Do the Chinese think they have freedom

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In the Chinese constitution, positive and negative religious freedom are given the same priority. In practice, however, their protection varies greatly. The government grants the officially recognized religious communities Daoism, Buddhism, Protestantism, Catholicism and Islam space and allows the construction of churches, temples and mosques. The practice of religion must take place "within the framework of the socialist values ​​and core interests of the state as well as the legal basis". The authorities can take legal action against unrecognized or unregistered religious communities; in recent years the legal basis has been tightened.

The framework for freedom of belief and freedom to practice religion has been tightened significantly since the announcement by party, military and state leader Xi Jinping at the 19th party congress in October 2017. The government pursues the goal of sinizing religions. The recognized religions are required to adapt to socialist society. Religious freedom is only granted to a limited extent, subject to the proviso that it does not run counter to the unity of the state and public order and that it is free from foreign influence. On the other hand, measures are envisaged against "exploiting religion to damage national security", "promoting extremism for terrorist purposes" and "endangering national unity." Particular attention is paid to religions where foreign influence is assumed , especially Christianity, Islam and Tibetan Buddhism.


Demographic proportions of religious communities

The data situation is inconsistent. According to the Chinese Official White Paper on Freedom of Religion and Belief360 As of April 2018, there are around 200 million believers in China, which corresponds to around 14 percent of the total population.361 Most of them are people of Buddhist and Daoist beliefs (the exact number is difficult to determine because they usually do not organize themselves systematically in congregations), as well as about 2.7 percent Protestants (28 million), 1.4 percent Muslims and Muslim women (20 million) and 0.4 percent Catholics (6 million). Popular beliefs (popular beliefs such as the Mazu cult or ancestor worship) play a special role, they are hardly organized and are not officially recognized religions, but they are tolerated. Their share is not quantified by the official Chinese side.

Other surveys and estimates, which also include the unofficial communities, assume a much higher number of believers: around 185 million Buddhists, 22 million Muslims, 60 (up to 100) million Protestant and around 10 million Catholic Christians and Christians as well as around 175 million people who practice Daoist practices.


Legal situation

China signed, but not ratified, the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (UN Civil Covenant) on October 5, 1998. In Article 36 of the Chinese Constitution, they are Right to negative and positive religious freedom and anchored a ban on discrimination. According to this, the state may not discriminate against anyone because of their affiliation or non-affiliation with a religion. However, Article 36 also standardizes that Limits to Freedom of Belief, so that only "normal religious activities" that do not disrupt public order, damage physical health or impair the educational system of the state are protected. In addition, religious organizations are not allowed to be controlled from abroad.

These abstract constitutional provisions are supplemented in particular by the one that came into force on February 1, 2018 Revised Council of State regulation regulating religious affairs, with which the control of religious groups and the practice of religion was strengthened and Religion subordinated to the values ​​and goals of the state and the communist party becomes. The regulation includes, among other things Registration, funding and reporting requirements religious groups. Article 4 of the regulation contains the protection of normal religious activities, guides religions to fit into a socialist society and protects the legal rights and interests of religious groups, citizens and their schools and religious sites.

In addition also has a Restructuring of the State Bureau of Religious Affairs ("State Administration of Religious Affairs" - SARA) led to the Control of religious activities more closely and religious freedoms more restricted become. SARA was previously part of the State Council (government) and has been directly subordinate to the United Front Work Department of the Communist Party of China (CCP) since 2018 The State Council on Religious Affairs has issued further ordinances and implementing regulations that regulate various religious activities, for example on the Internet, by foreigners.

On the grounds of combating the "three evils" propagated by the government, extremism, separatism and terrorism, the Council of State regulation regulates religious affairs in many ways Restrictions on Religious Freedom enables. This is regulated, among other things, in Article 4 of the revised ordinance regulating religious matters.

Article 300 of the Chinese Criminal Code enables the prosecution of religious sects who spread "false doctrines and deviant doctrine".362 It provides for a prison sentence of three to seven years and, in particularly serious cases, a prison sentence of no less than seven years.

A Refusal of military service For reasons of faith and conscience, it is not possible to retire, only for physical, psychological or political reasons.


Restrictions on freedom of religion and belief by state actors

In China, religious practice is subject to strict state regulation. Only communities of the officially recognized five religions Daoism, Buddhism, Protestantism, Catholicism and Islam can contact the relevant umbrella organization363 register with SARA. The requirements for registration may vary between the individual provinces. The principles are regulated in the revised ordinance on religion.

It is observed that in recent times official control and steering measures of registered, recognized congregations as well as the persecution of unregistered churches and congregations have increased.

The constitutional prohibition of discrimination against believers is not synonymous with their free access to public offices. Party membership, which is often a prerequisite for working in public functions, rules out religious practice. There is also no definition of "normal religious activities"What is meant by this is probably the practice of religion by believers of the state-recognized religions, who move within the framework of the legally prescribed limits.

There are a number of them administrative restrictions of the state against the public practice of religion. These range from administrative obstacles in the construction of religious sites, to limiting the number of members in religious ceremonies, to dress codes. The collective practice of religion is partially restricted, e.g. through the regulation of pilgrimages to Mecca and the blocking of access roads to places of pilgrimage. Local governments can deny access to holy places for various reasons, e.g. building security, fire protection, simple determination of "illegality", other security issues, etc. Religious events can be prohibited or prevented, e.g. if they exceed a certain size.

For religious communities there is a Registration requirement via the umbrella organization of the respective religion. Only communities of the officially recognized five religions can register. The requirements for registration vary between the individual provinces. Introduced in 2017 Sinization strategy Attempts are being made to combine religions with the socialist state ideology and to regulate religious life more closely through the umbrella organization of communist organs. For example, bans on religious instruction can be issued for children and young people.

Religious communities that are not registered through the umbrella organizations can be declared illegal. They move in a gray area (e.g. unregistered Christian communities) and can be banned and prosecuted as a "heretical cult". The clergy of these religious associations can be prosecuted, they face arrest or house arrest On the basis of Article 300 of the Chinese Penal Code, this also applies to religious associations outside the five officially recognized religions be able to attract and mobilize many followers in a short time364. The Chinese government has estimated that 70 million followers will be banned, making them unable to live out their beliefs in public.

It is also particularly serious religiously motivated oppression in Tibet and Xinjiang. In Xinjiang, religious and cultural life is Islamic Uighur minority and other Muslim minorities such as the Kazakhs are subjected to massive restrictions. The Chinese authorities justify this as a "measure to combat terrorism and separatism" as well as "deradicalization". Especially since 2017, the rights of the Muslim Uighur minority in the region have been increasingly restricted. In addition to the Religious Act, the Security Act, the Anti-Terror Act, the NGO Act and the Cyber ​​Act (all enacted in recent years) promote this approach.

According to statements by human rights organizations, international media and scientists, Uyghurs and members of other Muslim minorities have been affected by massive internment in camps (referred to by the Chinese as "vocational education and training centers") since 2017 Variously designed massive surveillance measures and travel restrictions were introduced. The security staff was greatly increased Efforts to "Sinize" in the sense of Xi Jinping's official pronouncements on the Sinization of religions, in particular Islam", can now also be observed in the neighboring province of Ningxia, the autonomous region of the Hui national minority.

In addition to the Muslims, there are also those Christian communities Increasingly affected by repression: Between 2013 and 2016, around 1,500 cross demolitions at the instigation of government agencies in Zhejiang Province and isolated demolitions of churches, e.g. in Henan Province, were reported. The Protestant house churches or the Catholic "underground churches", which are not officially recognized by the Chinese government and therefore not yet registered, are threatened with repression. These include, among other things, travel bans, the freezing of assets, as well as arrests and imprisonment.
Both the German government and the EU, in close coordination, have issued a large number of public statements on violations of religious freedom in China and, for example, address the human rights situation in Xinjiang within the framework of the United Nations.


Social conflicts with a religious component

The public in China tends to be neutral towards questions of religion. Statements about Tibet and Xinjiang are strongly influenced by the official Chinese politics in the respective regions and the corresponding language and propaganda. This also applies to social media. Islamophobic statements can also be found there depending on the occasion.

The provisional agreement between the Chinese leadership and the Vatican on the central question of the appointment of bishops has so far only brought about minor improvements for Catholic parishes365. The agreement aims, among other things, to end the split in the Catholic Church in China that has existed since 1949 and to reconcile both sides - the official church recognized by the Chinese authorities and the underground church recognized by the Vatican.

360 White Paper on China's Policies and Practices on Protecting Freedom of Religious Belief (Source: The State Council Information Office), April 11, 2018.
361 The figures on the proportion of official religious associations in the population are inconsistent. From an official Chinese point of view, freedom of religion is granted comprehensively. The steadily growing numbers of parishes and parishioners in recent years are cited as evidence. However, the official sources only give the numbers of the registered municipalities. Popular beliefs are not recorded.
362 Imprisonment of three to seven years and, in particularly serious cases, imprisonment not less than seven years
363 Buddhist Association of China (BAT), Catholic Patriotic Association of China (CPA), Islamic Association of China (IAC), Three-Self Patriotic Movement of Protestant Churches in China (TSPM), the Chinese Christian Council (CCC) and Chinese Taoist Association ( CTA).
364 There is no up-to-date, final list of unregistered, illegal religious groups, and the registration situation is regionally inconsistent.
365 Since the founding of the PR China in 1949, the Catholic Church was divided into the "Patriotic Church", which proclaimed independence from Rome, and the "Underground Church" loyal to the Pope, which in turn was not recognized by the official Chinese authorities. The division was particularly evident in the appointment of bishops. While the Holy See did not recognize (and partially excommunicate) the bishops of the "Patriotic Church", the bishops recognized by the Pope were not accepted by the Chinese authorities and faced some persecution. So far, both sides could jointly choose two bishops under the agreement some who were appointed in the summer of 2019.