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Burma

Executive Summary

The constitution guarantees every citizen “the right to freely profess and practice religion subject to public order, morality or health and to the other provisions of this Constitution.”  The law prohibits speech or acts insulting or defaming any religion or religious beliefs; authorities used these laws to limit freedom of expression and press.  Local and international experts said deeply woven prejudices led to abuses and discrimination against religious minorities by government and societal actors.  It was sometimes difficult to categorize incidents as based solely on religious identity due to the close linkage between religion and ethnicity in the country.  Violence, discrimination, and harassment against ethnic Rohingya in Rakhine State, who are nearly all Muslim, and other minority populations continued.  Following the ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya that took place in 2017 and resulted in the displacement of more than 700,000 refugees to Bangladesh, Rohingya who remained in Burma continued to face an environment of particularly severe repression and restrictions on freedom of movement and access to education, healthcare, and livelihoods based on their ethnicity, religion, and citizenship status, according to the United Nations and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).  In March the UN special rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar reported that the government appeared to be using starvation tactics against remaining Rohingya.  On September 17, the UN Fact-Finding Mission, established by the UN Human Rights Council, published its final report on the country, which detailed atrocities committed by the military in Rakhine, Kachin, and Shan States, as well as other areas, and characterized the “genocidal intent” of the military’s 2017 operations in Rakhine State.  The government denied the Fact-Finding Mission permission to enter the country and publicly disavowed the report.  Some government and military officials used anti-Rohingya and anti-Muslim rumors and hate speech circulating on social media in formal meetings, public speeches, and other official settings.  Public remarks by the minister of religious affairs in November were widely understood to denigrate Muslims.  Christians in Kachin State, according to media and NGO reports, stated the military was carrying out a campaign to eliminate them similar to the situation in Rakhine State.  In other areas, non-Buddhist minorities, including Christians, Hindus, and Muslims, reported incidents in which authorities unduly restricted religious practice, denied freedom of movement to members of religious minorities, closed places of worship, denied or failed to approve permits for religious buildings and repairs, and discriminated in employment and housing.  The military’s selective denial of humanitarian access in some conflict areas, including Kachin, Chin, and Rakhine States, led to severe hardship on religious minorities and others and intercommunal tensions, according to NGOs.  Among Rohingya who fled the country during the year, some cited ongoing abuses in Rakhine State, while others reportedly fled due to government pressure to participate in a citizenship verification campaign, which they stated they did not trust.  NGOs and religious groups said local authorities in some cases worked to reduce religious tension and improve relations between communities.

In the Wa Self-Administered Division, where the government has no administrative control, United Wa State Army (UWSA) authorities detained Christian leaders, destroyed churches, and otherwise interfered with Christian religious practice, according to media reports and the UWSA spokesperson.

Some leaders and members of Buddha Dhamma Parahita Foundation, better known by its former name Ma Ba Tha, continued to issue pejorative statements against Muslims.  In May the State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee (SSMNC), an independent but government-supported body that oversees Buddhist affairs, reiterated its 2017 order that no group or individual was allowed to operate under the banner of Ma Ba Tha.  In spite of the order, many local Ma Ba Tha branches continued to operate with that name.  The SSMNC’s 2017 ban on public speaking by the monk Wirathu, a self-described nationalist, expired in March.  He appeared at a large promilitary rally in Rangoon in October, at which he made anti-Muslim statements.  Other Ma Ba Tha leaders continued propagating anti-Muslim sentiment in sermons and through social media.  Anti-Muslim and anti-Rohingya hate speech was prevalent on social media.  Facebook removed pages belonging to Wirathu and a number of senior military leaders and military-affiliated groups for propagating hate speech, including anti-Muslim rhetoric.  Religious and civil society leaders continued to organize intrafaith and interfaith events and developed mechanisms to monitor and counter hate speech.

Senior U.S. government officials, including the Vice President, Secretary of State, Ambassador to the United Nations, USAID Administrator, Ambassador to Burma, and Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom advocated for religious freedom and tolerance and consistently raised concerns about discrimination against religious minorities, the treatment of Rohingya and conditions in Rakhine State, and the prevalence of anti-Muslim hate speech and religious tension.  In November the Vice President said, “The violence and persecution by military and vigilantes that resulted in driving 700,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh is without excuse” and asked State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi about the country’s progress in holding accountable those who were responsible.  In July at the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington, the USAID Administrator stated, “The Rohingya were victimized by nothing less than ethnic cleansing:  extrajudicial killings, rapes, tortures, beatings, arbitrary arrests, displacement, destruction of property – all driven by intolerance and sectarian hatred.”  The United States has sanctioned five generals and two military units for human rights violations against ethnic and religious minorities.  Embassy representatives, including the Ambassador, frequently met with Buddhist, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and Hindu leaders, including ethnic minority religious leaders, to highlight concerns about religiously based discrimination and abuses and called for respect for religious freedom and the values of diversity and tolerance in statements and other public messaging.

Since 1999, Burma has been designated 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 28, 2018, the Secretary of State redesignated Burma as a CPC and identified the following sanction that accompanied the designation:  the existing ongoing arms embargo referenced in 22 CFR 126.1(a) pursuant to section 402(c)(5) of the Act.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In May AI reported that the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army was likely responsible for the killing of 45 Hindu villagers in Maungdaw Township on August 25, 2017, which the government previously had reported, but some civil society organizations had questioned.

The Chin Human Rights Organization reported the Arakan Army beat villagers and looted property in a village in Paletwa Township, Chin State, in May.

Local and international experts said deeply woven prejudices led to instances of abuse or discrimination against members of religious minorities by societal actors.  Many prominent military, civilian, and religious leaders continued to promote the idea that Burmese Buddhist culture was under assault by Islam and Muslims, who would come through the mountains of western Burma – northern Rakhine State where the Rohingya live – and overwhelm Buddhist areas of the country.

CHRO reported that in July a mob that included Buddhist monks attacked two Chin nursery school teachers in the house of a Christian pastor in Pade Kyaw Village, Ann District, Rakhine State.  Village monks previously said there would be a 50,000 kyat ($33) penalty per household if each household did not send a member to a meeting at which the monks urged participants to harass Christians attending a church service.  In August, according to CHRO, a mob attacked Pastor Tin Shwe of Good News Church in the same area of Rakhine State, and he was hospitalized.  In January the village tract administrator in Gangaw Township, Magway Division, along with two police officers and some local Buddhist monks, tried to expel a family who had converted to Christianity from the village.  Authorities reportedly failed to investigate or hold perpetrators accountable in these cases.

Despite the renewal during the year of the 2017 order by the SSMNC that no group or individual could operate under the banner of Ma Ba Tha, some branches of the group continued to use the name Ma Ba Tha, while others used the new name, Buddha Dhamma Parahita Foundation.  Many of the group’s leaders and members continued to make pejorative and hateful statements against Muslims in sermons and through social media.  In August Reuters found more than 1,000 examples of anti-Muslim hate speech on Burmese-language Facebook pages, including calls for “genocide,” comparisons to “pigs” and “dogs,” and widespread use of pejoratives to refer to Muslims.

In March the SSMNC’s ban expired on the influential self-defined nationalist Wirathu, a monk and the chairperson of the Ma Ba Tha branch in Mandalay, from delivering sermons across the country for one year.  The SSMNC imposed the ban due to what the SSMNC called religious hate speech against Muslims, which inflamed communal tensions.  In October Wirathu, who reportedly maintained strong ties to military and government officials, spoke at a large promilitary rally in Rangoon, mocking foreign sympathy for the Rohingya and making other anti-Rohingya and anti-Muslim remarks.  There were numerous previous reports of Wirathu making anti-Muslim remarks, such as praising the killers of the prominent Muslim lawyer Ko Ni in 2017.  In September Facebook removed pages belonging to Wirathu and a number of senior military leaders and military-affiliated groups for propagating hate speech, including anti-Muslim rhetoric.

Some observers said Ma Ba Tha received financial support from and otherwise coordinated with the military.

In March prominent writer Maung Thway Chuun gave a speech in Sagaing Division in which he criticized the speakers of the upper and lower houses of parliament for being Christian and said the country’s religious and ethnic identity was under threat.  Authorities arrested him in June on charges of inciting conflict between ethnic and religious groups, and in October a court sentenced him to two years in prison.  Some observers criticized his case as an infringement of freedom of expression.

There were continued reports of social stigma surrounding any assistance to or sympathy for the Rohingya community.  Some civil society leaders said that even among otherwise tolerant individuals, anti-Rohingya sentiment remained prevalent.  There were continued reports of general anti-Muslim prejudice, including social pressure not to rent housing to Muslims in some areas.

Some Buddhist and Muslim community leaders in Mandalay continued to collaborate to quell rumors and prevent violence through formal and informal community-centered mechanisms.

Religious and community leaders and civil society activists organized intrafaith and interfaith events, and some worked jointly to develop mechanisms to monitor and counter hate speech and to promote religious tolerance and diversity.  A coalition of interfaith civil society groups continued advocating for and consulting on draft legislation to counter hate speech, although parliament did not take up the legislation by year’s end.

In Mandalay Division, civil society and interfaith leaders held meetings and public events to promote peace and religious tolerance for community leaders and youth, as in previous years.  For example, an event in August drew dozens of community members to a day of activities around the theme of diversity and tolerance.  A number of interfaith groups continued mobilizing civil society around the country to promote religious tolerance.

On November 21-23, the Religions for Peace Advisory Forum on National Reconciliation and the Advancement of Peace in Myanmar convened in Nay Pyi Taw, bringing together voices from all major religions to advance an agenda of tolerance and respect.  State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, the deputy commander-in-chief, and other senior government officials participated in the event.

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

Executive Summary

IN THIS SECTION: CHINA (BELOW) | TIBET | XINJIANG | HONG KONG | MACAU


Reports on Hong Kong, Macau, and Tibet are appended at the end of this report.  Given the scope and severity of reported religious freedom violations specific to Xinjiang this year, a separate section on the region is also included in this report.

The constitution states citizens have freedom of religious belief but limits protections for religious practice to “normal religious activities” and does not define “normal.”  The government continued to exercise control over religion and restrict the activities and personal freedom of religious adherents when the government perceived these as threatening state or Chinese Communist Party (CCP) interests, according to nongovernmental organization (NGO) and international media reports.  Only religious groups belonging to one of the five state-sanctioned “patriotic religious associations” (Buddhist, Taoist, Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant) are permitted to register with the government and officially permitted to hold worship services.  There continued to be reports of deaths in custody and that the government tortured, physically abused, arrested, detained, sentenced to prison, or harassed adherents of both registered and unregistered religious groups for activities related to their religious beliefs and practices.

Multiple media and NGOs estimated that since April 2017, the government detained at least 800,000 and up to possibly more than 2 million Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and members of other Muslim groups, mostly Chinese citizens, in specially built or converted detention facilities in Xinjiang and subjected them to forced disappearance, torture, physical abuse, and prolonged detention without trial because of their religion and ethnicity.  There were reports of deaths among detainees.  Authorities maintained extensive and invasive security and surveillance, particularly in Xinjiang, in part to gain information regarding individuals’ religious adherence and practices.  The government continued to cite concerns over the “three evils” of “ethnic separatism, religious extremism, and violent terrorism” as grounds to enact and enforce restrictions on religious practices of Muslims in Xinjiang.  Authorities in Xinjiang punished schoolchildren, university students, and their family members for praying.  They barred youths from participating in religious activities, including fasting during Ramadan.  The government sought the forcible repatriation of Uighur Muslims from foreign countries and detained some of those who returned.

Religious groups reported deaths in or shortly after detentions, disappearances, and arrests and stated authorities tortured Tibetan Buddhists, Christians, and members of Falun Gong.  The Church of Almighty God reported authorities subjected hundreds of their members to “torture or forced indoctrination.”  Although authorities continued to block information about the number of self-immolations of Tibetan Buddhists, including Buddhist monks, there were reportedly four self-immolations during the year.  The government began enforcing revised regulations in February that govern the activities of religious groups and their members.  Religious leaders and groups stated these regulations increased restrictions on their ability to practice their religions, including a new requirement for religious group members to seek approval to travel abroad and a prohibition on “accepting domination by external forces.”  Christian church leaders stated the government increased monitoring even before the new regulations came into effect, causing many churches to cease their normal activities.  Authorities continued to arrest Christians and enforce more limitations on their activities, including requiring Christian churches to install surveillance cameras to enable daily police monitoring, and compelling members of house churches and other Christians to sign documents renouncing their Christian faith and church membership.  An ongoing campaign of church closings continued during the year, and authorities removed crosses and other Christian symbols from churches, with Henan Province a particular focus area of such activity.  In September the Holy See reached a provisional agreement with the government that reportedly would resolve a decades-long dispute concerning the authority to appoint bishops.

Uighur Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists reported severe societal discrimination in employment, housing, and business opportunities.  In Xinjiang, tension between Uighur Muslims and Han Chinese continued.

The Vice President, Secretary of State, Ambassador, and other embassy and consulates general representatives repeatedly and publicly expressed concerns about abuses of religious freedom.  On July 26, the Vice President said, “Religious persecution is growing in both scope and scale in the world’s most populous country, the People’s Republic of China…Together with other religious minorities, Buddhists, Muslims, and Christians are often under attack.”  On September 21, the Secretary said, “Hundreds of thousands, and possibly millions of Uighurs are held against their will in so-called re-education camps, where they’re forced to endure severe political indoctrination and other awful abuses.  Their religious beliefs are decimated.  And we’re concerned too about the intense new government crackdown on Christians in China, which includes heinous actions like closing churches, burning Bibles, and ordering followers to sign papers renouncing their faith.”  A statement from the July 24-26 U.S. Government-hosted Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom said, “Many members of religious minority groups in China – including Uighurs, Hui, and Kazakh Muslims; Tibetan Buddhists; Catholics; Protestants; and Falun Gong – face severe repression and discrimination because of their beliefs.  These communities consistently report incidents, in which the authorities allegedly torture, physically abuse, arbitrarily arrest, detain, sentence to prison, or harass adherents of both registered and unregistered religious groups for activities related to their religious beliefs and peaceful practices.  Authorities also restrict travel and interfere with the selection, education, and veneration of religious leaders for many religious groups….”  The Ambassador and other embassy and consulate general officials met with Chinese officials, members of registered and unregistered religious groups, family members of religious prisoners, NGOs, and others to reinforce U.S. support for religious freedom.

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 28, 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 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.  The Council on Foreign Relations reported religious and ethnic minority groups, such as Tibetan Buddhists and Uighur Muslims, experienced institutionalized discrimination throughout the country because of both their religious beliefs and their status as ethnic minorities with distinct languages and cultures.

Anti-Muslim speech in social media remained widespread, despite the government’s announcement in September 2017 that it would censor some anti-Muslim expression on the internet.

In some online forums, anti-Muslim speech regarding the Hui Muslims in Shadian, Yunnan Province persisted.  Some individuals said imams in Shadian colluded with Rohingya Muslims from Burma on drug use and drug trafficking in Shadian.  Other criticisms in these online forums include labelling the imams in Shadian as radicals for encouraging Hui Muslims in the city to marry Rohingya individuals and not to send their children to school.

Despite labor law provisions against discrimination in hiring based on religious belief, some employers openly discriminated against religious believers.  Some Protestant Christians reported employers terminated their employment due to their religious activities.  There were also reports from Falun Gong practitioners that employers dismissed them for practicing Falun Gong.  In some instances, landlords discriminated against potential or current tenants based on their religious beliefs.  Falun Gong practitioners reported having a very difficult time finding landlords who would rent them apartments.  Following government crackdowns in May and December, members of the Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, reported local authorities pressured their landlords to evict them due to their affiliation with the unregistered church.  The members also said their universities and employers received pressure from the local authorities to expel them from the schools or terminate their employment.

The Guardian reported Uighurs faced difficulty in finding accommodation because local hotels frequently told Uighur visitors no rooms were available.  One individual, who was initially mistaken as a foreigner, said hotel staff denied him entry to a hotel after they saw the word Uighur on his Chinese identification card.  Hotels are required to report on guests to local police authorities, and hoteliers could face punishment for hosting Uighurs.

On April 19, the son of a pastor from the Shenzhen-based Canaan House Church in Guangdong Province said the church’s landlord relented to authorities’ pressure to terminate the lease and cut off the church’s electrical supply.  The pastor’s son said the church faced “constant persecution” after unidentified people repeatedly harassed the church, broke into the church’s property, and requested members leave the building for what authorities said were safety or fire hazards.

On July 5, a Uighur woman in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province reportedly posted a letter online addressed to Shenzhen Party Secretary Wang Weizhong complaining about the frustrating restrictions she experienced as an ethnic minority in finding a rental apartment.  The Uighur woman identified herself as a CCP member holding a senior management position in a big company in Shenzhen.  After receiving discouraging messages from the local community, several landlords broke her rental contracts.  Local officials told the woman they required her landlord and her to report in person each week to the police, which she said no landlord wanted to do.  The woman was staying in a colleague’s apartment at year’s end.

Hong Kong

Executive Summary

IN THIS SECTIONCHINA | TIBET | XINJIANG | HONG KONG (BELOW) | MACAU


The Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR), as well as other laws and policies, states 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).  Falun Gong practitioners reported generally being able to operate openly, however, they reported harassment from groups they said were connected to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and difficulty renting venues for large events, including from the SAR government.  Falun Gong practitioners held a rally in October to raise awareness of what they said was 19 years of CCP persecution of the Falun Gong in the Mainland.

Some Hong Kong pastors’ exchanges with Mainland counterparts reportedly were negatively affected by changed regulations on the Mainland.  Religious leaders reported hosting and participating in interfaith activities, such as a local mosque and a Jewish synagogue maintaining regular interaction between religious leaders of each community.

The U.S. consulate general affirmed U.S. government support for protecting freedom of religion and belief in meetings with the government.  The Consul General and consulate general officials met regularly with religious leaders and community representatives to promote religious equality.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Some religious groups expressed concern that new PRC religious affairs regulations that entered into force in February had a negative impact on exchanges and interactions with counterparts in the Mainland.  Media reported that Hong Kong Christian churches provided underground churches on the Mainland with monetary support, Bibles, blacklisted Christian literature, theological training, and assistance in founding new churches.  Under the new regulations in the Mainland, however, many Hong Kong pastors were suspending or canceling their work with Mainland churches to avoid endangering people there, according to media reports.

Religious groups, some of which received government funding, provided a wide range of social services open to those of all religious affiliations including welfare, elder care, hospitals, publishing services, media and employment services, rehabilitation centers, youth and community service functions, and other charitable activities.

Religious leaders reported hosting and participating in interfaith activities.  For example, a local mosque and a local Jewish synagogue maintained regular interaction between religious leaders of each community.  Jewish leaders also hosted public events to raise Holocaust awareness.

Macau

Executive Summary

IN THIS SECTION: CHINA | TIBET | XINJIANG | HONG KONG | MACAU (BELOW)


The Basic Law of the Macau Special Administrative Region (SAR) grants residents freedom of religious belief, freedom to preach and participate in religious activities in public, and freedom to pursue religious education.  The law also protects the right of religious assembly and the rights of religious organizations to administer schools, hospitals, and welfare institutions and to provide other social services.  The law states the government does not recognize a state religion and explicitly states all religious denominations are equal before the law.  The law stipulates religious groups may develop and maintain relations with religious groups abroad.  Falun Gong continued to hold rallies and protests of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) treatment of Falun Gong practitioners in Mainland China.

There were no reports of significant societal actions affecting religious freedom.

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

There were no reports of significant societal actions affecting religious freedom.

Tibet

Executive Summary

IN THIS SECTIONCHINA | TIBET (BELOW) | XINJIANG | HONG KONG | MACAU


The United States recognizes the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) and Tibetan autonomous prefectures and counties in other provinces to be part of the People’s Republic of China.  The constitution of the People’s Republic of China states citizens “enjoy freedom of religious belief” but limits protections for religious practice to “normal religious activities” without defining “normal.”  Central government regulations implemented February 1 stipulate religious activity “must not harm national security” and place new restrictions on religious schools, donations, and travel.  In the TAR and other Tibetan areas, authorities continued to engage in widespread interference in religious practices, especially in Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and nunneries.  There were reports of forced disappearance, torture, physical abuse, prolonged detention without trial, and arrests of individuals due to their religious practices.  Travel restrictions hindered traditional religious practices and pilgrimages.  Repression increased around politically sensitive events, religious anniversaries, and the Dalai Lama’s birthday, according to numerous sources.  Self-immolations leading to death in protest of government policies continued, and four individuals reportedly set themselves on fire and died during the year.  The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD), reported in May torture, including sexual abuse of Tibetan Buddhist nuns, took place in a re-education camp in the TAR.  According to TCHRD, authorities also subjected inmates to collective punishment, food and sleep deprivation, prolonged wall standing and beatings.  According to local sources, during the year authorities continued an ongoing multi-year project to evict approximately 3,000 monks and nuns from Buddhist institutes at Larung Gar and Yachen Gar, destroying as many as 1,500 of their residences and subjecting many of them to “patriotic and legal re-education.”  Authorities often justified their interference with Tibetan Buddhist monasteries by saying the religious institutions engaged in separatist or pro-independence activities, and undermined the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).  The government routinely denigrated the Dalai Lama, whom most Tibetan Buddhists revered as their most important spiritual leader, and forbade Tibetans from venerating him and other religious leaders associated with him.

Some Tibetans continued to encounter societal discrimination when seeking employment, engaging in business, and traveling for pilgrimage, according to multiple sources.  Because expressions of Tibetan identity and religion were closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religion.

The U.S. government repeatedly pressed Chinese authorities to respect religious freedom for all people and to allow Tibetans to preserve, practice, teach, and develop their religious traditions and language without interference from the government.  In July during the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington, the Vice President and Secretary of State met with Kusho Golog Jigme, a former Tibetan political prisoner, to highlight continued U.S. government support for religious freedom in Tibet.  U.S. government officials expressed concerns to the Chinese government at senior levels about the severe restrictions imposed on Tibetans’ ability to exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms, including religious freedom and cultural rights.  Embassy and other U.S. officials urged the Chinese government to re-examine the policies that threaten Tibet’s distinct religious, cultural, and linguistic identity, including the continuing demolition campaign at the Larung Gar Tibetan Buddhist Institute and Yachen Gar Tibetan Buddhist Institute.  U.S. officials underscored that decisions on the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama should be made solely by faith leaders and also raised concerns about the continued disappearance of the Panchen Lama.  While diplomatic access to the TAR remained tightly controlled, four U.S. visits occurred.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

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

According to local sources, in November 13 monks from Kirti Monastery were in Chengdu for scheduled medical examinations, but they missed the appointment.  Taxi drivers were not willing to serve them because they were Tibetan monks.  Young Tibetan entrepreneurs in Chengdu reported Chinese companies often denied them employment opportunities once the employers identified them in person as ethnic Tibetans, despite prior offers of employment when discussions had taken place solely by phone.

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

Xinjiang

Executive Summary

IN THIS SECTIONCHINA | TIBET | XINJIANG (BELOW) | HONG KONG | MACAU


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

Multiple media and NGOs estimated the government detained at least 800,000 and up to possibly more than 2 million Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and members of other Muslim groups, mostly Chinese citizens, in specially built or converted detention facilities in Xinjiang and subjected them to forced disappearance, torture, physical abuse, and prolonged detention without trial because of their religion and ethnicity since April 2017.  There were reports of deaths among detainees.  Authorities maintained extensive and invasive security and surveillance, in part to gain information regarding individuals’ religious adherence and practices.  The government continued to cite concerns over the “three evils” of “ethnic separatism, religious extremism, and violent terrorism” as grounds to enact and enforce restrictions on religious practices of Muslims in Xinjiang.  The reported intensification of detentions accompanied authorities’ implementation of a Xinjiang counterextremism regulation, enacted in March 2017, which identified many of the behaviors deemed “extremist,” as well as continued implementation of the National Counterterrorism Law, revised during 2018, which addressed “religious extremism.”  In October the Standing Committee of the 12th People’s Congress in Xinjiang revised its regulation to insert guidance on “vocational skill education training centers.”  Authorities in Xinjiang punished schoolchildren, university students, and their family members for praying and barred youths from participating in religious activities, including fasting, during Ramadan.  The government sought the forcible repatriation of Uighur Muslims from foreign countries and detained some of those who returned.

Uighur Muslims reported severe societal discrimination in employment and business opportunities.  In Xinjiang, tension between Uighur Muslims and Han Chinese continued.

Embassy officials met with government officials regarding the treatment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang.  According to a statement issued at the July 24-26 U.S. government-hosted Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, “We are particularly troubled by reports of the Chinese government’s deepening crackdown on Uighurs and members of other Muslim minority groups… [including] the detention of hundreds of thousands, and possibly millions, in facilities ranging from makeshift holding centers to prisons, ostensibly for political re-education,” in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.  There are reports of deaths in these facilities.  We call on the Chinese government to release immediately all those arbitrarily detained.”  On September 21, the Secretary of State said, “Uighurs are held against their will in so-called reeducation camps where they’re forced to endure severe political indoctrination and other awful abuses.  Their religious beliefs are decimated.”  On December 21, in discussing why China remained a Country of Particular Concern, the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom said what is happening to Muslim Uighurs is one of the “worst human rights situations in the world.”  In October the then U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations said, “In China, the government is engaged in the persecution of religious and ethnic minorities that is straight out of George Orwell.”  She added, “It is the largest internment of civilians in the world today” and “It may be the largest since World War II.”

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.  Muslims in Xinjiang faced discrimination in hiring and retaining their positions.

In Xinjiang, policies discriminating against Uighurs, as well as greater access to economic opportunities for Han Chinese, exacerbated tensions between Uighur Muslims and both the Han Chinese and the government.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future