy, pornography, terrorism, and other unlawful content on social media and the internet is illegal.”  Users were advised to report such content to a government website for action under PECA 16 (the 2016 PECA act).

In June, the PTA reported that uploading of content related to blasphemy and hate speech continued on social networking sites.  A report prepared by the FIA’s cybercrime wing revealed that in 2020, the state blocked 111 accounts for containing blasphemous material, 47 for featuring hate speech, and nine for spreading sectarian hatred.  From January through June 2021, the FIA cybercrime wing and the PTA removed 110 accounts, blocked 86 accounts for containing blasphemous content, 15 for hate speech, and nine for uploading sectarian material.

In November, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) reprimanded an FIA official for failing to identify and arrest individuals who allegedly uploaded blasphemous content on social media.  The FIA informed the court it blocked some of those links, and the IHC directed it to strictly enforce regulations mandating the removal of blasphemous content.

In early January, the PTA asked social media platforms to take down the trailer of the movie, “Lady of Heaven” for sacrilegious content.  In late January, the PTA told the IHC that it blocked 452 links that month to the trailer of a movie on the video-streaming platform Netflix on grounds that it contained sacrilegious material.

On January 22, the PTA blocked a U.S.-based website, “,” administrated by members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community-USA, from being viewed in Pakistan on charges that the website propagated blasphemous content.

On June 28, the Sindh High Court ordered the nationwide suspension of access to the video-sharing social media platform TikTok until July 8.  The court issued the order in response to a petition filed by a citizen aggrieved by the “immorality and obscenity” spread by content on the platform.  On July 20, the PTA again blocked access to TikTok “due to the continuous presence of inappropriate content on the platform and its failure to take such content down.”  Reactions to the PTA’s measure were mixed, with many social media users praising the decision, but others expressing concerns that the government could similarly ban religious minorities.  In November, the PTA lifted the ban on TikTok and released a statement saying it “will continue to monitor the platform in order to ensure that unlawful content contrary to Pakistan’s law and societal values is not disseminated.”

In April, a lawmaker from the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party introduced a resolution in parliament calling for expulsion of the French Ambassador over the republication of caricatures depicting Islam in a French magazine in 2020, which PTI said were blasphemous.  On April 21, the Sindh Provincial Assembly passed a unanimous resolution to condemn the publication of these sketches in France and demanded a federal movement against practices which “harm religious harmony throughout the world.”  Lawmakers in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Provincial Assembly passed a resolution on September 17 requiring official documents to include the Khatan-un-Nabiyeen, or “finality of the Prophet” along with the Prophet Mohammed’s name.

According to representatives of some minority religious groups, the government continued to allow most organized religious groups to establish places of worship and train members of the clergy.  The government also announced that a collaboration between the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB), provincial governments, and Sikh and Hindu community members would renovate several Hindu temples and Sikh gurdwaras during the year.  As of September, the government’s Survey of Pakistan mapping agency had surveyed, geotagged, and digitized 93 percent of the properties to be renovated.

Media reported that in November, the Islamabad Capital Development Authority gave permission for construction to resume on a boundary wall at the site of the first Hindu temple to be built in the capital.  In 2020, Islamist political parties opposed to the project filed a petition in the IHC to stop construction, and vandals destroyed part of the wall.

On February 5, a judicial commission led by police and justice sector reform specialist Dr. Shoaib Suddle submitted a report to the Supreme Court attesting that the ETPB failed to maintain most of the ancient and holy sites of the country’s Hindu minority community.  According to the report, out of 365 Hindu temples, only 13 were being managed by the ETPB, leaving caretaking responsibilities of 65 temples with the Hindu community, with 287 left untended.  In January (latest figures available), out of a total of 1,830 temples and gurdwaras across the country, only 31 were operating.

On June 11, the Supreme Court blocked plans to demolish the historic 716-square-yard Dharam Shala, a Hindu community center in Karachi, and ordered the Karachi commissioner to take possession of its land to protect the center from demolition.  The court issued the verdict after Hindu community representatives told the court that the ETPB had leased the property to private individuals who started demolishing the Dharam Shala to construct a new building.

Although there continued to be no official restriction on the construction of Ahmadiyya places of worship, Ahmadiyya Muslim community leaders stated local authorities regularly denied requisite construction permits, and forbid Ahmadis from calling them mosques.

Authorities provided enhanced security for Shia Muslim, Christian, and Hindu places of worship at various times throughout the year, including around particular religious holidays or in response to specific threats.  In July, a judicial commission on religious minorities established a special national police unit to protect religious minorities and their places of worship, a move welcomed by most religious minority communities.  In mid-November, police in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province reported the government there had established a new special security unit to protect religious sites and religious minority communities throughout the province.  Ahmadiyya community representatives, however, noted their religious sites and cemeteries continued to lack police protection nationwide.  In April, Lahore police provided security to the Christian community for Easter celebrations.  The provincial government increased the number of police personnel and security forces near churches.  The district police also directed its response units and special forces teams to patrol throughout the city.  In August and September, the state provided increased security throughout the country for the Shia community’s Muharram processions.  Police authorities said 19,000 police and paramilitary force personnel deployed in the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi to secure the processions.  Ahead of Christmas, police deployed officers to protect churches nationwide.  Police also deployed snipers and used closed-circuit television cameras and metal detectors to ensure the security of churches and Christmas markets.  In Sindh, police provided enhanced security at churches and Hindu temples, especially in Karachi, on the eves of festivals such as Christmas and Diwali.

In July, the Lahore High Court Bar Association (LHCBA) demanded that the federal interior ministry prevent the Ahmadi community from sacrificing animals on Eid al-Adha.  In a letter written to the Chief Secretary of the government of Punjab, the LHCBA urged police to enforce blasphemy laws against Ahmadi community members taking part in religious rites during the holiday.  Anti-Ahmadi groups used extensive online social media campaigns urging other non-Muslims to deny Ahmadis’ right to sacrifice animals during Eid al-Adha.  The government reported no investigations or arrests.

The Ministry of Human Rights and the Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training held consultations with minority faith representatives during the year to review textbooks for derogatory material.

On August 16, Prime Minister Khan launched a new nationwide Single National Curriculum (SNC) for grades 1-5 that standardized primary school instruction across the country’s three types of educational institutions – private, public, and religious.  Religious minority groups criticized the SNC’s emphasis on Islamic teachings across educational subjects and argued it violated constitutional restrictions on “compulsory religious instruction” as well as the constitution’s 18th amendment, which delegates most authority for education to provincial governments.

In July, a judicial commission for the protection of religious minorities led by Dr. Suddle expressed concern to the Supreme Court that Islamic religious content was included in compulsory education courses under the SNC, including in Urdu and English language courses, thereby compelling religious minority students to receive Islamic religious instruction.  The commission recommended all Islamic content from the SNC be placed in Islamic studies textbooks, because that subject was compulsory only for Muslim students.  Islamist groups opposed this suggestion.

While the law requires schools to teach Islamic studies and the Quran to Muslim students, sources continued to report many non-Muslim students had to participate in these courses because their schools did not offer parallel courses in their own religious beliefs or ethics.  The government did not permit Ahmadi Muslims to teach Islamic studies in public schools.

Civil society groups continued to report that some madrassahs, particularly those that were unregistered, taught doctrine they considered to promote violent extremism and intolerance toward religious minorities.  These groups also noted the government sought to curb this practice through madrassah registration and curriculum reform.

Legal experts and NGOs reported that the full legal framework for minority rights remained unclear.  While the Ministry of Law and Justice was officially responsible for protecting the legal rights of all citizens, in practice the Ministry for Human Rights continued to assume primary responsibility for the protection of the rights of religious minorities.  The NCHR was also mandated to conduct investigations of allegations of human rights abuses, but legal sources said the commission had little power to enforce its requests for information and recommendations.

Members of religious minority communities said there continued to be an inconsistent application of laws safeguarding minority rights and enforcement of protections of religious minorities at both the federal and provincial levels by the Ministry of Law and Justice, the Ministry of Interior, and the Ministry of Human Rights.  Religious minority community members also stated the government was inconsistent in safeguarding against societal discrimination and neglect, and that official discrimination against Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, and Ahmadi Muslims persisted to varying degrees, with Ahmadi Muslims experiencing the worst treatment.

As of year’s end, the National Commission for Minorities continued to function without legislative authority and without power to resolve problems.  In September, the commission requested the President approve a draft bill to empower it under a legal framework, and recommended the chairperson be a member of a religious minority group; the government took no action on the request by year’s end.  Religious freedom activists and civil society groups raised concerns regarding the limited powers of the commission and the decision to exclude Ahmadi Muslims from being represented on the commission when it was first formed.  Ahmadi Muslim leaders said they had never been approached about participating in the commission and would not join a body that required them to identify as non-Muslims.

Minority religious leaders said members of their communities continued to experience discrimination in admission to colleges and universities.  For example, Christians reported incidents of what they perceived as discrimination in which otherwise qualified Christian students were passed over for scholarships solely because they were Christian.  In another instance, a university admitted an Ahmadi Muslim student in Multan as part of a quota set aside for religious minorities.  The university later cancelled the student’s admission without disclosing the reason.  The Lahore High Court ordered the university to reverse its decision and uphold its original offer of admission to the Ahmadi student.  Ahmadi representatives said the wording of the government-required declaration students had to sign on their applications for admission to universities continued to prevent Ahmadis from declaring themselves as Muslims.  Students’ refusal to sign the statement automatically disqualified them from fulfilling admissions requirements.  The government said Ahmadis could qualify for admission if they did not claim to be Muslims.

In July, some students and religious groups protested the inclusion of a question related to the founder of the Ahmadiyya community in the test for doctorate admissions at the University of Sindh in Jamshoro.  The protestors threatened to file a blasphemy case against administrators of the university.  After negotiations, the university agreed to remove Ahmadi-related content from the admissions test.

Members of religious minorities, particularly lower-caste Hindus and Christians, reported cases of forceful evictions from their homes and villages by government officials assisting individuals desiring their land.  On September 20, Christians living in the Landi Kotal area of the Khyber tribal district held a press conference to protest government orders to demolish their houses located adjacent to the town.  They said local authorities ordered them to vacate their homes to expand a nearby jail.  The affected families reported their ancestors had lived in the area since 1914 and they had no other place to live.  On August 24, as part of an infrastructure project to improve the city’s stormwater drains, the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) demolished a small church along a major stream and forcibly evicted some church members who lived nearby.  KMC and the Sindh government took the action in spite of activists protesting on-site a day earlier and organizing a nationwide online campaign against the demolition using the #SaveStJosephChurch hashtag.

Residents of some lower-class Muslim communities also complained of discrimination by upper-class Muslims.  On September 9, gravediggers unearthed the remains of 13 members of the Mallah community originally buried in Sann, Sindh and dumped them outside the graveyard.  They said that Syed Zafar Hyder Shah, an influential person from an upper caste family ordered them to remove the graves.  The incident sparked criticism from civil society representatives who termed the act “a notorious caste-based prejudice” that did not allow lower-caste individuals to be buried in the graveyard of Muslims.  Police filed an investigation into the case against Syed Zafar and those who assisted him but made no arrests by year’s end.

Most minority religious groups said they continued to face discrimination in government hiring.  The Punjab government, under pressure from a group of Sunni clerics, transferred two Ahmadi local government officials out of Chakwal District on September 3.  Dr. Waseem, a health department official, and Ayesha Kanwal, a shelter home official, were given three days to transfer and find work in other districts.  According to religious minority activists, provincial governments also often failed to meet quotas for hiring religious minorities into the civil service.  On September 28, the Supreme Court expressed concern regarding the government’s failure to implement a 5 percent job quota for religious minorities at both the provincial and federal levels.  In September, media reported that more than 30,000 government jobs reserved for minorities were vacant across the country.

Minority rights activists said most government employment advertisements for janitorial staff continued to list being non-Muslim as a requirement.  Minority rights activists criticized these advertisements as discriminatory and insulting.  For example, the Lahore Waste Management Company continued to employ mainly street sweepers who were Christians, which HRCP criticized as the result of employment advertisements continuing to specify that religious minorities should apply.  HRCP stated such advertisements infringed on human dignity and violated the constitutional guarantee of equality of all citizens.

In July, the Punjab Public Service Commission published an advertisement for 12 vacant positions in different departments.  The advertisement stated, “According to clause (5) of the Punjab Waqf Properties Ordinance 1979, no person may be appointed an officer unless he is a Muslim.”  Religious minority groups said the advertisement was discriminatory because it singled out Muslims as the only persons eligible to be appointed to positions of leadership at the commission.

Representatives of religious minorities said a “glass ceiling” continued to prevent their promotion to senior government positions, but one NGO also stated that due to insufficient higher education opportunities compared to the majority religious community, few religious minorities met the qualifications to apply for these positions.  There were no official obstacles to the advancement of minority religious group members in the military, and an NGO said a few Christian officers had become generals.  Ahmadiyya officers, however, rarely rose above the rank of colonel and were not assigned to senior positions.

On September 7, all daily Urdu-language newspapers again published reports and articles to mark the 1974 amendment to the constitution that declared Ahmadis as non-Muslim, and to pay homage to the politicians and clerics who helped enact the amendment.

Government officials and politicians attended and spoke at multiple Khatm-e-Nabuwat (Finality of Prophethood) conferences held in major cities and at religious sites around the country.  The groups that organized the conferences stated they were defending the teaching that Prophet Mohammed is the final prophet.  Both secular and Ahmadi critics said the conferences were venues for hate speech against Ahmadi Muslims.

On September 7, the Jamiat-Ulema-I-Islami-Fazl (JUI-F) party held a large Khatm-e-Nabuwat conference in Peshawar, with party leaders and national and provincial parliamentarians in attendance.  On October 14, Sufi Barelvi Mufti Muneeb ur Rehman hosted a larger conference in Peshawar that included political party leaders, national parliamentarians, and provincial lawmakers from multiple political parties.  At the conference, JUI-F national leader Fazl ur Rehman and other JUI-F members attacked Pakistan’s national leaders for what they said was un-Islamic legislation on issues such as protecting Ahmadis and preventing forced conversion, and they vowed to resist international pressure to abolish blasphemy laws.

Human rights advocates and Ahmadiyya Muslim community members reported authorities took no action to prevent attacks on Ahmadi mosques or punish assailants who demolished, damaged, forcibly occupied, or set fire to Ahmadi mosques.  In several instances, they said police participated in the attacks.  Local authorities did not allow the repair or unsealing of Ahmadi mosques damaged or demolished by rioters in previous years.

On January 15, police in Nankana, Punjab Province constructed a boundary wall abutting the minarets of an Ahmadi mosque, damaging them in the process.  Police then blocked access to part of the mosque, informing Ahmadi officials they were acting at the request of several local officials.  On January 26, in Toba Tek Sing, Punjab, two police officers, including the local commanding officer and several local citizens, broke multiple gravestones in an Ahmadiyya cemetery.  The group then moved to the mosque, where they ordered the Ahmadis present to remove the name of Allah from public display.  When the Ahmadis refused, one of the local citizens forcibly removed the plaques featuring Allah’s name.  On April 11, in Muzaffargarh District, Punjab, police officers and local citizens toppled the minarets of an Ahmadiyya mosque and removed Islamic scriptures from Ahmadi tombstones.  The same police officers arrested five Ahmadis at the mosque on blasphemy charges.  They were later released, but their cases remained pending at year’s end.  Also in April, the Ahmadiyya community noted that unknown assailants removed sacred religious words posted on the outside of nine Ahmadi homes in a district in Punjab.  On July 31, the Ahmadiyya community reported local police desecrated and demolished the minarets of an Ahmadi place of worship in a rural settlement near Faisalabad, Punjab.  It was the third such incident in the district; Ahmadi places of worship were also vandalized on June 17 and 24.  The Ahmadiyya Muslim community also reported the desecration of 15 Ahmadiyya places of worship and 100 graves during the year in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.

In April, the Ahmadiyya community and witnesses at the scene reported a group of individuals aided by police destroyed the minarets and dome of an Ahmadi mosque located in Muzaffargarh District, Punjab because by law, members of the Ahmadiyya community may not call their houses of worship mosques or have identifying features of mosques on their houses of worship.  Police did not arrest members of the crowd for damaging the building, but instead arrested two Ahmadi men who were worshipers at the mosque.  The police did not register cases against the two men and released them shortly after.  There was no further information available on this case at year’s end.

Community leaders continued to state the government did not take adequate action to protect its poorest citizens, including religious minorities, such as Christian and Hindu Dalits, from bonded labor practices.  Hindu Dalits remained vulnerable to human rights violations and pressure by perpetrators to withdraw police cases.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Throughout the year, unidentified individuals assaulted and killed Christians, Ahmadis, Sikhs, Sunnis, Shia, and Hindus in attacks sources believed to be religiously motivated.  The attackers’ relationship to organized terrorist groups was often unknown.

In an incident that drew significant international outcry, a mob of several hundred Muslim workers from a sportswear factory in Sialkot, Punjab attacked Priantha Kumara, a Sri Lankan and Christian manager of the factory on December 3.  Media reported that the mob beat, stoned, and kicked him to death, then dragged his corpse to the street and set it on fire.  In widely seen videos on social media, Kumara was seen pleading for his life before he was killed.  Witnesses reported that while the mob’s actions were fueled by accusations of blasphemy, the incident began because of personal animosity between some factory employees and Kumara.  The aggrieved factory workers allegedly incited the mob by accusing him of desecrating posters that contained written Islamic prayers.  Police were called during the incident, but the small number who responded were far outnumbered by the crowd and media reported that police did not intervene.  Punjab Inspector General of Police Rao Sardar Ali Khan told reporters a case would be submitted to an anti-terrorism court as soon as possible to bring the killers to justice.  Prime Minister Khan said the attack was “horrific” and ordered a high-level inquiry.  Media reported that police arrested more than 100 individuals after the attack.  There were no further developments on this case before year’s end.

On February 11, a teenager shot and killed an Ahmadi homeopathic doctor, Abdul Qadir, in his clinic in Peshawar.  Ahmadiyya community members stated Qadir was killed because of his faith.  According to media reports, local residents overpowered the assailant at the scene and handed him over to the police, who opened an investigation.  At year’s end, he remained in detention and his trial was underway in a court in Peshawar.

On September 2, four unidentified assailants shot and killed a British-Pakistani man retired from the Pakistani army, Maqsood Ahmad, who was an Ahmadiyya community member in Nankana Sahib, Punjab.  Family members said he was shot as he was irrigating his farmland in Dharowal.  The police launched a murder investigation, but as of year’s end, the victim’s killers had not been found.

On September 30, unknown attackers gunned down a Sikh man, Satnam Singh, in Peshawar.  The police said the attackers escaped from the scene but lodged a case against the “unknown assailants.”  ISIS-K claimed responsibility for the attack.

On March 25, six Sunni Muslims died and seven were injured when assailants opened fire on a passenger vehicle traveling from Gilgit to Naltar.  The vehicle was traveling through a Shia-majority area.  Police said the attack on the passenger van was retaliation for an earlier incident when Shia youth passing through Naltar Bala were ambushed and killed 18 months prior.

On August 19, three persons died, and 59 others were injured in a grenade attack on a Shia procession in Bahawalnagar, Punjab.  It was the third sectarian strike in the area to occur in two months, including an attack on August 6 against a Shia worship site.

On March 24, media reported an unknown man attacked and killed Taqi Shah, a religious scholar from the Shia community in Jhang, Punjab over blasphemy allegations.  The scholar had faced similar blasphemy charges in 2019.  In March, police arrested a suspect, who subsequently confessed to killing Shah.  There was no further information available on this case at year’s end.

On January 3, ISIS-K militants claimed responsibility for killing 11 coal miners belonging to the Hazara Shia community in Mach, Balochistan.  Members of the Hazara Shia community in Quetta staged a protest against the government’s failure to protect the community in Balochistan.  Human rights organizations criticized the Prime Minister for saying the Hazara protestors were “blackmailing” him by demanding he visit them in Balochistan to ensure justice for the victims.  On January 6, Prime Minister Khan released a statement on social media against sectarian violence, stating the government was “taking steps to prevent such attacks in the future,” and traveled to Machh on January 9 to meet with families who lost loved ones in the attack.

The Hindu community in Sindh and Balochistan remained vulnerable to targeted killings and kidnappings for ransom.  On May 31, unidentified assailants killed Ashok Kumar, a Hindu trader in Khuzdar, Balochistan after he reportedly refused to pay extortion money to criminals.  This was the second Hindu trader since July 2020 to have been killed in Wadh for the same reason.  Following the killing of Ashok Kumar, Baloch social media users urged the government to take steps to ensure security of religious minorities in Balochistan.  In June, unidentified individuals distributed intimidating pamphlets outside of shops owned by Hindu traders in Khuzdar telling them not to allow female customers into their shops, or face consequences.

On February 25, unknown assailants killed Mahesh Kumar, a Hindu youth, and set his corpse on fire in Jacobabad, Sindh.  The Hindu community protested and demanded police arrest the suspects.  They reported police were slow to respond to the killing, while media failed to give appropriate coverage to the incident.

Civil society organizations and media said that armed sectarian groups connected to organizations banned by the government, including the TTP, and the once-banned anti-Shia group Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, continued to perpetrate violence and other abuses against religious minorities.  Groups designated as terrorist organizations by the United States and other governments, such as ISIS, also committed violent acts.  Among the targets of these attacks were Shia Muslims, particularly the predominantly Shia Hazara community.

According to the SATP, there were five sectarian attacks by armed groups during 2021, compared with 10 sectarian attacks reported in 2020.  Data on sectarian attacks varied because no standardized definition existed of what constituted a sectarian attack among reporting organizations.  According to journalists, when reporting on attacks with a suspected sectarian motive, media often refrained from reporting the victim’s sectarian identity in an effort to avoid stoking tension among sectarian groups.

Sunni Muslim citizens levied multiple charges of blasphemy against members of the Shia community throughout the year.  On August 19, police fired teargas shells and live rounds into the air in Hyderabad, Sindh to disperse a mob protesting because they believed a Shia man had committed blasphemy.  The community pressured police to file a blasphemy case against the man.  In another instance, on May 6, a group of Sunni religious leaders filed a blasphemy case against Shia scholar Allama Amjad Jauhari in Karachi for remarks they said insulted the companions of the Prophet Mohammed.  The complainants said that Jauhari used derogatory language during one of his sermons at a Shia gathering; they requested the police take action against him.  The next day police opened an investigation into Jauhari for alleged blasphemy.  The investigation was ongoing at year’s end.

In its 2022 World Watch List report, which covered events in 2021, the international NGO Open Doors said that “Christians are considered second-class citizens and are discriminated against in every aspect of life” in the country.  The report highlighted allegations that COVID-19 assistance was leveraged to try and get Christians to convert to Islam, that blasphemy laws continued to be used to target Christians with false allegations, and that Christian women and girls were targeted for kidnapping, forced marriage, and conversion to Islam.

Civil society activists and media reported young Christian and Hindu women being abducted and raped by Muslim men.  Victims said their attackers singled them out as vulnerable due to their religious minority identity.  According to the NGOs Center for Legal Aid, Assistance, and Settlement (CLAAS) and the Pakistan Center for Law and Justice, there were also reports of religious minority women being physically attacked by men.

Christian activists stated young women from their communities were also vulnerable to forced conversions.  According to online Christian media sources, in June, a 30-year-old man was accused of kidnapping, forcibly converting to Islam, and forcibly marrying a Christian girl in Gujranwala District, Punjab.  The media reports stated that while the girl’s parents told police and the courts that she was 13 years old, the girl herself told the court that she was 19.  According to the police, two of the suspects were taken into custody, but the girl later appeared before a local court where she said that she left her house, converted to Islam, and married her husband willingly.  Consequently, the court allowed the girl to go with her husband and ordered the police to drop the case.  The girl’s father protested, stating his daughter was a minor, and that the court should not have accepted her statement declaring she willingly converted and married.  On July 1, the Lahore High Court upheld the lower court’s ruling, allowing the girl to remain with her husband.

In September, media reported that a Muslim man kidnapped, raped, and attempted to kill an eight-year-old Christian girl by hitting her with a stone, and leaving her unconscious on the ground.  Police later arrested the accused under anti-rape and domestic violence laws.  There was no additional information available on this case at year’s end.

Members of civil society reported that converts from Islam lived in varying degrees of secrecy for fear of violent retribution from family members or society at large.

Representatives of the Kalash, an indigenous group in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, continued to report their youth were under pressure from Muslim schoolteachers and others to convert from their traditional beliefs.

Throughout the year, Islamic organizations with various political affiliations held conferences and rallies to support the doctrine of Khatm-e-Nabuwat.  English and local-language media often covered the events that featured anti-Ahmadiyya rhetoric which Ahmadiyya community representatives said could incite violence against Ahmadis.  In addition to the large JUI-F conference and rallies, the Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami held a large event in September in Peshawar; both parties criticized the national government for failing to enforce Islamic law.  The TLP, banned under the National Counterterrorism Authority’s Schedule-I list until it was removed in November, also held smaller rallies.

On September 8, Aalmi Majlis Tahaffuz Khatm Nabuwwat, a Muslim missionary organization, organized a conference at Minar-e-Pakistan, Lahore where speakers urged the government to “check un-Islamic and unconstitutional” activities of Ahmadis, ban them from proselytizing, and remove them from key official posts.

On October 8, JUI-F held Khatm-e-Nabuwat conferences in Multan where speakers, including JUI-F party chief Moulana Fazl ur Rehman, vowed to stop Ahmadis’ entry into high government posts.

Members of religious minority communities continued to report cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment, and illegal confinement due to their faith.  In September, media reported a group of Muslim landlords physically abused and held hostage a family from a Hindu community in Rahim Yar Khan, Punjab for obtaining water from a mosque tap and therefore “violating the sanctity” of the place of worship.  According to media reports, Alam Ram Bheel, a farm worker, and his family were fetching drinking water after work when a group of local landlords and accomplices beat them and held them until Muslim neighbors negotiated their release.

On July 26, a video went viral showing a Muslim man forcing a Hindu laborer to mock Hindu deities in Mithi, Sindh.  In the video, the individual was seen swearing at the Hindu man and forcing him to say “Allahu Akbar.”  Police arrested the Muslim man and registered a blasphemy case against him on behalf of the state.  The Hindu man and his family pardoned the Muslim man, and the case was dropped.  The Muslim man publicly apologized for his act.  Religious minority activists criticized this case, stating that persons charged with blasphemy were rarely pardoned.

In September, several religious groups from the Deobandi and Barelvi schools of Sunni Islam organized a series of rallies in Karachi to denounce Shia “defamation” of revered Sunni religious figures.

Ahmadis continued to report widespread societal harassment and discrimination against community members, including physical attacks, destruction of homes and personal property, and threats intended to force Ahmadis to abandon their jobs or towns.

There were also media reports of attacks on religious minorities’ holy places, cemeteries, and religious symbols.  On August 17, police in Lahore arrested a member of the TLP for vandalizing a statue of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the Sikh warrior who ruled over Punjab in the 19th century; the statute had been vandalized numerous times since its unveiling in 2019.  In a video of the incident posted on social media, the TLP member shouted party slogans while pulling the statue apart, and onlookers immediately detained him.  Both the Lahore police and Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar called for the individual to be prosecuted.  Following the TLP member’s arrest, a magisterial court in Lahore granted him bail, and his case was pending at year’s end.

During a January 5 Supreme Court hearing, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa officials reported the suspension of more than 90 police officers from duty and more than 109 arrests related to a December 2020 incident in which a group of villagers destroyed a historic Hindu temple.  The court directed a local cleric responsible for inciting the protestors and those who assisted him to contribute money to assist in the temple’s restoration.  The temple was rebuilt and on November 8, Supreme Court Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed inaugurated it during the Hindu community’s Diwali celebration.

On July 24, a Muslim cleric in the village of Bhong, Punjab, filed blasphemy charges against an eight-year-old Hindu boy, claiming the boy had involuntarily urinated in a local mosque.  In response, on August 4, hundreds of protestors vandalized a local Hindu temple, partially burning the building, destroying Hindu idols, and blocking a nearby highway for three hours.  On August 7, Chief Justice Ahmed directed the Punjab police to arrest all involved in vandalizing and looting the temple.  Police arrested 95 individuals, later freeing 10 while holding 85 in custody to face trial in anti-terrorism courts.  The 85 were in custody at year’s end.

In May, a group of 200 Muslims attacked a Catholic church and 15 houses belonging to Christians in the village of Chak 5 in Punjab Province after a Muslim man accused boys cleaning the church of throwing dust on him.  At least eight Christian community members suffered serious injury.

Christian religious freedom activists continued to report widespread discrimination against Christians in private employment.  They said Christians continued to have difficulty finding jobs other than those involving menial labor, with some advertisements for menial jobs specifying they were open only to Christian applicants.

Observers reported that English-language media continued to cover issues facing religious minorities in an objective manner, but vernacular print and broadcast media outlets continued to publish and broadcast anti-Ahmadi rhetoric.  Ahmadiyya Muslim community representatives stated that the Urdu-language press frequently printed hate speech in news stories and editorials, some of which could be considered as inciting anti-Ahmadi violence.  Inflammatory anti-Ahmadi rhetoric continued to exist on social media and was at times spread by senior members of mainstream political parties.  Community members stated clerics routinely delivered anti-Ahmadi sermons in mosques.

On September 7, all daily Urdu newspapers again published reports and articles to mark the 1974 amendment to the constitution which declared Ahmadis as non-Muslims.  Leading Urdu newspapers also published editorials and articles paying homage to the politicians and clerics who helped enact the amendment.

Human rights and religious freedom activists and members of minority religious groups continued to report that they exercised caution and, occasionally, self-censorship when speaking in favor of religious tolerance because of a societal climate of intolerance and fear.  Some activists reported receiving death threats because of their work.


Executive Summary

The provisional federal constitution (PFC) provides for the right of individuals to practice their religion, makes Islam the state religion, prohibits the propagation of any religion other than Islam, and stipulates all laws must comply with the general principles of sharia.  Most areas of the country beyond greater Mogadishu remain outside federal government control.  Federal Member State (FMS) administrations, including Puntland, Jubaland, South West State, Hirshabelle, Galmudug, and self-declared independent Somaliland, govern their respective jurisdictions through local legislation but do not fully control them.  Somaliland’s constitution declares Islam the state religion, prohibits Muslims from converting to another religion, bars the propagation of any religion other than Islam, and requires all laws to comply with the general principles of sharia.  According to several Christian advocacy groups working in the region, on January 25, Somaliland police in Hargeisa arrested six local residents on charges of offenses against the state religion and inciting others to disobey laws relating to public order.  On August 5, a Hargeisa court dismissed all charges against the group and released them immediately.  The Federal Ministry of Education, Culture, and Higher Education continued to implement its curriculum, declaring that a secular education with a focus on Islamic values and instruction in Somali was important in order to counter efforts by the terrorist group al-Shabaab to impose a strict version of Islamic law.

During the year, the terrorist group al-Shabaab attacked government-linked forces and targets throughout the country and pressured noncombatants to support the group’s extremist ideology.  According to media reports, al-Shabaab killed, injured, or harassed persons for a variety of reasons, including failure to adhere to the group’s religious edicts.  During the year, al-Shabaab was responsible for the killings of civilians, government officials, Somali security forces, police, and troops from contributing countries of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).  Al-Shabaab continued its campaign to characterize the AMISOM peacekeeping forces as “Christian crusaders” intent on invading and occupying the country.  During the year, the group conducted public executions of persons whom the group accused of committing crimes such as sorcery and spying, according to local and international press reports.  Al-Shabaab continued its practice of targeting humanitarian aid workers, often accusing them of seeking to convert individuals to Christianity.  Compared with the same period in 2020, there was a decrease in violence against aid workers.  From January to October, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ Access Unit recorded at least 194 security incidents that directly affected humanitarian operations, with two aid workers killed, eight injured, 11 detained, and one abducted.

Strong societal pressure to adhere to Sunni Islamic traditions continued.  Conversion from Islam to another religion remained illegal in some areas.  Those suspected of conversion reportedly faced harassment by members of their community.

Travel by U.S. government officials remained limited to select areas when security conditions permitted.  U.S. government engagement to promote religious freedom remained focused on supporting efforts to bring stability and reestablish rule of law, in addition to advocating for freedom of speech and assembly.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 12.1 million (midyear 2021).  Other sources, including the Federal Government of Somalia, estimate the population to be at least 15.7 million.  According to the Federal Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs, more than 99 percent of the population is Sunni Muslim.  According to the World Atlas, members of other religious groups combined constitute less than 1 percent of the population and include a small Christian community of approximately 1,000, a small Sufi Muslim community, and an unknown number of Shia Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, and those not affiliated with any religion.

The Somali Bantu population, the majority of whom are Muslim, largely inhabits the southern and central regions of the country near the Shabelle and Jubba Rivers.  Some Somali Bantu also maintain traditional animist beliefs.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The PFC provides for the right of individuals to practice their religion but prohibits the propagation of any religion other than Islam.  It states all citizens, regardless of religion, have equal rights and duties before the law but establishes Islam as the state religion and requires laws to comply with sharia principles.  While the PFC does not explicitly prohibit Muslims from converting to other religions, sharia has been interpreted to forbid conversion from Islam.  No exemptions from application of sharia legal principles exist for non-Muslims under the law.

Somaliland’s constitution makes Islam the state religion, prohibits Muslims from converting, prohibits the propagation of any religion other than Islam, and stipulates all laws must comply with the general principles of sharia.  Other administrations, including Galmudug, Hirshabelle, Jubaland, and South West State, have constitutions identifying Islam as the official religion.  These constitutions stipulate all laws must comply with the general principles of sharia.  Galmudug, Hirshabelle, and South West State do not have laws directly addressing religious freedom.

The national penal code generally remains valid in all regions of the country.  It does not prohibit conversion from Islam to another religion, but it criminalizes blasphemy and “defamation of Islam,” which carry penalties of up to two years in prison.  Given sharia’s role as the ostensible basis for national laws and the prohibition under Islamic jurisprudence for Muslims’ conversion to other religions, the relationship among sharia, the PFC, and the penal code remains unclear.

The PFC requires the President, but not other office holders, to be Muslim.  The Somaliland constitution requires Somaliland’s President and candidates for Vice President and the House of Representatives to be Muslim.

The judiciary in most areas relies on xeer (traditional and customary law), sharia, and the penal code.  Xeer is believed to predate Islamic and colonial traditions, and in many areas, elders will look to local precedents of xeer before examining relevant sharia references.  Each area individually regulates and enforces religious expression, often inconsistently.  In areas controlled by al-Shabaab, sharia is the only formally recognized legal system, although reports indicate that xeer is applied in some cases.  The PFC recognizes xeer as a mechanism for dispute resolution.  In 2017, the federal government adopted a traditional dispute resolution policy that mainstreams the application of xeer but limits its application to mediating “nonserious” crimes.  The application of xeer to criminal matters is not standardized.

The Somaliland constitution prohibits the formation of political parties based on a particular religious group, religious beliefs, or interpretation of religious doctrine, while the PFC and the constitutions of other FMS administrations do not contain this prohibition.

The Federal Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs has legal authority to register religious groups.  Guidance on how to register or what is required is inconsistent.  The ministry has no ability to enforce such requirements outside of Mogadishu.  Somaliland has no mechanism to register religious organizations and no specific requirements to register Islamic groups.  Other FMS administrations have no mechanism to register religious organizations.

In Somaliland, religious schools and formal places of worship must obtain permission to operate from the Somaliland Ministry of Religion.  Somaliland law does not articulate consequences for operating without permission.  Other FMS administrations require formal places of worship and religious schools to obtain permission to operate from local authorities.

The Federal Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs is responsible for monitoring religious affairs and promoting religious tolerance between practitioners of Islam and members of minority religious groups.  Specific responsibilities of the ministry include arranging affairs for Somali Hajj pilgrims and developing messaging to counter al-Shabaab ideology.  It also has the mandate to regulate religious instruction throughout the country.  The law requires Islamic instruction in all schools, public or private.  Private schools have more flexibility in determining their curricula.  These schools must request approval from the Federal Ministry of Education, Culture, and Higher Education; however, requests are infrequent.  Non-Muslim students attending public schools may request an exemption from Islamic instruction, but according to federal and FMS authorities, there have been no such requests.

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

Government Practices

The federal government continued to confront multiple challenges, including a persistent threat from al-Shabaab, a terrorist organization that promotes extreme interpretations of Islamic doctrine, including through violence, a stalemate in relations with the FMS governments, and attempts by external actors to increase influence at the subnational level.  Despite the government’s reported attempts to strengthen governance, reform key security institutions, and carry out operations to combat al-Shabaab, the terrorist group continued to carry out attacks regularly in the capital and to control areas throughout the southern part of the country.

Federal and FMS governments maintained bans on the propagation of religions other than Islam.  The federal government reportedly continued not to strictly enforce the registration requirement for religious groups opening schools for lay or religious instruction.

According to several Christian advocacy groups working in the region, on January 25, Somaliland police in Hargeisa arrested six local residents on charges of offenses against the state religion (Islam) and inciting others to disobey laws relating to public order.  Three of them were also charged with apostasy and with spreading and teaching Christianity.  These groups stated that Somaliland authorities denied their lawyers access to their clients ahead of the trial.  On August 5, a Hargeisa court dismissed all charges against the group and released them immediately.

The Federal Ministry of Education, Culture, and Higher Education continued to implement its national curriculum framework, declaring that a secular education with a focus on Islamic values and instruction in Somali was important in order to counter efforts by the terrorist group al-Shabaab to impose a strict version of Islamic law.  In February, parliament adopted the Education Act which harmonized the structure of the education system, including religious education.  This includes Somali as the language of instruction for primary school, Islamic religious instruction at all levels, and Arabic-language Islamic religion courses beginning at the primary level.  Muslim clerics approved the new materials and trained teachers in Islamic ethics, according to ministry representatives.

Al-Shabaab continued to use insurgency tactics against the government and its foreign partners, striking civilian and military targets repeatedly.  On January 31, al-Shabaab carried out a car bomb attack on Mogadishu’s Afrik Hotel, killing five persons, including former defense minister General Mohamed Nur Galaal.  On February 23, a suspected al-Shabaab member threw what was reported to be a suicide vest near a police station in Mogadishu’s Hamarweyne district, injuring three persons, including a police station commander.  On July 21, the terrorist group targeted the international airport in Mogadishu with mortars, resulting in injuries to two UN contractors.  On November 11, an al-Shabaab suicide bomber targeted an AMISOM convoy in Mogadishu, killing at least three civilians and wounding several others.  On November 20, the group killed Abdiaziz Mohamud Guled, known professionally as “Afrika”, a journalist and director of state-owned Radio Mogadishu, and wounded Sharmarke Mohamed Warsame, director of state-owned Somali National Television, and a driver in a targeted attack.

The army, security forces, and AMISOM peacekeepers held most urban centers in the country, while al-Shabaab maintained control or influence over land areas.  While the group’s territorial control was fluid, the United Nations said that during the year, the group retained its ability to conduct attacks in Mogadishu and recovered areas where the group had previously faced pressure from government-aligned forces, including in the Lower Shabelle region and in Galmudug.  The group’s stated objective remained the imposition of a strict version of Islamic law in “greater Somalia.”  Al-Shabaab continued to impose its own interpretation of Islamic practices and sharia on other Muslims and non-Muslims.  According to UN reporting, as of July 31, the terrorist group publicly executed 19 civilians, including a woman, after self-appointed “courts” accused 18 of them of spying for foreign forces and one of murdering two civilians.  On May 22, al-Shabaab amputated the right hand of a male civilian for theft in Middle Shabelle region.

Al-Shabaab forces targeted and killed federal and local government officials and their allies.  Many attacks involved the use of improvised explosive devices against government-linked forces and buildings, as well as soft targets such as popular hotels and restaurants frequented by noncombatants in areas under government control.  Throughout the year, the group continued its practice of conducting public executions of persons whom the group suspected of committing crimes, including witchcraft and spying on behalf of foreign powers.

Al-Shabaab extorted zakat (an Islamic annual compulsory giving of a set amount, typically 2.5 percent of one’s wealth, to benefit the poor) and sadaqa (a normally voluntary charitable contribution paid by Muslims) from persons throughout central and southern areas of the country.  According to multiple sources, al-Shabaab’s collection of zakat, sadaqa, and other extortion generated tens of millions in revenue.

Al-Shabaab continued to threaten parents, teachers, and communities who failed to adhere to al-Shabaab’s precepts.

Al-Shabaab continued its campaign to characterize the AMISOM peacekeeping forces as “Christian crusaders” intent on invading and occupying the country.

According to humanitarian groups, al-Shabaab continued threatening to execute anyone suspected of converting to Christianity.  In the areas it controlled, the group continued to ban cinemas, television, music, the internet, and watching sporting events.  It prohibited the sale of khat (a popular stimulant plant), smoking, and other behavior it characterized as un-Islamic, such as shaving beards.  It also enforced a requirement that women wear full veils.  According to nongovernmental organizations and security experts, al-Shabaab continued to exploit federal government and FMS political infighting and ethnic clan rivalries for its own purposes, at times being seen as the only group that provided “justice,” however harsh, in places underserved or neglected by the government.

According to humanitarian groups, al-Shabaab continued to harass secular and faith-based humanitarian aid organizations, threatening the lives of their personnel and accusing them of seeking to convert individuals to Christianity.  Compared with the same period in 2020, violence against aid workers decreased.  From January to October, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ Access Unit recorded at least 194 security incidents that directly affected humanitarian operations, including two aid workers killed, eight injured, 11 detained, and one abducted.

In areas under its control, al-Shabaab continued to mandate that schools teach a militant form of jihad emphasizing that students should wage war on those it deemed infidels, including in nearby countries, and against the federal government and AMISOM.  In the Afgoye District of Lower Shabelle, al-Shabaab reportedly maintained boarding schools to indoctrinate youth from distinct clans and forced those clans to provide funding for the institutes dedicated to their youth.

ISIS Somalia functioned as a hub for funding, strategic guidance, and liaising among regional ISIS networks, according to terrorism experts.  A small faction of Puntland-based ISIS fighters continued to carry out terrorist attacks with the objective of establishing an ISIS caliphate in the country.  The UN Panel of Experts estimated the group’s strength was 340 in 2019 but had decreased since that time.  The group had relatively free movement and recruited individuals from towns surrounding the Golis Mountains.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

There reportedly continued to be strong societal pressure to adhere to Sunni Islamic traditions.

Conversion from Islam to another religion remained illegal in some areas and continued to be socially unacceptable in all, while individuals suspected of conversion and their families were reportedly subject to harassment from members of their local communities.

Christians and members of other non-Muslim religious groups continued to report an inability to practice their religion openly due to fear of societal harassment across most of the country.  The small Christian community continued to keep a low profile with regard to religious beliefs and practices.  Other non-Islamic groups likely also refrained from openly practicing their religion.

There continued to be no public places of worship for non-Muslims other than in the international airport compound.

The only Catholic church in Somaliland remained closed, and observers stated that its reopening would be controversial.  The church was briefly reopened in 2017 but was closed again by authorities, under public pressure.

Private schools continued to be the main source of primary education.  The majority offered religious instruction in Islam.  Quranic schools remained key sources of early education for most children.  The education system also includes Islamic institutes that run parallel to general primary education and general secondary education and that result in an Islamic education certificate.  Externally funded madrassahs throughout the country provided inexpensive basic education, and many taught Salafist ideology, especially in al-Shabaab-controlled areas, according to observers.

Although reliable data was hard to obtain, especially in the rural areas, the majority of young children appeared to be enrolled in Quranic schools, which fell under the authority of the Federal Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs and were typically managed by community-level organizations.  According to government documents, parents remained the primary source of funding of all schooling in the country, but many Quranic schools received funding from external sources.  The Federal Ministry of Education, Culture, and Higher Education stated it was beginning to develop a preprimary curriculum, but general implementation, and particularly acceptance by Quranic schools, was unclear.

South Africa

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and belief and prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion.  The government does not require religious groups to register; however, registered groups receive tax-exempt status.  Over the course of the year, the government adjusted the regulations placed on religious gatherings as it adjusted the level of lockdown to control the COVID-19 pandemic.  At year’s end, religious gatherings were permitted but were limited to 750 persons indoors (with social distancing of five feet) and 2,000 persons outdoors.  Some religious groups and religious advocacy organizations protested government-imposed COVID-19 restrictions on houses of worship and said police response to complaints about violations of COVID-19 restrictions resulted in occasional clashes with worshippers and arrests of church leaders.  In September, the South African National Christian Forum (SANCF) approached the Constitutional Court to urgently interdict the government from declaring the COVID-19 vaccination mandatory.  In court papers, SANCF argued the government had the obligation to protect the constitutional rights of all citizens regardless of their decision to take or not take the vaccine.  On November 28, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the appointment of a task team to “undertake broad consultations on making vaccination mandatory for specific activities and locations.”  At year’s end, however, there was no vaccine mandate in place.  In August, the Al Jamah-ah Party submitted a Private Members Bill, the so-called Nikah Act, calling for registration of Muslim marriages, to the Speaker of Parliament.  In August, the draft Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill, first introduced in 2018, was released for public comment.  Movement on the draft legislation occurred after the Constitutional Court handed down a unanimous judgment in July in the decade-old case, John Qwelane versus the SA Human Rights Commission.  Opponents of the measure, including religious figures, stated the bill’s definition of hate crimes and speech was too vague and could potentially restrict freedom of religion and speech.  Media outlets and the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) drew attention to what they described the Judicial Services Commission’s (JSC) unfair treatment and questioning of two Jewish candidates for senior judicial positions relating to their views on the Israel-Palestinian conflict, levels of religious observance, and relationship with the SAJBD in April.  The Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution launched a successful challenge in the High Court, which directed the JSC to reinterview the candidates.  Although the JSC did not select the candidates after reinterviewing them in October, the SAJBD stated it considered it a “victory” because of the role it and other members of civil society played in mounting pressure on the JSC to conduct a second round of interviews.  Throughout the year, the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious, and Linguistic Communities (CRL) examined allegations of sexual abuse, cult-like practices, and financial malfeasance against leaders of various religious organizations in what it said was a continued effort to protect congregants from abuse and fraud.  In January, a spokesperson from the military said the South African National Defense Force (SANDF) had updated dress regulations to allow Muslim women to wear headscarves.

The SAJBD recorded 65 antisemitic incidents during the year, similar to the 69 in the previous year.  Numerous individuals made antisemitic comments verbally, by mail, and across social media throughout the year.  More than half of these incidents occurred in May, during and after hostilities erupted between Israel and Hamas.

U.S. embassy officials met with the CRL to discuss its role as a Chapter 9 institution established by the constitution to safeguard freedom of religion and belief.  Embassy officials met with religious groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including Muslim, Hindu, Christian, Jewish, and humanist representatives, to gauge and discuss issues of religious freedom, including cases of antisemitism and anti-Muslim sentiment.  In June, the Charge d’Affaires met with the SAJBD to hear its concerns about anti-Jewish rhetoric.  The Charge heard from a diverse gathering of religious advocates who called for faith leaders to condemn hate crimes against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 57 million (midyear 2021).  According to a 2010 Pew Research Center report, 81 percent of the population is Christian.  Approximately 15 percent of the population adheres to no particular religion or declined to indicate an affiliation; some of these individuals likely adhere to indigenous beliefs.  Muslims constitute 1.7 percent of the population, of whom the great majority are Sunni.  Shia religious leaders estimate that not more than 3 percent of the Muslim population is Shia.  Hindus, Jews, Buddhists, and adherents of traditional indigenous beliefs together constitute less than 4 percent of the population.  Many indigenous persons adhere to a belief system combining Christian and indigenous religious practices.  The Church of Scientology estimates it has approximately 100,000 members.

The Pew Research Center estimates 84 percent of the Christian population is Protestant, 11 percent Roman Catholic, and 5 percent other denominations (as of 2010, the latest figures available).  African Independent Churches constitute the largest group of Christian churches, including the Zion Christian Church (approximately 11 percent of the population), the Apostolic Church (approximately 10 percent), and charismatic groups.  Other Christian groups include Methodists, Anglicans, Baptists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Seventh-day Adventists, and members of the Greek Orthodox, Dutch Reformed, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Assemblies of God, and Congregational Churches.

Persons of Indian or other Asian heritage account for 2.5 percent of the total population.  Approximately half of the ethnic Indian population is Hindu, and the majority reside in KwaZulu-Natal Province.  The Muslim community includes Cape Malays of Malayan-Indonesian descent, individuals of Indian or Pakistani descent, and approximately 70,000 Somali nationals and refugees.

According to a 2020 study published by the Isaac and Jessie Kaplan Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Cape Town and the UK-based Institute for Jewish Policy Research, the country’s Jewish population stands at 52,300, with the majority living in Cape Town and Johannesburg.  The study found that the Jewish population declined over the past 20 years primarily because of emigration.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and belief, including the right to form, join, and maintain religious associations.  It prohibits religious discrimination and specifies freedom of expression does not extend to the advocacy of hatred based on religion.  The constitution permits legislation recognizing systems of personal and family law to which persons professing a particular religion adhere.  It also allows religious observances in state or state-supported institutions, provided they are voluntary and are conducted on an equitable basis.  These rights may be limited for reasons that are “reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality, and freedom” and take account of “all relevant factors.”  Cases of discrimination against persons on the grounds of religion may be taken to equality courts, the South African Human Rights Commission, and the Constitutional Court.  The constitution also provides for the promotion and respect of languages used for religious purposes, including, but not limited to, Arabic, Hebrew, and Sanskrit.

The constitution establishes and governs the operation of the CRL, which has the mission of fostering the rights of communities to freely observe and practice their cultures, religions, and language.  The CRL is an independent national government institution whose chair is appointed by the President and whose commissioners include members of the clergy, scholars, and politicians, among others.

The law does not require religious groups to register; however, registered religious and other nonprofit groups may qualify as public benefit organizations, allowing them to open bank accounts and exempting them from paying income tax.  To register as a public benefit organization, groups must submit a nonprofit organization application, including their constitution, contact information, list of officers, and documentation stating they meet a number of prescribed requirements that largely ensure accounting and tax compliance, to the provincial social development office.  A group registers once with the local office and its status then applies nationwide.  Once registered, the group must submit annual reports on any changes to this information, important achievements and meetings, and financial information, as well as an accountant’s report.

The government allows but does not require religious education in public schools but prohibits advocating the tenets of a particular religion.

The law recognizes civil, customary, and same-sex unions but does not recognize religious marriages, although the Law Reform Commission has proposed the “Single Marriage Act.”  Civil marriages do not allow polygamy.  The law allows for polygamous marriages to be conducted under customary law; however, it applies only to “those customs and usages traditionally observed among the indigenous African people.”

The constitution grants detained persons visitation rights with their chosen religious counselor.

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

Government Practices

The government adjusted the various levels of lockdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which included bans and size restrictions on religious gatherings.  In March, President Ramaphosa relaxed a total ban on religious gatherings in place since January, allowing 100 persons indoors and 250 outdoors.  In June, the President tightened restrictions again as the country experienced a rising number of cases, reducing religious gatherings to 50 persons indoors and 100 outdoors.  Some organizations, including the South African Council of Churches, appealed to the government to reconsider regulations on church gatherings, while the advocacy organization Freedom of Religion South Africa (FORSA) maintained its position that selective restrictions on gatherings were limiting the fundamental rights of citizens.  FORSA expressed appreciation for the introduction of a Private Members draft bill in parliament that would provide greater legislative oversight over the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs’ Disaster Management Act; the draft required parliamentary approval after more than one extension.  The High Court heard FORSA’s case challenging the lockdown regulations on November 22-24; at year’s end, the court’s decision remained pending.  In July, a newly formed church lobby group, Pastors Against Church Closure, accused the government of criminalizing worship and appealed for an urgent revision of the lockdown regulations.

In February, police used rubber bullets and stun grenades to disperse a group of approximately 250 individuals who had gathered for a church service in Sebokeng, Gauteng Province.  Police arrested two church leaders for contravening lockdown regulations that did not allow in-person church services.  In March, police arrested a pastor in the township of Soweto and several of his congregants after they attacked police responding to a public complaint about noise emanating from the church.  Police said the church contravened lockdown restrictions and had more than 2,000 persons in attendance.

In September, the SANCF approached the Constitutional Court to urgently interdict the government from declaring COVID-19 vaccination mandatory.  In its court papers, SANCF argued that government had the obligation to protect the constitutional rights of all citizens regardless of the decision to take or not take the vaccine.

In August, the Al Jamah-ah Party submitted a Private Members bill, the so-called Nikah Act, calling for interim registration of Muslim marriages, to the Speaker of Parliament.  Party leader Ganief Hendricks said, “The bill is a minimalist piece of legislation, aimed at just registering a nikah, which is a marriage performed by an imam, with consequences including proprietary benefits, in terms of the Islamic tenets/rulings on marriage.”

In August, the Constitutional Court heard arguments regarding whether the state was constitutionally obligated to enact legislation that recognized and regulated Muslim marriages.  The Constitutional Court, however, did not issue a ruling.  At year’s end, the government was in the process of drafting a new marriage act to recognize all marriages regardless of religion or sex and published an exploratory “green” paper (a government policy discussion paper) in this regard.

According to Muslim leaders, the COVID-19 pandemic brought attention to the plight of Muslims whose religious marriages were not recognized by the state.  During the year, the Muslim Marriages Bill continued to stall in parliament despite its introduction in 2010.  As the state did not recognize religious marriages that were not subsequently “solemnized” in a civil office, the law particularly impacted Muslims who did not undertake civil marriages because of the prohibition against polygamy in civil unions.  Some individuals said Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi’s 2020 declaration that he could not legally recognize Islamic religious marriages meant that death certificates issued for decedents married under Islamic religious rites listed them as “never married,” which they said caused both insult as well as hardship to survivors regarding their benefits and inheritance.

Following Motsoaledi’s remarks, the Supreme Court of Appeal in December 2020 upheld a 2018 ruling of the Western Cape High Court that declared unconstitutional the nonrecognition of Muslim marriages.  The court said the nonrecognition violated women and children’s constitutional rights, and it gave the government 24 months (until December 2022) from its ruling to either enact new legislation or amend the existing legislation to ensure recognition of Muslim marriages as valid marriages.  The court also provided interim relief that was to be applicable in the 24-month period, during which time the state must enact new legislation or amend the existing legislation.  The interim relief aimed at ensuring that Muslim women whose marriages were still valid at the time of the court order could approach a court to obtain a divorce in terms of the Divorce Act.  Since the Supreme Court of Appeal had declared the Marriages Act, the Divorce Act, and the common law definition of marriage to be unconstitutional, this decision had to proceed to the Constitutional Court for confirmation.

In January, a spokesperson from the military said the SANDF had updated dress regulations to allow Muslim women to wear headscarves.  In January 2020, the SANDF withdrew charges against Major Fatima Isaacs, who in 2018 was charged with disobeying a lawful instruction for refusing to remove the hijab she had worn under her military beret for more than a decade.  Isaacs remained on active duty.

Several groups, including the Southern Africa Catholic Bishops’ Conference, the nonprofit Christian organization Freedom of Religion South Africa, and the International Institute for Religious Freedom, stated their continued opposition to a 2016 CRL legislative proposal requiring religious groups to register, on the grounds that it would restrict their religious freedom.  The proposal would require religious groups to register formally with the government and would create a peer review council, consisting of representatives from various religious groups, which would grant organizations and individual religious leaders’ permission to operate.  The proposal remained with the parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs at year’s end.

Throughout the year, the CRL examined allegations of sexual abuse, cult-like practices, and financial malfeasance against leaders of various religious organizations in what it stated was a continued effort to protect congregants from abuse and fraud.  In 2020, the Johannesburg High Court dismissed an application by Bishop Stephen Zondo of the Rivers of Living Waters Church to stop the CRL from holding public hearings on allegations of sexual abuse against him.  In January, the CRL held public hearings on allegations of abuses alleged to have taken place at the Inter Heaven Fellowship Church led by popular Bishop Stephen Zondo.  In November, Zondo appeared in court on numerous charges of rape.  Although the court did not use as evidence the representations made during CRL hearings, the CRL’s hearings brought to public attention abuses it stated were taking place in churches.  FORSA argued that all of the abuses that the CRL reported on were already crimes under the country’s statutes and could be addressed under existing laws without regulating religious practice.

In August, the draft Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill, first introduced in 2018, was released for public comment.  Movement on the draft legislation occurred after the Constitutional Court handed down a unanimous judgment in July in the decade-old case, John Qwelane versus the SA Human Rights Commission.  The court, the country’s highest, ruled that Qwelane’s statements against the LGBTQI+ community amounted to hate speech as defined in a 2000 law because they were harmful, incited harm, and propagated hatred.  The court said, however, the 2000 law was vague and inconsistent with the freedom of expression provision in the constitution and gave parliament 24 months to remedy the law.  The court further upheld the appeal by the South African Human Rights Commission and concluded that the publication in question authored by John Qwelane constituted hate speech.  The hate speech bill would criminalize any action or statement motivated by bias or hatred towards an individual based upon a number of categories, including ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual and gender identity, health status, employment status or type, or physical ability.  The bill would provide law enforcement officials and courts increased authority to arrest and punish offenders, and it would mandate prison sentences of up to three years for first-time offenses.  Opponents of the bill, including the African Christian Democratic Party led by Reverend Kenneth Meshoe, media representatives, civil society groups, and NGOs, stated the bill’s definition of hate crimes and speech was too vague and could potentially restrict freedom of religion and speech.  FORSA stated it appreciated the religious exemption clause in the draft bill but said it did not go far enough, protecting speech only from the pulpit, not among worshipers.

Media outlets and the SAJBD drew attention to what they said was the unfair treatment and questioning of two Jewish candidates for senior judicial positions by the JSC in April.  Judge David Unterhalter and Advocate Lawrence Lever were subjected to what the SAJBD described as aggressive questions relating to their views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, levels of religious observance, and their relationship with the SAJBD.  The Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution launched a successful challenge in the High Court, which directed the JSC to reinterview the candidates.  JSC officials reinterviewed the candidates on October 4-8.  Although the JSC did not select the two candidates, a SAJBD representative said it was a “victory” that JCS yielded to the pressure of the religious community and civil society to conduct a second round of interviews.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In September, a famous mural in Cape Town of Archbishop Desmond Tutu was defaced with racial slurs.  The artist restored the mural in time for Tutu’s 90th birthday in October, and at year’s end, the matter remained under investigation by the city of Cape Town.

The SAJBD recorded 65 antisemitic incidents during the year.  Numerous individuals made antisemitic comments verbally, by mail, and across social media throughout the year.  The SAJBD reported, “The rhetoric both in online forums and at public gatherings was more threatening and inflammatory; there was a pronounced rise in instances of intimidation, ‘cancel culture’ tactics against those (usually but not always Jews) who stepped out of line, and the most widespread and sustained series of anti-Jewish boycott initiatives to have been attempted in the country for over half a century.”  More than half of the incidents occurred in May during and after hostilities erupted between Israel and Hamas.  A number of cases of threats, intimidation, and physical and verbal assault against Jewish South Africans were reported to the South African Police Services in May.

After a series of unprecedented violent attacks across various provinces on mosques and congregants in 2018 and the burning of a Durban mosque in February 2019, there were no published reports of anti-Muslim incidents during the year, unlike in previous years.  A press spokesperson for a political party said that she was unaware of any violence targeting Muslims or mosques in Western Cape Province during the year, unlike in previous years.

Twin brothers Brandon Lee Thulsie and Tony Lee Thulsie continued to await trial scheduled for early 2022 on charges of contravening the Protection of Constitutional Democracy Against Terror and Related Activities law.  The brothers, along with two others who were alleged to have links to ISIS, were arrested in 2016 for allegedly planning to set off explosives at the U.S. embassy in Pretoria and at Jewish and Shia institutions in the country.  In October, the Supreme Court of Appeal again denied their request for bail.


Read A Section: Tibet

CHINA | Xinjiang | Hong KongMacau

Executive Summary

The constitution of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which cites the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), states that citizens “enjoy freedom of religious belief,” but it limits protections for religious practice to “normal religious activities,” without defining “normal.”  CCP regulations allow Chinese citizens to take part only in officially approved religious practices and stipulate religious activity “must not harm national security.”  CCP regulations control all aspects of Tibetan Buddhism, including religious venues, groups, personnel, and schools, and prohibit “accepting domination by external forces,” which authorities said included Tibetans living outside the country – particularly the Dalai Lama.  The State Administration of Religious Affairs (SARA) issued new regulations, effective May 1, entitled the “Administrative Measures for Religious Clergy,” that required all clergy to pledge allegiance to the CCP and socialism and created a database of “religious personnel” to track their performance.  The SARA also issued new regulations on September 1 that required all religious schools to teach Xi Jinping Thought and adhere to the “Sinicization” of religion.  In the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and other Tibetan areas, there were reports of forced disappearances, arrests, torture, physical abuse, and prolonged detentions without trial of monks, nuns, and other individuals due to their religious practices.  There were also media reports stating prison authorities routinely sexually abused nuns.  There were reports of individuals dying in custody after being beaten.  There were reports of individuals who had been released from detention dying as a result of long-term illnesses and injuries suffered following beatings and mistreatment during incarceration.  Authorities arrested writers and artists for promoting Tibetan language and culture.  Authorities continued to arrest individuals for possessing photographs of, or writings by, the Dalai Lama.  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 to prohibit them from practicing elsewhere.  The CCP continued to promote “Sinicization” policies that aimed to interpret religious ideas in accordance with CCP ideology and to emphasize loyalty to the CCP and the state.  The CCP continued to implement the Administrative Measures for Religious Organizations regulations, released in 2020, that further formalized administrative procedures for Sinicizing all religions.  Media reported authorities took measures to require Buddhist monasteries to translate texts from Tibetan to Mandarin, in what observers said constituted an ongoing attempt to erase the Tibetan language.  On May 21, the government issued a white paper that asserted Tibet had always been part of China and that the PRC would be responsible for the selection of Tibetan Buddhist leaders, including the Dalai Lama.  Authorities continued to restrict the religious practices of monks, nuns, and laypersons.  Travel and other 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.  The government, citing COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, again canceled some religious festivals and limited access to religious sites for Tibetans but allowed Chinese tourists greater access to the same locations.  Authorities intensified overt surveillance of monks and nuns and forced former political prisoners to use government-issued mobile phones and wear ankle bracelets containing recording and GPS tracking devices.  One nongovernmental organization (NGO), the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), described surveillance methods at monasteries and nunneries, including ubiquitous closed-circuit cameras, police stations adjacent to or on the premises, monitoring monks’ and nuns’ internet and social media use, and thousands of government workers employed at temples, as being “of dystopian proportions.”  The government encouraged families to inform on their neighbors, and it attempted to control access to social media.  It continued to force monasteries to display portraits of CCP leaders and the national flag and required Tibetans to replace images of the Dalai Lama and other lamas in their homes with portraits of prominent CCP leaders, including Chairman Mao Zedong and General Secretary and PRC President Xi Jinping.  PRC authorities continued to restrict children from participating in many traditional religious festivals, going on pilgrimages during school holidays, or receiving religious education.  As part of efforts to Sinicize the population, authorities aggressively promoted Mandarin-language-only instruction.  According to a report by the NGO Tibet Action Institute (TAI), the government required nearly 80 percent of Tibetan children to attend government-run boarding schools, where they were separated from their families, suffering emotional and psychological harm, and were at risk of losing connection to their language and culture.  Authorities continued to engage in widespread interference in monastic practices, including by appointing government and CCP personnel and government-approved monks to manage religious institutions.  The government continued to control the selection of Tibetan Buddhist lamas and supervised their religious and political education.  It 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.  Officials routinely made public statements denigrating the Dalai Lama and promoting the Sinicization of Tibetan Buddhism.  President Xi visited the TAR on July 21-22, where he urged Tibetans to “follow the party.”  Authorities continued in state media to justify interference with Tibetan Buddhist monasteries by associating the monasteries with “separatism” and pro-independence activities.

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

The PRC continued to tightly restrict diplomatic access to the TAR and to deny U.S. embassy in Beijing’s requests to visit the area.  No U.S. diplomats were allowed to visit the TAR during the year.  U.S. officials repeatedly raised concerns about religious freedom in Tibet with Chinese government counterparts at multiple levels.  U.S. officials, including the Secretary of State, U.S. Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, who was appointed in December, Charge d’Affaires, and other embassy officers continued sustained and concerted efforts to advocate for the rights of Tibetans to preserve, practice, teach, and develop their religious traditions and language without interference from the government.  U.S. officials underscored that decisions on the succession of the Dalai Lama should be made solely by the Tibetan people, free from interference, and they raised concerns about the continued disappearance of Panchen Lama Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, missing since 1995.  During the year, the U.S. government used a variety of diplomatic tools to promote religious freedom and accountability in Tibet, including continuing visa restrictions on PRC government and CCP officials that it had determined to be “substantially involved in the formulation or execution of policies related to access for foreigners to Tibetan areas,” pursuant to the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act of 2018.  In July, the U.S. Secretary of State met with Central Tibetan Administration representative Ngodup Dongchung in New Delhi.  In April, the Department of State spokesperson said, “We respect Tibetans’ right to select, educate, and venerate their own leaders, like the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama, according to their own beliefs, and without government interference.”  The embassy and consulates used social media to deliver direct messaging about religious freedom in Tibet to millions of Chinese citizens.

Section I. Religious Demography

According to official data from the 2020 estimate of the National Bureau of Statistics of China, the total population of the TAR is approximately 3,648,000, of which Tibetans make up approximately 90 percent.  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.  The majority of ethnic Tibetans in the PRC live in the TAR, in Tibetan autonomous prefectures (TAPs), and in counties in Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu, and Yunnan Provinces.  Official census data show Tibetans constitute approximately 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, most of whom also follow the Dalai Lama and consider themselves 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 PRC constitution, which cites the leadership of the CCP and the guidance of Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong and Xi Jinping Thought, states that citizens “enjoy freedom of religious belief,” but it 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 the 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.

CCP 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 SARA.

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 (a tenet of Tibetan Buddhism), and that these administrative entities must approve reincarnations.  The UFWD claims the right to deny 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 CCP maintains a registry of officially recognized reincarnate lamas.

Regulations issued by the UFWD allow Chinese citizens to take part only in officially approved religious practices; these regulations assert CCP control over all aspects of religions, 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 CCP 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 who provide facilities for unauthorized religious activities, and restrict contact with overseas religious institutions.  The regulations require religious groups to seek approval to travel abroad and prohibit “accepting domination by external forces,” which authorities say include Tibetans living outside the country, particularly the Dalai Lama.  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 and distribution of literature containing religious content must follow guidelines determined by the State Publishing Administration.  Publication of religious material must also conform to guidelines determined by the Propaganda Department of the CCP Central Committee.

The regulations also require that religious activity “must not harm national security.”  While the regulations stipulate that religious groups must 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 must be approved by the provincial UFWD.

On January 1, the “Regulations on Counter-espionage Security of the Tibet Autonomous Region” came into force.  According to the regulations, “counter-espionage” in the TAR includes activities such as “ethnic separatism,” “ethnic conflict,” and “using religion to endanger national security.”

On January 18, the SARA issued new regulations, effective May 1, entitled “Administrative Measures for Religious Clergy,” that require all clergy to pledge allegiance to the CCP and socialism and that create a database of “religious personnel” to track their performance.  Article 3 of the regulations states religious clergy “should love the motherland, support the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, support the socialist system, abide by the constitution, laws, regulations, and rules, practice the core values of socialism, adhere to the principle of independent and self-administered religion in China, adhere to the direction of the Sinicization of religion in China, and operate to maintain national unity, religious harmony, and social stability.”  Article 6 states, in part, that clergy should “resist illegal religious activities and religious extremist ideology, and resist infiltration by foreign forces using religion.”  The regulations also provide that “entrance to religious places of worship should be regulated through strict gatekeeping, verification of identity, and registration.”  The regulations also stipulate that religious organizations and institutions will be held responsible for the behaviors of individual religious clergy.  Article 7 stipulates religious staff should “focus on improving their own quality, improving their cultural and moral literacy, studying the contents of doctrines and regulations that are conducive to social harmony, progress of the times, and health and civilization, and integrate them into preaching, and play a role in promoting the Sinicization of religion in our country.”

The SARA also issued new regulations on September 1 requiring all religious schools to teach Xi Jinping Thought and adhere to the “Sinicization of religion.”  The 2020 “Guidelines for National Security in Universities, Primary, and Secondary Schools” require school curriculums to ensure students “adhere to the correct path” by “strengthening the party’s leadership, enhancing political ideology, and practicing core socialist values.”

Children younger than the age of 18 are prohibited from participating in religious activities and receiving religious education, even in schools run by religious organizations.  Enforcement and implementation of these rules vary widely across and within regions.  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.  These regulations have effectively barred Tibetan youth from entering monasteries prior to reaching 18 years of age.

In January 2020, the government adopted the “Regulations on the Establishment of a Model Area for Ethnic Unity and Progress in the Tibet Autonomous Region.”  These require “equal opportunities” for non-Tibetan ethnic groups at all levels of government and in schools, private business companies, religious centers, and the military in the TAR.

A government policy introduced in 2018 requires Tibetan monks and nuns to undergo political training in CCP ideology.  Monks and nuns must not only demonstrate competence in religious studies, but must also show “political reliability,” “moral integrity capable of impressing the public,” and a willingness to “play an active role at critical moments.”

Self-immolation (setting oneself on fire as a form of protest) 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 local UFWD, 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 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 CCP 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 the TAR CCP Committee to take up religious orders, and the 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 to 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 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:  The Three-Self Patriotic Movement (Protestant), the 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 BAC are required to coordinate implementation of religious policies in monasteries.

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

Government Practices

Human rights and media reported authorities exercised strict control over telephone and online communications in Tibetan areas.  As a result, some disappearances, arrests, detentions, and deaths that occurred in prior years only became known during the year.  Limited access to information, as well as travel restrictions, due both to government policies limiting access to Tibetan areas and to the COVID-19 pandemic, made it difficult to ascertain the exact number of individuals imprisoned because of their religious beliefs or affiliation, determine the charges brought against them, or assess the extent and severity of abuses they suffered.  Because religion and ethnicity are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize some incidents as being solely based on religious identity.

The Taiwan Times reported authorities in “reeducation camps” starved women with substandard meals, and some died of malnutrition.  One survivor, Adhi, said she obtained extra food by providing “sexual favors” demanded by the Han Chinese bureaucrats overseeing the detention center.

The India-based NGO Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) reported that in September 2019, authorities detained Norsang, a resident of Tachu Township in Nagchu (Chinese:  Naqu) Prefecture, TAR, for refusing to participate in “patriotic education” during the run-up to the 70th anniversary of the founding of the PRC.  TCHRD later reported, “In May 2021, it was learned that Norsang had died in custody a week after his detention in 2019.”  A source told TCHRD that Norsang died as a result of authorities’ severely beating and torturing him.

The NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported in January that Tibetan monk Tenzin Nyima, after his release from custody in October 2020, died in late December 2020 or early January 2021 from injuries sustained while in custody.  HRW said Nyima, from Dza Wonpo Monastery in Dza Wonpo Township, Kardze (Ganzi) TAP, Sichuan Province was initially arrested in November 2019 for distributing pamphlets and shouting slogans calling for Tibetan independence.  Authorities released him in May 2020 but rearrested him in August for posting news of his initial arrest online.  Sources told HRW that when he was released the second time, Nyima was unable to speak or move and suffered from an acute respiratory infection, which they believed was due to beatings, severe malnourishment, and mistreatment while in custody.

The India-based Tibetan media outlet Phayul reported in May that Norsang (no last name), a man held incommunicado after his 2019 detention for refusing to participate in government-led political reeducation training, was allegedly tortured to death.  According to Phayul, Norsang died in 2019 while in the custody of local security officials, who did not reveal his death until May.  Authorities said Norsang committed suicide to escape debts, but a source stated he was not in debt at the time of his arrest.

There were no reported cases of Tibetans self-immolating during the year as a means of protesting against government policies, compared with no individuals in 2020 and one in 2019.  In January, the Central Tibetan Administration reported one case of self-immolation that occurred in 2015 but was previously unreported.  The man, Shurmo, was 26 when he self-immolated on September 17, 2015, in Shagchukha Village, Driru County, Nagchu Prefecture, TAR.  According to ICT, from 2009 to December 2019, 157 Tibetans 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.  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 family were reportedly abducted.  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, the Tibetan diaspora marked the occasion of Nyima’s 32nd birthday.  Advocacy groups called on the government to release him and allow him to resume his religious duties.

Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported in August that according to TCHRD, at least 40 enforced disappearances had occurred in Tibetan areas over the prior three years.  Victims included Buddhist clergy, writers, artists, farmers, community leaders, students, and other intellectuals.  TCHRD stated the majority of those disappeared were described by authorities as suspects in cases of “endangering state security” or “disclosing state secrets.”  According to TCHRD, “Tibetans continue to disappear every year, crippling family life and community cohesion.”  Pema Gyal, a researcher at the London-based rights group Tibet Watch, told RFA’s Tibetan Service, “There are so many Tibetans who are arrested by the Chinese government, yet their whereabouts and the reasons for their arrests remain unknown for a very long time.”

RFA reported that on March 23, the family of monk Rinchen Tsultrim learned that authorities had sentenced him to four and a half years in prison after a closed trial at which he was denied access to an attorney.  Authorities arrested Tsultrim in 2019 on suspicion of working to “split the country” and held him incommunicado for two years.  His sister told RFA that prior to his arrest, authorities warned Tsultrim to stop expressing his thoughts and writing on a range of Tibetan political, social, and cultural issues.  At year’s end, Tsultrim was being held in Mianyang Prison in Sichuan Province.

Sources reported that the whereabouts of several monks remained unknown at year’s end.  These included Dorje Rabten, who in September 2018 protested against government policies restricting young people from becoming monks; Tenzin Gelek, who had protested Dorje’s detention; Lobsang Thamke, who was arrested in 2018 and sentenced on July 30, 2021, to four years in prison on unknown charges; Lobsang Dorje, who was arrested in August 2018; and Thubpa, whom police took from the Trotsik Monastery in Ngaba (Aba) County, Sichuan Province, toward the end of 2017.

Sources told media that authorities routinely physically abused Tibetan prisoners.  RFA reported in September that authorities released Tibetan Monk Thabgey Gyatso after he served 12 years of his 15-year sentence for participating in protests in Lhasa in 2008.  Sources told RFA that “due to harsh treatment in the prison, his vision and overall health have become very weak.”  For the first year following his arrest, his whereabouts were unknown.

In February, the Taiwan Times reported prison staff in “reeducation camps” routinely tortured women, including nuns, by beating them and shocked them with cattle prods.  Rinzen Kunsang, a Tibetan woman who was arrested for taking part in a demonstration, reported being handcuffed, stripped, prodded with electric batons, and beaten with bamboo sticks, often until the sticks broke.  Other Tibetan women reported guards hung them on the wall, sometimes upside down, and hit them with electric batons.  According to the Taiwan Times, Ngawang Tsepak, a nun, was taken down only after both her shoulders became dislocated.  Ngawang Jhampa, another nun, reported that she was beaten with chairs and sticks and shocked with electric cattle prods.  Several survivors said the guards set dogs on the prisoners.  Gyaltsen Chodon, a nun, reported that guards tread on their hands with iron-tipped boots; kicked them in the face and stomach; placed buckets full of urine and feces on their heads and struck the buckets with sticks; kicked them in the breasts and genitals until they were bleeding; and burned them with lighted cigarettes.

According to the Taiwan Times report, prison authorities routinely sexually degraded nuns and raped them.  One source said nuns were told their bodies “belonged to the CCP” rather than to the monasteries, commenting that these were not merely acts of violence, because once raped, a nun would consider herself to have broken the vows of celibacy and feel unworthy of continuing as a nun, leaving her no option but to lead a secular life.  One nun said guards forced the nuns to come out naked and prostrate themselves in front of the monks.  One survivor reported guards tying electric cords around her breasts and shocking her, while another reported guards setting dogs on the women while they were naked.

The Taiwan Times reported that in a prison in Lhasa, authorities raped 25 women after they wore Tibetan attire rather than their prison uniforms to celebrate the Tibetan New Year.

Sources told RFA that authorities sometimes released prisoners in failing health prior to the end of their sentences.  RFA reported in March that Gangbu Rikgye Nyima, serving a 10-year sentence for participation in protests, was released in February, a year early.  According to RFA, the release came about because Gangbu’s health had deteriorated badly due to her being beaten and otherwise physically abused in prison.

Voice of America (VOA) reported that on February 17, authorities detained three teenagers for creating a WeChat group called “White Rocky Mountain Club,” a reference to a local Tibetan Buddhist deity.  According to VOA, the youths organized the chat group to celebrate the Tibetan New Year from February 12 to 14, but authorities stated the group had violated government rules requiring all WeChat groups to register with local regulatory authorities so the government could monitor chat content.  VOA reported police badly beat the three boys, causing one to suffer a broken leg, requiring hospitalization.

According to HRW, Kunchok Jinpa, a tour guide and environmental activist, died in a hospital in Lhasa on February 6, less than three months after being transferred there from prison without his family’s knowledge.  Local sources said he had suffered a brain hemorrhage and was paralyzed.  Authorities arrested Jinpa in 2013 for allegedly passing information to foreign media about local environmental and other protests in his region and sentenced him to 21 years in prison for leaking “state secrets.”  Prior to his death, his family had no news of Kunchok Jinpa’s whereabouts since his detention in 2013.  The HRW China director stated, “Kunchok Jinpa’s death is yet another grim case of a wrongfully imprisoned Tibetan dying from mistreatment.  Chinese authorities responsible for arbitrary detention, torture or ill-treatment, and the death of people in their custody should be held accountable.”

TCHRD released a political prisoner database in December that documented that authorities had detained 5,500 Tibetan political prisoners since 1990.  VOA reported that authorities had released more than 3,000 of those but continued to hold more than 1,800 at year’s end.

RFA reported in March that the government conducted a wave of arrests in Lhasa and along Tibet’s border with India.  Names of those arrested were not reported, but RFA indicated the arrests occurred ahead of a month of politically sensitive anniversaries beginning in March, including the March 10 anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule.

In April, RFA reported officials in Sichuan Province arrested Go Sherab Gyatso, a monk at Kirti Monastery in Ngaba County, Sichuan Province, and a well-known Tibetan educator and writer, although at the time his whereabouts were unknown.  The NGO TibetWatch reported in December that authorities secretly sentenced Go Sherab Gyatso in November to 10 years in prison for “inciting secession.”  According to TibetWatch sources, local authorities did not reveal the exact date of his sentencing or where he would serve his sentence.  Authorities had detained Gyatso twice before, from 1998 to 2002 for possessing a portrait of the Dalai Lama and from 2008 to 2009 for unspecified reasons.  RFA reported he was well known for his writings in support of the Dalai Lama.  In July, four UN experts, including the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, wrote the government about “the alleged arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance of two Tibetan Buddhists, Mr. Go Sherab Gyatso and Mr. Rinchen Tsultrim.”  A government letter in response from September confirmed the detentions.

RFA reported in April that authorities arrested six Tibetan writers, monks, and former political prisoners between March and April in Sichuan Province.  Sources told RFA that authorities in Kardze TAP, Sichuan Province, arrested Gangkye Drubpa Kyab, Sey Nam, Gangbu Yudrum, and Gang Tsering Dolma, as well as two other unknown individuals, between February and March, but that due to the PRC’s “blockade” of information, no information was available about the charges or the whereabouts of the individuals.  No more information regarding their arrest or detention came to light by year’s end.

In April,, a website run by the Central Tibetan Administration, a representative civil support organization based in Dharamsala, India, reported the arrest of several Tibetans living in Driru County, Nagchu Prefecture, TAR, who were suspected of contacting Tibetans abroad via telephone and social media.  The report identified Gyajin as one of those detained but was unable to identify the other individuals.  According to the NGO Free Tibet, Driru County is one of the most severely and militarily controlled areas in the TAR, dating back to May 2013, when residents staged a protest against government-affiliated companies that had begun extraction activities on their sacred mountain, Naglha Zamba.

TibetWatch reported that in July, authorities shut down a private Tibetan-language school in Golog (Guoluo) TAP, Qinghai Province, without citing a reason, and in August, they arrested Rinchen Kyi, one of its longest-serving teachers.  Authorities charged Kyi with inciting separatism.  Sources from the area said the school’s closure was politically motivated because its primary language of instruction was Tibetan and it provided Tibetan culture-based learning for its students.

Human rights groups reported PRC authorities continued to criminalize the sharing or possession of photos of, or statements by, the Dalai Lama.  RFA reported in August that authorities in Dza Wonpo Township, Kardze TAP, Sichuan Province, raided homes and arrested 19 monks and 40 laypersons for possessing photographs of the Dalai Lama.  Police called a mandatory meeting three days later for local residents aged 18 and older.  A source said, “The focus of the meeting was to warn people not to keep any pictures of the Dalai Lama or to share any information over their cell phones.”  Police then searched homes in the township looking for banned photographs.  Authorities also inspected a local old age home on the pretext of cleaning the facility, confiscated a number of banned photographs, and gave residents pictures of President Xi and other Chinese leaders to put up in their place.  The meeting and raids followed meetings earlier in the year in Dza Wonpo in which authorities forced Tibetans to sign a document pledging not to keep or circulate photographs of the Dalai Lama, on penalty of criminal prosecution and denial of state aid, according to sources. also reported the event, saying authorities detained 121 Tibetans in Dza Wonpo for approximately one month and forced them to undergo political “reeducation.”  The monks were arrested after participating in informal Tibetan-language classes and language preservation groups on social media.  According to the report, authorities subsequently released all but three individuals.

According to Free Tibet and Phayul, in late October, authorities sentenced former monk and writer Thupten Lobsang Lhundup (known by his pen name Dhi Lhaden) to four years in prison for “disrupting social order.”  Authorities detained Lhaden in June 2019 in Chengdu City, Sichuan Province, and held him incommunicado until his trial.  A former monk in Drepung and Sera monasteries in Lhasa, Lhundup authored books and essays criticizing government policies.  According TCHRD, prosecutors used his book, “The Art of Passive Resistance,” as evidence against him.  TCHRD stated the “charge of ‘disrupting social order’ is a catchall term employed by the party-state to silence dissent and preserve the culture of censorship.”

Free Tibet reported that on March 14, local police in Dzato County, Qinghai Province, detained and interrogated four Tibetans for climbing a mountain to pray and burn incense.  In addition, police confiscated their identity cards and checked their phones to see whether their WeChat accounts were registered with the government as required.  Police arrested one of the men.  They warned the parents and relatives of the four men that they would be held responsible if a similar incident occurred.

RFA reported in December that authorities in Ngaba County, Sichuan Province, sentenced Tibetan monk Lobsang Thinley to five years in prison for “spreading books and lectures” of the Dalai Lama.  According to the report, authorities arrested Lobsang in July for distributing information about the Dalai Lama, although they did not inform his family that he had been arrested or sentenced until September.  Sources told RFA that authorities denied him access to legal counsel.  According to sources, Lobsang had been detained previously for similar reasons.

A July report by HRW stated authorities in 2019 raided Tengdro Monastery, Shekar town, Tingri County, TAR, beat several monks and villagers, and detained approximately 20 individuals.  According to HRW, the monks were held on suspicion of having exchanged messages with Tibetans abroad, contributing to earthquake relief money sent to Tibetans at their sister monastery in Nepal following a 2015 earthquake in that country, and possessing photographs or literature related to the Dalai Lama.  The report said that following a secret trial, four monks received “extraordinarily harsh sentences” ranging from five to 20 years.

According to multiple sources, authorities often forced political prisoners, particularly monks and nuns, to perform patriotic songs and dances praising the CCP, and to watch propaganda films.  If participants seemed uninterested, authorities considered it evidence of disloyalty to the state and subjected them to severe punishment, including beatings, and refused them permission to receive gifts of food or clothing from visiting family members.

Media and human rights groups 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 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 between 2016 and 2019 (the most recent information available), 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.  According to local sources, authorities continued to prohibit monks or nuns from returning to these locations and rebuilding these sites.  Monastics expelled from Larung Gar and Yachen Gar Tibetan Buddhist Institutes were specifically prohibited from transferring to other monasteries to continue their religious education.

RFA reported in August that authorities shut down Hongcheng Tibetan Monastery in Linxia Hui Autonomous Prefecture, Gansu Province, and evicted an unknown number of nuns and monks.  According to RFA, videos of the incident showed monks at Hongcheng Monastery, also known as Yulingta Monastery, holding up banners that read “Forcible defrocking of monks is illegal and unacceptable!” and other protest slogans.  RFA reported videos showed nuns “wailed in mourning” at being made to leave, while others shouted “Stop this!  Stop this!” and “Film everything!”  Local officials denied the operation had occurred.  One foreign-based commentator told RFA the government was “getting ready to eliminate all Tibetan temples and monasteries within the majority Han Chinese area of China.”

During the year, the government reportedly 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 that had no nearby monasteries where resettled villagers could worship.  The government prohibited construction of new religious sites 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 continued to view these relocation measures as CCP and government efforts to dilute religious belief and weaken the ties between monasteries and communities.

Free Tibet reported that on October 21-22, security officials forcibly expelled 30 teenage student monks from Jakyung Monastery and 50 teenage student monks from Deetsa Monastery in Hualong Hui Autonomous County, Qinghai Province, on the grounds that individuals younger than 18 were not permitted to enroll in monasteries.  They took the youths home and informed them they could no longer wear monks’ robes or study at the monasteries.  Free Tibet stated, “Such a directive limits young Tibetan Buddhists’ access to their cultural heritage, as monasteries serve as an essential resource for Tibetan language and cultural learning… Furthermore, students are a vital part of a monastery’s structure; providing senior monks assistance in their duties to ensure smoother operation of the monastery[.]”

International media and NGOs reported the government continued carrying out its 2019-2023 five-year plan to Sinicize Buddhism in China by emphasizing loyalty to the CCP and the state.  The plan included Tibetan Buddhism, with the involvement of the state-run BAC.  The CCP’s Administrative Measures for Religious Organizations, promulgated in 2020, further formalized administrative procedures for Sinicizing all religions, including Tibetan Buddhism, to “follow the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics” and “correctly handle the relationship between national law and canon[.]”

The Catholic news outlet AsiaNews reported that new SARA regulations entitled “Administrative Measures for Religious Clergy,” which took effect on May 1, placed more ideological controls over the training, selection, and monitoring of clergy, including emphasizing allegiance to the CCP and socialism.  On February 11, Bitter Winter, an online publication that tracks religious liberty and human rights abuses in the country, published an English language translation and analysis of the new regulations.  According to Bitter Winter, registration in the government database was “complicated.”  Individuals who were not listed in the database but claimed to be clergy would be committing a crime.  Individuals unable to obtain a “clergy card” would include anyone not belonging to one of the five officially recognized patriotic religious associations, including the BAC.  Bitter Winter stated individuals had to prove they “support[ed] the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and support[ed] the socialist system.”  According to AsiaNews, under the regulations, “Living buddhas…will not be able to exercise any ministry, nor will they be considered true reincarnations without the permission of the [CCP].”  Bitter Winter stated the regulations created “an Orwellian system of surveillance, and strengthen[ed] the already strict control on all clergy.”

Associated Press (AP) reported that in June, President Xi visited Lhasa to mark the 70th anniversary of PRC control over Tibet, the first time he had visited Tibet in more than a decade.  AP reported that during the visit, one sign on public display read, “Xi Jinping’s new socialist ideology with Chinese characteristics is the guide for the whole party and all nationalities to fight for the great rejuvenation of China.”  At Jokhang Temple, considered the most sacred temple in Tibet and one of the holiest sites in Tibetan Buddhism, head monk Lhakpa said the Dalai Lama was not its spiritual leader.  Asked who was, he said, “Xi Jinping.”

RFA reported on a conference for more than 500 monks and nuns held at the Tso-Ngon Buddhist University in Xining City, Qinghai Province, September 27 to 30.  Attendees, including religious figures and students from Tibetan and Chinese Buddhist universities, were instructed that Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and study centers must begin to translate classroom texts from Tibetan into Mandarin.  RFA stated this new policy was designed to encourage the Sinicization of Tibetan Buddhism and to further enforce the government’s effort to promote Mandarin as the national language.  According to RFA, it was unclear if the policy would also include the gradual translation into Chinese of the thousands of classical Buddhist scriptures also written in Tibetan, many of which were originally translated from Sanskrit.  Geshe Lhakdor, director of the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives in Dharamsala, India, said Mandarin was not able to communicate the full range of meaning of Buddhist doctrine.  He said, “There is no good intention behind this plan.”  In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in November, a Tibetan academic based in the United States wrote, “The ultimate goal is for future lamas and monks to learn Buddhism only in Mandarin – paving the way for the erasure of the Tibetan language.”

On May 21, the PRC government issued a white paper that asserted Tibet had always been part of China and that the PRC would be responsible for the selection of Tibetan Buddhist leaders, including the Dalai Lama.  The government stated it shall be in control of important Tibetan Buddhist traditions, including the right to select which lamas would be “authorized” to reincarnate, and will ensure that reincarnation of living buddhas “has been carried out in an orderly manner in accordance with laws, regulations, religious rituals, and historical conventions.”  In addition, the paper stated Tibetan Buddhism would be required to conform to the CCP and socialism with Chinese characteristics.

The TAR government reportedly continued to maintain tight control over the use of Tibetan Buddhist religious relics and declared them, religious buildings, and religious institutions to be state property.  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 and preventing monks from traveling to villages for politically sensitive events and religious ceremonies.  Religious figures and laypersons frequently reported difficulty traveling to monasteries outside their home regions, both within the TAR and in other parts of the country.  Travelers said they encountered 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.  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 monasteries after 2008 protests in Lhasa and other areas, such as Ngaba County, Sichuan Province, had not returned, some because of government prohibitions.

Free Tibet reported in July that the CCP launched a “Party History” campaign across China in February in anticipation of the CCP’s 100-year anniversary in July.  As part of the campaign, the CCP sent party cadres to visit homes, monasteries, and schools across Tibet to spread “correct” party history and policies.  In Yulshul (Yushu) TAP, Qinghai Province, party officials and police visited families and public schools to spread party propaganda.  In May, party officials held a series of propaganda events at Dorje Drak Monastery Gongkar (Gongga) County, TAR.  Monks and nuns were required to write their names on a banner that said, “Good monks and nuns who appreciate the favor of the party, listen to the party, follow the party.”  In late June, CCP officials held propaganda events at monasteries in Lhasa, Chamdo, and Nagchu Prefectures, TAR, to mark the 100th anniversary of the CCP and the 70th anniversary of PRC control over Tibet.

According to sources, authorities continued to restrict many major monasteries across the Tibetan Plateau from holding large-scale religious events, citing COVID-19 concerns.  Local sources confirmed to Free Tibet that many Tibetan monasteries and other religious sites were closed during the year, with the authorities saying the closures were COVID-19 precautions.  Free Tibet reported that in January, citing COVID-19 concerns, the government issued a directive forbidding all “outsiders” from entering all areas of Larung Gar (former home to the Tibetan Buddhist Institute, which authorities had destroyed) and banning large-scale gatherings and religious activities there.  Many of these sources said officials were using pandemic restrictions to prevent individuals from participating in religious activities.

RFA reported that authorities cancelled public religious festivals and prayer ceremonies for Losar (the Tibetan New Year) in February and closed major religious sites in Lhasa, including the Potala Palace and Drepung and Sera monasteries, citing COVID-19 restrictions.  Local sources said Tibetans were also barred from holding social gatherings and visiting monasteries and temples in Nyagrong (Xinlong) County, Kardze TAP, Sichuan Province, and authorities restricted travel in Tibetan-populated areas in Qinghai Province ahead of the start of Losar.  A source told RFA that in advance of Losar, authorities imposed a 10:00 p.m. curfew in Golog (Guoluo) and Matoe (Maduo) Counties in Golog TAP, Qinghai Province in the name of “social stability” and “sanitation.”  According to the source, security personnel were dispatched to restaurants, hotels, internet cafes, and “all places of recreation.”  Police checked identification cards.  The source said, “Anyone caught out after curfew risks punishment, including imprisonment and severe physical abuse.”

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 86th birthday on July 6, or to commemorate the anniversary of the March 10, 1959, Tibetan uprising or a March 14, 2008, outbreak of unrest across the Tibetan Plateau.  As in prior years, TAR authorities banned monks and nuns from leaving their monasteries and nunneries during such times, and pilgrimage sites were heavily policed.  Local sources reported that officials visited monasteries in the TAR and in Sichuan, Qinghai, and Gansu Provinces and warned staff not to host “outside visitors” on the Dalai Lama’s birthday.  Sources stated officials continued to urge Tibetans to report on foreign visitors to these areas and other “suspicious activities,” a policy that has been place for many years.

According to Tibet Watch, the government banned all religious activities, social events, and private gatherings in Ngaba County, Sichuan Province, to celebrate the 80th birthday on August 8 of the 11th Kirti Rinpoche, Lobsang Tenzin Jigme Yeshe Gyamtso Rinpoche of Kirti Monastery, who is currently living in India.  The ban included Kirti Monastery and its associated monasteries in Ngaba and villages in the neighboring area of Zoege.  Sources told Tibet Watch authorities imposed special restrictions on social media.

ICT reported that in April, the CCP circulated a new six-point code of conduct for CCP members in the TAR that explicitly forbade party members from all forms of religiosity in public and private life, despite reports that many local government officials held religious beliefs.  ICT stated the code of conduct was “significant for being perhaps the first party regulation that clearly and comprehensively details the specific types of religiosity forbidden for party members in the TAR,” including wearing rosary beads or religious imagery, forwarding or “liking” religious materials online, and circumambulating mountains and lakes.  The code of conduct also required CCP members to actively promote the party’s antireligion stance among their relatives, refrain from setting up altars or hang religious imagery in homes, and seek party approval before inviting religious personnel to conduct rituals for customary occasions such as weddings and funerals.  The TAR regional government punished CCP members who made pilgrimages to India or sent their children to study with Tibetans living abroad.

In May, media outlet Phayul reported authorities continued to ban Tibetans and civil servants from participating in religious events during Saga Dawa, the month-long festival that marks the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, and death.  Sources said authorities threatened there would be “serious consequences” for individuals who defied the ban.  Authorities intensified surveillance of, and restrictions on, access to the Jokhang Temple complex on the 15th day of Saga Dawa, the holiest day of the month.

According to local sources, police maintained heavy security during the Shoton festival, held August 6 to 14 in Lhasa.  There were large numbers of uniformed and plainclothes police monitoring crowds of worshippers.  Officials delivered speeches at the festival denouncing the Dalai Lama and urging attendees to be loyal to the CCP.

In October, the U.S.-based news outlet The Hill reported that authorities continued to block or otherwise prevent Tibetans from accessing Jokhang Temple in Lhasa in order to expand access for Han Chinese tourists.  RFA reported that beginning on May 18, authorities allowed worshippers to enter the temple from 8:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., while tourists, coming mainly from other parts of the country, could visit from 12:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.  RFA reported on October 25 that authorities cited COVID-19 protocols to severely restrict government employees, students, retired state workers, and pilgrims from accessing Potala Palace (the former residence of the Dalai Lama) but allowed Han Chinese tourists to visit if they showed proof of negative COVID-19 test results.

In August, the government again banned the annual Dechen Shedrub prayer festival at the site of the former Larung Gar Tibetan Buddhist Institute from occurring.  Authorities cited overcrowding and COVID-19 concerns as reasons for the ban.  The ban marked the sixth consecutive year the government prohibited the 23-year-old festival from taking place.

According to local sources, Sichuan, Qinghai, and Gansu provincial authorities again 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 authorities continued to invoke regulations concerning safeguarding national unity and responding to “religious extremism” in order to monitor individuals, groups, and institutions, and to punish adherents of religious leaders, such as the Dalai Lama.  In March, ICT released a report entitled Party Above Buddhism:  China’s Surveillance and Control of Tibetan Monasteries and Nunneries.  ICT stated the surveillance and control of the monastic community was carried out through a sophisticated network of both human and electronic means.  According to the report, “The methods deployed on the monastic community are of dystopian proportions and aim at its political neutralization.  Not only are physical activities surveilled and controlled, but the institutional method attempts also to stifle the inner world of the monastic community through ideological control.”  The report stated, “The intensive surveillance and control of the monastic community has led to either the expulsion of monks for not complying with the official policies, or to their voluntary departure due to constant harassment by officials creating an unbearably suffocating environment for them.”

Sources reported party leaders and branches of the UFWD, SARA, and the state-sanctioned 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.

According to human rights groups and local sources, authorities continued to install overt camera surveillance systems at monasteries.  The ICT report Party Above Buddhism stated CCTV cameras were “massively deployed for surveillance of the monasteries within and outside their vicinities.  It is the single largest convenient tool used by law enforcement agencies to maintain surveillance of the monastic community, retain a cumulative record, and proactively crush any hint of dissent… The presence of ever-watching cameras within the monasteries produces a suffocating environment for the monastic community.”  The report contained a photograph of the surveillance control room at Kirti Monastery in Ngaba Prefecture, Sichuan Province, showing monitors linked to 35 separate cameras surrounding the monastery.  RFA reported in 2020 that authorities had opened “security centers,” or “convenience” police stations, throughout Lhasa.  RFA described the security centers’ role as “subverting local indigenous populations through surveillance.”

According to multiple sources in the TAR and in other Tibetan areas, officials continued to maintain a 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.

In March, RFA reported the PRC established 697 “Discipline Committees” across Tibet that included 1,960 “inspectors” assigned to surveil inhabitants in towns and rural areas.  A source told RFA, “Any Tibetans traveling there from outside these regions have to show a document stamped with a travel permit.”  RFA stated authorities maintained “tight controls over information flows in the region, arresting Tibetans for sharing news and opinions on social media and for contacting relatives living in exile.”

VOA reported in March that authorities continued to monitor and ban the use of social media apps and virtual private networks in Tibet.  Sources stated security officials searched the phones of Tibetans and often threatened to cut off basic social services if they remained in contact with their relatives in India or elsewhere abroad.  In its report Party Above Buddhism, ICT stated surveillance of internet and social media activities of monks had “deeply affected the monastic community, as they are at the forefront of resistance against the Communist Party of China’s atrocities in Tibet… Monks have faced arrest for messages deemed ‘illegal’ for sharing images of the Dalai Lama or talk about the state of the Tibetan language.”

RFA reported in November that authorities issued government mobile phones to Tibetan former prisoners, particularly political prisoners, as a means of further monitoring their movements.  One former prisoner told RFA, “Cell phones issued by the government have tracking devices installed in them that note your location and who you are meeting.  The SIM card used in these phones is directly linked to a government control office[.]”  TCHRD reported authorities forced some Tibetan former prisoners in Qinghai Province to wear ankle bracelets that monitored movements, recorded conversations, and set off alarms when the person crossed set boundaries or attempted to tamper with the bracelet.

Human rights groups stated authorities continued to use the “Regulations on the Establishment of a Model Area for Ethnic Unity and Progress in the Tibet Autonomous Region,” adopted in January 2020, to further impose central government control and Han culture on the Tibetan population and to encourage Tibetans to become informants on each other.  As part of the government’s January “Regulations on Counter-espionage Security of the Tibet Autonomous Region,” authorities deployed what ICT characterized as “deceptive language” to persuade Tibetans that their neighbors and foreigners were a threat to national security.  According to ICT, “Pressure on individual Tibetans to report on their neighbors is intensified by the widespread use of surveillance technologies.  If cameras and facial recognition algorithms pick up activity deemed suspicious, those who witnessed it, yet failed to report it, also fall under suspicion, and may face interrogation at length.”

A Jamestown Foundation 2020 report, Xinjiang’s System of Militarized Vocational Training Comes to Tibet, stated that the government employed “grid management” and a “double-linked household” system to surveil and control communities.  Under a grid management system, neighborhoods and communities were divided into smaller units with administrative and security staff who maintained detailed databases on everyone living in that grid.  The system “corrals regular citizens into the state’s extensive surveillance apparatus by making sets of 10 ‘double-linked’ households report on each other.” reported in March that authorities rewarded individuals with money and other forms of compensation for reporting on neighbors who were “extremist” or “splittist.”  The maximum reward for information leading to the arrests of social media users deemed disloyal to the government was 300,000 renminbi ($47,100), six times the average per capita GDP in the TAR, according to local media.

According to human rights groups and media sources, authorities frequently checked mobile phones for pictures of the Dalai Lama and other content that was considered sensitive.  There were reports that authorities surveilled ordinary Tibetans for years after finding such material.

In its report Party Above Buddhism, ICT stated monks and nuns were “also under constant pressure to change their ideological underpinnings, which are based on Buddhist philosophy.  The authorities require the monks and nuns to ‘correct’ their thoughts by checking themselves and criticizing each other.”  ICT published photographs of monks studying CCP ideology.  The report stated, “The active presence of police forces the monastics to constantly ask themselves whether anything they do could be considered illegal.”

Sources stated authorities forced monasteries to display portraits of CCP leaders and the national flag.

Human rights groups and local sources reported that during the year, authorities continued to expand the requirement that families replace images of the Dalai Lama and other lamas in their homes with portraits of preeminent CCP leaders, including Chairman Mao and President Xi.  Previously, this policy was only compulsory for families that were dependent on state support under the poverty alleviation program.  According to local sources, authorities required all monasteries, schools, and offices in the TAR and Tibetan areas to display pictures of CCP leaders.  Sources said authorities conducted inspections to check for compliance.

In addition to the prohibition on the open veneration of the Dalai Lama, including the display of his photograph, the government continued to ban pictures of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, whom the Dalai Lama and nearly all Tibetan Buddhists recognize as the 11th Panchen Lama.  In some counties of the TAR, punishments for displaying images of the Dalai Lama included expulsion from monasteries.  Local sources told RFA that officials from government bureaus monitoring religious practice visited Tibetan schools and warned teachers and students not to keep or display photographs of the Dalai Lama.

Local sources reported that “The 20 Prohibitions” were still in force.  These regulations, instituted in the TAR in 2019, forbade 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.

Authorities increased the surveillance of, and efforts to restrict, access to WeChat and other social media.  TCHRD reported that on August 4, the CCP’s Central Propaganda Department, in conjunction with nine other party and government departments and agencies, held a video conference launching a campaign to crack down on “illegal” online activities.  The other participants were the Central Cyberspace Administration, Supreme People’s Court, Supreme People’s Procuratorate, Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, Ministry of Public Security, State Administration of Taxation, State Administration for Market Regulation, State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television, and the All-China Association of Journalists.  Within a week of the campaign’s announcement, Tibetan diaspora sources reported Tibetans were detained following random searches of personal phones and contents posted on WeChat.

RFA reported that on July 20, police in Ngaba County, Sichuan Province arrested Konmey, the head of the discipline committee at Ngaba’s Trotsik Monastery, on suspicion of holding politically sensitive discussions on WeChat.  According to a local source, Konmey was arrested solely because he recited prayers on WeChat.  The source stated, “He said nothing at all about political issues.”

Free Tibet reported in January that PRC authorities in Nagchu Prefecture, TAR, replaced a Tibetan mantra, “The Jewel is the Lotus,” which was written in Tibetan on a hillside in letters large enough to be seen from planes landing at Nagchu Dagring Airport, with an image of China’s flag and the slogan, “Long Live the Motherland,” in Mandarin.  Accompanying the article were before-and-after aerial photographs showing where the mantra had been and what had replaced it.  Free Tibet stated the Tibetan mantra had once been ubiquitous throughout Tibet, but authorities were methodically replacing the phrase throughout the region.

Free Tibet reported that in late October, authorities in Drago (Luhuo) County, Kardze TAP, Sichuan Province ordered Drago Monastery officials to demolish the monastery’s Gaden Rabten Namgyal Ling school, saying the buildings violated local land-use laws.  The school trained young monks in Tibetan language and grammar, Mandarin, English, and Madhyamaka and other Buddhist doctrines.  Authorities ordered 130 students attending the school to return to their homes.

RFA reported that on December 12, authorities in Drago County, Kardze TAP, Sichuan Province, destroyed a 30-meter (99-foot) tall statue of the Buddha.  Authorities said the statue, which was built in 2015, was constructed without county authorization.  They also burned prayer flags and destroyed prayer wheels around the statue.  RFA later reported that authorities took four individuals from the Gaden Namgyal Ling Monastery in Drago into custody days before the statute’s demolition, including the abbot, his assistant, and two monks.

Multiple sources reported the government continued to interfere in the religious education of laypersons and children.  Authorities in the TAR required monks to cancel all classes with children, warning that monks and parents could have their social security benefits restricted or be detained if classes continued.  The ban on religious education was also implemented in some places outside of the TAR.

The Tibet Action Institute (TAI) published a report in December that stated nearly 80 percent of all Tibetan school children – roughly 800,000 students – were forced to attend state-run boarding schools.  According to the report, the government maintained “a vast network of colonial boarding schools in Tibet where students live separated from their families and subjected to highly politicized education, primarily in Chinese.”  The report concluded that these schools were “the cornerstone of an assimilationist agenda advanced by Chinese President Xi Jinping himself, intended to preempt threats to Chinese Communist Party control by eliminating ethnic differences.”  The TAI report outlined government efforts to “remold” Tibetan youth through a system of education that eliminated “all but token elements of their ‘Tibetanness.’”  The report stated the boarding school system was at the heart of the CCP’s effort to subsume Tibetans into Chinese culture and identity.

The TAI report stated that due to the government’s efforts over the last decade to eliminate monasteries as an option for Tibetan education, Tibetan parents were “compelled by a lack of viable alternatives to send their children to boarding schools.”  The TAI report also presented evidence that the government used fines and threats to coerce parents into sending their children to state-run boarding schools.  The TAI report indicated that Tibetan parents had concluded that sending their children to these schools was the only way for the children to “survive in their profoundly changing world.”

ICT reported in March that TAR regulations required schools to incorporate national security programming and counterespionage “security knowledge” into the curriculum for school children, in accordance with national regulations that called for school curriculums to ensure students “adhered to the correct path” by “strengthening the party’s leadership, enhancing political ideology, and practicing core socialist values.”

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

RFA reported that beginning in April, schools in Nagchu Prefecture, TAR posted regulations prohibiting parents of schoolchildren from carrying rosaries, prayer wheels, or other religious items on school grounds.  A source told RFA the new regulations stated that “schools are places to cultivate and produce socialist scholars and should not be used as places in which to follow rituals and traditions.”  The source said authorities were “stepping up their efforts to spread the party’s ideology in Tibetan counties, towns, monasteries, and schools” in advance of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the CCP.

According to RFA, local sources expressed concern that restrictions on the use of the Tibetan language in Tibetan schools, where preference was given to instruction in Mandarin, were causing Tibetan children to lose fluency in their own language.  Authorities also suppressed informally organized language courses in monasteries and towns, which they labeled illegal associations, and subjected teachers to detention and arrest.

The government continued to maintain 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.  According to numerous Tibetan Buddhist monks and scholars, the SARA and provincial religious affairs bureau officials frequently pressured monks and laypersons, including government officials, to attend religious study sessions presided over by Norbu.

In accordance with official guidelines for monastery management, 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, continued instead to be 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 had established such groups in all monasteries in the TAR and in many major monasteries in other Tibetan areas.

In its report Party Above Buddhism, ICT reported multiple CCP and government bureaus were involved in the “social management” of monasteries.  According to ICT, “24 Party and government entities maintain control of monasteries in Ngaba (Aba) Prefecture as per article 4 of the ‘Notice of the People’s Government of Ngaba Prefecture on Issuing the Interim Measures for the Administration of Tibetan Buddhist Affairs in Ngaba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture’ issued in 2009.”

The traditional monastic system reportedly continued to decline as many senior Buddhist teachers from Tibet remained or died in India or elsewhere abroad.  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 abroad.  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 progovernment 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.

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.”  The Dalai Lama was reportedly not on the list.  This database reportedly overlapped with the newly established database required by the “Administrative Measures for Religious Clergy,” which also included monks who were not “living buddhas.”

According to sources, every individual on the official reincarnation database received political training in state ideology, entirely separate from religious training, that emphasized that their career and role in the religious community depended on motivating religious believers “to love the party, love the country and social stability maintenance work, as well as fight against ‘separatism’ and the Dalai Lama.”  On source said, “This means that now the Tibetan reincarnations are becoming Communist-trained talents rather than religious leaders.”  Religious leaders continued to report that authorities incentivized 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 the declining number of young monks.  Religious leaders and scholars continued to say these and other means of interference continued to cause them concern about the ability of religious traditions to survive for successive generations.

In December, HRW reported an unnamed senior Party official visited three townships in Sog County, TAR, in November “to ensure local Tibetan officials endorse government policies on the recognition of Tibetan Buddhist incarnations.”  According to state-run media, more than 120 township officials, staff of monastery management committees, village-based cadres, village officials, local police, and schoolteachers attended sessions with the official at which they “unanimously declared their willingness to follow laws and regulations concerning Tibetan Buddhist incarnation affairs.”

Sources said the state required monks and nuns 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 in 2018, many major monasteries and religious institutes implemented political training programs.  The ICT report Party Above Buddhism contained numerous examples of monks and nuns viewing CCP propaganda materials and studying the “Four Standards for Monks and Nuns,” which included compliance with “the standard on political reliability.”  According to the ICT, the four standards policy “in essence requires the monastic community to be loyal to the Communist Party of China and embrace socialism with Chinese characteristics.”

According to media reports, authorities continued “patriotic reeducation” campaigns at many monasteries and nunneries across Tibetan areas.  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 President Xi’s speeches, learn Mandarin, and hear lectures praising the leadership of the CCP and the socialist system.

According to multiple government media sources, the PRC conducted a series of training sessions for Tibetan Buddhist clergy during the year.  In September, the UFWD hosted a seven-day training session for clergy across the TAR that included “patriotic films” and “theoretical political education” and focused on the clergy’s role in upholding principles of the CCP.  The curriculum included studying the National Security Law and speeches by President Xi.

Media reported that in April, the UFWD hosted a five-day training session for 40 Tibetan nuns in the TAR that focused on advocating “love of country,” “maintaining national unity,” and following the CCP.

Authorities continued to ban minors younger than 18 from participating in monastic training.  Multiple sources reported authorities forced underage monks and nuns to leave their monasteries and Buddhist schools to receive “patriotic education.”  Journalists reported police arrested, and in some cases beat, some underage monks who refused to cooperate, and that parents and other family members were also threatened with loss of social benefits if underage monks did not comply.

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.  Throughout the year, then TAR Communist Party Secretary Wu Yingjie publicly criticized the Dalai Lama’s “clique” and called on party cadres to eliminate the negative influence the Dalai Lama had on religion.  The Economist reported that Wu publicly replied to a letter purportedly written by a Tibetan herder in February, calling for him to share the message that Tibetans must “reduce religious consumption” and eliminate the Dalai Lama’s “negative influence.”

RFA reported on March 11, the government-recognized Panchen Lama, Gyaltsen Norbu, in his capacity as a member of the Chinese People’s Consultative Congress, told the congress, “Foreign anti-China forces have been hyping Tibet issues and religious issues in China, and transforming the topics into political bargaining chips.”

State-run media reported that during President Xi’s visit to Qinghai Province in July, he called on Tibetans to “resolutely implement the decisions and deployments of the CCP Central Committee” and strive to “write the Qinghai chapter of building a modern socialist country in an all-round way.”  Xi also visited the TAR on July 21-22, where he urged Tibetans to “follow the party.”  According to the state-run media outlet Xinhua, Xi instructed local provincial officials to work toward making people in Tibet identify more with the “great motherland, Chinese people, Chinese culture, the Chinese Communist Party, and socialism with Chinese characteristics.”

The Chinese internet company Baidu reported that Wang Yang, chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, delivered a speech in Tibet in August in which he said, “Over the past 70 years, Tibetan ethnic unity has shown historic progress.  We adhere to the correct path of solving ethnic problems with Chinese characteristics, eliminate ethnic discrimination and ethnic estrangement in the old society, defeat the separatist and sabotage activities of the Dalai clique and foreign hostile forces, and promote the unity and struggle of all ethnic groups for common prosperity and development.”

Authorities continued to justify in state media their interference with Tibetan Buddhist monasteries by associating the monasteries with “separatism” and pro-independence activities.

During the year, there were no reports that the Boundary Management System Agreement signed by the PRC and the government of Nepal in 2019 had been used to return long-staying Tibetan refugees to the PRC from Nepal.  Tibetan advocacy groups had stated when the agreement was signed that the provision requiring both countries to hand over citizens who illegally crossed the Nepal-China border 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 as a “gentlemen’s agreement” with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees that provides for Tibetan refugees in Nepal’s custody to transit to India.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, most individuals were unable to travel abroad during the year, including for religious purposes.  In past years, individuals seeking to travel for religious purposes reported continued difficulties traveling to India for religious training, meetings with religious leaders, or to visit family members living in 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 said they could only obtain passports after promising not to travel to India or not 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 travel.  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 in India involving the Dalai Lama.

Tibetans who traveled to Nepal and planned to continue to India reported that PRC officials visited their families’ homes in Tibet and threatened their relatives if they did not return immediately.  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.

Restrictions remained in place for monks and nuns living abroad, 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 some Tibetans 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 they required other hotels to notify police departments when Tibetan guests checked in.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Tibetans, particularly those who wore traditional and religious attire, regularly reported being denied hotel rooms, refused service by taxi drivers, and discriminated against in employment and in business transactions.

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.  State propaganda reported on these activities.

Media and NGOs reported that monasteries collected donations to purchase and distribute personal protective equipment to local residents and populations in other parts of China during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Executive Summary

The constitution states that all individuals have the right to freedom of belief and religion.  The law provides for significant government control over religious practices and includes vague provisions that permit restrictions on religious freedom in the stated interest of national security and social unity.  The Law on Belief and Religion (LBR) maintains a multistage registration and recognition process for religious groups.  Some religious leaders, particularly those representing groups that either did not request or receive official recognition or certificates of registration, reported various forms of government harassment, including physical assaults, detentions, prosecutions, monitoring, and denials of, or no response to, requests for registration and other permissions.  Some civil society organizations reported severe crackdowns on members of unregistered groups, particularly in the Central Highlands.  Religious freedom activists said local authorities approved registration applications based more on religious groups’ perspective on politics than on religious doctrine.  Authorities did not recognize any new religious organizations during the year.  Many religious leaders across the country reported improving conditions compared with prior years, such as better relations between unregistered religious groups and local authorities and a reduction in aggressive forms of harassment.  Members of recognized groups or those with certificates of registration said they were generally able to practice their beliefs with less government interference.  Members of some religious groups continued to report that some local and provincial authorities used noncompliance with the required registration procedures to slow, delegitimize, and suppress religious activities of groups that resisted close government management of their leadership, training programs, assemblies, and other activities.  The government did not hold any government official accountable for failure to follow legal deadlines and written registration notification requirements as stated in the LBR.

There were reports of conflicts, at times violent, between members of unregistered and registered or recognized religious groups or between believers and nonbelievers.  Religious activists blamed authorities for “manipulating” recognized religious groups and accused their agents or proxies of causing conflicts in order to suppress the activities of unregistered groups.

The U.S. Ambassador and other senior embassy and consulate general officials regularly urged authorities to allow members of all religious groups to operate freely.  They sought reduced levels of government intervention in the affairs of recognized and registered religious groups and urged an end to restrictions on, and harassment of, groups without recognition or registration.  They stressed to government officials that progress on religious freedom and human rights was critical to an improved bilateral relationship.  The Ambassador, the Consul General in Ho Chi Minh City, and other senior U.S. government and embassy officers advocated for religious freedom in visits across the country, including to the Mekong River Delta and Central Vietnam.  With the Government Committee on Religious Affairs (GCRA), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and provincial and local authorities, embassy and consulate general officials raised specific cases of abuses, as well as of government harassment, against Catholics; Protestant groups, including independent Pentecostal groups; the United Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV); independent Hoa Hao groups; independent Cao Dai groups; and ethnic minority house churches such as the Duong Van Minh group.  U.S. government officials called for the increased registration of church congregations around the country and for improvement in registration policies by making them more uniform and transparent, and they urged the government to peacefully resolve outstanding land rights disputes with religious groups.  U.S. government officials also called for unfettered access to religious materials by prisoners.  The Ambassador and other embassy and consulate general officials met with religious leaders of both registered and unregistered religious groups and attended religious ceremonies to demonstrate support for religious freedom.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 102 million (midyear 2021).  The government’s 2019 National Population and Housing Census reported approximately 13 million religious adherents, accounting for 14 percent of the total population.  The census noted Roman Catholics represented the largest number of adherents, with six million followers, accounting for 45 percent of the total number of believers nationwide and 6 percent of the overall population.  The census, which recorded only Buddhists formally registered with the Vietnam Buddhist Sangha (VBS) showed them as the second largest religious group, accounting for five million followers, or 35 percent of the total number of religious adherents nationwide, and 5 percent of the overall population.

According to the census data, VBS membership decreased from nearly seven million in 2009 to approximately five million in 2019.  The VBS noted that this number did not account for potentially tens of millions of others who believe in and observe Buddhist practices to various degrees without formal participation in a registered Buddhist religious group.  The GCRA estimates the number of Buddhist followers is more than 10 million.  Within the Buddhist community, Mahayana Buddhism is the dominant affiliation of the Kinh (Viet) ethnic majority, while approximately 1 percent of the total population, almost all from the ethnic minority Khmer group, practices Theravada Buddhism.

According to the census, Protestants were the third largest group, with nearly one million followers, accounting for 7 percent of the total number of believers nationwide and 1 percent of the overall population.  The census results contrast with January 2018 statistics released by the GCRA in which 26 percent of the population was categorized as religious believers participating in registered activities, with 15 percent of the population Buddhist, 7 percent Catholic, 2 percent Hoa Hao Buddhist, 1 percent Cao Dai, and 1 percent Protestant.  GCRA officials, however, estimated 90 percent of the population followed some sort of faith tradition, registered or otherwise.  According to observers, many religious adherents chose not to make their religious affiliation public for fear of adverse consequences, resulting in substantial discrepancies among various estimates.

According to government statistics, the total number of religious adherents reportedly decreased by roughly 2.5 million and the ratio of religious adherents dropped from more than 18 percent to 14 percent of the total population between the 2009 and 2019 censuses.  Catholics and Protestants saw increases in membership, while Buddhists and religious groups based on local traditions saw a declining number of adherents, according to census data.  Anecdotal reporting from provincial VBS, Catholic, and Protestant leaders, however, indicated membership in all religious traditions continued to grow.

Smaller religious groups combined constitute less than 0.16 percent of the population and include Hindus (mostly an estimated 70,000 ethnic Cham in the south-central coastal area); approximately 80,000 Muslims scattered throughout the country (approximately 40 percent are Sunni, and 60 percent practice Bani Islam); an estimated 3,000 members of the Baha’i Faith; and approximately 1,000 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ).  Religious groups originating in the country (Buu Son Ky Huong, Tu An Hieu Nghia, Minh Su Dao, Minh Ly Dao, Tinh Do Cu Si Phat Hoi, and Phat Giao Hieu Nghia Ta Lon) comprise a total of 0.34 percent of the population.  A small, mostly foreign, Jewish population resides in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.  National statistics on religious adherents from the GCRA and the Vietnam Fatherland Front, an umbrella group for government-affiliated organizations under the guidance of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV), are considered less comprehensive, as they do not account for members of unregistered religious groups.

Other individuals have no religious affiliation or practice animism or the veneration of ancestors, tutelary and protective saints, national heroes, or local, respected persons.  Many individuals blend traditional practices with religious teachings, particularly Buddhism and Christianity.  Research institutions, including the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences, estimate there are approximately 100 “new religions,” mostly in the North and Central Highlands.

Ethnic minorities constitute approximately 14 percent of the population.  Based on adherents’ estimates, two-thirds of Protestants are members of ethnic minorities, including groups in the Northwest Highlands (H’mong, Dzao, Thai, and others) and in the Central Highlands (Ede, Jarai, Sedang, and M’nong, among others).  The Khmer Krom ethnic group overwhelmingly practices Theravada Buddhism.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution states that all individuals have the right to freedom of belief and religion, including the freedom to follow no religion.  The constitution acknowledges the right to freedom of religion or belief of those whose rights are limited, including inmates or any foreigners and stateless persons.  It states all religions are equal before the law and the state must respect and protect freedom of belief and religion.  The constitution prohibits citizens from violating the freedom of belief and religion or taking advantage of a belief or religion to violate the law.

The LBR and implementing Decree 162 serve as the primary documents governing religious groups and their activities.  The LBR reiterates citizens’ rights to freedom of belief and religion and states that individuals may not use the right of belief and religious freedom to undermine peace, national independence, and unification; incite violence or propagate wars; proselytize in contravention of the state’s laws and policies; divide people, nationalities, or religions; cause public disorder; infringe upon the life, health, dignity, honor, or property of others; impede the exercise of civic rights and performance of civic obligations; or conduct “superstitious activities” or otherwise violate the law.

The government recognizes 38 religious organizations that affiliate with 16 distinct religious “traditions,” as defined by the government:  Buddhism, Islam, the Baha’i Faith, Catholicism, Protestantism, Hoa Hao Buddhism, Cao Dai, Buu Son Ky Huong, Tinh Do Cu Si Phat Hoi, Tu An Hieu Nghia, Phat Duong Nam Tong Minh Su Dao, Minh Ly Dao Tam Tong Mieu, Cham Brahmanism, Hieu Nghia Ta Lon Buddhism, and the Seventh-day Adventist Church.  Distinct denominations within these religious traditions must seek their own registration and/or recognition.  Five additional groups – the Assemblies of God, Ta Lon Dutiful and Loyal Buddhism, Vietnam Full Gospel Church, Vietnam United Gospel Outreach Church, and Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Vietnam – have “registrations for religious operation” but are not recognized as official organizations.

The law specifies that recognized religious organizations and their affiliates are noncommercial legal entities.  The law also stipulates that religious organizations are allowed to conduct educational, health, social protection, charitable, and humanitarian activities in accordance with relevant laws.  The government does not allow unauthorized organizations to raise funds or distribute aid without seeking approval and registration from authorities.

The GCRA, one of 18 “ministerial units” under the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), is responsible for implementing religious laws and decrees; it maintains offices at the central, provincial, and, in some areas, district levels.  The law lays out specific responsibilities for central-, provincial-, and local-level GCRA offices and delegates certain religion-related management tasks to provincial- and local-level people’s committees (i.e., local leaders).  The central-level GCRA is charged with disseminating information to authorities and assuring uniform compliance with the legal framework on religion at the provincial, district, commune, and village levels.

The law prohibits forcing others to follow or renounce a religion or belief.

Military conscription is universal and mandatory for males between 18 and 25 years of age, although there are exceptions.  None of the exceptions is related to religious belief.

The law requires individuals to register religious activities with communal authorities where the “lawful premises for the religious practice is based,” and it prescribes two stages of institutionalization for religious organizations seeking to gather at a specified location to “practice worship rituals, pray, or express their religious faith.”  The first stage is “registration for religious operation” with the provincial- or national-level GCRA, depending on the geographic extent of the group’s activities.  Registration for religious operation allows a group to organize religious ceremonies and religious practice; preach and conduct religious classes at approved locations; elect, appoint, or designate officials; repair or renovate headquarters; engage in charitable or humanitarian activities; and organize congresses to approve its charter.  To obtain registration, the group must submit a detailed application with information about its doctrine, history, bylaws, leaders, and members, as well as proof it has a legal meeting location.  The relevant provincial GCRA office or the MHA – depending on whether the group in question is operating in one or more provinces – is responsible for approving a valid application for registration within 60 days of receipt.  The law requires the relevant provincial GCRA office or the MHA to provide any rejection in writing.

The second stage of institutionalization is recognition.  A religious group may apply for recognition after it has operated continuously for at least five years following the date it received approval of its “registration for religious operation.”  A religious group is required to have a legal charter and bylaws, leaders in good standing without criminal records, and to have managed assets and conducted transactions autonomously.  To obtain recognition, a group must submit a detailed application to the provincial- or national-level GCRA, depending on the geographic extent of the organization.  The application must include a written request specifying the group’s structure, membership, geographical scope of operation and headquarters location; a summary of its history, dogmas, canon laws, and rites; a list and the resumes, judicial records, and summaries of the religious activities of the organization’s representative and tentative leaders; the group’s charter; a declaration of the organization’s lawful assets; and proof of lawful premises to serve as a headquarters.  The relevant provincial people’s committee or the MHA is responsible for approving a valid application for recognition within 60 days of receipt.  The law requires the relevant provincial people’s committee or MHA to provide any rejection in writing.  Recognition allows the religious group to conduct religious activities in accordance with the organization’s charter; organize religious practice; publish religious texts, books, and other publications; produce, export, and import religious cultural products and religious articles; renovate, upgrade, or construct new religious establishments; and receive lawful donations from domestic and foreign sources, among other rights.

The law states religious organizations and their affiliates, clergy, and believers may file complaints or civil and administrative lawsuits against government officials or agencies under the relevant laws and decrees.  The law also states religious organizations and individuals have the right to bring civil lawsuits in court regarding the actions of religious groups or believers.  There were no analogous provisions in previous laws.

Under the law, a religious organization is defined as “a religious group that has received legal recognition” by authorities.  The law provides a separate process for unregistered, unrecognized religious groups to receive permission for specific religious activities by applying to the commune-level people’s committee.  Regulations require the people’s committee to respond in writing to an application within 20 working days of receipt.  The law specifies that a wide variety of religious activities requires advance approval or registration from authorities at the central and/or local levels.  These activities include “belief activities” (defined as traditional communal practices of ancestor, hero, or folk worship); “belief festivals” held for the first time; the establishment, division, or merger of religious affiliates; the ordination, appointment, or assignment of religious administrators (or clergy with administrative authority); establishment of religious training facilities; conducting religious training classes; holding major religious congresses; organizing religious events, preaching or evangelizing outside of approved locations; traveling abroad to conduct religious activities or training; and joining a foreign religious organization.

Certain religious activities do not need advance approval but instead require notification to the appropriate authorities.  Activities requiring notification include recurring or periodic “belief festivals”; dismissing clergy; conducting fundraising activities; reporting enrollment figures at a seminary or religious school; repairing or renovating religious facilities not considered cultural-historical relics; ordaining, appointing, or assigning religious clergy (such as monks); transferring or dismissing religious administrators (or clergy with administrative authority); conducting operations at an approved religious training facility; conducting routine religious activities (defined as “religious preaching, practicing religious tenets and rites, and management of a religious organization”); and holding the internal conferences of a religious organization.

The law provides prisoners access to religious counsel as well as religious materials, with conditions, while in detention.  It reserves authority for the government to restrict the “assurance” of that right.  Decree 162 states detainees may use religious documents that are legally published and circulated, in line with legal provisions on custody, detention, prison, and other types of confinement.  Prisoner access to religious counsel and materials must not, however, affect the rights of others to freedom of religion and belief or nonbelief or contravene other relevant laws.  The decree states the Ministries of Public Security, Defense, and Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs shall be responsible for providing guidelines on the management of religious documents and the time and venue for the use of these documents.

The law specifies that religious organizations must follow numerous other laws for certain activities.  Religious organizations may conduct educational, health, charitable, and humanitarian activities in accordance with the law, but the law does not provide clarification as to which activities are permitted.  In addition, construction or renovation of religious facilities must occur in accordance with laws and regulations on construction, and foreigners participating in religious activities must abide by immigration laws.

Publishing, producing, exporting, or importing religious texts must occur in accordance with laws and regulations related to publishing.  Legislation requires all publishers be licensed public entities or state-owned enterprises.  Publishers must receive prior government approval to publish all documents, including religious texts.  By decree, only the Religious Publishing House may publish religious books, although this is not enforced in all cases.  Any bookstore may sell legally published religious texts and other religious materials.

The constitution states the government owns and manages all land on behalf of the people.  According to the law, land use by religious organizations must conform to the land law and its related decrees.  The land law recognizes that licensed religious institutions and schools may acquire land-use rights and lease or be allocated land.  The law specifies religious institutions are eligible for state compensation if their land is seized under eminent domain.  The law allows provincial-level people’s committees to seize land via eminent domain to facilitate the construction of religious facilities.  Under the law, provincial-level people’s committees may grant land use certificates for a “long and stable term” to religious institutions if they have permission to operate, the land is dispute-free, and the land was not acquired via transfer or donation after July 1, 2004.

Religious institutions are not permitted to exchange, transfer, lease, donate, or mortgage their land-use rights.  In land disputes involving a religious institution, the chairperson of the provincial-level people’s committee has authority to settle disputes.  Parties may dispute the chairperson’s decision by appealing to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment or filing a lawsuit in court.

In practice, if a religious organization has not obtained recognition, members of the congregation may acquire a land-use title individually.

The renovation or upgrade of facilities owned by religious groups requires notification to authorities, although it does not necessarily require a permit, depending on the extent of the renovation.

The government does not permit religious instruction in public and private schools.  This prohibition extends to private schools run by religious organizations.

There are separate provisions of the law that permit foreigners legally residing in the country to request permission to conduct religious activities, teach, attend local religious training, or preach in local religious institutions.  The law requires religious organizations or citizens to receive government permission in advance of hosting or conducting any religious activities involving foreign organizations, foreign individuals, or travel abroad.  Regulations also contain requirements for foreigners conducting religious activities within the country, including those involved in religious training, ordination, and leadership, to seek permission for their activities.

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

Government Practices

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported cases of government officials physically abusing individuals from religious minority groups, particularly ethnic minorities in the Central Highlands and Northern Highlands, although it was not clear the reported cases were related to religious affiliation.  In the Northwest and Northern Highlands, leaders representing both registered and unregistered religious groups said authorities increasingly used nonviolent or less aggressive means, for example, inviting representatives to tea or offering to pay for property repairs, to pressure them to comply with government demands, including seeking registration and ceasing illegal gatherings.  Because religion, ethnicity, and politics were often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.

In December, authorities in Tuyen Quang Province detained at least 56 members of the ethnic Hmong Duong Van Minh group when they gathered to pay respects following the death of their founder and leader, Duong Van Minh.  Due to what authorities said was the mourners’ failure to comply with COVID-19 mitigation requirements and undergo testing following likely COVID-19 exposure, police raided Duong Van Minh’s home on December 12, where Hmong members had gathered.  Police, who had arrived in support of local health authorities, allegedly beat and arrested those who failed to comply with testing protocols.  According to government officials, however, the government worked with Duong Van Minh’s family to ensure COVID-19 testing of children who were present and to facilitate the funeral service in a relatively timely manner.  Government officials also said the mourners gathering at Duong Van Minh’s home exceeded the number of persons permitted to gather under COVID-19 mitigation restrictions and refused to submit to testing following the detection of confirmed COVID-19 cases.  Police reportedly forcibly held more than 36 followers incommunicado in several quarantine centers, where those detained reported police interrogated them for hours on their religious activities and threatened them to force them to renounce their faith, including through what some described as torture and beatings.  Others reported being held and beaten at police stations in Ham Yen District.  Several persons reported police “tortured” them until they signed confessions and other documents renouncing their faith and threatened them with extended detention in a quarantine center without the ability to communicate with family or friends if they refused.  At year’s end, 21 Duong Van Minh followers remained in detention.

Local authorities in some parts of the Central Highlands reportedly intimidated and threatened violence against members of certain unregistered Protestant groups that had reported human rights violations to international bodies or had attempted to force these groups’ members to recant their faith or join a registered religious organization.  Vietnamese security officers arrested and detained at least 21 individuals in the Central Highlands province of Dak Lak on July 16.  All were released by July 18.  Many of those detained had participated in civil society training organized by a U.S.-based human rights NGO and were members of two ethnic minority Protestant churches, the Evangelical Church of Vietnam and the Vietnam Good News Mission Church, which had long been targeted by authorities.  At least one victim reported that police officers beat him during interrogations and threatened to kill him.  Some detainees also reported authorities told them that studying their rights under the LBR and constitution was illegal, and they reported that authorities threatened them in order to make them renounce their faith.

Government officials in different parts of the country reportedly continued to monitor, interrogate, arbitrarily detain, and discriminate against some individuals, at least in part because of their religious beliefs or affiliation.  The majority of the victims of the reported incidents were members of unregistered groups engaged in political or human rights advocacy activities or with ties to overseas individuals and organizations that were outspoken and critical of authorities.  There were several reports of local authorities banning, disrupting gatherings, and confiscating publications of new religious movements, such as Dang hoang thien cach mang the gioi dai dong (The Party of God’s Revolution for the Great Unity) in Dong Nai and Binh Phuoc Provinces, Tam Linh Ho Chi Minh (The Spirit of Ho Chi Minh) and Long Hoa Di Lac I (Followers of Maitreya Buddha) in Vinh Phuc Province, and in a number of cases arresting leaders and followers of other religious groups, such as Phap mon can khai vung tru luat lam chinh tam (The Dharma Door of Enlightening Universal Law and Unified Consciousness) in Kinh Mon town, Hai Duong Province.

According to reports from the NGO Boat People SOS (BPSOS), during the year local police in Dak Lak and Phu Yen Provinces questioned at least 30 members of the unregistered Evangelical Church of Christ, Good News Mission Church, and International Degar Church at local police stations or their residences.  BPSOS stated that in some cases, local police forced individuals to report to police stations and then interrogated them for hours before releasing them without charges.  Authorities reportedly demanded those detained to cease affiliation with unregistered religious groups and refrain from providing “negative” reports to international organizations.  Local police in some cases demanded some religious adherents request permission from authorities prior to traveling outside of their communes.  Independent Cao Dai adherents similarly reported police harassed them to prevent them from participating in civil society events, including during a virtual Southeast Asia Freedom of Religion or Belief conference in December.

In September, Tien Giang Province authorities arrested three independent Cao Dai leaders and detained them for hours while questioning them about their religious activities.

There were multiple reports of government discrimination against individual religious believers and religious groups across the country.  Members of some religious groups whose members were poor or ethnic minorities continued to report that authorities denied them some of the legal benefits to which they were entitled.  The Vietnam Baptist Convention (VBC), an unregistered group, reported that few of its members received any pandemic-related assistance from government authorities, and a number reported difficulties obtaining COVID-19 vaccines when such assistance would have been routinely administered to local communities.  A VBC pastor in Hanoi reported difficulty acquiring a “land use right certificate” from local officials and said that his neighbors, who were not affiliated with a religious group, had no difficulty receiving a certificate.

Protestant and Catholic groups continued to say that legal restrictions and lack of legal clarity on operating faith-based medical and educational facilities made them wary of attempting to open hospitals or parochial schools, despite government statements welcoming religious group participation in health, education, and charitable activities.  Catholic representatives said the government refused to return hospitals, clinics, and schools it seized in 1954 and 1975.

On September 6, Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh signed a decision assigning the portfolio of religious affairs and human rights issues to Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh, the senior of four Deputy Prime Ministers.

According to the GCRA, in northern mountainous provinces, local authorities cumulatively granted registrations to nearly 800 local congregations, known as “meeting points,” and they recognized 14 local congregations, out of more than 1,600 local congregations.  The registrations and recognitions affected approximately 250,000 congregation members in total (of which 95 percent were ethnic minorities, mostly H’mong).  In the Central Highlands, local authorities granted registration to more than 1,400 local congregations and recognized 311 local congregations, together affecting nearly 584,000 congregation members.

The Ministry of Public Security estimated approximately 70 Protestant groups comprising nearly 200,000 members operated outside of the legal framework mandated by the LBR.  These groups neither sought nor received registration certificates or recognition during the year.

Authorities did not recognize any new religious organizations during the year.  The GCRA registered approximately 70 local congregations in 2020, to include four Protestant local congregations, approximately 50 Catholic parishes, and 12 Cao Dai local congregations.  Many unregistered religious groups continued to report that the registration of religious activities with local authorities remained difficult.  Some well-established and recognized religious groups such as the Catholic Church reported challenges in their efforts to establish new parishes in the Northwest Highlands.  Registered and unregistered religious groups continued to state that government agencies sometimes did not respond to registration applications or approval requests for religious activities within the stipulated time period, if at all, and often did not specify reasons for refusals as required by law.  In other cases, religious groups were unaware they had been granted local approval of religious activities.  Some local authorities reportedly requested documents or information beyond what was stipulated by law.  Several religious leaders said authorities sometimes solicited bribes to facilitate approvals.  Authorities attributed the delays and denials to the applicants’ failure to complete forms correctly or provide complete information.  Religious groups said the process of registering groups or notifying authorities of activities in new or remote locations was particularly difficult.  Some religious groups reported that authorities urged them to register as affiliates of recognized religious groups instead of as new groups.

GCRA officials stated that government officials assisted unregistered religious groups to navigate the bureaucratic procedures required for registration, using features such as an interactive portal on the GCRA website that allowed religious organizations to track the status of their document submissions.  The GCRA, however, acknowledged the web portal was not useful for remote religious groups that often lacked the technical skills to utilize the digital forms provided by the government.  The GCRA continued to provide provincial-level training to facilitate local registration of religious groups.

Local authorities continued to obstruct the assignment and transfer of religious leaders to unregistered local congregations, particularly those who were from other localities.  In several cases, local authorities harassed members of these unregistered local congregations.  The Evangelical Church of Vietnam-North (ECVN) reported the recognition of its local congregations was still time consuming, although many of them had been operating stably for many years without official confirmation of their registration and, from their perspective, had fully met the registration requirements.  According to the ECVN, authorities recognized 23 local congregations and granted registration to approximately 500 out of 1,200 local congregations and houses of worship (meeting points).  The ECVN reported it continued to experience difficulties obtaining registration of its meeting points with local authorities in Quang Binh and Nghe An Provinces.

At year’s end, the VBC was still awaiting the final results of a new approach, initiated in 2020, to register local congregations, in coordination with the GCRA.  Unlike earlier applications, in which representatives of local congregations completed the relevant paperwork for local authorities in relative isolation, the VBC chief pastor completed multiple registration packages under his name for submission to the GCRA.  The VBC said it submitted approximately 30-40 registration applications for local congregations in the Northwest Highlands in recent years under the old approach but was unable to verify the number of registration requests still pending.

Authorities required most, if not all, applicants seeking the registration of their religious operation or recognition of their organization to include in their applications language stating the religious organization would be in harmony with the nation and would serve the Vietnamese people.  For example, the Catholic Church used the slogan “Live the gospel amidst the nation,” while the VBS used “dharma, nation, and socialism.”  Religious groups continued to publicize the slogans after their registration and recognition.

According to local religious leaders, authorities continued to impose a rigid upper management structure on religious organizations.  According to religious community representatives, authorities preferred a two-level, top-down hierarchy to better control the religious organization and its affiliates through the religious group’s internal administrative structure.

For example, the Catholic Church reported that the authorities no longer recognized “sub-parishes,” as they had in the past.  As a result, the Church was required to establish full parishes, a lengthy and challenging process, or to register local congregations; the authorities did not recognize anything in between.  Under the old approach, sub-parish status gave a religious community more leeway than a local congregation on some issues.  A local congregation did not have the right to submit paperwork for the construction of religious facilities or for religious practice, example, but a sub-parish could submit that paperwork.

According to several Catholic bishops, parishes in remote areas or with majority ethnic minority populations continued to face difficulty registering with provincial authorities due to their inconsistent application of national laws.  Catholic leaders reported that the most problematic regions were in the Central Highlands (Gia Lai, Dak Lak, Dak Nong, Kon Tum, and Lam Dong Provinces), and the Northwest Highlands, including Son La, Lao Cai, and Yen Bai Provinces.

According to local religious leaders, Protestant groups also experienced authorities’ inconsistent interpretation and enforcement of the law when attempting to register their local congregations.  Local authorities in Dien Bien Province, for example, continued to deny the registration applications of an independent Pentecostal congregation in Noong Luong commune, Dien Bien District, Dien Bien Province, stating that the congregation was affiliated with an unrecognized religious group.  The Pentecostal group’s religious leader, however, said the law did not require a local congregation to be affiliated with a recognized organization to receive registration.  The leader also noted that members had practiced their faith at the local congregation for nearly 30 years before filing registration applications in April 2017.  Dien Bien authorities continued to deny registration of a group called Assembly of God of Vietnamese People (Hoi Thanh Phuc Am Ngu Tuan Nguoi Viet), reasoning that the applicant’s dogma was indistinguishable from that of the recognized Assembly of God of Vietnam (Giao hoi Phuc Am Ngu Tuan Viet Nam).

The VBC reported authorities did not register new local congregations in Thanh Hoa, Hanoi, Hai Phong, Quang Ninh, Hai Duong, and the Northwest Highlands.

Religious leaders reported that the central authorities continued to deny applications for the religious operation of several Protestant groups – Vietnam Baptist Convention (VBC), United Presbyterian Church in Vietnam, and the Full Gospel Church of Vietnam led by Pastor Ly Xuan Hoa.  Religious freedom advocates stated that the determining factor as to whether local authorities approved registration applications was more closely linked to the religious groups’ perspective on politics than on religious dogma.  The GCRA continued to deny public access to pending registration actions.

There were reports that local authorities denied new ID applications in which applicants identified their religion and that authorities ignored applicants’ expressed faith and labeled them “nonbelievers” or members of another religion.  VBS, however, reported that despite initial difficulties, it had resolved its ID problems by coordinating with authorities and was able to provide the relevant documentation to its members.

During the year, most religious ceremonies and services were cancelled or were conducted online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  There were reports of authorities disrupting gatherings that violated pandemic restrictions, including religious gatherings.  Authorities continued monitoring, preventing, or disrupting the gatherings of some unregistered groups and harassed their members in different ways, including bringing Christian leaders into police stations for questioning and threatening that they could not celebrate Christmas.  In most cases, members of these religious groups were also involved in human rights advocacy activities or had links to individuals and organizations that were critical of the government.  Religious leaders in urban areas and the ethnic-majority Kinh largely reported authorities permitted them to practice without significant restrictions as long as they acted transparently and facilitated or allowed official oversight.  This remained true for both officially registered and unregistered religious groups.  Unrecognized religious denominations operating in the Central and Northwest Highlands and in certain parts of the Mekong Delta – especially those that had a predominantly ethnic minority following – were more likely to report harassment from government officials.  Recognized religious denominations in these areas reported rapid growth and generally fewer problems with officials.

There were no clear regulations for religious expression in the military, leaving individual unit commanders to exercise significant discretion.  According to religious leaders of multiple faiths, the government did not permit members of the military to practice religious rites at any time while on active duty; military members were required to take personal leave to do so.  State-run media, however, reported military officials praying for peace and happiness while visiting pagodas.

Male Khmer Krom Buddhists traditionally enter the monastery for a period of at least one month before the age of 20.  Adherents reported that mandatory conscription into the military with no possibility of alternative service interfered with this traditional religious rite of passage.

In March, authorities permitted the display of Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh’s Zen Buddhism calligraphy works for the first time at a Ho Chi Minh City exhibition.

According to the monks of Thien An Monastery in Thua Thien in Hue Province, senior provincial leaders visited the monastery on September 22 and discussed land-related issues.  At the meeting, authorities committed to establishing a working group to resolve land issues and to help the monastery obtain “stable and harmonious development.”

Many ordained pastors conducted pastoral work, despite not having completed the paperwork mandated by law to be recognized as clergy by the government.  For example, the ECVN reported only approximately one-fifth of its pastors had applied to be officially recognized by the government.

Some pastors of unregistered groups stated that authorities did not interfere with their clerical training, despite their lack of legal authorization.

According to family members, unlike in previous years, prisoners, including Catholics Le Dinh Luong, Ho Duc Hoa, Nguyen Nang Tinh, and Protestant Nguyen Trung Ton, had access to the Bible and other religious materials.

Media sources continued to report tension and disputes between Catholics and authorities in Thanh Hoa, Nghe An, Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Thua Thien Hue, and Binh Thuan Provinces, mostly regarding land disputes or relating to the activities of human and environmental rights advocacy groups.  In March and April, local authorities of Ky Khang commune, Ky Anh District, Ha Tinh Province prevented Du Thanh parishioners from building a fishpond.  The local authorities accused parishioners of encroaching on agricultural land and starting construction work without permits, while parishioners said the work they were carrying out on parish property did not require a permit.  State-run media and progovernment websites accused the parish leadership of inciting the parishioners to act against the authorities and causing social unrest prior to National Assembly and People’s Council elections, while the parish leadership stated the authorities harassed them because of their criticism and protests.

Leaders of the unregistered Christian Duong Van Minh group reported local authorities in Ha Giang, Thai Nguyen, and Cao Bang Provinces no longer destroyed “Nha Don” structures built years ago for storing funeral-related items and were allowing the renovation of a small number of these structures.  However, local authorities in parts of Tuyen Quang Province continued prohibiting and destroying these structures.  The Duong Van Minh group, which the government considered either an “evil-way” religion or an “illegal organization,” reported local authorities monitored key members and stated that local police officials “visited” their residences from time to time or “invited” them to local authorities’ headquarters.  Those who refused such “invitations” said they were not subjected to reprisals.

Provincial and local authorities continued to exercise eminent domain over land belonging to individuals and religious organizations in the name of social and economic development projects.  Authorities continued many projects that required the revocation of land rights and the demolition of properties of religious organizations or individuals across the country.  Authorities reportedly did not intervene effectively in many land disputes that involved religious organizations or believers, and in most of these cases, the religious organizations or believers were unsuccessful in retaining land use rights.  Such actions resulted in land disputes involving recognized, registered, and unregistered religious organizations.

State media and progovernment websites alleged that Catholic priests in many parishes occupied – or urged their parishioners to use or illegally occupy – land legally used by non-Catholics or authorities.  There were also cases in which Catholics were alleged to have “misused” their land, for example, by turning an agricultural plot into a soccer field without the approval of the proper authorities.  From March to May, Dang Cao parishioners at Dien Doai commune, Dien Chau District, Nghe An Province unsuccessfully, attempted to fill and level an aquaculture pond to expand parish church facilities and build a fence surrounding a stadium it claimed as church property.  The parish also claimed a lot that was used as community property of the commune.  Many parishioners in this area said they were dissatisfied with the local authorities concerning the construction of a north-south highway in which the local authorities exercised eminent domain over parish land without providing adequate compensation and assistance.  Local authorities said they considered the parish’s claims groundless and unreasonable.  Some progovernment websites accused the parish leadership of attempting to cause social unrest before the May National Assembly and People’s Council elections.

From June to October, independent Hoa Hao followers in An Giang reported that local authorities and state-recognized Hoa Hao Buddhist groups in Phu Tan District, An Giang Province, citing a need to build a new pagoda, advocated tearing down the 100-year-old An Hoa Tu Pagoda.  That building is one of the first independent Hoa Hao pagodas built by Prophet Huynh Phu So, founder of the Hoa Hao religious tradition.  Independent Hoa Hao followers opposed the pagoda’s demolition due to its religious importance; they proposed it be renovated instead.  Plainclothes police reportedly assaulted independent Hoa Hao Buddhists who tried to prevent the pagoda’s demolition.  The government temporarily halted demolition of the pagoda, and it remained intact at year’s end.

Members of some unregistered religious groups, including independent Pentecostals in Dien Bien; unregistered Baptists in Thanh Hoa; Duong Van Minh in Tuyen Quang, Ha Giang and Cao Bang; and ethnic minority Protestants in the Central Highlands; reported administrative difficulties and an inability to access social welfare benefits.  There were cases in which individuals from these groups stated that local authorities told them the “difficulties would go away” if they recanted their faith.  Duong Van Minh followers in Cao Bang Province, for example, said local authorities denied new residential registrations and subsequently denied or delayed approval of businesses for those Duong Van Minh followers who lacked residential registration.  Local authorities required Duong Van Minh followers to sign a commitment to stop following Duong Van Minh if they wanted to receive assistance the authorities provided to ethnic minority households to construct housing.  In many cases, the individuals said they assumed authorities discriminated against them because of their faith.

On February 22, the Central Commission for Propaganda and Education of the Communist Party issued guidance on ethnic and religious issues.  Among its key contents relating to religion was an affirmation of the state’s respect for and guarantee of religious freedom that noted that religions are equal with each other and before the law.  The guidance also stressed the state’s determination to combat those who act against the Communist Party, the state, and “solidarity” under the cover of religion.  Numerous state officials, the GCRA, Ministry of Information and Communication, Ministry of Culture, Sport and Tourism, Ministry of Education and Training, Vietnam Fatherland Front, local authorities, and others helped to disseminate the key messages of the guidance.  In connection with issuing the guidance, state officials, state-run media, and progovernment websites highlighted the foundation and operation of “illegal religious groups” that, they said, conducted activities that went against well-established and well-recognized religions and what they called “fine national traditions.”

The government continued efforts to deepen knowledge about the LBR among government officials and religious adherents.  Authorities also called for registered and recognized religious organizations to share publicly more information about their dogma and belief systems in an effort to persuade religious adherents to affiliate with established faith groups rather than with “new religious movements” or groups about which the government lacked information.

State-run media and progovernment blogs continued to accuse religious leaders and members who were vocal in their opposition to the government of exploiting religion for personal gain and of “colluding with hostile forces with the purpose of inciting public disorder and acting against the Communist Party and State.”  On July 12, Propaganda and Education magazine, a publication of the Communist Party, published an article criticizing outspoken priests.  The article labeled such priests “extremists” and asserted their criticism was fabricated or based on distorted information in order to tarnish the Communist Party and state, “to sow seeds of division,” and “to disrupt social order.”

State-run media and progovernment websites sometimes equated particular Christian denominations and other religious groups, often ones associated with ethnic groups such as the Vang Chu H’mong in the Northwest Highlands, Ha Mon Catholics and Degar Montagnard Protestants in the Central Highlands, and Khmer Krom in the southwestern region, with separatist movements, blaming them for political, economic, and social problems.

State media reported local and provincial authorities in the northern mountainous provinces, including Cao Bang, Tuyen Quang, Bac Can, and Thai Nguyen, continued to call the Duong Van Minh religious group a threat to national security, political stability, and social order.  State media and progovernment websites continued referring to the group as “an evil-way religion” or “an illegal group.”  Some progovernment websites continued sharing sensational stories about Duong Van Minh’s leading a depraved life and misappropriating contributions of his followers for personal use.

A National Assembly deputy, Major General Sung Thin Co, at a National Assembly meeting in March criticized local officials for a “lack of responsibility and understanding about the Duong Van Minh group” and for turning it into an illegal organization.  According to Co, Duong Van Minh and his group helped H’mong to modify what he called outdated and burdensome traditions.  Progovernment websites heavily criticized General Co’s statement.

Several provincial-government, state-run, and progovernment websites continued referring to Falun Gong as an “evil-way religion” and an “extremist religious group.”  Many progovernment websites associated Falun Gong with acts against the Communist Party and the state and with having a hostile political agenda.  Some accused Falun Gong of doing harm to traditional culture and disrupting the social order and public safety.  During the year, local police in several provinces, including Hanoi, Yen Bai, Quang Binh, Can Tho, An Giang, Tien Giang, and Tra Vinh, disrupted gatherings of Falun Gong practitioners and confiscated their publications and other items.  In a number of cases, local police summoned the practitioners to local police stations for interrogation or fined them for violating COVID-19-related restrictions.  On July 7, local authorities of Tan Hung commune, Cai Be District, Tien Giang Province fined seven Falun Gong practitioners more than 50 million dong ($2,200) for violating social distancing regulations when they were found gathering at the house of a practitioner.  On September 29, local police of Tan Xa commune, Thach That District, Hanoi city summoned two Falun Gong practitioners for disseminating materials relating to the group.  Local police confiscated nearly 170 publications and items relating to Falun Gong and required them to stop the dissemination of similar materials.

During the year, authorities at the central to local levels encouraged the engagement of recognized religious groups in charitable and healthcare activities.  Many religious groups and religious adherents directly organized and ran these activities or joined with authorities and other organizations and individuals to do so.  Religious groups also contributed to COVID-19-related funding and communication campaigns.  Thousands of members of different religious organizations volunteered to work at field hospitals, directly taking care of COVID-19 victims or otherwise assisting persons in need.

In what observers stated was a growing trend, local authorities permitted religious organizations to operate social services and to gather for training.  For example, in Hanoi and surrounding areas, city officials continued to allow Protestant house churches to operate drug rehabilitation centers.

Most representatives of religious groups continued to report anecdotally that adherence to a registered religious group generally did not seriously disadvantage individuals in nongovernmental, civil, economic, and secular life, but that adherence to an unregistered group was more disadvantageous.  Religious leaders said that religious belief itself did not lead to official discrimination, but rather it was the implication of being affiliated with any type of extralegal group that could attract additional scrutiny from authorities.  Practitioners of various registered religious groups served in local and provincial government positions and were represented in the National Assembly.  In May, one Catholic priest and four VBS monks were elected to the 499-member National Assembly.  Many nationally recognized religious organizations, such as the VBS, as well as other clergy and religious followers, were members of the Vietnam Fatherland Front.  High ranking government officials sent greetings and visited churches during Christmas and Easter and attended Vesak activities commemorating the birth of the Buddha.  The official resumes of the top three CPV leaders stated they followed no religion; however, while many senior CPV leaders were reported to hold strong religious beliefs, particularly Buddhist, they generally did not publicly discuss their religious affiliation.

During the year, the GCRA initiated a three-year review of the LBR and its implementing decree in numerous provinces.  The National Assembly Committee for Culture, Education, Youth, Adolescence and Children and the Vietnam Fatherland Front also met with local authorities and leaders of religious organizations to oversee implementation of the law.  During the year, authorities conducted many of the training sessions and inspections related to the review online.  On July 24, GCRA Buddhism Department Director Nguyen Phuc Nguyen gave a presentation about the LBR and its implementing decree at the VBS online proselytizing center.  The National Assembly Committee for Culture, Education, Youth, Adolescence and Children on October 8 worked with Tuyen Quang authorities to share information about the implementation of the laws in the field of belief and religions, among other legal rights and obligations.

Although the law prohibited publishing all materials, including religious materials, without government approval, some private, unlicensed publishing houses continued to unofficially print and distribute religious texts without active government interference.  Other licensed publishers printed books on religion.  Publishers had permission to print the Bible in Vietnamese and other languages, including Chinese, Ede, Jarai, Banar, M’nong, H’mong, C’ho, and English.  Other published texts included works pertaining to ancestor worship, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and Cao Dai.

The Church of Jesus Christ continued to report authorities permitted it to import sufficient copies of the Book of Mormon, although at year’s end, the Church was still working with the GCRA to import additional faith-based periodicals.

Authorities permitted Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Baha’i, and Buddhist groups to provide religious education to adherents in their own facilities, and religious leaders noted increased enrollment in these education programs in recent years.  Students continued to participate in online training sessions on fundamental Buddhist philosophy when many pagodas could not organize offline training, due to COVID-19.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

There were reports of conflicts, at times violent, between members of unregistered and registered or recognized religious groups or between religious adherents and nonbelievers.  Religious activists blamed the authorities for “manipulating” members of recognized religious groups and accused undercover government agents and proxies of causing these conflicts to intimidate or suppress the activities of unregistered groups.

On October 14, the Ministry of Information and Communication fined “Rap Nha Lam” 45 million dong ($2,000) for producing and disseminating a music clip insulting Gautama Buddha following strong protests of Buddhist communities and the public against the clip.


Read A Section: Xinjiang

CHINA | Tibet | HONG KONG | Macau

Executive Summary

The constitution of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which cites the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), states that citizens “enjoy freedom of religious belief” but limits protections for religious practice to “normal religious activities,” without defining “normal.”  The U.S. government estimated that since April 2017, the government has detained more than one million Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Hui, and members of other Muslim groups, as well as some Christians, in specially built internment camps or converted detention facilities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) under the national counterterrorism law and the regional counterextremism policy.  Some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and academics estimated the number of individuals detained in internment camps or other facilities was higher.  According to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s (ASPI) analysis of satellite imagery data, the government built or expanded 385 detention centers between 2017 and 2021, including at least 61 between July 2019 and July 2020 and five built during the year.  Human rights NGOs and former detainees said authorities subjected individuals to forced disappearance, torture, other physical and psychological abuse, including forced sterilization and sexual abuse, forced labor, political indoctrination, and prolonged detention without trial because of their religion and ethnicity.  There were reports that authorities moved tens of thousands of individuals from their home areas to work elsewhere in the region and the country.  During the year, multiple organizations found the government’s widespread and systematic physical abuses targeting Uyghurs amounted to crimes against humanity and its actions suppressing the group’s regenerative capacity amounted to genocide under the 1948 Genocide Convention.  A legal opinion by a group of British barristers stated there was a “plausible inference” that President Xi Jinping, Zhu Hailun, Deputy Secretary of the Xinjiang People’s Congress, and Chen Quanguo, XUAR Party Secretary since 2016, each possessed “the necessary intent to destroy the Uyghurs as a group, so as to support a case against them of genocide.”  The government continued to cite what it called the “three evils” of “ethnic separatism, religious extremism, and violent terrorism” as justification for enacting and enforcing restrictions on religious practices of Muslims and members of non-Muslim religious minority groups.  In May and September, the CCP adopted Administrative Measures for Religious Clergy and Administrative Measures for Religious Schools, respectively.  These measures placed greater scrutiny and rules on clergy and religious schools to uphold CCP ideological principles.  The whereabouts of hundreds of prominent Uyghur intellectuals, religious scholars, cultural figures, doctors, journalists, artists, academics, and other professionals, in addition to many other citizens the government arrested or detained, remained unknown.  There were reports of individuals dying of injuries sustained during interrogations, medical neglect, and torture.  According to PRC government documents, eyewitness accounts, and victims’ statements, the government continued to use family separation, forced sterilization, involuntary birth control, and abortion to reduce the birthrate among Muslims.  Authorities continued to implement a variety of different methods, including home inspections, to ensure families were not observing religious practices such as praying, and it banned certain groups from observing Ramadan.  According to government sources and eyewitness accounts, the government encouraged – and in some cases required – neighbors to spy on each other.  Other surveillance included behavioral profiling and forcing Uyghurs to accept government officials and CCP members living in their homes.  Government documents revealed extensive use of surveillance cameras and security checkpoints in public spaces, including religious venues, as well as telephone, online, and financial surveillance.  In December, the “Uyghur Tribunal,” an international group of attorneys, academics, and NGO representatives, stated surveillance was so pervasive, “parts of Xinjiang have become, to some of those ethnic minorities, an open-air prison.”  Based on satellite imagery and other sources, researchers estimated authorities had destroyed, damaged, or desecrated approximately 16,000 mosques in the region (65 percent of the total), and demolished a further 30 percent of important Islamic sacred sites.  Research conducted in 2020 estimated nearly 900,000 children, including some preschool-aged children, were separated from their families and living in boarding schools or orphanages, where they studied ethnic Han culture, Mandarin, and CCP ideology.  In November, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) issued a report stating the goal of these schools was to erase Uyghur cultural and religious practice from the younger generation.  International media reported that in September, state media announced the launch of the “Pomegranate Flower” program, which assigned Han children from across the country as “relatives” to maintain contact with Uyghur toddlers and young children, in what activists and analysts said was a further effort to assimilate Uyghur children and eliminate their language and culture.  Textbooks in the Xinjiang Islamic Institute, which trains imams, emphasized the need to “be grateful to the Party” and build a socialist Xinjiang.  The government continued to seek to forcibly repatriate Uyghur and other Muslim citizens from overseas and detained some of those who returned.  The government harassed and threatened Uyghurs living abroad.

Unequal treatment in society of Uyghur Muslims and Han Chinese continued in parallel with authorities’ suppression of Uyghur language, culture, and religious practices while promoting the Han majority in political, economic, and cultural life.  Muslims reported severe societal discrimination in employment and business opportunities, and in travel.  A journalist who traveled to the region reported manifestations of Uyghur culture, such as song, dance, and clothing, were packaged as tourist items for visiting Han Chinese in what one Western scholar referred to as the “museumification” of Uyghur culture.

U.S. embassy officials met with national and regional government officials to advocate for the human rights of Uyghur Muslims and members of other Muslim and non-Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang.  On January 19, the then Secretary of State publicly announced a determination that since at least March 2017, the government has committed crimes against humanity and genocide against Uyghurs, who are predominantly Muslim, and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang.  On February 16 during a CNN townhall, the President said the United States would continue to speak out against human rights abuses China perpetrated against, among others, Uyghurs.  During the year, the U.S. government used a variety of diplomatic and economic tools to promote religious freedom and accountability in Xinjiang, including sanctions, visa restrictions, controls on exports and imports, and an updated business advisory raising awareness among U.S.-based companies about the risks of doing business in the region.  On June 22, the United States joined a group of 44 countries in issuing a Canada-led joint statement condemning human rights abuses in Xinjiang, as well as the deterioration of fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong and the human rights situation in Tibet.  On October 21, the United States joined a group of 43 countries in issuing a France-led joint statement condemning human rights abuses in Xinjiang.  The embassy and consulates general delivered direct messages about religious freedom in Xinjiang through social media posts and promoted online engagement on the issue of religious freedom for Xinjiang’s ethnic minority Muslim populations.

Section I. Religious Demography

A June report on the XUAR issued by the Department of Population and Employment Statistics of the National Bureau of Statistics estimates the total population is 26 million.  The report states Uyghurs, along with Kazakh, Hui, Kyrgyz, and members of other predominantly Muslim ethnic minority groups constitute approximately 15 million residents in Xinjiang, or approximately 58 percent of the total population.  According to the report, of these, 12 million are Uyghurs.  The largest segment of the remaining population is Han Chinese (11 million, approximately 42 percent), with additional groups including Mongols, Tibetans, and others constituting less than 1 percent.  Uyghurs are overwhelmingly Sunni Muslims.  The Globe and Mail reported in September 2019 that according to sources in the region, Uyghur and Han Chinese Christians likely number in the thousands.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution, which cites the leadership of the CCP and the guidance of Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong and Xi Jinping Thought, states that 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 Roman 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.

The Regulations on Religious Affairs require that religious activity “must not harm national security.”  While the regulations stipulate religious groups must 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.

In addition to the national counterterrorism law, Xinjiang has its own counterterrorism and “de-extremification” laws that went into effect in 2016 and 2017, respectively, containing similar provisions to the national law regarding “religious extremism.”  These laws ban wearing long beards, full-face coverings, and religious dress; expanding halal practice beyond food and daily prayer; and “interfering” with family planning, weddings, funerals, or inheritance, among other provisions.  The law limits the information that may be released to the public following an incident the government defines as a terror attack.

Regional regulations passed in 2018 to implement the national counterterrorism law permit the establishment of “vocational skills education training centers” (which the government also calls “education centers” and “education and transformation establishments”) to “carry out antiextremist ideological education.”  The regulations stipulate that “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 antiextremist ideological education, and psychological and behavioral correction to promote thought transformation of trainees and help them return to the society and family.”

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

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.”  Neither “abnormal” nor “religious extremism” are defined in law.  Similar regulations are in effect in other parts of Xinjiang.

Authorities in the XUAR have defined 26 religious activities, including some practices of Islam, Christianity, and Tibetan Buddhism, as illegal without prior 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 may 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 public 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.  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 society but do not warrant a criminal punishment may be sent to “specialized schools for correction” at the request of their parents, guardians, or the school.

The State Administration of Religious Affairs (SARA) issued new regulations, effective May 1, entitled “Administrative Measures for Religious Clergy,” that require all clergy to pledge allegiance to the PRC and socialism and that create a database of “religious personnel” to track their performance.  Article 3 of the regulations states clergy “should love the motherland, support the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, support the socialist system, abide by the constitution, laws, regulations, and rules, practice the core values of socialism, adhere to the principle of independent and self-administered religion in China, adhere to the direction of the Sinicization of religion in China, and operate to maintain national unity, religious harmony, and social stability.”  Article 6 states, in part, clergy should “resist illegal religious activities and religious extremist ideology, and resist infiltration by foreign forces using religion.”  Article 41 states “entrance to religious places of worship should be regulated through strict gatekeeping, verification of identity, and registration.”  The regulations also stipulate that authorities will hold religious organizations and institutions responsible for the behavior of individual religious clergy.  Article 7 stipulates religious staff should “focus on improving their own quality, improving their cultural and moral literacy, studying the contents of doctrines and regulations that are conducive to social harmony, progress of the times, and health and civilization, and integrate [these values and practices] into preaching, and play a role in promoting the Sinicization of religion in our country.”

In addition to these nationwide rules, XUAR regulations on the administration of religious affairs, revised in 2014, require clerics to “uphold the leadership of the CCP and the socialist system, safeguard the reunification of the motherland and ethnic unity, be patriotic and loyal, and have high prestige and religious knowledge.”

The SARA also issued new regulations on September 1 requiring all religious schools to teach Xi Jinping Thought and adhere to the “Sinicization of religion.”

The Islamic Association of China, managed by the SARA under the leadership of the United Front Work Department, passed regulations in 2019 regarding the qualifications for Muslim clerics throughout the country.  The national-level regulations require Muslim clerics to meet the following requirements: “uphold the leadership of the CCP; love Islam and serve Muslims; possess a degree or receive formal training in Islamic scriptural education; have graduated from junior high school or above, in addition to attaining competency in Arabic; and be at least 22 years old.”

To apply to become a cleric, applicants first need to submit an “Application Form for the Qualification of Islamic Clerics.”  In addition, they must provide a certificate of education from an Islamic school, an education certificate from junior high school or above, and a physical examination certificate issued by a designated hospital (including items such as “mental history”).  Applicants are also required to submit a household registration certificate and national identification card.  The applicant must receive a letter of recommendation written by the Administration of Islamic Activity Sites where the applicant’s household registration is located and submit it to the Islamic Association of the province, autonomous region, or municipality after review and approval by the local Islamic Association.

On September 28, the Standing Committee of the 13th People’s Congress of XUAR adopted “Regulations of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region on the Construction of Public Safety,” effective on January 1, 2022.  The regulations instruct authorities to “crack down” on “ethnic separatist forces, evil terrorist forces, religious extremist forces, and other illegal and criminal activities that endanger national security[.]”  The regulations also call for “control[ing] illegal religious activities, illegal religious propaganda materials, and illegal religious network dissemination in accordance with the law, and continu[ing] to promote de-radicalization.”  The regulations further state authorities will “carry out anti-cult or xie jiao [literally ‘heterodox teachings’] propaganda and education,” prevent and crack down on various “cult” organizations, and effectively educate and reform the individuals involved in “cults.”  The regulations also call for full implementation across the entire XUAR of a grid system of social surveillance that had previously been used only in certain parts of the region.

Government Practices

According to media and NGO reports, the central government and XUAR authorities continued to cite what they called the “three evils” of “ethnic separatism, religious extremism, and violent terrorism” as justification to enact and enforce restrictions on religious practices of Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Hui, and members of other Muslim and non-Muslim religious groups.  Police raids and the government’s restrictions on Islamic practices continued throughout the year.

On January 26, barristers Alison Macdonald, Jackie McArthur, Naomi Hart, and Lorraine Aboagye of the Essex Court Chambers published an opinion entitled International Criminal Responsibility for Crimes against Humanity and Genocide against the Uyghur Population in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (the Essex Court Chambers Opinion).  The opinion stated, “There is evidence of crimes against humanity being committed against the Uyghur population, within the meaning of Art. 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.  First, there is sufficient evidence to conclude the existence of a widespread and systematic attack on the Uyghur population of the XUAR, within the meaning of Art. 7.  Second, there is sufficient evidence to amount to an arguable case that, as part of that attack, the actus reus [physical elements of the crime] requirements for the following specific crimes against humanity have been fulfilled:  (a) Enslavement… by the use of forced labour by former and current inmates of detention facilities.  (b) Imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty… constituted by widescale deprivations of liberty of members of the Uyghur population held in detention facilities without charge or trial.  (c) Torture… in detention facilities, including the use of ‘tiger chairs’ [immobilizing chairs] and sexual violence.  (d) Rape… in detention facilities.  (e) Enforced sterilization… of Uyghur women, as part of efforts to reduce the Uyghur population.  (f) Persecution… ranging from the deprivation of liberty to sexual violence and enslavement, directed against persons on the basis that they are members of the Uyghur population and/or Muslim.  (g) Enforced disappearance… of members of the Uyghur population.”

The Essex Court Chambers Opinion stated, “We consider that there is evidence that the crime of genocide is currently being committed in XUAR.  First, the Uyghur population of XUAR constitutes an ethnical group within the meaning of Art. 6 of the Rome Statute.  Second, it is at least arguable on the available evidence that there is an intent to destroy, in whole or in part, the Uyghur population of XUAR as such.  The evidence also demonstrates that the acta rei [physical elements of the crime] listed below are taking place in the context of a ‘manifest pattern of similar conduct’ directed against the Uyghur population.  Third, in our view, there is sufficient evidence to amount to an arguable case that the actus reus requirements for the following specific crimes of genocide have been fulfilled, with respect to members of the Uyghur population:  (a) Causing serious bodily or mental harm… to Uyghurs in detention, including acts of torture and forced sterilisations.  (b) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.  (c) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”  The opinion further stated there was a “plausible inference” that Xi Jinping; Zhu Hailun, Deputy Secretary of the Xinjiang People’s Congress; and Chen Quanguo, Party Secretary of XUAR since 2016, each “possesse[d] the necessary intent to destroy the Uyghurs as a group, so as to support a case against them of genocide.”  The opinion also stated, “China is a tightly controlled single-party State.  It is therefore highly unlikely that an attack on the scale of that which the evidence reveals, and especially systematic detention on such a scale, would be carried out by State authorities other than on the orders of senior State officials.”

In March, think tank Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy released a report entitled The Uyghur Genocide:  An Examination of China’s Breaches of the 1948 Genocide Convention.  The report examined whether China was committing genocide against Uyghurs as defined by Article 2 of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.  The report included contributions of more than 30 scholars and researchers and found that the PRC bears responsibility for committing genocide against Uyghurs.  The report stated, “High-level officials gave orders to ‘round up everyone who should be rounded up,’ ‘wipe them out completely,’ ‘break their lineage, break their roots, break their connections and break their origins.’”  The report stated the PRC also pursued a “dual systematic campaign of forcibly sterilizing Uyghur women of childbearing age and interning Uyghur men of child-bearing years, preventing the regenerative capacity of the group.”

On April 19, international NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a 53-page report entitled “Break Their Lineage, Break Their Roots”:  China’s Crimes against Humanity Targeting Uyghurs and Other Turkic Muslims, authored with assistance from Stanford Law School’s Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic.  Based on research conducted by the authors, reports by human rights organizations, media, activist groups, and others, and internal CCP documents, the report found that “[s]ince at least 2014, the Chinese government has subjected Turkic Muslims to various crimes against humanity, including mass arbitrary detention, torture and deaths in detention, and enforced disappearances.”

In June, UK-based NGO Amnesty International released a 160-page report entitled “Like We Were Enemies in a War”:  China’s Mass Internment, Torture and Persecution of Muslims in Xinjiang, documenting the accounts of more than 50 former detainees who experienced torture, violence, and other mistreatment in detention camps.  The report detailed the government’s systematic use of detention and “re-education” centers to target Uyghurs and members of other ethnic minority groups living in Xinjiang.  The report concluded “members of the predominately Muslim ethnic minorities in Xinjiang have been subjected to an attack meeting all the contextual elements of crimes against humanity,” and that the evidence demonstrated the PRC government had at least committed the crimes against humanity of “imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law; torture; and persecution.”  The report also stated security officials’ use of rape and sexual violence constituted a crime against humanity as defined by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, Article 7(1)(g) “Rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilizations, and other forms of sexual violence of comparable gravity.”

In November, the USHMM Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide released a 60-page report entitled “To Make Us Slowly Disappear”:  The Chinese Government’s Assault on the Uyghurs.  The report stated the USHMM was “gravely concerned that the Chinese government may be committing genocide against the Uyghurs.”  It further built on the USHMM’s March 2020 announcement that “there was a reasonable basis to believe that the CCP had perpetrated the crimes against humanity of persecution and of imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty against Uyghurs.”  USHMM stated, “This report analyzes additional information available in English in the public domain concerning the treatment of China’s Uyghur community in Xinjiang, and finds there is now a reasonable basis to believe that the crimes against humanity of forced sterilization, sexual violence, enslavement, torture, and forcible transfer are also being committed.”

On December 9, the “Uyghur Tribunal,” an international group of attorneys, academics, and NGO representatives, released its “Summary Judgment.”  Based on the tribunal’s research and investigation, including the use of eyewitness testimonies, it concluded “in Xinjiang and at the hands of some part or parts of the PRC government and the CCP:  (a) Hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs – with some estimates well in excess of a million – have been detained by PRC authorities without any, or any remotely sufficient reason, and subjected to acts of unconscionable cruelty, depravity and inhumanity.  Sometimes up to 50 have been detained in a cell of 22 square metres [240 square feet] so that it was not possible for all to lie on concrete (or similar) floors, with buckets for toilets to be used in view of all in the cell, observed at every moment by CCTV.  (b) Many of those detained have been tortured for no reason, by such methods as:  pulling off fingernails; beating with sticks; detaining in ‘tiger chairs’ where feet and hands were locked in position for hours or days without break; confined in containers up to the neck in cold water; and detained in cages so small that standing or lying was impossible.  (c) Many of those detained have been shackled by heavy metal weights at their feet and sometimes with feet and hands connected, immobilised for months on end.  (d) Detained women – and men – have been raped and subjected to extreme sexual violence.  One young woman of twenty or twenty-one was gang raped by policemen in front of an audience of a hundred people all forced to watch.  (e) Women detainees have had their vaginas and rectums penetrated by electric shock rods and iron bars.  Women were raped by men paying to be allowed into the detention centre for the purpose.  (f) Detainees were fed with food barely sufficient to sustain life and frequently insufficient to sustain health, food that could be withheld at whim to punish or humiliate.  (g) Detainees were subjected to solitary confinement in cells permanently dark or permanently lit, deprived of sleep for days at a time and ritually humiliated.”

According to multiple human rights NGOs and academic sources, authorities held more than one million Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Hui, and members of other Muslim groups as well as some Christians, in a vast network of camps since 2017, many of them co-located with factories, where sources said detainees were subjected to forced labor and “reeducation.”  Several human rights groups estimated the number of individuals interned to be up to 3.5 million.  The government continued to use detentions to implement a XUAR-specific counterextremism policy that identifies “extremist” behavior (including growing beards, wearing headscarves, and abstaining from alcohol) in concert with the National Counterterrorism Law, which contains provisions on “religious extremism.”

In September, the Jamestown Foundation released academic research providing evidence that the PRC’s top government officials were closely involved in the creation of the internment camp system in Xinjiang.  The research, based on an examination of government documents and state-run media commentary, found that the “XUAR De-Extremification Regulation” was spearheaded by three government bodies:  the Central Committee Xinjiang Work Coordination Small Group, the Legislative Affairs Commission of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress in Beijing, and the SARA.  Two of the three institutions were under the direct supervision of Li Zhanshu and Wang Yang, members of the CCP’s seven-person Politburo Standing Committee, the CCP’s highest-ranking body.

Researchers at ASPI’s International Cyber Policy Centre continued to maintain the Xinjiang Data Project, an online database that uses satellite imagery, PRC government documents, official statistics, and other sources to document human rights abuses in the region.  The project locates, maps, and analyzes suspected detention facilities.  According to the data, the government built or expanded 385 detention centers between 2017 and 2021, including at least 61 facilities built or expanded between July 2019 and July 2020 and five built during the year.  Based on satellite imagery analysis of security features including high perimeter walls, watchtowers, internal fencing, and other features and usage patterns, analysts concluded 109 were low security facilities, 94 were medium security facilities, 72 were high security facilities, and 110 were maximum security facilities.

In July, BuzzFeed News published an analysis of the scale of the detention centers in Xinjiang and concluded that “China has built space to lock up at least 1.01 million people in Xinjiang at the same time,” i.e., one in every 25 residents in the region.  The news outlet stated this was likely an underestimate, based on accounts of former detainees who described overcrowded conditions in the detention centers.

In July, authorities permitted an Associated Press (AP) reporter to enter a detention camp in Dabancheng, north of Urumqi.  In its subsequent article, AP estimated the site could hold approximately 10,000 people.  The article stated detainees all wore uniforms and sat with “their legs crossed in [the] lotus position and their backs ramrod straight, numbered and tagged, gazing at a television playing grainy black-and-white images of Chinese Communist Party history.”  AP reported 25-foot-tall concrete walls surrounded the camp, with watchtowers and topped with electric wire as well as face-scanning turnstiles and guards holding rifles placed at the entrance.  The AP also described rooms in which inmates could speak through computers to lawyers, relatives, and police as well as medical rooms with instructions on the wall instructing staff on procedures to deal with sick inmates and to force-feed inmates on hunger strikes.  The AP stated that although the government claimed in 2019 it had closed “training centers,” satellite imagery and interviews with experts and former detainees suggested it converted some, like Dabancheng, into prisons or pretrial detention facilities.

In September, former detainee Baqitali Nur told the Guardian that surveillance cameras were ubiquitous in detention camps.  “Inside the cell, here was a camera, there was a camera, on all sides and angles there were cameras,” he said.  “The only camera-free place was where the toilet was.”  The Guardian reported at least four other survivors who testified recalled cells and facilities that were surveilled from floor to ceiling.  In April, the New Yorker reported that former detainee Anar Sabit, an ethnic Kazakh, said there were cameras even in the toilet and shower areas.

The Financial Times reported in October that one researcher who studied Xinjiang’s internment system indicated the detention facilities were the largest internment of a religious minority since the Second World War.  According to the researcher, some detainees were able to escape punishment with displays of loyalty, but “those who lacked these masks were dehumanised under the lights and cameras of the camps.”

There were numerous reports of individuals being incarcerated, sometimes for lengthy periods of time, held under harsh conditions, physically and sexually abused, and subjected to involuntary sterilization.  Many individuals disappeared in prior years, but relatives only learned what happened to them during the year.  Some ethnic Uyghur and Kazakh individuals who had been held in detention facilities managed to emigrate abroad during the year, where they were able to speak with human rights NGOs and journalists about their experiences.  Local observers said many incidents related to abuses or pressure on Uyghurs and other Muslims went unreported to international media or NGOs due to government restrictions on the free flow of information.

In October, CNN interviewed a former Chinese police officer who served multiple tours in Xinjiang and was directly involved in the severe physical mistreatment and violence undertaken against Uyghurs and other ethnic minority communities.  The former police officer stated 150,000 police officers had been recruited to participate in the province-wide “strike hard” campaign and that there were arrest quotas they had to meet.  The officer stated, “We took (them) all forcibly overnight.  If there were hundreds of people in one county in this area, then you had to arrest these hundreds of people.”  During interrogations, police officers would “kick them, beat them (until they’re) bruised and swollen… Until they kneel on the floor crying.”  “Interrogation” methods included shackling people to a metal or wooden “tiger chair” (rendering them immobile), sexual violence against men and women, electrocutions, and waterboarding.  The source said guards forced inmates to stay awake for days and denied them food and water.  Authorities accused detainees of terror offenses, but the source said he believed “none” of the hundreds of prisoners he was involved in arresting had committed a crime.

On October 23, the Globe and Mail published the account of one Uyghur woman’s experiences teaching Chinese in a detention the camp where she described a systematic “dehumanization” campaign targeting the detainees.  Due to overcrowding, detainees had to take turns sleeping on the concrete floor.  Many of the cells did not have toilets, so detainees used a bucket that they were permitted to empty once a week.  According to the Globe and Mail, detainees “took on a haunted expression that came with the physical and psychological violence that permeated the camp.  The detainees became deeply fearful.  Their voices trembled when they answered questions in class.”

In June, Deutsche Welle reported that during the year several members of the Uyghur diaspora learned authorities had arrested their family members and sentenced them to lengthy prison terms.  Sources in Xinjiang confirmed to Deutsche Welle that authorities sentenced the brother and sister of Uyghur linguist and refugee from Xinjiang Abduweli Ayup to 14 years and 12 years in prison, respectively.  According to Ayup, police had arrested and detained 72 Uyghurs associated with him.

In May, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported that Mihray Erkin, Abduweli Ayup’s niece, died in November 2020 while being held in an internment camp.  Authorities had detained her after she returned to Kashgar (Chinese:  Kashi) Prefecture from Japan in August 2019, reportedly at the insistence of her parents.  A source from her hometown told RFA that authorities falsified a medical report stating she died of a disease and forced her family members to record video testimonies stating she had this disease and that she died at home.  The source said her death may instead have been the result of abuse suffered during interrogation.

RFA reported in July that sources confirmed Uyghur anthropology Professor Rahile Dawut of Xinjiang University, who had been missing and presumed detained since 2017, was sentenced to prison.  The charges, length of sentence, and whereabouts of Dawut remained unknown at year’s end.

RFA reported in December that sources confirmed Uyghur Shazadigul Tomur died from an unknown stomach ailment while working in a forced labor facility after authorities had denied her medical treatment.  Sources told RFA that authorities detained Tomur in 2018 and eventually sent her to an internment camp where they forced her to work in a sock factory.  Tomur reportedly informed camp officials that she had severe abdominal pain, but authorities ignored her repeated requests for medical treatment.  Sources told RFA that in September 2020 she began vomiting blood, lost consciousness, and eventually died.  RFA reported local officials confirmed the details of her detention and death.

In December, RFA reported authorities confirmed a retired Uyghur civil servant, Niyaz Nasir, died in an internment camp in late 2020.  According to RFA sources, officials detained Nasir in 2018, although the details of his arrest were still unknown.  Nasir’s family reportedly requested authorities release him in 2018 due to his deteriorating health, but officials rejected the family’s request.

Sources stated authorities continued to use detailed information to rank citizens’ “trustworthiness” using various criteria.  The Economist in 2018 described the rankings as “explicitly racist:  people are suspected merely on account of their ethnicity.”  According to the Economist, being labelled “untrustworthy” could lead to being detained by authorities.  Officials deemed individuals as trustworthy, average, or untrustworthy depending on how they fit into the following categories:  ages 15 to 55 years old (i.e., of military age); of Uyghur ethnicity; unemployed; possessed religious knowledge; prayed five times a day; had a passport; had ever overstayed a visa; wore religious clothing or had long beards; had family members living abroad; homeschooled their children (which was prohibited throughout the country); or had visited one of the “sensitive countries.”  According to HRW, 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.

RFA reported that in January, Haji Mirzahid Kerimi, an 82-year-old poet, died while serving an 11-year sentence in a Xinjiang prison for publishing “problematic” books on Uyghur history.  PRC authorities had previously banned five books written by Kerimi and sentenced him in 2017 despite his significant health issues.  According to RFA, an anonymous prison official said Kerimi “jumped and fell.”

In February, the New Yorker published the accounts of several former detainees, all of whom had been detained in 2017 or later.  Erbaqyt Otarbai, an ethnic Kazakh, described lengthy interrogations after being detained for having WhatsApp – which authorities described as “illegal software” – on his phone.  Otarbai stated authorities beat him and kept him for long periods of time in “tiger chairs,” and that he witnessed the torture of other detainees.

The New Yorker article also described a similar experience for Aynur, a primary school teacher, and her husband Nurlan Kokteubai, a mathematics teacher, both ethnic Kazakhs.  They had been living in Kazakhstan since 2011, but in 2017 the Party secretary of Aynur’s former school in Chapchal County contacted her by phone and WeChat insisting she return to Xinjiang.  She arrived in Xinjiang in 2017 after authorities told her she would only need to stay for two weeks.  Once there, however, authorities required her to remain longer, so her husband joined her three months later.  Police accused Kokteubai of being “under suspicion of having dealings with individuals suspected of terrorist activities.”  While her husband was detained, authorities forced Aynur to attend “reeducation” training and Mandarin language lessons.

In March, RFA reported that Uyghur textile trader and entrepreneur Kurbanjan Abdukerim had died four days after his February 23 release from an internment camp in Atush (Atushi) City, Kizilsu Kirghiz (Kezileisu Keerkezi) Autonomous Prefecture.  While RFA was unable to confirm the exact details of Abdukerim’s cause of death, he had reportedly lost more than 100 pounds during three years of imprisonment in an internment camp beginning in early 2018, which raised questions as to whether his death was linked to malnutrition or an infectious disease.  Authorities originally imprisoned him for traveling to Mecca several years earlier, which was legal at the time.

In April, the New Yorker reported that ethnic Kazakh Sabit from Kuytun City, Ili Kazakh (Yili Hasake) Autonomous Prefecture, who emigrated to Canada, returned to Xinjiang via Kazakhstan in 2017 to manage the affairs of her recently deceased father.  At the airport in Urumqi when she tried to depart, authorities flagged her for detainment and “reeducation” due to her international travel.  Authorities transferred Sabit back to Kuytun, where they detained and interrogated her for 19 days.  They forced her to undergo a medical exam that included giving blood and urine samples, and taking an electrocardiogram, an ultrasound, and a chest X-ray.  At the police station, officers took photographs, fingerprints, and a DNA sample.  Authorities gave her an iris scan and compelled her to speak into a microphone to capture her voiceprint.  The New Yorker article said this data was uploaded to the Integrated Joint Operations Platform (IJOP), a massive database authorities in Xinjiang maintain that collects a variety of personal information on the lives and movements of individuals.  After being initially told she would be allowed to leave the country, officials rearrested Sabit and sent her to a “reeducation” camp where she and other detainees lived in overcrowded conditions and under constant surveillance – including in the toilet and shower areas – and studied CCP propaganda.  Sabit said she and the other women had to learn communist songs and sing them loudly before each meal.  If they did not show sufficient zeal, guards threatened to withhold food.  After 20 months in detention, authorities finally allowed Sabit to leave the country.

In HRW’s report “Break Their Lineage, Break Their Roots,” the NGO reported that ethnic Uyghur Mihrigul Tursun witnessed physical and psychological punishment, ill-treatment, and poor medical care during her time in the detention camps.  During a three-month period, she said she witnessed nine deaths.  She described “being stripped naked, forced to undergo a medical examination, and being electroshocked and beaten” during interrogations.  According to Tursun, 40 to 68 women, chained at the wrists and ankles, were placed in the same 420 square-foot underground cell in which they were expected to urinate and defecate.  The cell “had just one small hole in the ceiling for ventilation.”

In May, RFA reported that Uyghur businessman Abduhelil Hashim from Ghulja (Yining), Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture, died under mysterious circumstances while being treated at a prison hospital.  A court had sentenced Hashim in 2020 for “religious extremism.”  According to the report, 40 years earlier, Hashim had received religious education from a neighbor, which was the basis for his conviction of extremism.  RFA and family members requested more information on the cause of death, but the hospital nurse said the cause was “unclear.”  Hashim’s nephew stated he believed Hashim may have died as a result of torture or other mistreatment while in prison.

In September, RFA reported that Yaqub Haji, a Uyghur businessman who donated money for the construction of a mosque in Ghulja, Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture, and was later arrested for “religious extremism” in 2018, was tortured and died in an internment camp.  A friend told RFA that officials tortured Haji because he would not confess to the “crime” of contributing money to the construction of religious buildings.

In December, the New York Post reported Tursunay Ziyawudun’s account of detainment in a “reeducation” center in northern Xinjiang.  Authorities detained Ziyawudun in 2017 and again in 2018.  She reported camp officials required her to sing patriotic songs and told her that Islam did not exist.  While in the camp, she said, “I was gang-raped and my private parts were tortured with electricity.”  She also reported that officials required her to take “sterilization pills,” which she said rendered her unable to have children.

In February 2020, Foreign Policy reported authorities detained Hui Muslims in Xinjiang for travel overseas, including to Pakistan, for work or study, accessing religious content on the internet, performing the Hajj, and visiting mosques.  According to one former detainee, authorities treated all Muslim prisoners the same.  “It didn’t matter if you were Uighur, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Hui… If you had gone to a mosque before, you were there.”

In October, RFA reported that Uyghur imam Qeyimahun Qari died in 2018 after spending two years in an internment camp.  Sources said police frequently interrogated Qari inside the camp to try to obtain information on Uyghurs who came to his mosque, and they tortured him when he declined to reveal their names and personal details.  Sources also said 59-year-old Qari was healthy at the time of his arrest in 2017 and had previously survived a 15-year prison sentence.  The sources said this incident showed recent conditions in the detention camps were harsher than in prisons and other detention facilities before 2017.

In March, Amnesty International reported that Ekpar Asat, a Uyghur journalist and entrepreneur, held a three-minute video conversation with his family in late January.  This was his first contact with family since April 2016, when public security officers detained him.  Asat reportedly told family members that his health was declining both physically and mentally.  His family said Asat had lost significant weight and that he looked pale and had many black spots on his face.

In December, Metro News reported that Omer Faruh’s two youngest daughters, ages five and six, had been missing for five years after he, his wife, and two eldest daughters fled Xinjiang.  In 2016, Faruh’s wife Meryem called him while he was visiting Saudi Arabia to inform him that authorities had ordered her and their two eldest daughters to turn over their passports.  Meryem and the two eldest daughters were able to book flights out of the country.  The family left the two youngest daughters, who did not have passports, with Meryem’s parents in Xinjiang.  Faruh told Metro News that he learned authorities had sent Meryem’s parents to internment camps in 2017.

RFA reported in April that sources learned authorities in Kashgar (Kashi) Prefecture had sentenced renowned Uyghur author Ahtam Omer in a 2018 secret trial to 20 years in prison for “separatism.”  Authorities arrested Omer on March 12, 2017, and held him incommunicado.  In 2020, authorities included a collection of Omer’s short stories entitled Child of the Eagle in a book burning campaign.  Sources told RFA authorities arrested Omer, his brother Anwar Omer, and his nephew Iskander Omer ostensibly because Ahtam had sent Iskander to study in Egypt and sent money to him.

In October, the U.S.-based NGO Chinese Human Rights Defenders reported on the arrest and disappearance of three Uyghur intellectuals:  Gheyratjan Osman, a professor of Uyghur language and literature at Xinjiang University whom authorities arrested in 2018 and sentenced to 10 years in prison for “separatism”; Qeyum Muhammad, an actor and associate professor at the Xinjiang Institute of Arts; and Tursunjan Nurmamat, a medical researcher at Shanghai Tongji University whom authorities arrested in April.

In September, the NGO Campaign for Uyghurs marked the third anniversary of the disappearance of Gulshan Abbas, a Uyghur doctor missing since September 2018, and noted that the PRC had held her prisoner to “punish family members for speaking the truth about the Chinese regime’s genocidal crimes against humanity.”  In December 2020, human rights groups and family members reported that authorities had sentenced Abbas to 20 years in prison on terrorism-related charges.  The government issued the sentence in March 2019 following a secret trial, but Abbas’ family only learned of the sentence in December 2020.

In April, USA Today reported that ethnic Uyghur Imamjan Ibrahim, a doctor and medical researcher living in Boston, disappeared in 2017 when he traveled back to Kashgar to visit his parents.  Friends in the United States told USA Today they feared PRC authorities had detained him and taken him to an internment camp.  A Uyghur American friend who tried to learn his whereabouts said two Uyghur women contacted her and said authorities had released Ibrahim and he was in good condition, but the friend said she thought this was a lie.

In March, Amnesty International profiled several Uyghur families living outside China whose children had disappeared as a result of the government’s detention campaign.  Mihriban Kader and Ablikim Memtinin left their four children with grandparents when they fled to Italy in 2016 after facing harassment from Xinjiang authorities.  Authorities detained the children’s grandparents soon thereafter and sent the four children to various orphanages and boarding schools.  When Kader and Memtinin received approval in Italy to have their children join them, PRC authorities seized the children on their way to the Italian consulate in Shanghai.  Kader stated, “Now my children are in the hands of the Chinese government and I am not sure I will be able to meet them again in my lifetime.”

There were multiple reports that individuals sexually assaulted women in internment camps.  On February 2, the BBC published accounts of several former detainees and one guard stating they experienced or saw evidence of an organized system of mass rape, sexual abuse, and torture.  Tursunay Ziyawudun said authorities removed women from the cells “every night” and one or more masked Han Chinese men raped them.  She said she was raped and sexually assaulted on three occasions over the course of her nine-month detention, each time by two or three men.  She also witnessed masked men taking several other women away to a “black room” where there were no surveillance cameras.  She also described authorities forcibly fitting women with intrauterine devices (IUDs) or sterilizing them.  Gulzira Auelkhan, an ethnic Kazakh woman who was detained for 18 months in the camp system, told the BBC that authorities forced her to strip Uyghur women naked and handcuff them, before leaving them alone with Han Chinese men.  She said Han Chinese civilians from outside the camp also assaulted detainees and “would pay money to have their pick of the prettiest young inmates.”  She stated the camp had a system of organized rape.  One female detainee told the BBC that prison guards raped her with an electric baton.  Sayragul Sauytbay, a former teacher forced to work in the camps, said rape was common and described an incident in which police took turns raping a woman in front of 100 other inmates.  During the attack, “they watched people closely and picked out anyone who resisted, clenched their fists, closed their eyes, or looked away, and took them for punishment.”

In February, Bitter Winter, an online publication that tracks religious liberty and human rights abuses in the country, reported that sexual abuse, including rape, of males, in particular younger boys, was a regular rather than an occasional occurrence in internment camps.  Amnesty International also reported camp officials raped male detainees.

In March, Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy reported that former detainees described “systematic mass rape and other sexual abuse in the detention facilities.  There [were] also accounts of gang rapes perpetrated by security officials, including references to masked men, the use of an electrified stick,” and other methods.  Authorities attempted to sexually humiliate detainees by forcing them to “routinely undress, squat in the nude, and smear ground chili pepper paste on their genitals in the shower while filmed.”  Multiple women said there were surveillance cameras in both toilet and shower facilities, giving detainees no privacy when using them.

In October, CNN reported a former Xinjiang police officer stated he witnessed security officials at the detention centers using sexual torture methods to extract confessions.  He said, “We would tie two electrical wires on the tips [of an electric baton] and set the wires on their genitals while the person is tied up.”  Uyghur scholar Abduwli Ayup stated he was gang raped while in police custody in 2013 after authorities arrested him for teaching the Uyghur language at a kindergarten.

In May, BBC reported that since 2014, the PRC had imprisoned or detained at least 630 Muslim religious leaders in Xinjiang.  Many of the detained clerics faced charges such as “propagating extremism,” “gathering a crowd to disturb social order,” and “inciting separatism.”  According to testimonies of relatives, these charges stemmed from activities such as preaching, leading prayer groups, and other regular activities of imams.  The BBC article drew from a joint Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP)-Justice for All report, which stated that of the 630 detained Muslim religious leaders, authorities sentenced 304 to prison rather than sending them to the “reeducation camps.”  Court documents or testimony indicated 96 percent received sentences of at least five years, with 26 percent receiving sentences of 20 years or more, including 14 individuals who received life sentences.  The UHRP-Justice for All report also found evidence that 18 religious figures had died in detention or shortly after their release.  Several media outlets reported religious figures, students, imams, and persons who prayed regularly often received lengthy prison sentences.

In February, RFA reported that sources learned that in 2019, authorities sentenced Abdusalam Rozi from Ghulja County, Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture, to 18 years in prison in a case that was “connected to politics.”  Authorities had previously arrested Rozi in 1998 and sentenced him to 18 years in prison on charges of “splitting the country and distributing antigovernment propaganda” following protests in 1997.  RFA stated there were other reports of authorities resentencing political prisoners as punishment or for not being “thoroughly reformed.”

In July, Bloomberg News reported PRC authorities continued to deny European Union diplomats access to Xinjiang on the grounds that the diplomats wanted to meet with Uyghur economist Ilham Tohti, whom authorities sentenced in 2014 to life imprisonment for “separatism.”  Xinjiang government spokesman Xu Guixiang stated, “They want to talk to Ilham and other criminals – this is disrespect for China’s sovereignty.”  Before his imprisonment, Tohti was a professor at Minzu University of China in Beijing and an outspoken critic of relations between Uyghurs and the Han majority.  The European Parliament awarded him the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2019.

RFA reported in February that in 2017, authorities in Kashgar Prefecture sentenced Obulqasim Abdurehim, a Uyghur engineer, and 13 other individuals he associated with in a meshrep, a fraternal organization that is traditional in Uyghur culture, to lengthy prison terms for “illegal gathering and organizing.”  Authorities interrogated Abdurehim for more than six months to force him to admit that 10 years earlier he had paid a fine rather than comply with authorities’ demands that his wife abort their third child – a violation of regulations at the time that restricted ethnic minorities to two children per family.  Authorities reportedly claimed Abdurehim and his wife’s refusal to get an abortion constituted evidence of “religious extremism” and sentenced him to 17 years in prison.  RFA sources learned in February that another member of the meshrep, Kashgar Prefecture transportation chief Abliz Tohtaji, received seven years in prison for his involvement with the meshrep.

RFA reported in February that it had confirmed authorities sentenced Bakihaji Helil, a Uyghur student from Atush City, Kizilsu Kirghiz Autonomous Prefecture, to nine years in prison in 2017 for being “opposed to national education” and “pos[ing] a danger” to China.  Helil was among 5,000 other Uyghur students Xinjiang authorities ordered to return starting in 2017.  Helil had been studying religion in Egypt, but authorities threatened to harass his family if he did not return to Atush City.

According to RFA, in March, authorities upheld the conviction of Mamatali Kashgarli, an ethnic Uyghur and Turkish national, for “terrorist activities.”  He was arrested in 2017 and sentenced the same year, although a court overturned the case in 2018.  At the retrial, the court reinstated Kashgarli’s 15-year prison sentence.  RFA sources indicated that Kashgarli returned to Xinjiang from Turkey in 2001.  His family told RFA that Kashgarli’s ties to his family in Turkey were likely the cause for his sentencing.  Kashgarli’s brother Ahmet Kashgarli told RFA that he had lived in Turkey for 33 years and never had any problems with the Turkish government and said, “In the view of China, all of us living outside [the homeland] right now are terrorists.”

AP reported in April that Uyghurs Sattar Sawut, former head of the regional education department, and author Yalqun Rozi both received suspended death sentences for charges including writing and publishing school textbooks in 2003 and 2009 that authorities said were designed to “split the country.”  Rozi’s son called the charges “absurd,” telling AP, “[t]hese textbooks were sanctioned by the state.”  Rozi’s son told AP the textbooks contained historical tales of Uyghurs that had nothing to do with terrorism, and that the prosecutions were aimed at cultural destruction and forced assimilation.

RFA reported that in January, authorities sent Zaytunhan Ismail, a Uyghur village elder in Turpan (Tulufan) City, to an internment camp after accusing her of “religious extremism.”  Ismail was a prominent member of her village, participating in a number of community and religious activities such as weddings and funerals.  According to a Turpan police officer, in 2020, Ismail had successfully mediated a domestic violence dispute, but authorities detained her for “getting involved in a legal matter.”

In June, RFA reported that according to the Norway-based NGO Uyghuryar Foundation, authorities in Atush City, Kizilsu Kirghiz Autonomous Prefecture, sentenced four Uyghur entrepreneurs to prison in April.  Authorities sentenced Iminjan Rahmitulla, founder of a shopping mall and one of the founders of the Grand Bazaar in Kashgar City, to 20 years in prison for “supporting terrorists” for providing donations to the family members of detained Uyghurs.  Authorities also detained Rahmitulla’s sister and daughter, but their whereabouts and status were unknown at year’s end.  Courts handed down 20-year sentences to brothers Rehmutulla Semet and Abdusopur Semet and a 17-year sentence to Musajan Imam for “engaging in separatist activities.”

RFA reported that on September 1, authorities arrested Arkin Iminjan, an ethnic Uyghur carpenter from Chapchal Xibe (Chabuchaer Xibo) County, Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture, for making a telephone call to a “marked” person (person under surveillance).  Iminjan previously served six years in prison following 2009 unrest in Urumqi.  From 2017 to 2019, authorities held him in a “reeducation” center.  A former classmate of Iminjan told RFA, “I believe that, actually, the officials wanted to detain Arkin again in order to meet official quotas on the numbers of Uyghurs to detain.”

On January 4, BuzzFeed News published an analysis of the connection between Xinjiang’s detention centers and forced labor.  The report’s analysis of satellite imagery indicated that of the 385 detention centers built in the region since 2017, “at least 135 of these compounds also hold factory buildings.  Forced labor on a vast scale is almost certainly taking place inside facilities like these, according to researchers and interviews with former detainees.”  Satellite imagery analysis indicated the factory facilities collectively covered more than 21 million square feet.  According to BuzzFeed News, detention camp factories were woven deeply into the region’s economy.  Former detainee Auelkhan told BuzzFeed News she and other women traveled by bus from their detention center to a factory where they sewed gloves.  Former detainees said they were never given a choice to work or not work and that they “earned a pittance or no pay at all.”  Dina Nurdybai, who was detained in 2017 and 2018, said at a factory inside the internment camp she worked in a cubicle that was locked from the outside, sewing pockets onto school uniforms.

BuzzFeed News reported that the U.S.-based nonprofit research institute Center for Advanced Defense Studies (C4ADS) compared the locations of factories identified by BuzzFeed News to a database that compiles address information from China’s government registry for businesses.  C4ADS identified 1,500 Chinese companies located at or directly next to the factories.  Of those, 92 listed “import/export” as part of the scope of their business.

In February, the New Yorker reported that a government program called Xinjiang Aid transferred more than 150,000 “surplus rural workers” to jobs outside the region since 2018.  The New Yorker stated, “Official claims that camp populations are declining may therefore be accurate, as detainees are increasingly sent to work in factories and on farms, or else sentenced and transferred to conventional prisons.”  A 2020 ASPI report entitled Uyghurs for Sale stated workers lived in segregated factory dormitories, underwent organized Mandarin language and ideological training outside working hours, were subject to constant surveillance, and were forbidden from participating in religious observances.  ASPI said, “Numerous sources, including government documents, show that transferred workers are assigned minders and have limited freedom of movement.”

In October, ASPI stated that according to PRC media reporting, between 2017 and 2021, 600,000 workers in Xinjiang were scheduled to be trained or transferred to different parts of the country under various labor schemes.  ASPI’s research of government documents revealed that the labor transfer programs often sent workers to development projects connected to government-owned entities.

In March, the BBC reported that Xinjiang authorities’ use of labor transfer programs ran a “high risk of coercion and [was] similarly designed to assimilate minorities by changing their lifestyles and thinking.”  The report described a video from 2017 showing authorities attempting to persuade workers to sign up for labor transfer schemes that would send them far away from their homes.  When no one agreed to sign up initially, authorities went door to door pressuring individuals.  Eventually, a young woman reluctantly said, “I’ll go if others go.”  The BBC report stated authorities intended through the labor and detention programs to “replace ‘old’ Uyghur loyalties to culture and the Islamic faith with a ‘modern’ materialist identity and an enforced allegiance to the Communist Party.”

The June Amnesty International report “Like We Were Enemies in a War” included testimonies of former detainees that showed a clear link between detention centers and compulsory labor.  Once detainees had been determined to be ready for release, authorities decided whether to send them to a “skills improvement class.”  Some detainees reported they had “little or no choice or control but to accept employment or ‘training placement.’”  According to one detainee, authorities said if he volunteered to work as a security guard at one of the camps, he would then be allowed to leave the detention facility.

On May 2, the Jamestown Foundation published a report entitled Coercive Labor and Forced Displacement in Xinjiang’s Cross-Regional Labor Transfer Program.  According to the report, Chinese academics maintained that due to a lack of population mobility “the excessively strong atmosphere of religious belief cannot be diluted, and the development of social modernity is retarded.”  Chinese academic publications described labor transfers as a crucial means to fragment Uyghur society and mitigate the “negative” impact of religion.  The report stated analysis of government documents showed a “state-run scheme to forcibly uproot [minorities in Xinjiang], assimilate them and reduce their population density.”  The Jamestown Foundation report also stated there were “credible grounds for concluding” that the forced labor system met the criteria for crimes against humanity and that “Beijing’s use of coercive labor transfer to suppress religiosity, achieve poverty alleviation targets, and ‘educate’ Uyghurs in the political ideology of the state” directly violated the International Labor Organization’s Convention for the Abolition of Forced Labor.

In early October, Reuters reported a foreign electronics manufacturer employed 365 Uyghur workers from Xinjiang for the company’s plant in Qinzhou City, Guangxi Province.  According to Reuters, in at least one instance, government authorities paid for a charter flight that delivered the workers under police escort from Hotan City to the plant.  A notice posted on an official Qinzhou police social media account in February 2020 also described the transfer.  Later in October, the manufacturer told Reuters it decided to “end its relationship with the staffing agency that hired these workers based on feedback on how to best secure its supply chain and in light of ongoing regulatory and legislative changes globally.”

The USHMM’s November report “To Make Us Slowly Disappear” stated official government documents suggested “the CCP views larger families within the Turkic Muslim communities as both being a result of, and a catalyst for, religious extremism and ‘splittism.’”  The report stated, “Chinese policy appears to be largely directed toward destroying, in substantial part, the Uyghur community’s ability to regenerate, primarily through attacking the reproductive capacity of Uyghur women.”  Starting in 2017, government statistics indicated the government began to implement a series of coercive measures intended to reduce the population growth rate among Xinjiang’s ethnic and religious minorities.  These policies reportedly included forced sterilizations, forced insertions of IUDs, involuntary abortions, the separation of Uyghur couples of child-bearing age through detentions and forcible transfer, and “the coercion of young, unmarried Uyghur women into marriages with Han Chinese men.”

In May, ASPI published a report entitled Family De-planning:  The Coercive Campaign to Drive Down Indigenous Birth-rates in Xinjiang.  Citing the PRC’s own population statistics, the ASPI report showed that birth rates in the region dropped nearly 50 percent between 2017-2019.  The report stated the largest declines occurred predominately in prefectures with high concentrations of minority communities.  According to 2019 and 2020 data, the birth rate across the 29 counties with indigenous-majority populations fell by 58.5 percent from the 2011-2015 baseline average.  In counties that were over 90 percent indigenous, the birth rate fell by as much as 66.3 percent in 2019-2020.  ASPI also reported that the government deployed other coercive measures, including large fines, disciplinary punishment, extrajudicial internment of men and women, or the threat of internment for “illegal births.”

In October, ASPI published a report entitled The Architecture of Repression:  Unpacking Xinjiang’s Governance that examined a series local government documents from 2017-2021.  These previously unpublished documents detailed authorities’ approach to preventing births.  Starting in 2017, authorities retroactively punished women from ethnic minority groups for violations of family planning policies as far back as 1992.  These punishments included fines, forced sterilization, and internment.  The report analyzed government documents that indicated that in 2020, the Xinjiang Health Commission spent 140 renminbi ($22 million) on reducing birthrates and punishing illegal births in southern Xinjiang.  In addition, “a taskforce called the ‘Targeted Crackdown on Illegal Births Leading Small Group’ was created at the prefecture, county, and township levels, as well as inside government departments and companies.”  At the community, village, and neighborhood level, “[p]unishing illegal births [was] a key performance indicator for local officials, and any violation of family planning regulations [was] grounds for their immediate demotion or dismissal.”

RFA reported that in September, the State Council Information Office issued a white paper entitled Xinjiang Population Dynamics and Data, stating the population of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in the region had increased between 2010 and 2016.  Independent academics, analysts, and human rights advocates questioned the veracity of the underlying statistics and stated the report ignored the precipitous drop in minority populations from 2017 onward.  A human rights attorney stated, “Statistics are the CCP’s tool only.  They are definitely not credible.  China’s narrative is to counter Western accusations of genocide.”

According to the XUAR government-run news agency Tianshan, on September 1, Nurlan Abelmanjen, Chairman of the Xinjiang Regional Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), presided over a meeting of the CPPCC on “promoting the Sinicization of Islam in Xinjiang.”  Abelmanjen stated it was necessary to study President Xi’s writings, actively guide Islamic religious leaders and believers to reform their ideas, promote changes in customs, pursue what he called modern civilization and progress, create a social atmosphere conducive to the Sinicization of Islam in Xinjiang, and implement relevant Xinjiang Party Committee policies and measures.

A September report by UHRP entitled “They Sent Her to a Concentration Camp Because She Came to Turkey”:  The Persecution of Uyghurs Based on Their Turkic and Muslim Identity included the transcript of a January interview with Zumrat Dawut, a Uyghur woman living in exile who spent two months in an internment camp.  In the interview, Dawut described how camp officials and indoctrination teachers told detainees, “You were not originally Muslims.  Islam is an infectious virus that reached you later from Arabia.”

The November USHMM report stated authorities required imams to undergo training and state certification in order to practice, and that religious weddings and funerals required written permission from the state.  Media reported authorities continued to conduct regular, sometimes daily, inspections of private homes to ensure no religious activities were occurring.

In January, RFA reported that authorities restricted Muslims from performing circumcision and the religious rites associated with it.  According to a local source, authorities required that circumcisions be performed in designated hospitals.  The source said that in January, authorities placed ethnic Uyghur Memet Ibrahim from Alaqagha, Aksu Prefecture, in an internment camp because he had his six-year-old son circumcised outside of a hospital.

Media and human rights organizations reported that 2020 SARA regulations stating only the Islamic Association of China was permitted to organize Muslims’ pilgrimage trips remained in effect.  These regulations stated that those who applied to join the Hajj must be “patriotic, law-abiding, and have good conduct,” must have never before participated in the Hajj, and must be in sound physical and mental health.  They also must be able to completely pay the costs associated with going on the Hajj and must oppose religious extremism.  According to a notice issued by the Islamic Association of China on June 15, citing the risk of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government suspended all Hajj organization activities; therefore, there were no organized pilgrimage trips during the year.

Reports published from March through May on the official websites of local governments in the XUAR indicated authorities restricted or banned certain groups of Muslims, including CCP members (who were required to be atheists), their relatives, students, and employees of state-owned enterprises and state-run organizations, from observing Ramadan.

In April, RFA reported it contacted a police officer in Sheher (Shufu) County, Kashgar Prefecture, who stated restrictions on fasting during Ramadan eased in 2021 compared with previous years and that authorities told local residents they were free to fast “if they want to.”  He stated, however, that meetings about Ramadan were “always being held” at his police station, with authorities informing the public to “stay far away from religious extremism.”  The officer said he had not seen anybody who appeared to be fasting.  According to other sources, local Muslims remained afraid of punishment or being associated with extremism if they observed the fast.  A resident of Yengisheher (Shule) County, Kashgar Prefecture, when asked by RFA if he intended to observe Ramadan, stated, “Oh no – there’s no such thing now.”  The resident said he and his relatives did not know the dates on which Ramadan fell in 2021.

The government continued to control the administration of mosques and to restrict access to houses of worship, requiring worshipers to apply for mosque entry permits.  In March, the Council on Foreign Relations reported that authorities regarded attending services at mosques to be “extremist” behavior.  Sending texts containing Quranic verses was also considered “extremist.”  Individuals who did either of these things risked being sent to detention camps or prison.  In May, the Christian Science Monitor reported worshippers at the Great White Mosque in Urumqi had to go through x-ray machines and metal detectors, and pass face-scanning cameras to enter.

Witnesses and former prisoners stated authorities forced Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and other Muslims in custody to renounce Islam, criticize their own Islamic beliefs and those of fellow inmates, and recite CCP propaganda.

In May, the Christian Science Monitor reported that only 800 to 900 Muslims attended Friday prayers at the Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar City, according to the mosque’s imam, Mamat Juma, compared with 4,000 to 5,000 persons a decade previous.  He attributed the drop to a natural shift in values, not government policy, saying the younger generation wanted to spend more time working than praying.  One imam living in exile told the newspaper attendance at services were “staged” for outside visitors, such as foreign journalists.  The imam said, “People know exactly what to do, how to lie, it’s not something new for them.”

According to human rights groups and international media, in addition to the IJOP big-data collection program, Xinjiang authorities continued to maintain extensive and invasive security and surveillance, 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 the XUAR, compared with other parts of the country with ethnic Han Chinese majorities, due to the connection between religion and the ethnic and cultural identities of these groups.

According to government documents, Han Chinese officials continued to implement a surveillance system, in which teams of six – composed of police or local officials and one Uyghur language speaker – went to each house and compiled information on occupants.  Since the program began in 2014, more than 200,000 cadres from all levels of the government were deployed to more than 8,500 villages.  The teams reported on “extremist” behavior, such as abstaining from alcohol, fasting during Ramadan, and wearing long beards.  They reported on the presence of “undesirable” items such as Qurans or occupants’ perceived propensity for “extremist” ideology.

In January, the investigative journalism organization The Intercept reported on a leaked police database that showed how authorities used a vast array of tools to conduct surveillance and monitor ethnic minority communities living in the region.  According to the report, police in Urumqi used a tool that plugged into mobile phones, known as the “antiterrorism sword,” that allowed authorities to download the contents of individuals’ mobile phones.  This tool was “deployed so frequently that authorities worried it was alienating the populace.”  The leaked database detailed the presence of ubiquitous security checkpoints and surveillance cameras on the streets as well as telephone, online, and financial surveillance, “showing how granular surveillance purportedly on the watch for extremism is often simply looking at religious activity.”  The Intercept stated these tracking policies succeeded in driving down mosque attendance.  The database also offered evidence that “the ‘Physicals for All’ biometric collection program, which authorities insisted was solely a health initiative, [was] intended as part of the policing system.”  The Intercept told of one man whom police investigated based on the religious activities of his eldest sister five months prior.  The sister and her husband had invited another Uyghur couple to join a religious discussion group on the messaging app Tencent QQ.  Because he had contact with his sister, police confiscated the brother’s mobile phone and assigned a cadre member to “control and monitor” him.

In March, Reuters reported the Internet Protocol Video Market (IPVM), which researches surveillance technology, published a report stating the government enlisted a number of technology companies to develop cameras capable of identifying specific characteristics of ethnic minorities using facial recognition software, including eyebrow size, skin tone, hair color, and hair style.  The report stated, “It’s the first time we’ve ever seen public security camera networks that are tracking people by these sensitive categories explicitly at this scale.”  IPVM and human rights groups said using such criteria would make it easier for authorities to comb different databases for specific individuals, or members of a particular ethnic group such as Uyghurs.

In May, the BBC reported authorities were also combining facial recognition technologies with artificial intelligence to assess individuals’ emotional states in an effort to implement predictive policing.  Citing an anonymous software engineer who had worked on this technology, the report stated authorities deployed cameras to detect “minute changes in facial expressions and skin pores.”  The software engineer said, “The Chinese government uses Uyghurs as test subjects for various experiments just like rats are used in laboratories.”

In its October report, ASPI stated the surveillance regimen utilized a combination of local neighborhood police stations, neighborhood grid management, home visits conducted by local government and party officials, and “joint households” (families formally assigned to monitor each other) to systematically monitor ethnic minority communities.  This system was designed to “collect intelligence,” cultivate informants to report on their neighbors, share party propaganda, and monitor changes in the behavior of individuals of concern.

In its “Summary Judgment” released in December, the “Uyghur Tribunal” concluded based on research and eyewitness testimony that “[b]y means of intense monitoring, surveillance, facial recognition and advanced technologies specifically targeted at Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities, parts of Xinjiang have become, to some of those ethnic minorities, an open-air prison… Neighbours, members of families, and other members of the community were incentivised or coerced in various ways to spy on each other.”

According to HRW, officials considered turning off one’s mobile phone repeatedly or using a cellular phone that was not registered to the individual as suspicious behavior.  Both actions could lead to detention.

According to media and the accounts of Uyghurs living in exile, authorities continued to have more than one million CCP officials from other parts of the country live part-time with local families, who were required to accept this arrangement.  According to a 2018 CNN report, the government instituted these home stays (the “Pair Up and Become a Family” program) in 2014 to target agricultural 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 the officials’ visits to their homes.  A Xinjiang government statement available online in 2018 indicated officials had to inspect the homes in which they were staying for any religious elements or symbols, and the statement instructed officials to confiscate such items if found.

Government demolition of mosques continued under a campaign called “Mosque Rectification” that began in 2016.  Based on analysis of satellite imagery, ASPI, in its September 2020 report entitled Tracing the Destruction of Uyghur and Islamic Spaces in Xinjiang, estimated approximately 16,000 mosques in Xinjiang (65 percent of total mosques) had been destroyed or damaged as a result of government policies; the majority of the destruction took place since 2017.  According to the report, authorities had demolished an estimated 8,500 outright, with satellite images showing vacant land where they previously stood.  Approximately 7,500 had sustained damage.  The government had demolished a further 30 percent of important Islamic sacred sites, including shrines, cemeteries, and pilgrimage routes, across the region, mostly since 2017, and damaged or altered in some way an additional 28 percent.  ASPI stated, “The Chinese government’s destruction of cultural heritage aims to erase, replace and rewrite what it means to be Uyghur.”  According to the Wall Street Journal, in response to the report, the PRC Foreign Ministry said there were 24,000 mosques in the region.

In April, the Global Times, a CCP-owned newspaper, quoted a spokesperson for the Xinjiang government’s Information Office who stated, “There’s no so-called forced demolition of mosques problem in Xinjiang.”  He stated the government was reconstructing or repairing mosques for the safety of worshipers.  In May, Reuters reported officials in Xinjiang and Beijing denied that any religious sites in the region had been forcibly destroyed or restricted; the officials said some mosques were demolished while others were upgraded and expanded as part of “rural revitalization.”  The report said journalists visited the region where they observed signs outside mosques stating local Muslims needed to register to enter the mosque, and officials banned citizens from outside the area, foreigners, and persons younger than the age of 18 from entry.  Functioning mosques featured surveillance cameras and included Chinese flags and propaganda displays declaring loyalty to the CCP.  During a series of visits to the region during the year, eyewitnesses observed most mosques were closed throughout the day.  Local officials claimed these mosques were closed due to COVID-19 protocols, despite the region’s reporting very low numbers of new cases during the year.

There were reports that authorities continued to remove Islamic features from mosques, minarets, and domes throughout the region.  In May, Reuters reported the Jiaman Mosque in Qira City, Hotan Prefecture, was “hidden behind high walls and Communist Party propaganda signs, leaving passersby with no indication that it is home to a religious site.”

In September, the Telegraph reported the government had given permission for an international hotel chain to build a hotel on the site of a former mosque in Hotan Prefecture that was destroyed in 2018.

In April, RFA reported that Xinjiang authorities had leased a mosque in Ghulja City, Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture, to an ethnic Han businessman for use as tourist hotel.  The report said videos and photographs showed ethnic Han individuals drinking tea and performing Uyghur-style folk dances alongside ethnic Uyghur dancers in the prayer hall of the mosque, which a Uyghur former detainee identified from the videos as the Uzbek Mosque.  According to RFA, these videos caused outrage online among the Uyghur diaspora.

In March, the Catholic news outlet AsiaNews reported that authorities did not demolish the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Ghulja City, Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture, in February as planned; however, churchgoers were unable to use the building because, in preparation for demolition, authorities removed all furnishings and cut off electricity, water, and other services.  Authorities ordered the demolition of the Sacred Heart Church despite the congregation’s having all legal permits to operate.  Reportedly, one of the original reasons authorities gave for demolishing the church was that it was “too visible” along a road that leads from the city to the airport in an area slated for commercial development.  According to AsiaNews, in recent years authorities destroyed at least four other churches that had legal permits so they could convert the land the churches were built on to commercial purposes:  one each in Hami (Kumul) Prefecture and Kuitun City, Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture, and two in Tacheng Prefecture.  AsiaNews stated all the churches had permits, but they were demolished, and the state paid no compensation, contrary to law.

The government continued to enforce laws prohibiting children younger than 18 from taking part in religious observances and traditions.  Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities remained strictly prohibited by law from providing their children with any religious education at home, and children younger than 18 were prohibited from entering mosques and fasting during the month of Ramadan.  In May, an imam living in exile told the Christian Science Monitor the ban on religious education for children meant a significant part of Uyghur culture would disappear.  “The next generation will accept the Chinese mindset,” he said.  “They’ll still be called Uyghurs, but their mindset and values will be gone.”

Numerous media reports indicated the government continued to operate a network of boarding schools for ethnic minority children whose parents had been detained in Xinjiang’s internment camp systems.  In 2020, a research study published online on parent-child separation in Yarkand County, Kashgar Prefecture, analyzed data from government spreadsheets not previously available.  According to the study, government statistics showed that between 2017 and 2019, the number of boarding students in primary and middle schools (grades one to nine) increased by 76.9 percent, from 497,800 to 880,500.  The data indicated that 53.1 percent of all students in Yarkand lived in boarding facilities.  Government records showed that among a subset of 10,000 children with at least one parent in custody, there were more than 1,000 children who had both parents interned.  Nearly all of the children were Uyghur, apart from 11 who were of Kazakh and Tajik ethnicity.  No ethnic Han child had a parent in custody.

According to a March Forbes report, the government issued a document that stated, “The CCP set a 2020 goal of running one to two such boarding schools in each of XUAR’s over 800 townships.”  Government documents indicated that the proliferation of these state-run institutions was specifically intended for children of parents detained in internment camps or relocated under forced labor schemes.  Children in these schools studied ethnic Han culture, Mandarin, and CCP ideology.  In its November report, the USHMM stated, “Parents and other family members serving as children’s guardians indicated that they were threatened with being sent to detention centers if they resisted the removal of their children and their transfer to these schools.  While held there, the children are prevented from practicing their Muslim faith, and are forbidden to use their own language, forcing them to learn Mandarin, thereby erasing the practice of Uyghur culture and religion in the community’s younger generations.”

RFA reported that in September, state media announced the launch of the “Pomegranate Flower” policy.  The program assigned Han children from across the country as “relatives” to Uyghur toddlers and young children, with the intention that the Han children would maintain contact with the Uyghur children by phone and in visits to the XUAR.  RFA stated the program reflected the government’s slogan that all ethnic groups in the country must “hug each other tightly like pomegranate seeds” to achieve a Chinese nationality that transcends ethnicity.  Uyghur activists and analysts criticized the program as forced assimilation.  One analyst said, “These children are still in their own homeland, but [the state is attempting to] assimilate them, to eliminate their language, their culture.”  RFA stated that according to a report published on September 11 on the XUAR government-run Tianshan website, in one week, nearly 40 toddlers and primary school pupils in one Kashgar Prefecture village, including one-year-old Mahliya Mahmut, were matched with 36 pairs of Pomegranate Flower “relatives” from 30 cities across 13 provinces, regions, and municipalities in the country.

On February 11, Bitter Winter published an analysis of the SARA’s “Administrative Measures for Religious Clergy,” which entered into force on May 1.  According to Bitter Winter, registration in the government database of government-approved clergy in the country was “complicated.”  Individuals who were not listed in the database but claimed to be clergy would be committing a crime.  Individuals unable to obtain a “clergy card” would include anyone not belonging to one of the five officially recognized patriotic religious associations, including the Islamic Association of China.  Bitter Winter stated individuals had to prove they “support[ed] the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and support[ed] the socialist system.”  According to Bitter Winter, the regulations created “an “Orwellian system of surveillance, and strengthen[ed] the already strict control on all clergy.”

According to an AP journalist who visited the Xinjiang Islamic Institute in October, textbooks in the government-run school for imams were written in Chinese rather than Arabic.  Textbooks encouraged students to learn Mandarin.  One lesson stated, “We must be grateful to the Party and the government for creating peace” and another stated, “We must strive to build a socialist Xinjiang with Chinese characteristics.  Amen!”

International media and NGOs reported PRC authorities or their representatives continued to pressure Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and other Muslims from Xinjiang living abroad to spy on fellow expatriates.  They pressured individuals to return to China and/or cease advocacy on behalf of residents of Xinjiang, and threatened retaliation against family members still in Xinjiang if the individuals did not comply.  The Karakax List, a set of PRC government documents originally leaked in 2019 that described the systematic targeting and imprisonment of Muslim populations in Karakax (alternate Uyghur spelling:  Qaraqash, Mandarin spelling:  Moyu) County, Hotan Prefecture, contained personal data on more than 300 Uyghurs living abroad.

International media reported the PRC put pressure on foreign governments to deport Uyghur refugees back to China.  In June, UHRP published a report entitled No Space Left to Run:  China’s Transnational Repression of Uyghurs that found that since 1997, more than 1,151 cases of Uyghurs being detained and 395 cases of Uyghurs being deported in 28 countries had occurred.

U.S. News and World Report reported that the Moroccan Court of Cassation ruled on December 16 to refoul Turkey-based Uyghur activist Yidiresi Aishan (also known as Idris Hasan) from Morocco to China.  Aishan, originally from Xinjiang, fled to Turkey in 2012 after authorities increasingly harassed him.  In Turkey, he was known for advocating for the rights of Uyghurs in the PRC.  According to media reports, Moroccan authorities detained Aishan at the airport in Casablanca after he arrived from Turkey in July because of a PRC-filed 2017 Interpol red notice identifying him as “a terrorist.”  In August, Interpol cancelled the red notice on the grounds that it violated articles of Interpol’s constitution and was “of a political, military, religious, or racial character.”  A panel of experts in the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and international NGOs advocated for Aishan’s release.  The UN panel said in a statement that if returned, Aishan “risks serious human rights violations including arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, or torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”  On December 20, the Committee Against Torture, a UN-linked body of experts that monitors implementation of the UN Convention against Torture, issued interim measures, requesting Aishan not be extradited under Morocco’s bilateral extradition treaty with the PRC until a complaint regarding his case had been fully examined.  At year’s end, Aishan remained in Morocco and international organizations continued to call on the Moroccan government to not send him to China.

UHRP reported in February that since 2019, Xinjiang authorities used “proof of life” videos to pressure overseas Uyghurs into silencing their criticism of abuses taking place in the region.  These videos took many different forms, but generally authorities posted videos of family members in Xinjiang stating they were alive and doing well, free to experience their culture and practice their religion, or denouncing their Uyghur relatives overseas for being critical of the PRC.  An author of the UHRP report wrote in a February edition of the Hong Kong Free Press that “these pleas have a sinister implication for Uyghurs who know their families are in danger.”

The International Federation of Journalists reported that on April 9, authorities broadcast a video featuring Uyghur TV producer Erkin Tursun making a “confession” and calling on his son, who lives abroad and advocates for Tursun’s freedom, to return to China.  Detained by authorities since 2018, at year’s end Tursun was serving a 20-year sentence on charges of “inciting ethnic hatred, ethnic discrimination and covering up crimes.”  Erkin’s son said his mother, once detained in 2017, was forced “to speak against me” on a similar propaganda video two years prior.

According to the UHRP report No Space Left to Run, since 2017, China’s transnational repression of Uyghurs had “accelerated dramatically.”  Repression included intimidation on social media apps, deployment of malware, and threating or intimidating telephone calls from PRC government officials.  Some individuals reported receiving demands to spy on their diaspora community on behalf of the PRC government, backed up by threats and intimidation.  UHRP said, “Unreported cases would likely raise these figures substantially, with our database presenting just the tip of the iceberg due to our reliance on publicly reported instances of repression.”

In March, RFA reported a Chinese hacking group called “Evil Eye” was sending links to Uyghurs living abroad, often links to news articles or other items of special interest to their targets, which, when clicked on, allowed the hackers to install malware on their targets’ devices, particularly their mobile telephones.  Hackers were then able to monitor their targets’ activity, passwords, and even their physical location.  This hacking could also enable authorities to monitor and arrest the individuals’ contacts living in Xinjiang.  Facebook reportedly stated it was taking measures to shut down the hacking group’s ability to distribute malware through its products.

In August, UHRP released a report entitled “Nets Cast from the Earth to the Sky”:  China’s Hunt for Pakistan’s Uyghurs.  According to UHRP, one Pakistani gemstone trader from Gilgit-Baltistan, who was married to a Uyghur woman, was denied entry into the XUAR unless he brought his wife with him.  After the trader complied and returned to the border with his wife, Xinjiang authorities detained and later incarcerated her.  The report included several cases in which PRC authorities detained women married to Pakistani men who were living in Xinjiang.

In August, RFA reported that PRC authorities arrested the relatives of ethnic Uyghurs living overseas, including in the United States, who spoke out against human rights abuses in Xinjiang.  One Uyghur activist living in the United States told RFA that ever since she began searching for her sister, authorities had increasingly interrogated and harassed her family.  Authorities had also begun to pressure the woman directly to stop her advocacy for her sister, whom the government sentenced sometime after 2017 to 17 years in prison for observing religious rites following the death of their father and for keeping religious books in her possession.  The activist said the government treated families of Uyghurs living abroad as “hostages.”

In November, UHRP published a report entitled “Your Family Will Suffer”:  How China is Hacking, Surveilling, and Intimidating Uyghurs in Liberal Democracies that described the PRC’s efforts to hack, harass, and intimidate Uyghurs living abroad.  According to a UHRP survey of Uyghurs living abroad, 95.8 percent of the 72 respondents reported feeling threatened and 73.5 percent reported experiencing “digital risks, threats, or other forms of online harassment.”

In November, HRW reported that starting in October 2016, government authorities began confiscating the passports of XUAR residents for “collective management” or “collective safekeeping” amid what the government described as the rising threat of terrorism.  The World Uyghur Congress said that although the measures were ostensibly aimed at all residents of Xinjiang, they effectively targeted the Uyghur community.  Government officials continued to exert strict control over the ability of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities to travel abroad.  There were additional reports PRC embassies and consulates continued to refuse to renew passports for Uyghurs living abroad.  Instead, PRC officials reportedly destroyed their passports and replaced them with one-way travel documents to the PRC in order to force their return.

Advocacy groups, analysts, and media reported the government continued a sustained propaganda campaign launched in late 2020 attempting to counter evidence and international criticism of human rights abuses in the region.  In total, the XUAR government, often hosted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, held 59 Xinjiang-related press conferences by year’s end.  XUAR spokesperson Xu led these press conferences and often invited scholars from universities in Xinjiang to present arguments that Xinjiang was a “beautiful place.”  In February, spokesperson Xu said, “We welcome foreigners from all fields, including relevant officials of the new U.S. administration, to take a walk and have a look in Xinjiang, so as to understand the real situation of Xinjiang, so as not to be blinded by [the U.S. Secretary of State’s] lies.  But we also have a bottom line of principle, and we will never accept any so-called ‘investigation’ of presumption of guilt.”

In January, XUAR spokesperson Xu denied that the government forced birth control measures, including IUD insertions, tubal ligations, and abortions, on women in Xinjiang.  Xu stated, “The growth rate of the Uyghur population is not only higher than that of the whole Xinjiang population, but also higher than that of the minority population, and more significantly higher than that of the (Chinese majority) Han population.”

In January, the PRC embassy in Washington, D.C. posted a statement on Twitter that read, “Study shows that in the process of eradicating extremism, the minds of Uygur women in Xinjiang were emancipated and gender equality and reproductive health were promoted, making them no longer baby-making machines.  They are more confident and independent.”  Days later, Twitter locked the embassy’s account, “for violating our policy against dehumanization.”  The account remained suspended at year’s end.

In February, RFA reported that authorities had released a video purporting to show Habibulla Abdurehim, an imam of a mosque in Hotan Prefecture, refuting the U.S. government’s determination that the PRC government was committing genocide against ethnic minorities in Xinjiang and saying that the government recently renovated his mosque.  A local source told RFA that Abdurehim was not an imam but a former party secretary of Yawa township in Hotan Prefecture, and RFA contacted the police department in Yawa to confirm the source’s information.  The officer who answered said he was unsure whether Abdurehim was a religious figure or party secretary, but that 50 to 60 of the 70 to 80 religious leaders in Yawa were imprisoned.

In December, ASPI published evidence that the CCP used foreign social media influencers to “shape and push” its propaganda about Xinjiang.  ASPI collected data from January 2020-August 2021 that showed foreign social media influencers created content on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and other social media platforms to be amplified on PRC-operated news websites.  The report stated, “By leveraging the popularity of foreign media influencers in China, the Chinese state propaganda apparatus can package their messages through potentially more persuasive voices in an attempt to neutralize critical reporting about human rights abuses in Xinjiang and depict a more positive image of the region.”

UHRP published a study in December entitled Meet the “New” Uyghurs:  CGTN’s Role in Mediawashing Genocide that examined 307 articles and videos propagated by the state-owned international media organization China Global Television Network (CGTN) between 2017-2020 about “reeducated” Uyghurs being “thankful,” designed to counter international criticism of human rights abuses taking place in Xinjiang.  The study stated CGTN’s goal was to present a narrative that PRC policies in Xinjiang had successfully “transformed Uyghurs from ‘extremists’ to state-compliant, economically productive individuals.”

On March 29, following the announcement that the European Union, United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States had sanctioned officials over human rights abuses in Xinjiang, the PRC held a press conference to address the protection of human rights in Xinjiang, ethnic minority culture, freedom of religious belief, and labor and employment.  Spokesperson Xu said, “Xinjiang has gotten rid of terrorism and extreme poverty….  Now that Xinjiang had achieved stability and prosperity, and people’s lives are stable and peaceful, the anti-China forces in the United States and the West are not able to achieve their ulterior goals and are very restless, so they try to blame Xinjiang and lie with their eyes open.”

In May, AP reported that during a government reception in Beijing held on Eid al-Fitr, several Muslim leaders from Xinjiang spoke, rejecting accusations that the government was suppressing the religious freedom of Muslims in the region.  Abdureqip Tomurniyaz, head of the Xinjiang Islamic Association and the School for Islamic Studies in Xinjiang, said of Western nations, “They want to sabotage Xinjiang’s harmony and stability, contain China’s rise, and alienate relations between China and Islamic countries[.]”  Religious leaders from five mosques also spoke at the conference.  Mamat Juma, imam of the Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar, stated all ethnic groups in Xinjiang approved of government actions to combat terrorism in the region.  He said people were grateful to the ruling Communist Party for restoring stability and promoting economic growth.

In May, AP reported that Chinese state media released dozens of videos showing Uyghurs angrily denouncing the U.S. government’s declaration that the PRC government was committing genocide in Xinjiang.  PRC officials said these videos were recorded solely by Uyghurs and were “spontaneous outpourings of emotion.”  AP reported it had obtained proof the government had commissioned the videos and had ordered officials in Xinjiang to find Uyghurs fluent in Mandarin and ensure they included certain talking points in their one-minute videos.  Tahir Imin, a Uyghur activist who fled China in 2017, said the videos were almost certainly government-orchestrated and that, since information in Xinjiang was heavily censored, it was highly unlikely Uyghurs in the region would be aware of the U.S. government declaration.

In June, RFA reported Xinjiang government officials held a news conference in which they presented relatives of ethnic Uyghurs who spoke about human rights violations committed in Xinjiang at the “Uyghur Tribunal” in London.  Those who spoke at the Xinjiang government conference refuted the statements their relatives made at the London tribunal.  Spokesperson Xu said individuals who testified at the tribunal were actors who “make a living by smearing Xinjiang abroad” in exchange for refugee and other benefits.  Members of the tribunal later invited Xu to send the news conference participants to the tribunal’s next meeting to freely testify.  In a statement, Dolkun Isa, president of the World Uyghur Congress, stated, “There’s no doubt these family members are being held hostage and were forced to say what they were told against their loved ones by the authorities[.]”

In July, local media reported spokesperson Xu held a press conference following the U.S. government’s announcement to impose trade restrictions on several Chinese solar panel production companies for using forced labor in Xinjiang.  Xu said, “We have stated many times that Xinjiang-related issues are not human rights, ethnic, or religious issues at all, but are antiviolence, de-radicalization, and antiseparatism issues… Xinjiang has never been afraid of sanctions.  All sanctions are a piece of waste paper.”  During the press conference, he also said U.S. sanctions were “self-serving” for U.S. industries and would only harm U.S. interests.

During the year, the State Council Information Office (SCIO) released two white papers on Xinjiang.  In July, SCIO issued the Respecting and Protecting the Rights of All Ethnic Groups in Xinjiang white paper, which stated the government upheld “respect for and protection of freedom of religious belief in Xinjiang.”  In September, SCIO released the Xinjiang Population Dynamics and Data white paper, which stated, “Xinjiang’s evolving demographics are a natural result of local economic and social development, and of industrialization and modernization.”

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Because the government and individuals closely linked religion, culture, and ethnicity, it was difficult to categorize many incidents of societal discrimination as being solely based on religious identity.  Local sources stated unequal treatment of Uyghurs and Han Chinese continued in parallel with official suppression of Uyghur language, culture, and religion, and promotion of the Han majority in political, economic, and cultural life.  Muslims in Xinjiang faced discrimination in hiring and in retaining their positions, and in pursuing other business opportunities.  Local sources stated it was difficult for Uyghurs to book hotel reservations for travel.

According to an AP journalist who visited the region in October, although Han Chinese and Uyghurs lived side by side, there was “an unspoken but palpable gulf between them.”  While the Uyghur language was widely spoken, public signage in some urban neighborhoods was only in Mandarin.  Han Chinese enjoyed freedom of movement not available to Uyghurs.  In bookstores, Uyghur language materials were available but labeled “ethnic minority language books.”  Manifestations of Uyghur culture, such as song, dance, and clothing, were packaged as tourist items for visiting Han Chinese in what one Western scholar referred to as the “museumification” of Uyghur culture.  The journalist saw signs in Mandarin promoting Lunar New Year, a holiday Uyghur Muslims did not traditionally celebrate.