China (Includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau)

Executive Summary


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

The People’s Republic of China’s 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 these were perceived to threaten 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) were permitted to register with the government and officially permitted to hold worship services.

There continued to be reports that the government physically abused, detained, arrested, tortured, sentenced to prison, or harassed adherents of both registered and unregistered religious groups for activities related to their religious beliefs and practices, including members of unregistered Christian churches (also known as “house churches”). Falun Gong reported dozens of its members died in detention. A pastor of an unregistered church and his wife were reportedly buried alive while protesting the demolition of their church; the wife died while the pastor was able to escape. There were also reports of the disappearance of a Catholic priest, and the death of a rights activist for Hui Muslim minorities and others that the government said was suicide.

The government cited concerns over the “three evils” of “ethnic separatism, religious extremism, and violent terrorism” as grounds to enact and enforce restrictions on religious practices of Uighur Muslims. The government sought the forcible repatriation of Uighur Muslims from foreign countries, many of whom sought asylum in those countries on the grounds of religious persecution.

According to media and NGO reports, three Tibetans, one monk and two laypersons, self-immolated during the year and three nuns committed suicide in protest of restrictive government policies, including those restricting religious freedom. Authorities often justified official interference with Tibetan Buddhist monasteries by associating them with separatism and pro-independence activities. In July Sichuan provincial officials demolished over 2,000 residences and expelled 2,000 or more monks and nuns from Larung Gar, the world’s largest Tibetan Buddhist institute, located in Ganzi (Kardze), Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture.

Authorities in Zhejiang Province continued their destruction of Christian structures as part of a campaign against “illegal structures” that began in 2014, according to NGO and press reports. Over 2,000 structures, including 600 crosses, had been destroyed or demolished by the end of the year. Many Zhejiang pastors and congregants openly resisted the campaign, resulting in the detention, prosecution, or conviction of several church leaders and activists.

During the year, the government released for public comment draft regulations that would govern the activities of religious groups. Religious leaders and groups reported that the proposed regulations would increase restrictions on their ability to practice their religions, including a new requirement for religious groups to seek approval to travel abroad and a prohibition on “accepting domination by external forces.” Christian churches stated as a result of the proposed regulations, the government increased monitoring, causing many churches to cease their normal activities.

There were reports that improved relations between the Vatican and the government created a better operating environment for Vatican-backed Catholic bishops and priests, although disputes remained and the authorities reportedly blocked a bishop approved by the Vatican from becoming the Bishop of Wenzhou.

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 President, the Secretary of State, the Ambassador, and other embassy and consulates general representatives repeatedly and publicly expressed concerns about abuses of religious freedom in China, including the need for tolerance, especially for oppressed religious groups. The President stressed the need for the government to protect the religious freedom of all its citizens. U.S. officials consistently urged the government to adhere to internationally recognized rights of religious freedom and urged the release of those imprisoned for their religious beliefs. Embassy officials met with members from diverse religious communities and protested the imprisonment of individuals on charges related to 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 October 31, 2016, 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 Law101-246), 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 (July 2016 estimate). According to the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA), there are more than 200 million religious believers in the country. Many experts, however, believe that official estimates underestimate the total number of religious adherents. The U.S. government estimates that there are 657 million religious believers in the country, including 250 million Buddhists, 70 million Christians, 25 million Muslims, 301 million observers of folk religions, and 10 million observers of other faiths, including Taoism (July 2010 estimate). According to 2014 data from the Jewish Virtual Library, the country’s Jewish population is 2,500.

The 2014 Blue Book of Religions, produced by the Institute of World Religions at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a research institution directly under the State Council, reported the number of Protestants to be between 23 and 40 million. A June 2010 SARA report estimated there are 16 million Protestants affiliated with the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), the state-sanctioned umbrella organization for all officially recognized Protestant churches. According to SARA more than 5.5 million Catholics worship in sites registered by the Catholic Patriotic Association (CPA), the state-sanctioned organization for all officially recognized Catholic churches. According to the most recent outside surveys by Pew in 2010 and 2012, respectively, there are nine million Catholics and 68 million Protestants, of which 5.7 million Catholics and 23 million Protestants are affiliated with state-sanctioned umbrella organizations. Accurate estimates are difficult to make, however, because many adherents practice exclusively at home.

According to SARA, there are more than 21 million Muslims in the country, with 10 ethnic minorities practicing Islam. Hui Muslims are concentrated primarily in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region and Qinghai, Gansu, and Yunnan provinces. Uighur Muslims live primarily in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. The State Council’s 2015 White Paper on Xinjiang reports Hui, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Uighur, and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities constitute 14.63 million residents in Xinjiang, or 63 percent of the total population.

Prior to the government’s 1999 ban on Falun Gong, the government estimated that there were 70 million adherents. Falun Gong sources estimate that tens of millions continue to practice privately.

Some ethnic minorities retain traditional religions, such as Dongba among the Naxi people in Yunnan Province and Buluotuo among the Zhuang in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. Media sources report Tibetan Buddhism is growing in popularity among the Han Chinese population.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution states citizens have “freedom of religious belief,” but limits protections for religious practice to “normal religious activities.” The constitution does not define “normal.” It says religion may not be used to disrupt public order, impair the health of citizens, or interfere with the educational system. The constitution provides for the right to hold or not hold a religious belief and states that state organs, public organizations, and individuals may not discriminate against citizens “who believe in, or do not believe in, any religion.” The law does not allow for legal action to be taken against the government on the basis of 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.

CCP members and members of the armed forces are required to be atheists and are forbidden from engaging in religious practice. Members who are 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 being a member is widely considered a prerequisite for success in a government career.

Certain religious or spiritual groups are banned by law. The criminal law defines banned groups as “cult organizations,” and those belonging to them can be sentenced up to life in prison. There are no published criteria for determining, or procedures for challenging, such a designation. A national security law explicitly bans “cult organizations,” and the CCP maintains an extralegal, party-run security apparatus to eliminate the Falun Gong movement and other such organizations. The government continues to ban Falun Gong, the Guanyin Method religious group (Guanyin Famen or the Way of the Goddess of Mercy), and Zhong Gong (a qigong exercise discipline). The government also considers several Christian groups to be “evil cults,” including the Shouters, Eastern Lightning, Society of Disciples (Mentu Hui), Full Scope Church (Quan Fanwei Jiaohui), Spirit Sect, New Testament Church, Three Grades of Servants (San Ban Puren), Association of Disciples, Lord God religious group, Established King Church, the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (Unification Church), Family of Love, and South China Church.

The Counterterrorism Law effective January 1 describes “religious extremism” as the ideological basis of terrorism that uses “distorted religious teachings or other means to incite hatred, discrimination, or advocate violence.” In August the regional People’s Congress in Xinjiang passed its own counterterrorism law.

Regulations require religious groups to register with the government. 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 legally hold worship services. These five associations operate under the direction of the CCP United Front Work Department. Other religious groups, such as Protestant groups unaffiliated with the official patriotic religious association or Catholics professing loyalty to the Vatican, are not permitted to register as legal entities. The government does not recognize Judaism as an ethnicity or religion. The country’s laws and policies do not provide a mechanism for religious groups independent of the five official government patriotic religious associations to obtain legal status.

All religious organizations are required to register with SARA or its provincial and local offices. Registered religious organizations are allowed to possess property, publish approved materials, train staff, and collect donations. According to regulations, religious organizations must submit information about the organization’s historical background, doctrines, key publications, minimum funding requirements, and government sponsor, often a “patriotic religious association.” According to the SARA, there are more than 360,000 clergy, 140,000 places of worship, and 5,500 registered religious groups in the country. Also according to SARA, there are 60,000 registered Protestant churches and 23 Christian theological colleges, as well as approximately 35,000 mosques and 40,000 imams.

Religious regulations also vary by province, with many provinces updating their regulations during the year following the National Work Conference on Religion in April.

In addition to the five nationally recognized religions, local governments permit certain religious communities and practices, such as Orthodox Christianity in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region and Heilongjiang, Zhejiang, and Guangdong provinces. Worship of Mazu, a folk deity with Taoist roots, has been reclassified as “cultural heritage” rather than religious practice.

The government and the Holy See do not have diplomatic relations, and the Vatican has no representative in the country. The CPA does not recognize the authority of the Holy See to appoint Catholic bishops; approximately 30 Catholic bishops remain independent of the CPA and operate unofficially. In some locations, however, local authorities reportedly pressured unregistered Catholic priests and believers to renounce all ordinations approved by the Holy See. The Regulation on the Election and Consecration of Bishops requires candidate bishops to pledge publicly support for the CCP.

SARA states through a policy posted on its website that family and friends have the right to meet at home for worship, including prayer and Bible study, without registering with the government.

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

Tibetan Buddhists in the country, including outside the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), are not free to venerate the Dalai Lama openly. Proselytizing in public or meeting in unregistered places of worship is not permitted.

The religious and social 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 United Front Work Department, SARA, and the Ministry of Civil Affairs provide policy guidance and supervision on the implementation of these regulations.

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 November criminalizes the act of forcing others to wear “extremist” garments. Neither the amendment nor the judicial interpretation defines what garments or symbols are considered “extremist.” Regulations in Urumqi prohibit residents from wearing veils that cover the face. A separate regulation approved by the Xinjiang People’s Congress Standing Committee in January bans the practice of religion in government buildings and the wearing of clothes associated with “religious extremism.”

National printing regulations restrict the publication and distribution of literature with religious content. Religious texts published without authorization, including Bibles and Qurans, may be confiscated and unauthorized publishing houses closed. The government allows some foreign educational institutions to provide religious materials in Chinese, which are used by both registered and unregistered religious groups.

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

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

Under national regulations, parents are permitted to instruct children under 18 in the beliefs of officially recognized religious groups, and children may participate in religious activities. Xinjiang officials, however, require minors to complete nine years of compulsory education before they can receive religious education outside of school. In Xinjiang, regulations forbid minors from participating in religious activities and impose penalties on organizations and individuals who “organize, entice, or force” minors to participate in religious activities. According to press reports, a new regulation in effect November 1 further bans any form of religious activity in Xinjiang schools and stipulates that parents or guardians who “organize, lure, or force minors into religious activities” may be stopped by anyone and reported to the police. The new Xinjiang law also amended its regional version of the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency Law to require children taking part in religious activities to be sent to “specialized schools for correction.”

The teaching of atheism in schools is mandated and a CCP directive provides guidance to universities on how to prevent foreign proselytizing of university students.

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

Birth limitation policies remain in force, but Chinese authorities further relaxed the one child policy on January 1 to allow all married Chinese couples to have two children. Chinese authorities ended the exemption from birth restrictions on the ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, including the Muslim-majority Uighurs.

The law permits domestic NGOs, including religious organizations, to receive donations in foreign currency. The law requires documented approval by SARA of donations from foreign sources to domestic religious groups of more than one million renminbi (RMB) ($144,000).

The country is not a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). With respect to Macau, the national government notified the UN Secretary General, in part, that residents of Macau shall not be restricted in the rights and freedoms that 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 national government notified the secretary general, in part, that the ICCPR will also apply to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

Government Practices

Throughout the country, there continued to be reports of deaths, in detention and otherwise, of religious adherents and that the government physically abused, detained, arrested, tortured, sentenced to prison, or harassed adherents of both registered and unregistered religious groups for activities related to their religious beliefs and practices. Religious affairs officials and security organs also scrutinized and restricted the religious activities of registered and unregistered religious groups, including assembling for religious worship, expressing religious beliefs in public and in private, teaching youth, and publishing religious texts. Falun Gong reported that dozens of its members died in detention. In Henan Province, a government-sponsored demolition crew buried alive a pastor of an unregistered church and his wife who were protesting the demolition of their church; the wife died of suffocation while the pastor was able to dig his way out. There were also reports of the disappearance of a Catholic priest and a Protestant pastor – the pastor resurfaced during the year – and the death of an activist for Hui Muslim minorities and others that the government said was suicide. The government cited concerns over the “three evils” of “ethnic separatism, religious extremism, and violent terrorism” as grounds to enact and enforce restrictions on religious practices of Uighur Muslims. The government’s repression of religious freedom remained most severe in Xinjiang and in Tibetan areas, according to media and NGO sources. According to reports, the government continued to extract unpaid labor, conduct indoctrination sessions, and closely monitor and restrict the movements of Uighurs to counteract what it considered religious extremism in Xinjiang.

According to Falun Gong, 80 practitioners died either in custody or shortly following their arrest during the year. On March 13, Falun Gong practitioner Yan Guoyan reportedly died shortly after being released from detention, reportedly due to maltreatment while in custody. She was arrested on January 15 in Hebei Province for suing former CCP leader Jiang Zemin. On March 27, a Falun Gong practitioner identified as Sun reportedly died of injuries suffered on November 9, 2015, when security personnel outside a military academy in Yanggu County, Shangdong Province, severely beat him for talking to students about the persecution of Falun Gong, reportedly leaving a hole in his skull.

On April 14, a demolition team reportedly buried alive the pastor of an unregistered or house church, Li Jiangong, and his wife Ding Cuimei while they protested the government-ordered demolition of their Beitou Church in Zhumadian, Henan Province. According to reports from the NGO ChinaAid, Li and Ding stepped in front of a bulldozer as a government-supported local developer crew shoved them into the pit and covered their bodies in soil. Ding died of suffocation while Li was able to dig his way out. Authorities reportedly detained two crew members and opened a criminal investigation.

On April 15, “underground” Catholic priest Yang Jianwei reportedly disappeared from a government building in Baoding, Hebei Province. Local police said they lacked sufficient manpower to investigate the case and said they would review security footage from the building with Yang’s family once they had enough men. Activist organizations said the arrests of Catholics in Baoding were in possible connection to authorities’ demolition of a prayer venue the previous year. According to the Union of Catholic Asian News, at least five underground priests were detained by authorities in Hebei that month. Two were subsequently released. A Protestant pastor in Henan Province who disappeared reportedly escaped.

In May Pastor Han Zhonglie was found dead in a mountainous area near Changbai County, Jilin Province. South Korean media reported that he was killed by agents from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea due to his work assisting North Korean defectors and helping them go to South Korea through a third country.

According to the human rights monitoring NGO Dui Hua Foundation, as of the end of the year, at least 232 Protestants, 73 Muslims, 25 Buddhists, and 11 Catholics were imprisoned as a result of religious activities, while two Buddhists, six Catholics, and 49 Protestants were detained on charges related to religious activities. Dui Hua reported that at least 3,403 Falun Gong practitioners were imprisoned and 330 were detained for the same reasons during the year, but Falun Gong itself reported significantly higher numbers of its members were arrested and sentenced.

The arrest and harassment of church leaders in Zhejiang Province, where the government conducted its “Three Rectifications and One Demolition” campaign, continued. Church pastors and members of their congregations openly resisted cross removals, including by forming human chains, and replacing or reattaching crosses, resulting in repeated clashes and standoffs with police. Some observers estimate as many as 2,000 crosses and buildings may have been demolished in Zhejiang since 2014 when the campaign began.

Authorities released Wen Xiaowu, the pastor of an unregistered church in Zhejiang, in September after he and his wife and son were detained in April for protesting church demolitions. Wen had provided legal assistance to churches affected by the cross takedown campaign and was charged with “gathering a crowd to disturb social order.” Authorities detained Wen after he contacted foreign journalists and foreign diplomats to discuss Zhejiang’s cross demolition campaign. Wen remained under residential surveillance through the end of the year.

In January authorities detained Joseph Gu Yuese, the Pastor of Chongyi Church in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, one of the country’s largest Protestant churches, on embezzlement charges his supporters said were fabricated to punish him for publicly opposing Zhejiang’s cross demolition campaign. On February 4, Gu released what was said to be a confession letter to his congregation saying the investigation was for his “own benefit” and asking Christians to “have faith in our government and judicial department.” Although authorities released Gu for nine months during the year, they confined him to his home and barred him from meeting or communicating with others without permission during that time.

In February a court convicted Bao Guohua, a pastor in Jinhua, Zhejiang Province who refused to remove a cross from his church’s roof, on charges of “corruption” and “gathering people to disturb social order” and sentenced him to 14 years in prison. The court also convicted Bao’s wife, Xing Wenxiang, of the same charges and sentenced her to 12 years in prison. Authorities detained Bao and his wife in August 2015 and charged them with embezzlement shortly afterwards. Their supporters stated they believed Bao and his wife were among several from government-approved religious groups punished for protesting the removal of their church crosses.

In Guizhou Province, authorities in February detained and charged Zhang Xiuhong, a deacon at Guiyang Huoshi Church (Living Stone Church) in charge of the church’s finances, with running an illegal business. On December 30, a court sentenced another leader of Huoshi Church, Pastor Yang Hua, also known as Li Guozhi, to two and a half years in prison for leaking state secrets. Attorneys for Zhang and Li reported that authorities tortured and mistreated Li in detention, leading to “serious health problems,” and said authorities also repeatedly threatened to kill Li and harm his family if he did not confess. Authorities reportedly harassed and detained Huoshi Church’s leaders because they were unwilling to register the church under the TSPM, and authorities shut down the church in December 2015.

Police arrested a member of the unregistered Zhongfu Tongxin Church in Shantou, Guangdong Province, on Lunar New Year’s Day while they were distributing Christian pamphlets on the streets, according to a congregant. The church member had been detained for refusing to attend a TSPM church.

According to news reports, a court tried Hong Kong church minister Ng Wah at the Guangzhou Intermediate People’s Court on February 19 on charges of illegal fundraising involving more than RMB 100 million ($14.4 million). Ng, who focused on Mainland church development, was reportedly arrested by Mainland authorities in July 2015 for printing Christian books and raising money. Authorities prosecuted Ng, saying that he did not have a license to raise money. According to church members, Ng had raised donations from members to print Christian books. Ng was reportedly released without sentencing, although his church refused to comment publicly on Ng’s status.

On September 27, more than 100 law enforcement officers from the local police bureau and religious affairs bureau reportedly raided a Zhuhai, Guangdong unregistered church during the church service and detained all members. The authorities forced the church members to provide their personal identity information. Police detained eight church staff for questioning and subsequently released all of them in the early morning of September 28.

In December a Xinjiang court sentenced a Christian woman, Ma Huichao, to three years in prison for “gathering a crowd to disturb public order” after holding a Bible study in her home in Urumqi. A fellow congregant said that the Bible study was not a formal gathering – there were no pastors present and there were only a few people reading the Bible in Ma’s home.

In March authorities arrested and detained for 10 days Zhou Jinxia, a Christian from Dalian, for illegal petitioning and “disturbing social order.” Zhou had travelled to Zhongnanhai (the headquarters of the CCP) in Beijing and held up a banner with Chinese characters saying “God calls to Xi Jinping and Peng Liyuan,” referring to the president and his wife, “God So Loved the World,” and “The Kingdom of Heaven is close.”

Pastor Zhang Shaojie, a TSPM pastor in Nanle County, Henan Province remained in prison after a court sentenced him to 12 years for “picking quarrels and disturbing public order” and “fraud” in July 2014. Zhang and several members of his congregation had been involved in a land dispute between the church and the Nanle County government.

In Guangdong Province, founder of the Buddhist Huazang Dharma group Wu Zeheng, also known as Master Xingwu, remained in prison after being sentenced to life in prison in 2015 on charges including rape, fraud, producing and selling toxic food, and organizing a “cult.” Some human rights organizations and media reports stated that authorities targeted Wu for his religious beliefs and his human rights activism and that the criminal charges were spurious.

Buddhists monks reported that authorities harassed them and their family members. Zen Buddhist monk Lin Bin (also known as Master Wangyun) of Fujian Province was reported incommunicado by friends and family members in October after being released from detention in September, according to Radio Free Asia (RFA). Initially detained in July 2015 on subversion of state power charges, police arrested Lin while visiting Sichuan Province during a nationwide operation targeting rights lawyers.

In some parts of the country, authorities charged religious believers not affiliated with any of the five patriotic religious associations with various crimes, including “illegal religious activities” or “disrupting social stability.”

Relations between the Vatican and the Chinese government reportedly improved over the year, leading to a decrease in the harassment of unregistered bishops and priests. Some unregistered bishops and priests, however, reported continued government surveillance and repeated detentions. According to AsiaNews, authorities detained Peter Shao Zhumin, the Coadjutor Bishop of Wenzhou, in September shortly before the funeral of the Bishop of Wenzhou Vincent Zhu Weifang. Local worshippers said authorities wanted to prevent Shao from taking possession of the diocese after Zhu’s death, in accordance with canonical tradition, as the Vatican-backed Shao is not a member of the government-backed Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association. Although authorities released Shao, he was prevented from taking over the diocese as of year’s end. Authorities also prevented members of the underground Catholic community from attending Bishop Zhu’s funeral. Some local authorities also reportedly pressured unregistered Catholic priests and believers to renounce all ordinations approved by the Holy See.

Religious groups continued to report that “patriotic religious associations” were subjected to various forms of CCP interference in matters of doctrine, theology, and religious practice. Local authorities pressured religious believers to affiliate with patriotic associations and used administrative detention, including confinement and abuse in administrative detention centers, to punish members of unregistered religious or spiritual groups. Patriotic religious associations regularly reviewed the sermons of churches and sometimes required church leaders to attend education sessions with religious bureau officials. They also closely monitored and sometimes blocked the ability of religious leaders to meet freely with foreigners. While re-education-through-labor camps were officially abolished in 2013, advocacy groups and international media continued to report some camps simply had been relabeled and continued to hold members of religious and spiritual groups.

International Falun Gong-affiliated NGOs and international media reported detentions of Falun Gong practitioners continued to increase around “sensitive” dates, such as in the lead-up to the Lianghui (the annual meetings convened by the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference). Authorities instructed neighborhood communities to report Falun Gong members to officials and offered monetary rewards to citizens who informed on Falun Gong practitioners. Reports from overseas Falun Gong-affiliated advocacy groups estimated thousands of adherents in the country had been given terms of up to three years in administrative detention.

According to Ming Hui, during the year there were a series of cases in which prosecutors, courts, and police departments declined to press charges against arrested Falun Gong practitioners. On December 23, Ming Hui reported a public prosecutor in Chongqing, overseeing the case of Falun Gong practitioner Zhang Jun charged with “using a cult to undermine law enforcement,” said “We have not found any laws or statutes and don’t have any evidence that can prove that Falun Gong is a ‘heretical cult.’”

Hezhou’s Babu District Court sentenced in May three Falun Gong members to from one to two years and six months in prison for allegedly sabotaging law enforcement by organizing as a “heretical cult.” According to the indictment, the three individuals publicly distributed and posted Falun Gong pamphlets and posters in a residential area.

Authorities continued to subject Falun Gong practitioner Wang Zhiwen to heavy surveillance after his October 2014 release from prison. Following his 15-year sentence for “cult-related” activities, authorities continued to prevent him from traveling overseas to reunite with family members; Wang in August said authorities had cancelled his passport and banned his travel until 2018. He was reported to be in poor health and lacking adequate medical care.

Human rights lawyers defending religious adherents reportedly continued to be subject to harassment and detention, often being forbidden to meet with clients and threatened with revocation of their professional licenses. During the year, authorities tried and convicted several prominent Christian legal rights activists and lawyers on charges of subversion of state power.

In March authorities released Christian rights lawyer Zhang Kai on bail after he was held for six months on suspicion of “gathering a crowd to disturb the social order” and leaking state secrets to foreign entities. Zhang had provided legal counsel to churches facing cross removals and church demolitions as part of Zhejiang Province’s campaign against “illegal structures.” His release came after a February televised interview on state-controlled Wenzhou TV in which Zhang confessed to violating the code of conduct for lawyers and endangering state security. He later recanted his confession, saying it was coerced, and authorities reportedly detained him again in August, according to his lawyer. In December authorities reportedly again detained Zhang for two days before releasing him. Zhang had been initially detained in August 2015 before a scheduled meeting with the U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom during the latter’s visit to Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province.

In June human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, who had defended religious groups including Christians and Falun Gong members, released a memoir published in Taiwan detailing reported abuses he had suffered during six years of harassment from authorities including abductions, followed by five years of detention and physical abuse in prison, such as beatings to his face with an electric baton. Gao and his family said after his release in 2014, government agents continued to subject him to intrusive visits at home and deny him permission to travel for medical treatment.

The government continued not to renew the professional licenses of a number of attorneys who advocated for religious freedom, and it imprisoned other religious freedom activists or otherwise impeded their work on behalf of religious clients. Authorities also harassed or detained the family members, including children, of religious leaders and religious freedom activists. Some family members also received travel bans, restricting their movement.

Authorities detained or harassed journalists reporting on actions against Catholics and other Christians in Zhejiang Province. Christian newspapers reported authorities often temporarily shut down their websites when they reported on Zhejiang Province. Authorities physically prevented other journalists from reporting on cross demolitions in the region by both denying them access to and deporting them from Zhejiang.

Security officials frequently interrupted outdoor services of the unregistered Shouwang Church in Beijing and detained people attending those services for several days without charge. Church Pastor Jin Tianming continued to be closely monitored and harassed by security services, according to reports from advocacy groups.

In Guizhou Province, authorities’ harassment and intimidation of parishioners of an unregistered church reportedly became more systematic, with arrests of prominent church leaders, and anecdotal reports of threats from authorities to suspend social welfare payments to attendees of local unregistered churches. In June a Huaqui Church official said local authorities in Huaqiu, Guizhou Province sent notices to all parents that if their children did not cease to attend the house or unregistered church or failed to join the TSPM, they would be barred from taking the gaokao college entrance examination and thus attending college or entering the military. Authorities also reportedly coerced church members to sign a document saying that they would no longer take minors to church; violators who brought their children to church would be sued. In July police detained and subsequently released approximately 30 students in Guizhou for attending a student religious camp.

In January a Xinjiang court sentenced Zhang Haitao, a rights activist based in Xinjiang, to 19 years of imprisonment on state security charges. Despite requests to appeal, the court had delayed the appeal in September, according to the Hong Kong Free Press. Zhang, a Han Chinese who was reportedly in poor health, had criticized government policy against Uighur Muslims.

The government sought the forcible return of Uighur Muslims living outside the country, many of whom had sought asylum from religious persecution, according to human rights organizations. The government continued to state the Uighurs were criminals and not refugees, and some countries complied with the government’s requests for the forcible return of Uighur asylum seekers. In December authorities in Xinjiang detained the brother, father, and sister of a Uighur Muslim man seeking asylum in Turkey to coerce him to return.

Authorities successfully forced some prisoners and detainees to recant their beliefs (particularly Falun Gong practitioners, whom the government reportedly subjected to “transformation through re-education”), or failed to provide adequate access to religious materials, facilities, or clergy. For example, in Zhejiang Province, detention centers denied family members’ requests to deliver Bibles and food to the detained. Prison authorities reportedly subjected detained Falun Gong practitioners to various methods of physical and psychological coercion, such as sleep deprivation, in attempts to force them to renounce their beliefs.

Chinese authorities frequently tightened security in both the TAR and the Tibetan plateau in advance of major Tibetan holidays and the birthday of the exiled Tibetan religious leader, the Dalai Lama.

The government did not recognize house or unregistered churches and closely monitored their activities. Some officials reportedly denied the existence of house churches or unregistered churches. Although SARA has said family and friends had the right to worship together at home, including prayer and Bible study, without registering with the government, authorities still regularly harassed and detained small groups that did so.

Despite an overall tightening in spaces for unregistered churches to operate, in some areas, members of unregistered churches said they had more freedom than in the past to conduct religious services, as long as they gathered only in private and kept congregation numbers low. In some areas, however, authorities also shut down churches that tried to maintain a low profile. According to RFA, authorities in Guangdong Province targeted unofficial house churches not regulated by the CCP through its TSPM. In February the Dongguan local religious affairs bureau sent an official “cease all illegal religious activities” letter to the Zhongfu Wanmin Church in Tangxia Township, forcing the church to leave its location, according to Pastor Li Peng. On May 29, authorities shut down the Zhongfu Wanmin Church, telling the pastors to register at the local Religion Administration Authority and join the TSPM. On June 13, authorities spent hours trying to persuade Li to register with the TSPM, RFA reported. This was reportedly the seventh time during the year officials pressured Li to join the TSPM. In September local authorities shut down a six-year-old unregistered church in Sichuan Province’s Jiuzhaigou County for not registering officially.

Some unregistered churches reported authorities harassed and pressured their landlords to break property leases with the churches. Authorities shut down the unregistered Guangfu Protestant Church in Guangzhou’s Baiyun District on June 23 after the landlord terminated a 10-year lease. The church’s property was sealed, and local authorities told the church to leave Guangzhou and to provide the personal information of the church’s staff to authorities. According to a church member, over the past five years, the authorities had repeatedly tried to force the church to move out.

According to ChinaAid, on August 8, police broke into the Renyi Church, an unregistered church in Xinhui Township, Jiangmen Municipality, Guangdong Province, during a church service attended by more than 100 church members. The landlord was reportedly pressured by police to expel the group, and police officers ordered the church to relocate immediately. Police confiscated all church property including Bibles and other equipment, and evicted the church members. According to the pastor, the action stemmed from the church’s refusal to join the TSPM or to disclose church members’ identities to the authorities.

Nationwide, churches reported stricter requirements on the design of their buildings, sermon content, and the management of their finances. Some local governments continued to restrict the growth of unregistered Protestant church networks and cross-congregational affiliations. According to Christian Daily, in Pingyang County, Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province, local authorities told churches to submit all their monetary donations and income to the government as part of new regulations. Any purchases for churches, including equipment or decor, would require permission for the government. Other churches reported they were unable to organize prayer meetings without first obtaining permission from authorities.

According to RFA, in August Zhejiang Province authorities issued a public notice banning all forms of religious activities at Central Hospital in Wenzhou. The new rules banned both patients and clergy from holding prayer meetings or reading the Bible in the hospital.

In the lead-up to the September Group of 20 (G20) Summit in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, authorities banned large-scale religious activities in Hangzhou from late August until the end of the G20. Local religious affairs officials sent a notification to a Hangzhou unregistered church of approximately 2,000 members to “reform its illegal gathering activities” and banned the church from meeting, according to the church’s lawyer.

Religious leaders and groups reported the proposed new regulations governing religious activities affected their ability to practice their religions. Unregistered Christian churches reported that the release of draft new regulations caused officials to take a more systematic approach to monitoring their behavior such as increased contact and issuing explicit warnings against conducting certain activities, causing many churches to cease their normal activities.

In Xinjiang, the government continued to cite concerns over the three evils – “ethnic separatism, religious extremism, and violent terrorism” – as a reason to enact and enforce repressive measures against the religious practices of Uighur Muslims. Authorities typically characterized these operations as targeting “separatists” or “terrorists.” Such police raids and restrictions on Islamic practices were part of “strike hard” campaigns, which began in 2014. Many incidents related to pressure on Uighurs, however, went unreported.

According to an international legal expert, the new Counterterrorism Law, which prohibits the broadcasting of “terrorist activity,” grants “discretionary powers to a government that already has broad, intrusive competences.” Human rights groups said the vague definition of “terrorism” and “religious extremism” could be used to criminalize peaceful expressions of religious belief. Authorities often failed to distinguish between peaceful religious practice and criminal or terrorist activities, according to human rights organizations. It remained difficult to determine whether particular raids, detentions, arrests, or judicial punishments targeted those pursuing political goals, the right to worship, or criminal acts.

According to RFA, in a period of three months during the year, authorities demolished 5,000 mosques in Xinjiang under the government’s “Mosque Rectification Campaign”. Several officials said the demolitions were for residents’ “safety.” The head of the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Committee in Kashi (Kashgar) City said authorities demolished nearly70 percent of the city’s mosques. The deputy police chief in Mush Township said authorities destroyed 46 of the 65 mosques there.

According to the New York Times, Kashi (Kashgar) officials in Xinjiang banned mosques from broadcasting the call to prayer, forcing muezzins (individuals who perform the call to prayer) to shout out the invocation. In Hetian (Hotan), authorities banned two dozen names as “too Muslim,” according to the report.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs continued to deny international media reports stating Uighur Muslims were banned from Ramadan fasting, and maintained that Uighurs’ religious freedoms were guaranteed by the country’s constitution. Reports published on the official websites of local governments in Xinjiang, however, indicated authorities restricted or banned certain groups of Uighurs from observing Ramadan, including CCP members, their relatives, students, and the employees of state-owned enterprises and state-run organizations, and hosted “atheist education events.” Authorities ordered restaurants and grocery stores to remain open and serve alcohol during Ramadan, according to the website of the Qapqal County, Yili (Ili) Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture government.

Reportedly, official campaigns in Xinjiang increased pressure to dissuade women from wearing religious clothing and men from growing beards. Restrictions across Xinjiang that required worshippers to apply for mosque entry permits remained in place. Beginning in October, authorities in several prefectures in Xinjiang further restricted movement by requiring that residents turn their passports into their local police station for an annual review. Ethnoreligious minorities also reported increased screening at airport and train station security checks.

The media reported Muslims could apply online or through local official Islamic associations to participate in the Hajj. According to government reports, more than 14,500 Muslim citizens participated in the Hajj, consistent with 2014 and 2015 numbers. In July the Chinese government also applied to the Saudi Arabian government to allow for 1,000 more participants from China to reduce the long waiting time to make the Hajj, according to the state-run China Daily. These figures included China Islamic Association and security officials sent to monitor Muslim citizens and prevent unauthorized pilgrimages. Uighur Muslims reported difficulties taking part in state-sanctioned Hajj travel due to their inability to obtain travel documents in a timely manner and difficulties in meeting criteria required for participation in the official Hajj program run by the China Islamic Association. The government prohibited Uighur Muslims from making private Hajj pilgrimages outside of the government-organized program. Uighurs allowed to attend the Hajj were reportedly forced to participate in political education every day during the Hajj. Ethnic and religious committee staff from across Xinjiang were again sent to international airports in China in June and July to ensure Uighurs were not making private Hajj pilgrimages outside of government-sanctioned programs, a government source reported. Organizations reported that the government favored Hui Muslims over Uighur Muslims in the Hajj application process. Muslims that chose to travel outside of legal government channels reportedly often risked deportation when they tried to travel through third countries. According to RFA, on June 27 Saudi police, in cooperation with Chinese diplomats, repatriated approximately 100 Uighur and 10 Hui Muslims participating in the Hajj. The Chinese Muslims had reportedly made the Hajj outside of official China Islamic Association channels on work visas. In Turkey, 98 Chinese Uighurs were detained on May 17 while attempting to travel to the Hajj on false passports due to lack of permission from the Chinese government, according to the World Uyghur Congress (WUC).

Hui Muslims in Ningxia, Gansu, Qinghai, and Yunnan provinces engaged in religious practice with less government interference than did Uighurs, according to local sources. Hui Muslims reported they were free to practice as they wished with regard to family customs such as fasting during Ramadan, clothing, prayer, and performing the Hajj. They reported, however, they did not receive special accommodations for time to pray during their work day nor were they given time off for Islamic holidays but said they were treated in the same way as others in their community.

Authorities continued to restrict the printing and distribution of religious materials. The government limited distribution of Bibles to CPA and TSPM/Chinese Christian Council entities such as churches, church bookshops, and seminaries. Individuals could not order Bibles directly from publishing houses. Members of unregistered churches reported the supply and distribution of Bibles was inadequate, particularly in rural locations. There were approximately 11 provincial TSPM Christian publishers. Only the national TSPM was legally allowed to publish the Bible in the country. According to reports, while there were no independent domestic Christian booksellers, nonreligiously affiliated publishers could publish Christian books. Approximately 20 distribution centers and bookstores were linked to the national TSMP. In addition, churches with over 2,000 members reportedly were allowed to sell books at their church facilities. Approximately 700 churches had such bookstores. During the year, authorities continued to limit the number of Christian titles that could be published annually, with draft manuscripts closely reviewed. Authorities also restricted the ability of some bookstores to sell Christian books. Christian organizations seeking to use social media and smartphone applications, however, reported that the government did not generally censor such materials.

Authorities often confiscated Bibles in raids on unregistered churches. In June Shenzhen authorities shut down a Christian house church, or unregistered church, in Bao’an District, Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, and confiscated its “illegal publications,” including Bibles. Authorities said the church infringed on religious regulations by mailing its publications to its members. Authorities also continued to fine individuals for studying the Quran in unauthorized sessions and detained people for carrying “illegal” religious materials.

The People’s High Court, Public Security Bureau, Bureau of Culture, and Bureau of Industry and Commerce in Xinjiang continued to implement restrictions on videos and audio recordings the government defined as promoting terrorism, religious extremism, and separatism. Authorities prohibited dissemination of such materials on the internet, social media, and online marketplaces. As part of these measures, police randomly stopped individuals to check their mobile phones for any sensitive content. According to RFA, in January Uighur Muslims and local authorities reported police in three prefectures of Xinjiang increased and extended security checks of Uighurs who used smartphones. An ethnic Uighur officer said police manned checkpoints in Hetian (Hotan) Prefecture for 24 hours when the new year began to check residents’ smartphones and other electronic devices capable of connecting to the internet for Islamic extremist or religious texts and videos. Uighur residents in Kashi (Kashgar) and Akesu (Aksu) Prefectures also reported increased police smartphone checks. According to an RFA source, in May authorities in Hetian (Hotan) cut services to 17 social media platforms, which an official notice said, was in order to “clean” religious content and other material deemed extremist.

Due to the difficulty of fulfilling registration requirements, many religious organizations either remain unregistered or registered as commercial enterprises. Unregistered groups reported they were vulnerable to coercive and punitive action by SARA, the Ministry of Public Security, and other party or government security organs. In some parts of the country, local authorities allowed or at least did not interfere with the activities of some unregistered groups, while in other areas, local officials restricted events and meetings, confiscated and destroyed property, physically assaulted and injured participants, or imprisoned leaders and worshippers, according to reports.

SARA conducted training for Muslim leaders at the local and national levels to train them on religious regulations and their rights under the constitution. SARA officials stated they acknowledged the importance of cultivating the talents of religious leaders to promote the country’s social development.

There were widespread reports of prohibitions on children participating in religious activities in various localities throughout Xinjiang, but observers also reported seeing children in mosques and at Friday prayers in some areas. Xinjiang authorities prohibited children from attending Islamic schools, banned Uighur Muslim youth under the age of 18 from attending mosque, and discouraged parents from teaching religion to children at home.

Authorities continued their “patriotic education” campaign, which in part focused on preventing any illegal religious activities in Xinjiang and prioritizing Chinese language and culture over Uighur language and culture. Patriotic education, in general, promoted loyalty to the Communist Party as the most important value. Reportedly, authorities encouraged thousands of Uighurs to participate in ceremonies wearing traditional Han Chinese clothing and to perform taichi and sing the national anthem.

The government asked students in northwestern Xinjiang to report to teachers information on their family’s religious practices, including who in their family prayed, attended religious ceremonies, or wore a hijab or beard. Such surveys were conducted annually, passed to security authorities, and meant to stop religious ideology from entering schools, according to media reports.

The government continued to restrict religious education in institutions across the country. Muslims and Christians also reported restrictions on their ability to speak about their faith among university students; the government strictly banned meetings of student religious organizations. Local public security bureau officials regularly warned religious student groups against meeting.

Individuals seeking to enroll at an official seminary or other institution of religious learning had to obtain the support of the official patriotic religious association. The government continued to require students to demonstrate “political reliability,” and political issues were included in examinations of graduates of religious schools. Protestant representatives reported that in seminaries controlled by the TSPM, officials directed faculty to engage in “theological reconstruction” to make Protestant doctrine conform to socialism. Both registered and unregistered religious groups reported a shortage of trained clergy due in part to government controls on admission to seminaries.

Officials continued to hold “anticult” education sessions and propaganda campaigns affecting school children and their families. Some officials required families to sign statements guaranteeing they would not take part in unregistered churches and “cult organization” activities related to Falun Gong as a prerequisite for registering their children for school. The media reported government employees in Xinjiang were forced to sign guarantees they would refrain from religious or political expression. The penalty for not signing could be barring their children from entering university or being subject to administrative investigation.

Authorities continued to allow some patriotic religious association-approved Catholic and Protestant seminarians, Muslim clerics, and Buddhist monks to travel abroad for additional religious study. Religious workers not affiliated with a patriotic religious association stated they faced difficulties in obtaining passports or official approval to study abroad.

According to reports, authorities continued to increase restrictions on teaching methods and other activities in private Muslim schools in Xinjiang following the new education law in November banning minors from participating in religious activity in schools.

Authorities sometimes prevented professors from lecturing on topics relating to religion. In September a renowned Chinese American scholar of social and religious studies from a U.S. university had planned to deliver a lecture at the Public Administration School of South China University of Science and Technology. The authorities suddenly cancelled his engagement, saying that the “power of speech shall not sit in the hand of foreign hostile forces.”

There were reports that authorities restricted the acquisition or use of buildings for religious ceremonies and purposes. The demolition of church buildings continued in Zhejiang Province, where authorities said that the buildings were “illegal” structures. Christian communities reported many churches that were targeted had building permits and other official documents demonstrating their building had been approved by the proper authorities.

In September the New York Times reported that members of the Kaifeng Jewish community in Henan Province came under pressure from authorities. Approximately 1,000 Kaifeng citizens claim Jewish ancestry. Media reports stated that the only Jewish learning center in the community was shut down. Two hospital employees said city officials ordered that an inscribed stone marking the site of the historic synagogue be removed from the front of a hospital and that an ancient well behind the hospital be buried.

In April the government and CCP convened its first National Work Conference on Religion in 15 years. During the conference, President Xi Jinping told authorities to “guide religious believers to be patriotic, protect national unity, and serve the overall interests of the Chinese nation,” and emphasized that religious groups “must adhere to the leadership of the CCP and support the Chinese socialist system,” according to official state media Xinhua News Agency. Xi also said the government “must guard against overseas infiltrations via religious means and prevent ideological infringements by extremists.” He said religions should localize by accepting Chinese traditions and socialist core values and that the legitimate rights of religious people should be respected. Other provinces also held local work conferences on religion, including Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces.

Government policy continued to allow religious groups to engage in charitable work. Regulations specifically prohibited faith-based organizations from proselytizing while conducting charitable activities. Faith-based charities, like all other charitable groups, were required to register with the government. Once registered as an official charity, they were allowed to raise funds publicly and to receive tax benefits, in accordance with the law. The government did 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 required faith-based charities to obtain official cosponsorship of the registration application by the local official religious affairs bureau. These groups often were required to affiliate with one of the five patriotic religious associations.

Registered religious groups continued to provide social services throughout the country. For example, the TSPM/Chinese Christian Council created the Department of Social Service in 2003. According to the 2015 Annual Report of the Social Service Ministry, the most recent available, the department provided financial and technical assistance in eight categories of service ministries, such as education assistance and child care, community development, and medical and health care throughout the country.

Authorities allowed certain overseas faith-based aid groups to deliver services in coordination with local authorities and domestic groups. Some unregistered religious groups reported local authorities placed limits on their ability to provide social services. In some provinces, such as Hebei, some registered charitable religious groups reported a positive working relationship with their local religious affairs bureau officials, allowing them to engage in disaster relief and social service activities. Following the passage of a new law on foreign NGOs, however, some faith-based foreign organizations chose to leave the country, believing authorities would not allow them to register, given their religious affiliations.

Buddhist religious groups reported increased ability to fundraise for their charitable activities. The Anshan City Buddhist Association used social media to receive donations, using the money to provide supplies and scholarships to the children of migrant workers, according to a government report.

Foreign residents belonging to religious groups not officially recognized by the government reported being permitted to worship although, according to policy, foreigners could not proselytize, conduct religious activities at unregistered venues, or conduct religious activities with local citizens at religious venues. In many cases, authorities prohibited citizens from attending the services of religious organizations permitted to operate for foreign residents. In some cases, authorities reportedly expelled foreign residents who attempted to conduct religious activities with Chinese citizens outside government approval. Some foreign residents whose appeals for registration were denied still met without government approval. On several occasions, police raided those meetings, with increased pressure reported during sensitive holidays.

The government also tried to restrict the movement of the Dalai Lama. In September the Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the visit of the Dalai Lama to the European Parliament “mistaken actions” that supported the Dalai Lama’s “spiritual terrorism.” The government in September warned Taiwan’s new administration not to allow the Dalai Lama to visit. In October the Chinese government openly rebuked India for inviting the Dalai Lama to visit a contested stretch of land on the China-India border. The government also demanded that Mongolia not allow the Dalai Lama to visit in November, saying that economic relations between the two countries would be harmed if the visit took place.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Because religion, culture, and ethnicity are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents of societal discrimination as being solely based on religious identity. Religious and ethnic minority groups, such as Tibetan Buddhists and Uighur Muslims, experienced institutionalized discrimination throughout the country both because of their religious beliefs and their status as ethnic minorities with distinct languages and cultures.

In Xinjiang, tension between Uighur Muslims and Han Chinese migrants continued, exacerbated by government policies discriminating against Uighurs. Tensions also continued among ethnic and religious groups in Tibetan areas, particularly between Han Chinese and Tibetans, and, in some areas, between Tibetans and Hui Muslims. Comments on social media often disparaged Muslims, with many criticizing what was perceived as too favorable treatment toward Muslim populations. Because of the perception that Muslims were terrorists, online commentators were upset by government policies in certain provinces that were seen as favorable toward Muslim practices, such as the building of more mosques.

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. Muslims in Xinjiang faced discrimination in hiring, lost their positions, and were detained by authorities for praying in their workplaces. There were also reports from Falun Gong practitioners who were dismissed for practicing Falun Gong. One source reported that the ability to pray in the workplace was negotiated between the employee and his or her employer, preventing a consistent policy being implemented nationwide and leaving it up to the discretion of employers. In some instances, landlords discriminated against potential tenants based on their religious beliefs.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

U.S. officials repeatedly and publicly expressed concerns and pressed for the expansion of religious freedom. The President reiterated the importance of upholding religious freedom for all people in the country, including for ethnic and religious minorities, and noted restrictions on churches during his discussions with President Xi. The Secretary of State raised religious freedom concerns during the Strategic and Economic Dialogue in June.

Embassy officials, including the Ambassador, regularly urged government officials at the central and local levels to implement stronger protection for religious freedom and to release prisoners of conscience. This included officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the State Council. The Ambassador highlighted religious freedom in public speeches and private diplomacy with senior officials. The Department of State, the embassy, and the consulates general regularly called upon the government to release prisoners of conscience, including religious prisoners.

The Ambassador met with religious groups and other embassy officials continued to meet regularly with academics, NGOs, members of registered and unregistered religious groups, and family members of religious prisoners to reinforce U.S. support for religious freedom. The Ambassador hosted events for religious leaders and practitioners to convey the importance of religious pluralism in society. The embassy supported a number of religious leaders and scholars to participate in exchange programs related to the role of religion and religious tolerance. The embassy arranged for the introduction of religious officials to members of U.S. religious communities and U.S. government agencies that engaged with those communities. The embassy and consulates general regularly hosted events for the public to promote understanding and tolerance.

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 October 31, 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.


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

Executive Summary


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). Religious groups are exempt from the legal requirement that nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) register, but they can apply for subsidies and concessional terms to run schools and lease land if they register. The government invites all religious groups to comment on whether proposed measures discriminate on the basis of religion. Two venues cancelled contracts with organizers of a Falun Gong-sponsored dance competition; the group then moved the event out of the SAR. Falun Gong representatives said one of the cancellations was due to the Hong Kong government’s action; the government said the space was one of many needed under longstanding procedures for election training. Some residents reported Mainland Chinese authorities encroached on their religious outreach and engagement activities with Mainland visitors and students. A Hong Kong-based religious organization expressed concern that language in a draft of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) religious affairs regulations could have a negative impact on Hong Kong’s religious freedom.

In January an anonymous bomb threat disrupted a gathering of approximately 1,000 Falun Gong practitioners. Falun Gong members said they suspected members of a Chinese Communist Party (CCP)-affiliated organization were behind the fake bomb, while police reports indicate the suspect may have been an emotionally disturbed individual.

The U.S. consulate general affirmed U.S. government support for promoting and protecting freedom of religion and belief in meetings with the government, religious organizations, and civil society groups. The Consul General and officers at all levels met regularly with religious leaders and community representatives.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 7.2 million (July 2016 estimate). The Hong Kong government’s Information Services Department data states that approximately 43 percent of the population practices some form of religion. The two most prevalent religions are Buddhism and Taoism, which are often observed in the same temple. According to SAR government statistics, there are approximately two million Buddhists and Taoists; 480,000 Protestants; 379,000 Roman Catholics; 100,000 Hindus; 20,000 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons); 12,000 Sikhs, and 5,000-6,000 Jews. Local Muslim groups estimate the SAR has approximately 300,000 Muslims. Small communities of Bahai 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. Human rights organizations estimate there are between 500 and 1,000 practitioners of Falun Gong.

There are approximately 50 Protestant denominations, including Anglican, Baptist, Christian and Missionary Alliance, the Church of Christ in China, Lutheran, Methodist, Pentecostal, and Seventh-day Adventists. The Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong recognizes the pope and maintains links to the Vatican; the Bishop of Hong Kong and his retired predecessor are the only Catholic cardinals in greater China.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

Under the Basic Law, the Hong Kong SAR has autonomy in the management of religious affairs. The Basic Law calls for ties between the region’s religious groups and their mainland counterparts based on “nonsubordination, noninterference, and mutual respect.” The Basic Law states 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 cannot interfere in the internal affairs of religious organizations or restrict religious activities that do not contravene other laws.

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

Religious groups are not legally required to register with the government; however, they must register to receive government benefits, such as tax-exempt status, rent subsidies, government or other professional development training, the use of government facilities, or a grant to provide social services. To qualify for such benefits, the group must prove to the satisfaction of the government that it is established solely for religious, charitable, social, or recreational reasons. The government determines whether a religious group’s application for tax-exempt status is accepted. 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 is entered into 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 and/or tax-exempt organization as long as they have at least three members who hold valid SAR identity documents; the registration process normally takes approximately 12 working days. Falun Gong is not classified as a religious group under the law, as it is currently registered as a society, under which its Hong Kong-based branches are able to establish offices, collect dues from members, and have legal status.

The Basic Law allows private schools to provide religious education. The government offers funding to cover 90 percent of the budget of schools built and run by religious groups, should they seek such support. Government subsidized schools must adhere to government curriculum standards and may not bar students based on religion, but they may provide religious instruction as part of their curriculum, which may be mandatory for all students. Teachers, however, may not discriminate against students because of their religious beliefs. The public school curriculum mandates coursework on ethics and religious studies, with a focus on religious tolerance; the government’s curriculum also includes elective modules on different world religions.

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

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

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

Government Practices

During the year, Falun Gong practitioners reported generally being able to operate openly in Hong Kong and engage in behavior that is forbidden elsewhere in the PRC, such as distributing literature and conducting public exhibitions. They were able to obtain the required permits to display information in high-traffic areas and conducted public protests against the treatment of fellow practitioners in Mainland China.

In June Hong Kong Falun Gong Association representatives said Hong Kong government action prompted the cancellation of a prepaid venue contract between Falun Gong-affiliated New Tang Dynasty Television (NTD-TV) and a district council organization-owned theater to host a classical Chinese dance competition. According to the Falun Gong-affiliated Epoch Times, NTD-TV said the theater’s management cancelled the contract to allow the government to use the theater to train local election monitors in preparation for September legislative elections. The district council organization that owns the theater said the cancellation was routine, noting the management group’s longstanding policy is to prioritize government requests over all other bookings. The Hong Kong government said it requested the use of the dance hall and many other district council-controlled spaces across Hong Kong simultaneously for election-related training, as part of its longstanding practice. According to the Legislative Council, district councils across Hong Kong had the option of working with the government to reschedule the training, or rebooking outside groups who had leased their respective spaces. The theater’s management said they also offered NTD-TV a full refund of its contract and assistance in arranging an alternate site for the dance recital, which was planned to be moved to a government-subsidized stadium. According to Epoch Times, the stadium also cancelled its contract with NTD-TV, citing “safety issues” after reportedly CCP-sponsored groups began protesting outside the stadium on July 20. Other sources said NTD-TV feared the performance would be disrupted by similar groups and decided to move the dance competition to Taiwan.

Several Hong Kong religious NGOs stated their members faced harassment after entering the Mainland, while some Mainland religious practitioners reported Mainland authorities barred them from entering Hong Kong to practice their faith.

According to Christian Daily, in April more than 50 Christians marched to the Hong Kong-based Central Government Liaison Office to protest the Central Government’s treatment of Christian groups on the Mainland, including demolitions of crosses at over 2,000 churches in the Mainland’s Zhejiang Province. The Christian Daily article stated the Catholic Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong, Joseph Cardinal Zen, said he believed the anti-Christian campaign on the Mainland could reach Hong Kong in the future.

One NGO expressed concern that the draft PRC religious affairs regulations could have a negative effect on Hong Kong’s religious freedom. NGO representatives said the Mainland’s draft law would require religious groups to register and obtain approval from both government-sanctioned religious bodies and Central Government religious affairs authorities in order to operate legally on the Mainland. The group said language in the draft law regarding Hong Kong-Mainland exchanges offered few protections for religious organizations. The draft language stated, “Religious exchanges between the Mainland and Hong Kong SAR are handled in accordance with relevant laws, administrative regulations, and relevant national provisions.”

Religious groups stated their faith leaders were freely able to meet with and administer to the religious needs of prisoners and detainees of all nationalities in Hong Kong prisons. They reported the Hong Kong Correctional Services Department accommodated prisoners’ and detainees’ religious-based dietary restrictions and actively solicited religious groups’ advice in ensuring prisoners’ and detainees’ religious requirements were met during incarceration.

The Home Affairs Bureau functioned as a liaison between religious groups and the government. The government invited all interested groups, including affected organizations or individuals, to provide views on whether proposed measures would discriminate on the basis of religion.

Senior government leaders often participated in large-scale events held by religious organizations. For example, clergy from all major faiths led a prayer or recitation at a Remembrance Day Ceremony to pay respects to all who died during the two World Wars. The SAR government and legislative council representatives participated in Confucian and Buddhist commemorative activities, Taoist festivals, and other religious events throughout the year.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In January an anonymous bomb threat to a police emergency hotline prompted the disruption and evacuation of approximately 1,000 local and visiting Falun Gong followers attending a meeting in a local hotel ballroom. The South China Morning Post reported police immediately evacuated the area and the bomb unit found a package containing gas canisters and stopwatches, which was later determined to be a fake bomb incapable of causing an explosion and presenting no threat to conference attendees. The conference did not resume. The Epoch Times reported the threat came from the Hong Kong Youth Care Association, a reportedly CCP-affiliated group that has harassed Falun Gong practitioners in the past. The police in February arrested five individuals in conjunction with the bomb threat, all of whom were suspected of affiliation with local criminal triad groups, according to local press reports and police statements.

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. Jewish leaders hosted public Holocaust awareness events.

The Hong Kong Colloquium of Religious Leaders took steps to promote interfaith understanding and dialogue. It donated more than 3,400 documents and images, as well as a time capsule to the Department of Cultural and Religious Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), to help preserve the history of interreligious dialogue in the territory. CUHK will use the collection as part of a publicly-accessible electronic database intended to increase the public’s understanding about different faiths and religious traditions.

Catholic and Protestant clergy from Hong Kong accepted invitations from state-sanctioned patriotic religious associations on the Mainland to teach at religious institutions. There were also student exchanges between state-sanctioned religious groups on the Mainland and Hong Kong-based religious groups.

In July an international ecclesiology research institute organized a four-day conference in Hong Kong addressing the future of Christianity in the PRC. Religious scholars and leaders from various denominations gathered at the conference to discuss challenges worshippers faced on the Mainland, including the appointment of Catholic bishops.

Religious groups continued to provide input in the government and civil society’s politics and governance. The Hong Kong Christian Council, in response to criticism that its internal voting procedures to select its 10 representatives to Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Election Committee favored larger denominations, in October switched from elections to a lottery system. Under the new arrangements, the Christian Council’s electors can be nominated from four categories: individuals, denominations, churches, and organizations. Some groups said the new system also discriminated against small groups because a candidate must be nominated by 20 Christians to participate in the lottery in the “individuals” category. Others said that religious groups should not participate on the electoral committee to keep church and the government separate.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Consulate general officers at all levels, including the Consul General, stressed the importance of religious freedom and interfaith dialogue in meetings with Hong Kong government officials including the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau, Home Affairs Bureau, several legislative representatives, and other high-level government officials.

Consulate general representatives also met regularly with religious leaders, NGOs, and community representatives to receive reports about the status of religious freedom both in Hong Kong and in the Mainland.

The Consul General met with Buddhist, Taoist, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, and Muslim leaders throughout the year to emphasize the importance of religious freedom and tolerance. In these interactions, he discussed the work of Hong Kong’s Colloquium of Religious Leaders, a local organization aimed at fostering interreligious dialogue and promoting tolerance. He also attended events to commemorate the Holocaust. In each of these interactions, the Consul General voiced support for religious freedom and emphasized the importance of tolerance.

The Consul General met frequently with leaders and members of the local Islamic community. Noting that Hong Kong is one of the only communities in the world in which Sunni and Shia Muslims regularly worship together, the Consul General discussed the community’s contributions to the protection of religious freedom. In June he hosted an iftar at which he discussed the importance of religious freedom and cooperative activities to counter violent extremism, as well as the promotion of religious tolerance.

Throughout the year, the Consul General showed American respect for all religious traditions by marking all major Chinese traditional holidays through regular visits to local Taoist, Confucian, and Buddhist temples. He also participated in festival celebrations with the Zoroastrian, Hindu, and Christian communities. Coverage of the Consul General’s activities on consulate general social media platforms, which regularly included captions highlighting the importance of religious freedom, received positive comments from communities on the internet.

Other consulate general officials participated in Holocaust-related events and hosted religious leaders at prominent events.


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

Executive Summary


The Basic Law of the Macau Special Administrative Region (SAR) grants residents freedom of religious belief, freedom to preach and participate in religious activities in public, and freedom to pursue religious education. The law 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 Freedom of Religion and Worship 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. Religious groups continued to report being able to have exchanges with coreligionists on the Mainland without incident.

Many religious groups, including Buddhists, Catholics, Protestants, and Bahais, provided diverse social services to anyone, regardless of religious affiliation.

U.S. Consulate General Hong Kong and Macau staff stressed the importance of religious freedom and diversity and discussed religious communities’ relations with their coreligionists on the Mainland and in Hong Kong in meetings with high-level Macau SAR government officials and civil society representatives.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 597,000 (July 2016 estimate). The SAR Government Information Bureau reports nearly 80 percent of the population practices Buddhism. There are approximately 30,000 Roman Catholics (of whom more than half are foreign domestic workers and other expatriates) and more than 8,000 Protestants. Protestant denominations include the Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, Pentecostal, and Presbyterian Churches. Evangelical Christian and independent local nondenominational churches, some of which are affiliated with Mainland churches, are also present. The government reports smaller religious groups include Bahais (estimated at 2,500 persons), Muslims (estimated at 400 persons), and Falun Gong practitioners (estimated at 50 persons).

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The Macau Basic Law states residents have freedom of religious belief and the freedom to publicly preach and conduct and participate in religious activities. These rights may be limited in extreme situations for national security reasons. The Basic Law further stipulates that 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 Macau SAR.

Under the Basic Law, the government of the Macau SAR, rather than the central government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), is charged with safeguarding religious freedom in the SAR. Religious groups coordinate their relations with coreligionists in the PRC through the Central Government Liaison Office (CGLO). The CGLO also engages in dialogue with religious groups in the SAR.

The law states the Macau SAR government does not recognize a state religion and stipulates all religious denominations are equal before the law. The law further provides for freedom of religion, including privacy of religious belief, freedom of religious assembly, freedom to hold religious processions, and freedom of religious education.

Religious groups are not required to register in order to conduct religious activities, but registration enables them to benefit from their legal status. Religious groups register with the Identification Bureau providing their names, identification card numbers, contact information, as well as the group’s name and a copy of the group’s charter to register. To receive tax-exempt status or other advantages, religious groups register as charities with the Identification Bureau by submitting the same information and documents as are required to register. Several religious groups reported they had tax exemptions for land use and business operations, enabling them to afford to fund charity work and operate schools.

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

Schools run by religious organizations may provide religious education under the law. The Catholic Diocese of Macau runs most educational institutions; only 10 of 77 are public schools, according to government statistics. Within these 10 schools, several require coursework on ethics and/or a world religions course, although no religious education is required in public schools.

The law guarantees religious organizations the right to acquire, use, dispose of, and inherit property.

By law, religious groups may develop and maintain relations with religious groups abroad. The Catholic Church in Macau, in communion with the Holy See, recognizes the pope as its head. The Vatican appoints the bishop for the diocese.

Government Practices

Religious groups were able to apply to media organizations and companies to use mass media outlets (e.g., television or public radio) for religious purposes. No groups reported their applications were denied.

Falun Gong members continued to regularly set up informational sites at public venues without incident.

Some religious groups reported the CGLO supported their activities and exchanges with coreligionists on the Mainland. Others said the government acknowledged and did not obstruct charity work conducted on the Mainland. Religious groups said they retained their ability to conduct activities in cooperation with Mainland partners, but they said their partners from Christian groups and civil society throughout Mainland China faced increased pressure throughout the year. No Macau-based religious groups reported incidents of interference from either the Macau government or the central government in their activities.

The government provided financial support, regardless of religious affiliation, for the establishment of schools, childcare centers, clinics, homes for the elderly, rehabilitation centers, and vocational training centers run by religious groups. 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

Many religious groups, including Buddhists, Catholics, Protestants, and Bahais, provided social services to individuals of all faiths.

Public ceremonies and dedications often included prayers by both Christian and Buddhist groups.

The private University of Saint Joseph, an affiliate of the Catholic University of Portugal, offered a Christian studies course that included Catholic seminary students from the Mainland. University staff and students reported the St. Joseph’s course was one of the few Catholic courses in which students from Mainland China were able to enroll, and said students faced greater difficulty and substantial restrictions when matriculating in Mainland seminaries. The University of Macau’s Philosophy and Religious Studies Program also accepted Mainland students.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

U.S. consulate general officers at all levels, including the Consul General, stressed the importance of religious freedom and religious diversity and discussed religious communities’ relations with their coreligionists on the Mainland and in Hong Kong in meetings with top Macau SAR officials and civil society interlocutors, including the Catholic Bishop of Macau, Catholic theology professors at local universities, Baptist and Methodist church leaders, Protestant nonprofit organizations, and local Muslim organizations.


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

Executive Summary


The United States recognizes the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and Tibetan autonomous prefectures and counties in other provinces to be a 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.” In the TAR and other Tibetan areas, authorities engaged in widespread interference in religious practices, especially in Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and nunneries. There were reports of forced disappearance, 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. Although the number of self-immolations has continued to decline, there were three cases of self-immolation and three other suicides in protest of government policies. Reportedly, authorities evicted more than 2,000 monks and nuns from Buddhist institutes at Larung Gar and Yachen Gar, destroying the homes where they resided and subjecting many of them to “patriotic re-education.” The government routinely denigrated the Dalai Lama, whom most Tibetan Buddhists revere as their most important spiritual leader, and forbade Tibetans from venerating him and other religious leaders associated with him. Authorities often justified their interference with Tibetan Buddhist monasteries by claiming they engaged in separatist or pro-independence activities.

Some Tibetans encountered societal discrimination when seeking employment, engaging in business, or when traveling, according to multiple sources.

The U.S. government repeatedly pressed Chinese authorities to respect religious freedom for all faiths and to allow Tibetans to preserve, practice, teach, and develop their religious traditions and language. In June the President met with the Dalai Lama and emphasized the strong support of the United States for the preservation of Tibet’s traditions and heritage and the equal protection of Tibetan human rights in China. In his visits to China, the Secretary of State consistently raised Tibet and called for the protection of human rights in Tibetan regions. The Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights met with the Dalai Lama in India in January to discuss nonviolent approaches to conflict resolution and preservation of Tibetan religion and culture. In December the U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom met with the Dalai Lama and Tibetan exile community in India and discussed the interest of many exiled Tibetans in returning to Tibet in the future. 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, raised the ongoing demolition campaign at the Larung Gar Tibetan Buddhist Institute, and said that decisions on the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama should be made by faith leaders. While diplomatic access to the TAR remained tightly controlled, U.S. officials were allowed three tightly managed visits during the year, one for a delegation led by the U.S. Consul General in Chengdu in May, and U.S. consular visits in June and December.

Section I. Religious Demography

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

Most Tibetans practice Tibetan Buddhism, although a sizeable minority practices Bon, a pre-Buddhist indigenous religion, and small minorities practice Islam, Catholicism, or Protestantism. Some scholars estimate there are as many as 400,000 Bon followers across the Tibetan Plateau. Scholars also 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; Hui Muslims; and non-Tibetan Catholics or Protestants.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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.” 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 constitution also stipulates the right of citizens to believe in or not believe in any religion. Only religious groups belonging to one of the five state-sanctioned “patriotic religious associations” (Buddhist, Taoist, Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant), however, are permitted to register with the government and legally hold worship services or other religious ceremonies and activities.

Regulations issued by the central government’s State Administration of Religious Affairs (SARA) codify its control over the selection of Tibetan religious leaders, including reincarnate lamas. These regulations stipulate that, depending on the perceived geographical area of influence of the lama, relevant administrative entities may deny permission for a lama to be recognized as reincarnated and relevant administrative entities must approve reincarnations. The State Council has the right to deny the recognition of reincarnations of high lamas of “especially great influence.” The regulations also state no foreign organization or individual may interfere in the selection of reincarnate lamas, and all reincarnate lamas must be reborn within China. The government maintains a registry of officially recognized reincarnate lamas.

Within the TAR, regulations issued by SARA assert state control over all aspects of Tibetan Buddhism, including religious venues, groups, and personnel. Through local regulations issued under the framework of the national-level Management Regulation of Tibetan Buddhist Monasteries, governments of the TAR and other Tibetan areas control the registration of monasteries, nunneries, and other Tibetan Buddhist religious centers. The regulations also give the government formal control over the building and management of religious structures and require monasteries to obtain official permission to hold large-scale religious events or gatherings. To establish places of worship, religious organizations must receive approval from the religious affairs department of the relevant local government both when the facility is proposed and again before services are held. Religious organizations must submit dozens of documents in order to register during one or both approval processes, including detailed management plans of their religious activities, exhaustive financial records, and personal information on all staff members.

The TAR government has the right to deny any individual’s application to take up religious orders. The regulations also require monks and nuns to obtain permission from officials in both the originating and receiving counties before traveling to other prefectures or county-level cities within the TAR to “practice their religion,” engage in religious activities, study, or teach. Tibetan autonomous prefectures outside of the TAR have formulated similar regulations.

At the central government level, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Central Committee’s Central Tibet Work Coordination Group, the CCP’s United Front Work Department (UFWD), and SARA are responsible for developing religious management policies, which are carried out with support from the five “patriotic religious associations.” At local levels, party leaders and branches of the UFWD, SARA, and the state-controlled Buddhist Association of China (BAC) are required to coordinate implementation of religious policies in monasteries, and many have stationed party cadres and government officials, including public security agents, in monasteries in Tibetan areas.

CCP members, including Tibetans, are required to be atheists and are forbidden from engaging in religious practices. CCP members who belong to religious organizations are subject to expulsion, although these rules are not universally enforced.

Government Practices

Across the Tibetan Plateau there were reports of forced disappearance, physical abuse, prolonged detention, and arbitrary arrest of people due to their religious practice, as well as forced expulsions from monasteries, restrictions on religious gatherings, and destruction of monastery related dwellings, according to media reporting and human rights organizations. Although the number of self-immolations has continued to decline, there were three cases of self-immolation and three other suicides in protest of government policies. Human rights advocates stated authorities used intimidation, including collective punishment of family or community members for acts of dissent, to compel acquiescence with government regulations and to attempt to reduce the likelihood of antigovernment demonstrations, thereby projecting an image of stability and the appearance of popular support. Security forces maintained a permanent presence at some monasteries. In many Tibetan areas police detained monks and lay persons who called for freedom, human rights, and religious liberty, or who expressed support for the Dalai Lama or solidarity with individuals who had self-immolated. Several monks were detained without formal criminal charges. Restrictions on religious activities were particularly severe around politically and religiously sensitive anniversaries and events. Tibet scholars stated the Chinese government’s ban on minors entering monasteries and nunneries and restrictions on travel of monks and nuns threatened the traditional transmission and practice of Tibetan Buddhism. According to human rights organizations, authorities scrutinized and sought to control monastic operations and restricted travel for religious purposes, including to neighboring countries such as India and Nepal. According to reports, Bon members are subject to many of the same restrictions as Tibetan Buddhists.

Nyima Lhamo, the niece of prominent Buddhist reincarnate lama and political prisoner Tenzin Delek Rinpoche escaped to India in July, one year after her uncle’s death in prison. In India, she said that Chinese authorities had denied requests by the rinpoche’s family for his body to be returned to them for traditional Tibetan Buddhist funeral rites following his death, allowing relatives and religious leaders to witness the cremation of the rinpoche’s body in prison but prevented his followers from constructing a stupa. According to Radio Free Asia (RFA), authorities later forced his family to return his ashes. The rinpoche’s family also reported the government continued to deny their requests for his religious order to search for his reincarnation, and detained Nyima Lhamo and her mother for 18 days on accusations of leaking state secrets to outside media following the funerary proceedings.

During the year, there was a report that Chinese officials said for the first time that Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the 11th Panchen Lama, is living within the TAR. Authorities, however, continued to ignore requests by international observers to visit him. Chinese authorities detained him and his parents in 1995 when he was six years old. The Panchen Lama is Tibetan Buddhism’s second-most prominent teacher after the Dalai Lama. The government continued to insist that Gyaltsen Norbu, whom it selected in 1995, was the Panchen Lama’s true reincarnation, and not Gedhun Choekyi Nyima. According to numerous Tibetan Buddhist monks and scholars, UFWD and Religious Affairs Bureau officials frequently pressured monks and laypeople, including government officials, to attend religious study sessions presided over by Gyaltsen Norbu, including ordering every Tibetan family in Xigaze (Shigatse) City to send at least two members to a July Kalachakra (Wheel of Time) ceremony in order to ensure hundreds of thousands of people attended.

The government continued to exercise its authority over the approval of reincarnations of Tibetan Buddhist lamas and the supervision of their religious education. In addition, authorities closely supervised the education of many key young reincarnate lamas. In a deviation from traditional custom, government officials, rather than religious leaders, managed the selection of the reincarnate lamas’ religious and lay tutors in the TAR and some other Tibetan areas. According to state-run media reports, in April the BAC announced its database of 1,311 “living buddhas” that it deemed “authentic” was nearly complete. The Dalai Lama was not on this list.

Although the number of self-immolations has continued to decline, as in previous years some Tibetans engaged in self-immolation as a protest against government policies. During the year, three Tibetans reportedly self-immolated, as compared to seven individuals in 2015, 11 in 2014, and 26 in 2013. Some experts attributed reports of the declining number of self-immolations to tighter controls by authorities. Local authorities prosecuted and imprisoned an unknown number of Tibetans whom authorities said had aided or instigated self-immolations, including family members and friends of self-immolators, according to press reports. Authorities also reportedly took measures to limit news of self-immolations and other protests from spreading within Tibetan communities and beyond. There were also numerous reports of officials shutting down or restricting local access to the internet and cellular phone services for this purpose.

In one case of self-immolation from the year, the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) reported that Tashi Rabten self-immolated in Maqu (Machu) County, Gansu Province, in December while calling for the return of the Dalai Lama. According to the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy, county police detained Rabten’s wife, two children, and other relatives when they requested the return of his body following the incident. According to RFA, police then beat and tortured Rabten’s wife and daughters after they refused to sign a document saying Rabten had self-immolated because of domestic conflicts, rather than as a response to government policies. Rabten’s wife and children subsequently signed the document, and authorities released them.

In September Chinese authorities detained Sangdak Kyab, who had evaded custody for three years, for supporting a self-immolation protest in 2013 by removing the protester’s remains to the man’s home. On September 12, two monks from the Labrang Monastery, Jinpa Gyatso and Kelsang Monlam, were each sentenced to a year and a half in prison in a secret trial for what authorities said was their suspected involvement in a May 2015 self-immolation protest, according to RFA.

The government placed restrictions on the size of Buddhist monasteries and institutions. During the year, the government announced that by September 30, 2017, Larung Gar, Ganzi (Kardze) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, the site of the world’s largest Tibetan Buddhist institute, must reduce the number of residents, including monks, nuns, and laypeople, to half its current size, not to exceed 5,000 persons, with all other homes set to be demolished. According to Human Rights Watch and multiple media outlets, beginning in July officials demolished more than 2,000 residences and an estimated 1,500 police and paramilitary troops expelled more than 2,000 monks and nuns from the site. According to press reports, the government said the demolition was to prevent fires and promote crowd controls. Local sources reported that the destruction was to clear way for tourist infrastructure, and to prevent nuns and monks from outside the area, particularly ethnic Han, from studying at the institute. Larung Gar’s monastic leadership reportedly advised residents not to protest the demolitions in hopes of saving the institute.

According to ICT, authorities also expelled 1,000 religious practitioners from Yachen Gar, also in Ganzi (Kardze) Prefecture. Human Rights Watch reported that nuns from Yachen Gar who have returned to their hometowns were told they were prohibited from joining any other monastery or nunnery there, or participating in any public religious practices.

There were reports of the arbitrary arrest and physical abuse of religious prisoners and prolonged detention of religious figures without criminal charges. In October authorities detained Lobsang Tsultrim, a monk from Kirti Monastery, for shouting slogans supportive of the Dalai Lama in public. RFA reported police severely beat Tsultrim; at year’s end, he was awaiting trial at Wenchuan County Detention Center in Aba (Ngaba) Prefecture.

In September family members located Lobsang Kelsang, a Kirti Monastery monk missing since his 2015 detention by police following a solitary protest while carrying an image of the Dalai Lama in Sichuan Province, in Deyang Prison after being sentenced to three years in a secret trial, according to RFA. RFA’s source said another Kirti monk named Adak was also secretly given a three year sentence in August.

In February media reported Ven Pagah and Geshe Orgyen, the Abbot and a monk from the Chongri Monastery in Ganzi (Kardze) Prefecture, Sichuan Province, were detained after the monastery helped organize a mass prayer for the recovery of the Dalai Lama, who was then undergoing medical treatment in the United States.

In June Lobsang Tsering, a monk from Kirti Monastery, was reportedly detained in Aba (Ngaba) County following a solo protest against Beijing’s rule in Tibet in which he wore a ceremonial scarf and carried a photo of the Dalai Lama, calling for his long life. He was reportedly beaten in custody.

In December nine Tibetans were sentenced to prison terms of five to 14 years for their participation in the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday celebration the previous year. Some of them were monks from Kirti Monastery, and had previously been imprisoned and reportedly tortured.

Limited access to information about prisoners made it difficult to ascertain the exact number of Tibetan prisoners of religious conscience, determine the charges brought against them, or assess the extent and severity of abuses they suffered. The U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China’s Political Prisoner Database included records of 649 Tibetan political prisoners who had been detained by October 11, and who were presumed to remain detained or imprisoned. Of the 649 political prisoners, 640 were detained on or after March 10, 2008, the start of a wave of political protests that spread across the Tibetan areas of China. Tibetan Buddhist monks, nuns, and teachers made up 277 cases, of the 640.

“Patriotic education” campaigns, in which authorities forced monks and nuns to participate in “legal education,” denounce the Dalai Lama, study materials praising the leadership of the CCP and the socialist system, and express allegiance to the government-recognized Panchen Lama, continued at many monasteries and nunneries across the Tibetan Plateau, according to reports. In a November UFWD-organized training course, ICT reported authorities “compelled” newly recognized reincarnate lamas to “demonstrate their allegiance to the CCP” by visiting military bases and Mao Zedong’s birthplace in Hunan Province and by “paying tribute” to him. According to RFA, authorities forced many monks and nuns evicted from Larung Gar to attend “patriotic” re-education classes for up to six months.

According to many observers, primary sources of grievances among Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns included the requirement that all monks under the age of 18 studying at monasteries and Buddhist religious institutions undergo “patriotic education;” strict controls over religious practice; and intrusive surveillance of many monasteries and nunneries, including the permanent installation of CCP and public security officials and overt camera surveillance systems at religious sites and monasteries.. Senior monks at some monasteries reported informal agreements were reached with local officials whereby resident monks would not stage protests or commit self-immolation as long as the government adopted a hands-off approach to the management of their monasteries.

The CCP forbid its members from participating in religious activities of any kind, despite reports that many Tibetan government officials and CCP members held religious beliefs. The new TAR Party Secretary Wu Yingjie said in September that countering the Dalai Lama would be the top priority during his term in office and later stated publicly on November 15 that the “Dalai Clique” was the biggest threat to the region, and that the Party must exert religious, political, and economic control over monasteries. 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. Authorities in the TAR continued to prohibit the registration of children’s names that included parts of the Dalai Lama’s name, or names included on a list blessed by the Dalai Lama.

Although authorities permitted some traditional religious ceremonies and practices, they maintained tight control over the activities of religious leaders and religious gatherings of laypeople, confining many religious activities to officially designated places of worship, restricting or canceling religious festivals, and preventing monks from traveling to villages for politically sensitive events and religious ceremonies. The government suppressed religious activities it viewed as vehicles for political dissent. For example, during July celebrations of the Dalai Lama’s 81st birthday, and the anniversaries of the March 10, 1959 Tibetan uprising and the March 14, 2008 outbreak of unrest, local authorities ordered many monasteries and laypeople not to celebrate or organize any public gatherings. Sichuan provincial authorities cancelled the annual Sangsol religious festival at Dhargye Monastery in August after local Tibetans refused to fly the PRC flag and cancelled the Dechen Shingdrup festival at Larung Gar Buddhist Institute in November.

During Lunar New Year celebrations in February, RFA reported authorities imposed “intense restrictions” in Tibetan areas. At Kumbum Monastery in Haidong (Tsoshar) Prefecture, authorities deployed large numbers of police and, according to a local RFA source, conducted exercises to “intimidate the monks and other Tibetans in the area.”

Multiple sources reported open veneration of the Dalai Lama, including the display of his photograph, remained prohibited in almost all areas. Local officials, many of whom considered the images to be symbols of opposition to the CCP, removed pictures of the Dalai Lama from monasteries and private homes during visits by senior officials. The government also banned pictures of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, whom the Dalai Lama and the overwhelming majority of Tibetan Buddhists recognize as the 11th Panchen Lama. Punishments in certain counties for displaying images of the Dalai Lama included closing of venues, expulsion from monasteries, and criminal prosecution.

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

Sources continued to report security personnel targeted individuals in religious attire, particularly those from Naqu (Nagchu) and Changdu (Chamdo) Prefectures in the TAR and Tibetan areas outside of the TAR, for arbitrary questioning on the streets of Lhasa and other cities and towns. Many Tibetan monks and nuns reportedly chose to wear nonreligious garb to avoid such harassment when traveling outside of their monasteries and around the country.

In many areas, monks and nuns under the age of 18 were forced to leave their monasteries. In March Shiqu (Dzachuka) County in Ganzi (Kardze) Prefecture reported the government had removed 300 minors from local monasteries following a January 2015 provincial mandate to remove all monks and nuns under the age of 18 from monasteries and Buddhist schools to receive “patriotic education.”

The traditional monastic system continued to decline as many top Buddhist teachers remained or died in exile in India or elsewhere, and some of those who returned from India were not allowed to teach or lead their institutions. The heads of most major schools of Tibetan Buddhism – including the Dalai Lama, Karmapa, Sakya Trizin, and Taklung Tsetrul Rinpoche (who died in December 2015), as well as Bon leader Gyalwa Menri Trizin – all resided in exile.

Multiple sources also reported over the past two years the Chinese government has increasingly restricted Tibetan Buddhist monks from visiting Chinese cities to teach. For example, prominent Larung Gar Buddhist Institute religious leaders Khenpo Tsultrim Lode and Khenpo So Dargey, who both previously taught in Chinese cities, were no longer allowed to do so. Authorities also restricted Tibetans’ travel inside China, particularly for Tibetans residing outside the TAR who wished to visit the TAR, during sensitive periods. During the year, many religious figures reported it was very difficult for them to enter the TAR to teach or study. Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns stated these restrictions have negatively impacted the quality of monastic education. Many monks expelled from their TAR monasteries after the 2008 Lhasa riots and from Kirti Monastery after a series of self-immolations from 2009 to 2015 still had not returned, some because the government prohibited them.

Many Tibetans, including monks, nuns, and laypersons, continued to encounter difficulties in traveling to India for religious purposes. In many cases, Public Security Bureau officials refused to approve the Tibetans’ passport applications. In other cases, prospective travelers were able to obtain passports only after paying bribes to local officials, or after promising not to travel to India or to criticize Chinese policies in Tibetan areas while overseas. Numerous Tibetans in Gansu, Qinghai and Sichuan provinces waited for up to five years before receiving a passport, often without any explanation for the delay, according to Human Rights Watch and local sources. There were also instances of authorities confiscating and canceling previously issued passports as a way of preventing Tibetans from participating in the 34th Kalachakra Initiation by the Dalai Lama in India. Event organizers in India estimated as many as 7,000 Chinese Tibetans were barred from attending the 34th Kalachakra, some of whom were detained en route to the pilgrimage after they had left China. Authorities warned participants or any who were involved would face jail terms from 10 days to five years.

Authorities reportedly often hindered Tibetan Buddhist monasteries from delivering religious, educational, and medical services.

According to government policy, newly constructed government-subsidized housing units in many Tibetan areas were located near township and county government seats or along major roads, with no nearby monasteries where resettled villagers could worship. Traditionally, Tibetan villages were clustered around monasteries, which provided religious and other services to members of the community. Many Tibetans continued to view such measures as CCP and government efforts to dilute religious belief and weaken the ties between monasteries and communities.

Authorities often justified interference with Tibetan Buddhist monasteries by associating the monasteries with “separatism” and pro-independence activities, as reported in state media. General administrative affairs in TAR monasteries, which traditionally were managed by monks, were overseen by Monastery Management Committees and Monastic Government Working Groups, both of which were composed primarily of government officials and CCP members, together with a few government-approved monks. Since 2011, China has established such groups in all monasteries in the TAR and in many major monasteries in other Tibetan areas, such as Sichuan Province’s Kirti Monastic Management Committee.

In accordance with official guidelines for monastery management, leadership of and membership in the various committees and working groups remained restricted to “politically reliable, patriotic, and devoted monks, nuns, and party and government officials.” The TAR CCP committee and government required all monasteries to display prominently the PRC flag and the portraits of five CCP chairmen from Mao Zedong to Xi Jinping.

Provincial, prefectural, county, and local governments stationed CCP cadres in, and established police stations or security offices adjacent to or on the premises of many monasteries. For example, the TAR had more than 8,000 government employees working in 1,787 monasteries, according to local sources and Chinese government reporting in September. Security forces continued to block access to and from important monasteries during politically sensitive events and political religious anniversaries.

Authorities hindered Tibetan Buddhist monasteries from carrying out environmental protection activities, an important part of traditional Tibetan Buddhist practices, out of fear such activities could create a sense of pride among Tibetans, particularly children, and an awareness of their distinctness from Chinese culture, according to Phayul, an exile-run online news portal.

In some cases, authorities enforced special restrictions on Tibetans staying at hotels inside and outside of the TAR. Police regulations forbade some hotels and guesthouses in the TAR from accepting Tibetan guests, particularly monks and nuns, and required other hotels to notify police departments when Tibetan guests checked in, according to an RFA report and confirmed by several hotels.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

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

In August some Tibetan writers and monks reportedly tried to organize an informal event to discuss the current trends of Tibetan literature in a hotel in Chengdu’s Tibet Town, but the hotel refused to rent the conference room and police officers told the organizers that “religious gatherings” required advance approval from relevant government departments. As a result, the event was cancelled.

Many Han Buddhists were interested in Tibetan Buddhism and donated money to Tibetan 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.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

U.S. government officials, including the President, the Secretary of State, the U.S. Ambassador in Beijing, and the U.S. Consul General in Chengdu, continued the sustained and concerted effort to encourage greater religious freedom in Tibetan areas.

During several visits to China, the Secretary of State consistently raised Tibet and called for the protection of human rights in Tibetan regions. The Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, who also serves as Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, continued to coordinate U.S. government programs to preserve Tibetan heritage as well as promote dialogue between the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama. U.S. officials repeatedly raised Tibetan religious freedom issues – such as the Chinese government’s refusal to engage in dialogue with the Dalai Lama and the ongoing demolition campaign at the Larung Gar Tibetan Buddhist Institute – in public remarks and with Chinese government counterparts at multiple levels. In December the Under Secretary said decisions regarding the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama belongs to him and leaders of his faith, and not to the state. In addition to raising systemic issues, such as passport issuance to Tibetans, U.S. officials expressed concern and sought further information about individual cases and incidents of religious persecution and discrimination.

In June the President met with the Dalai Lama and emphasized the United States’ strong support for the preservation of Tibet’s religious, cultural, and linguistic traditions and heritage and the equal protection of Tibetan human rights in China. The President also expressed support of the Dalai Lama’s commitment to peace and nonviolence and encouraged meaningful and direct dialogue between the Dalai Lama and his representatives with Chinese authorities to lessen tensions. In December the U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom met with the Dalai Lama and Tibetan exile community in India. The Ambassador at Large attended the inauguration ceremony of the Dalai Lama Institute for Higher Education. He also met with Tibetan monks and students who expressed interest in returning to Tibet in the future and reopening their monasteries there that remained vacant. The Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights met with the Dalai Lama in India in January to discuss nonviolent approaches to conflict resolution and preservation of Tibetan religion and culture.

U.S. officials maintained contact with a wide range of religious leaders and practitioners as well as NGOs in Tibetan areas to monitor the status of religious freedom, although travel and other restrictions made it difficult to visit and communicate with these individuals. Although diplomatic access to the TAR remained tightly controlled, U.S. officials did receive access during the year, with authorities granting one visit for a delegation led by the U.S. Consul General in May, as well as U.S. consular visits in June and December.


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