18 January 2005
The new Religious Affairs Provisions, to go into effect on 1 March 2005, have been claimed by Chinese officials to represent a "paradigm shift" in official thinking about religious affairs. But most analysts agree that they represent almost no real change. However, the rules do offer insights into the "everyday forms of resistance" that religious believers – such as 'underground' and 'overground' Protestants and Catholics, Falun Gong practitioners, Uighur Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists - practice against arbitrary state regulations and oppressive actions by officials. Chinese believers are not just passive victims of the state's repressive religious policy. While few are openly defiant, they are certainly resisting - in many cases quite effectively. It is still too early to see who will eventually win in this continuing struggle between a state with ever-declining control over society and a society becoming more assertive in protecting its rights against the state.
25 November 2004
"Religious distortion," or religious teachings and activities differing from the mainstream, affect every aspect of Chinese religious life, Forum 18 News Service notes. The effects of religious distortion, in which the state plays the dominant role, include the uniquely Chinese phenomenon of female imams, state interference in Buddhist recognition of leaders believed to be reincarnated, state classification of some Catholic masses as "illegal" and "unorthodox," attempts to introduce radical changes in Protestant Christian doctrines and the removal of academic theologians who disagree. Not all the effects of religious distortion are thought by Chinese religious believers to be negative, but it has also encouraged the growth of groups harmful to Chinese society, such as Eastern Lightning. Increasing numbers of experts and advocates suggest that religious freedom pressure should focus on pressing the communist regime to observe its own growing body of laws and regulations, but it may be even more urgent to press the state to recognize and clarify the contradictions in its religious policy.
22 November 2004
In a failed bid to head off a United Nations (UN) resolution, sponsored by the European Union and the USA, and supported by Brazil, expressing grave concern at Turkmenistan's human rights record, Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov has falsely claimed that there were "no cases of arrest or conviction on political grounds or for religious beliefs". Three religious prisoners are known to Forum 18 News Service to be held, and arrests continue to be made. On the day of the debate he claimed that there was "no truth to the allegations of limits on the rights to belief, conscience or religion," despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and the UN's two previous resolutions critical of the country's human rights record. Turkmen officials and President Niyazov have a record of making such false claims, but the country's diplomats have refused to discuss the issue of false claims with Forum 18. Countries speaking in support of Turkmenistan in the debate were Algeria, Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Singapore, Sudan, Syria, Uzbekistan and Venezuela.
11 October 2004
China maintains few controls on religious life in the mountainous Altai [Altay] region in the far north of Xinjiang, Forum 18 News Service has noted, apparently because there are only low levels of Islamic, Buddhist, Pagan, Orthodox and Pentecostal Christian religious practice among the majority ethnic Kazakhs, as well as among Chinese and most other local minorities. In contrast, Forum 18 has observed strict controls in nearby mosques amongst the Muslim Dungan people, and the visit of a Russian Orthodox priest, Fr Vianor Ivanov, was met by the authorities arresting him, as well as questioning virtually all the several dozen elderly Orthodox believers in the city Fr Ivanov visited, before deporting him.
29 September 2004
The Chinese police, or Public Security Bureau, is responsible for persecuting religious communities, arresting and detaining in the first half of 2004 hundreds of religious believers. It is also responsible for such normal police activities as apprehending drug traffickers and other criminals, directing traffic and patrolling the streets. But despite its very prominent role in state control of religious affairs, little is understood outside China about the massive monitoring and control system maintained by the Public Security Bureau, its very significant impact on religious affairs in China, and the nature of the discussions on religion and "cults" by members of the public security system. Forum 18 News Service here explains the system and its importance, as well as outlining ongoing discussions of reform amongst Chinese officials and scholars. But despite these discussions, the public security system is highly likely to remain an instrument of state repression.
28 September 2004
In Xinjiang region, Forum 18 News Service has seen an instructional display outlining banned activities. Such instructional displays are normally hidden from the public, and are thought to apply in mosques throughout China. Among banned activities are: teaching religion "privately"; allowing children under 18 to attend a mosque; allowing Islam to influence family life and birth planning behaviour; propaganda associated with terrorism and separatism; religious professionals acquiring large sums of money; the declaration of "holy war" (jihad); and promoting "superstitious thoughts". These displays are not compulsory in non-Muslim places of worship and Forum 18 found no such displays in Xinjiang's two Orthodox churches. Also, the mosque's "democratic management committee" must conduct regular sessions propounding legal regulations and party policies. Such party-appointed committees oversee activities in places of worship and are also known to exist in Tibetan Buddhist temples.
22 September 2004
China's estimated 3,000 scattered Orthodox Christians may soon be able to have their own priests once again. Since 2003, 18 Chinese Orthodox have been studying in Orthodox seminaries in Russia with the permission of China's State Administration of Religious Affairs. "Now they are happy for Chinese to become priests," an Orthodox source from Shanghai told Forum 18 News Service. But Hong Kong-based Russian Orthodox priest Fr Dionisy Pozdnyayev told Forum 18 it has yet to be decided whether these seminarians will be allowed to become priests in China when they complete their theological education. Fr Dionisy can minister only to foreign citizens in Beijing and Shenzhen, but a Russian priest spent two weeks in June ministering to local Orthodox in Harbin with official permission.
20 September 2004
Religious freedom in China's north-western Xinjiang-Uighur Autonomous Region of north-western China (previously known as Eastern Turkestan), Forum 18 News Service has found, is dominated by pervasive state control. This affects both the indigenous Muslims, who make up about half the local population, and religious minorities. Control is enacted through national-religious committees, part of the administration of every city, which enforce compulsory registration and approve the appointment of all religious leaders. They must come to meetings of such committees. Forum 18 learnt that at such a meeting in Ghulja in August, officials threatened to dismiss a Patriotic Catholic priest if he preached again against abortion. Children under 18 are officially banned from attending places of worship, though Forum 18 observed that this rule is widely ignored. "We believe that children need to finish their education and develop their personalities before they can make an informed decision as to whether they are believers or atheists," an official of Urumqi's national-religious committee told Forum 18. Contact with fellow-believers abroad remains restricted, leaving smaller religious communities isolated.
15 September 2004
The imam of the central mosque in the town of Turpan, north east of China's Xinjiang region, admitted to Forum 18 News Service in early September that the Chinese authorities name all imams to local mosques. Imams also have to attend regular meetings of the national religious committees at their town administration, where they are told what they can do and are ordered to preach peace and condemn terrorism in their sermons. Local adult Muslims, mainly ethnic Uighurs, can learn about their faith only in certain mosques where the imam has gained special approval, while children are banned. "The authorities instruct us to tell parents that their children must complete their education before they can start to attend mosque," the imam reported, though Forum 18 observed some children in Turpan's mosques at Friday prayers.
13 September 2004
While ethnic Mongolian Buddhists in China's Xinjiang-Uighur autonomous region say they can generally practise their faith without serious government pressure, some told Forum 18 News Service in the Bortala-Mongolian autonomous prefecture that maintaining contact with fellow Buddhists abroad is almost impossible. They said all visits by lamas from Mongolia require special permission, while they cannot visit foreign Buddhist centres. They added that portraits of the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, are banned in temples.
9 September 2004
Kazakhstan-based Russian Orthodox priest Fr Vianor Ivanov had visited China's north-western Xinjiang region to serve the local Orthodox who have no priests, but in December 2003 was detained by Chinese customs, was interrogated for a week, had his religious literature confiscated and was deported. "They questioned me for five hours a day. The special services representatives proved to be amazingly well-informed," Fr Ivanov told Forum 18 News Service. Local Orthodox told Forum 18 in Xinjiang in early September that virtually all the Orthodox believers in the city of Ghulja were questioned by the security services about Fr Ivanov's activity. In Ghulja the Orthodox can at least meet for prayers in church without a priest, but in another Xinjiang town, Tacheng, local Russian Orthodox have had no success so far in applying to rebuild their church.
21 July 2004
Chinese web-users are denied access to a range of religious sites based abroad, Forum 18 News Service has found after a two-month survey of how far the Chinese government's Golden Shield firewall, used to censor the internet, affects access to religious websites. Sites blocked include those related to the persecution of Christians and other religious faiths, the Dalai Lama, the Falun Gong religious movement, the Muslim Uygurs of Xinjiang and a number of Catholic sites, including the website of the Hong Kong diocese and the Divine Word Missionaries in Taiwan.