Stepping up its attacks on organized religions, the Chinese government has been cracking down on churches in Beijing and elsewhere in the country, burning bibles, dismantling crosses, and forcing Christians to sign documents renouncing their faith, requiring loyalty to the country’s atheist Communist Party.
The Associated Press reported on Monday that, according to an e-mail from Bob Fu of the U.S.-based group China Aid, these latest moves represent a “significant escalation” and that “the international community should be alarmed and outraged for this blatant violation of freedom of religion and belief.”
Activists say that President Xi Jinping has engaged in the toughest suppression of religion in China since 1982, when religious freedom was written into the country’s constitution, although congregations have to be registered to the authorities.
An official contacted by the AP denies that a crackdown against the protestant churches is taking place, despite accounts from various pastors around the country.
The country’s Muslim Uighur minority — of Turkic origin and largely living in the Xinjiang region — has long been targeted by arrests and detentions, but the government has recently engaged in the extraordinary measure of detaining them in “political education” camps.
There, Uighurs — up to 1 million of them — are forced to renounce Islam and pledge loyalty to the Community Party.
A new report released by Human Rights Watch on Sunday, includes interviews with former detainees, the families of detainees, as well as those who have fled Xinjiang and the campaign the government is calling “Strike Hard Campaign against Violent Terrorism.”
The report notes that holding people in pre-trial detention in these prisons and “re-education” centers has “no basis under Chinese law,” and that detainees “have been denied due process rights and suffered torture and other ill-treatment.”
In a pretty clear signal that this is no short-term strategy, HRW notes that the Chinese government is using high-tech mass surveillance systems, forcing people to submit biometric data (including DNA and voice samples), building a database of “trustworthy” Xinjiang residents.
Additionally, having ties to any one of the largely Muslim “26 sensitive countries” is a crime, and those with families in the “sensitive” countries are questioned and detained on a regular basis.
“The Chinese government is committing human rights abuses in Xinjiang on a scale unseen in the country in decades,” said HRW’s China director, Sophie Richardson, in a statement accompanying the report’s release.
“The campaign of repression in Xinjiang is key test of whether the United Nations and concerned governments will sanction an increasingly powerful China to end this abuse.”
The Trump administration, which, at times, has expressed concern for religious minorities in places like Syria and Iran, does not seem to have much to say about what China is doing.
President Donald Trump, who has tweeted outrage at the mistreatment of Christians in some Muslim countries, such as Pakistan, and has certainly appealed to the Evangelical vote in the United States, has thus far limited his statements on China to his trade war with the country (which he escalated on Friday):
If the U.S. sells a car into China, there is a tax of 25%. If China sells a car into the U.S., there is a tax of 2%. Does anybody think that is FAIR? The days of the U.S. being ripped-off by other nations is OVER!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 9, 2018
Chinese officials have long framed the campaign against Uighurs as a fight against “extremism,” and deny that such camps exist.
The State Department — via envoys, and statements to the press — has at times said it is “troubled” and “concerned” about what Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described China as a country that “tortures, detains, and imprisons thousands for practicing their religious beliefs.”
But broadly, the U.S. government views China as a security and trade threat, as well as a potential ally in maintaining sanction pressure on North Korea as the Trump administration’s negotiations over Pyongyang’s ballistic and nuclear missile programs falter.