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Azerbaijan

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

In July a resident attacked and wounded the then mayor of the city of Ganja, and subsequently another local assailant stabbed two police officers to death during a related demonstration against local government authorities.  In response to these events, security forces conducted operations in the cities of Ganja, Shamkir, Sumgait, and Baku that resulted in the arrest of more than 60 individuals and the deaths of five.  The government said the individuals were part of a Shia Muslim “extremist conspiracy” to destabilize the country, and that those killed had resisted arrest.  The Muslim Unity Movement and other civil society activists disputed the government’s recounting of the events and stated the five individuals whom security forces killed had not resisted arrest, and that security forced targeted them.

On April 30, family members of imprisoned deputy head of the Muslim Unity Movement Abbas Huseynov said that several days prior, Huseynov had been severely beaten by prison authorities and left chained in an isolation cell for three days.  He was subsequently chained to an iron post in the prison yard and exposed to the elements from morning until night on May 10.  This followed media and human rights lawyers’ allegations in August 2017 of Huseynov’s torture in the same prison.  Authorities denied the allegations.

Authorities continued to arrest and incarcerate individuals with links to Islamic groups, such as the Muslim Unity Movement, that they asserted mix religious and political ideology.  Charges against these individuals included drug possession, incitement of religious hatred, terrorism, and attempted coup d’etat.  Human rights defenders stated the charges were pretexts, and the incarcerations were meant to prevent political activity by Islamic groups.  According to data collected by the Working Group on a Unified List of Political Prisoners in Azerbaijan and other NGOs, the estimated number of religious activists incarcerated at the end of the year was 68, compared with 80 in 2017.

On February 13, the Garadag District Court in Baku added two and one-half months to the 20-year prison term of Muslim Unity Movement leader Taleh Bagirzada for possession of the Quran and religious music on electronic media in his prison cell.

On March 6, the Baku Grave Crimes Court found Muslim Unity Movement activist Ahsan Nuruzade guilty of drug possession and sentenced him to seven years in prison.  On April 8, the Baku Court of Appeal upheld the verdict.  Nuruzade and others in civil society stated authorities prosecuted him for criticizing the government and publicly supporting the imprisoned leadership of the Muslim Unity Movement.

On July 14, the Baku Court on Grave Crimes sentenced Muslim Unity Movement members Ebulfez Bunyadov to 15 years’ imprisonment and Elkhan Isgandarov to 14 years on charges that included inciting religious hatred and terrorism.  The Baku Court of Appeals upheld the verdicts on September 26.  Activists stated the court convicted the two for their affiliation with the Muslim Unity Movement at the time of the 2015 police operation in the village of Nardaran against Taleh Bagirzada, Abbas Huseynov, and 16 other members of the Muslim Unity Movement.

On March 1, the Supreme Court rejected the appeals of Muslim Unity Movement leader Taleh Bagirzada as well as Abbas Huseynov and 16 others on charges stemming from the 2015 police raid in Nardaran to disrupt alleged planning for a coup.  Human rights defenders said authorities ordered the operation and subsequent sweeping arrests to prevent the spread of Islamic political activism in the country.  On April 4, the Baku Court of Appeals upheld the December 2017 conviction of 12 other members of the Muslim Unity Movement in a related case.  Human rights defenders stated the government fabricated all charges in the cases to halt the spread of an Islamic political opposition in the country.

On February 13, the Supreme Court upheld the verdicts of the Masalli District Court and the Shirvan Court of Appeal sentencing theologian Sardar Babayev to three years in prison for performing Namaz (ritual prayers) after having studied Islam outside the country.  He was the only individual ever prosecuted under this law.  Following Babayev’s arrest, parliament passed legislation allowing the CMB, the same body that had originally appointed him as imam in Masalli and whose members all received religious education outside Azerbaijan, to waive the law’s requirements for specific individuals.

On December 20, the Khazar District Court sentenced Telman Shiraliyev to an additional five months and 18 days in prison for alleged possession of a weapon in his prison cell.  Prosecutors filed the new charge days before the conclusion of his six-year prison term for protesting against a ban on schoolgirls wearing headscarves.  Human rights defenders said the new charge was fabricated by authorities to prevent Shiraliyev’s release.

Jehovah’s Witnesses reported the government continued to withhold alternative military service to conscientious objectors despite being required to do so by the constitution.  On July 6, the Barda District Court convicted Jehovah’s Witness Emil Mehdiyev for criminal evasion of military service and sentenced him to one year of probation.  On September 6, the Agdam District Court convicted Jehovah’s Witness Vahid Abilov on the same charge and also sentenced him to one year of probation.

Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that in January, 10 police officers raided a home in Lankaran where several families of Jehovah’s Witnesses were gathered.  According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, police believed the meeting was religious in nature, but it was actually a social gathering.  Police searched the home, seized personal literature, and took statements from those present.  Authorities required the men to report to a police station to give their statements while they took statements from the women at their homes.

On April 5, authorities released three individuals – Tarlan Agadadashov, Rovshan Allahverdiyev, and Ilham Hatamov – who participated in a 2012 protest seeking to abolish the ban on wearing the hijab in secondary schools who completed their six-year term of imprisonment.  On May 24, authorities pardoned and released Davud Kerimov and Elshad Rzayev for their participation in the same protest.

Unregistered Muslim and non-Muslim religious groups considered nontraditional by the government reported authorities continued to impede their activities and subject them to harassment and fines.  Some Protestant leaders reported their continued inability to obtain legal registration prevented them from openly conducting worship services or advertising their locations to bring in new members.  Leaders of unregistered home-based churches continued to report they kept their activities discreet to avoid unwanted attention from the authorities.

On January 17, police and SCWRA officials raided the shop of Ruhiyya Mehdiyeva in Baku’s Sabunchu District and seized 400 unapproved religious books.  On February 1, the Sabunchu District Court found Mehdiyeva guilty of disseminating unauthorized religious materials and fined her 2,000 manat ($1,200).

On January 28, Ganja police raided the home of Adalat Sariyev during a meeting of 100 members of the unregistered Star in the East Pentecostal Church.  Police dispersed those present but did not file charges.

Numerous religious communities continued to report frustration at the requirements for government registration.  Many groups, including Baptist communities in Zagatala and Baku, complained the government requirement to have a minimum of 50 members to register was unreasonable.

Some religious community leaders also reported the SCWRA continued its policy of applying pre-2009 registration status for such communities only to the physical structures mentioned in their pre-2009 registration forms.  While the SCWRA continued to state the religious activities of these communities in locations not covered under their pre-2009 registration status was prohibited, it occasionally granted exceptions upon request.

The SCWRA reported it continued to provide letters authorizing previously registered communities to operate, based on their pre-2009 registration.  Some of the religious communities unable to reregister reported police did not accept SCWRA letters as evidence of prior registration and stated only communities listed on the SCWRA website as currently registered were allowed to operate.

On November 8, the SCWRA reregistered the Baku community of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

During the year, the SCWRA registered 90 religious communities, of which 86 were Muslim and four Christian.  The total number of registered communities at the end of the year was 909, of which 32 were non-Muslim:  21 Christian, eight Jewish, two Baha’i, and one the International Society of Krishna Consciousness.  The SCWRA also reported 2,250 mosques, 14 churches, and seven synagogues were registered.

On March 27, President Ilham Aliyev allocated 6.1 million manat ($3.59 million) to the newly established Moral Values Promotion Foundation (MVPF), under the purview of the SCWRA.  Created in October 2017, the MVPF institutionalizes the payment of salaries for imams and other mosque staff who previously subsisted primarily from local community donations.  The tax-free allowance ranged from 200 to 400 manat ($120-$240) depending on position, and the MVPF began disbursements in May.

On February 9, President Aliyev issued an executive order to establish the Azerbaijan Institute of Theology under the SCWRA.  The institute was intended to gradually replace the Baku Islamic University, which operated under the purview of the CMB since 1991.  Experts stated the establishment of the MVPF and the Institute of Theology signified a diminishment of the authority of the CMB and a tightening of SCWRA control over the Islamic education and practice in the country.

In February the SCWRA prohibited publication of the book Things Not Existing in Islam by Muslim theologian Elshad Miri, which enumerated ideas and practices alleged to have no theological basis in Islam, such as the use of magic and child marriage.  The SCWRA stated the book could have a negative influence on religious stability in the country and thus was not suitable for publication.  Miri submitted a legal challenge to the prohibition, and on September 18, a Baku court ruled in favor of the SCWRA and prohibited publication of the book.

The SCWRA reported that in the first half of the year, it prohibited the importation of 19 books out of 483, and the publication of 22 books out of 104.

On January 31, the Constitutional Court informed Baptist Pastor Hamid Shabanov that it would not consider the appeal of a 1,500 manat ($880) fine for a 2016 gathering in the village of Aliabad of his unregistered Baptist community.  Human rights defenders stated there were multiple violations of law and process in the case, such as the court’s failure to provide a Georgian language interpreter and requiring Shabanov to sign documents he could not read.

The SCWRA announced on its website that on April 23 it raided a home mosque in Baku’s Qaradag District in a joint operation with the State Security Service and local police.  In its statement, the SCWRA noted its concern about youth participation in the unauthorized gathering.

On September 17, regional officials of the State Committee for Work with Religious Organizations, officers of the State Security Service secret police, and officials of unspecified other state agencies raided the home of Vugar Mammadov in Agsu.  Officials found Mammadov and two guests, Rauf Majidov and Qanbar Zeynalov, meeting for religious purposes.  Officials then charged them for violating legislation on holding religious meetings, marches, and other religious ceremonies.  On September 21, Judge Tahir Ismayilov of Agsu District Court found all three individuals guilty.  The court fined Zeynalov 2,000 manat ($1,200) and fined the two guests 1,700 manat ($1,000) and 1,500 manat ($880).

On August 6, Sheki District Court fined Samad Alikhanov 2,000 manat ($1,200) for offering religious literature for sale without state permission.  Alikhanov appealed his fine to Sheki Appeal Court, but Judge Rafail Aliyev rejected the appeal on September 4.

On March 6, Judge Arif Ismayilov of Zaqatala District Court fined Adil Zinkiyev 1,750 manat ($1,000) for offering 19 religious and historical books and 16 pamphlets for sale outside a mosque in the village of Car on February 16.  The Islamic publications were in Avar, Russian, and Arabic; had not undergone the compulsory state censorship; and were not marked with the required State Committee sticker.  Zinkiyev appealed the fine, but on May 18, Judge Rafail Aliyev of Sheki Appeal Court rejected the appeal.

On April 12, President Aliyev attended the opening of the new Haji Javad Mosque in Baku that was constructed to replace the mosque of the same name demolished by authorities in July 2017 to construct a new road.  Prior to demolition, a group of Muslim practitioners had unsuccessfully attempted to prevent the government’s action.

On June 11, President Aliyev signed a decree allocating one million manat ($588,000) to the CMB for the needs of Muslim communities, and 250,000 manat ($147,000) each to the Baku Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church and the religious community of Mountain Jews.  The decree also allocated 100,000 manat ($58,800) each to the European Jewish community, the Albanian-Udi community, and the Catholic Church of Baku.

Abuses by Foreign Forces and Nonstate Actors

The government did not exercise control over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.  Some religious groups and NGOs reported continued restrictions on religious activities by the de facto authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh, but information on specific abuses remained unavailable.

Jehovah’s Witnesses reported the de facto authorities allowed them to worship in the region without hindrance but denied them registration as a religious group as well as the right to conscientious objection to military service.

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

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

There were reports that authorities subjected individuals to death, forced disappearances, and organ harvesting in prison because of their religious beliefs or affiliation.

According to the Church of Almighty God website, kingdomsalvation.org, a member of the Church died while in custody shortly after Guizhou authorities arrested her on an unspecified charge in March.  Authorities said the unnamed person committed suicide by hanging herself, but did not allow her family to view her body.  Officials reportedly told her family the government did not approve of her Christian beliefs.  When her relatives questioned the government’s determination of her death as suicide, authorities threatened them with potential loss of employment and university access for their children.

According to Minghui, a Falun Gong publication, on January 16 police took into custody and interrogated Ye Guohua and five other Falun Gong practitioners who were doing Falun Gong exercises.  Police released the five practitioners the next morning and took Ye to the Jianye Detention Center where his family believes he was brutally tortured for his Falun Gong practice.  On September 8, Ye suffered what authorities said was a sudden acute illness and was sent to the hospital.  Authorities allowed his family to see him briefly, and family members reported Ye was in a coma and his body was swollen.  He died three days later.  A local Falun Gong practitioner called the detention center to inquire about what happened to Ye and the person who answered the phone said, “He’s dead, so there’s nothing that can be done.  Asking about this is just asking for trouble.”

The Church of Almighty God reported that in April CCP police secretly arrested and tortured one of its members for 25 days.  The individual was sent to the hospital with severe injuries to the skull and she died several months later.  The Church of Almighty God also reported that on June 27, two church members were arrested, and on July 2, one of them was “persecuted to death” in Chaoyang Municipal Detention Center.

Minghui reported that on July 4, authorities arrested and detained Ma Guilan from Hebei Province for talking to people about Falun Gong.  On September 17, authorities said Ma suddenly fell ill and they took her to the hospital where she died hours later.  According to the report, several officials came to the hospital and removed Ma’s organs for examination, although it was unclear what happened to those organs.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Chinese authorities have subjected prisoners of conscience including Falun Gong, Uighurs, Tibetan Buddhists, and “underground” Christians to forcible organ extraction.  Former prisoners stated that while in detention, authorities subjected them to blood tests and unusual medical examinations that were then added to a database, enabling on-demand organ transplants.  On December 10, an independent tribunal established by the international NGO International Coalition to End Transplant Abuse in China issued an interim judgement that the panel was “certain – unanimously, and sure beyond reasonable doubt – that in China, forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience has been practiced for a substantial period of time, involving a very substantial number of victims.”

In August the Association for the Defense of Human Rights and Religious Freedom (ADHRRF), an international NGO providing regular reports on the situation of the Church of Almighty God, reported that between April and August, authorities in Chongqing, Sichuan Province, detained 109 church members.  Of those, 40 remained missing at year’s end.

The whereabouts of Gao Zhisheng remained unknown, although media reported it was believed he remained in the custody of state security police.  Police detained Gao, a human rights lawyer who had defended members of Christian groups, Falun Gong practitioners, and other groups, in September 2017.

There were reports that authorities tortured detainees, including by depriving them of food, water, and sleep.

The Church of Almighty God reported authorities subjected 525 of its members to “torture or forced indoctrination” during the year.  The Church also reported members suffered miscarriages after police subjected them to “torture and abuse” in detention facilities.

The Globe and Mail reported in September that authorities tortured a Canadian citizen who is a Falun Gong practitioner during her 18-month pretrial detention in Beijing.  While detained, authorities reportedly initially deprived the individual of food and water, and later pushed her to the ground and pepper sprayed her.  Officials arrested her in February 2017 on charges of “organizing or using a cult to undermine implementation of the law.”  After the arrest, her husband, whom she stated she believed turned her in to authorities, reportedly transferred all of her property and company shares to his name.

According to The Epoch Times, in September a court sentenced Chen Huixia, a Falun Gong practitioner in Hebei Province, to 3.5 years in prison for “using an evil cult to undermine law enforcement,” according to Chen’s daughter.  Amnesty International said detention center officials tortured Chen and strapped her to an iron chair so that she was immobile.  Chen had been held with limited access to family and lawyers since 2016.

According to Minghui, 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.

In June Pastor Yang Hua (also known as Li Guozhi) of the Livingstone Church – the largest unregistered church in Guizhou Province before the government shut it down in 2015 – completed his 2.5-year prison sentence for “divulging state secrets.”  According to Yang Hua, prison officials tortured him before and after his sentence to extract a confession to the alleged crime.  As a result of this as well as inadequate medical care in prison, Yang Hua developed vasculitis, leading to near paralysis of his legs, and became ill with diabetes.  His lawyers stated that authorities continued to surveil Yang Hua following his release from prison.

Police arrested and otherwise detained leaders and members of religious groups, often those connected with groups not registered, as part of the state-sanctioned “patriotic religious associations.”  There were reports police used violence and beatings during arrest and detention.  Reportedly, authorities used vague or insubstantial charges, sometimes in connection with religious activity, to convict and sentence leaders and members of religious groups to years in prison.  Some previously detained persons were released.

The Political Prisoner Database (PPDB) maintained by human rights NGO Dui Hua Foundation contained the following number of imprisoned religious practitioners at year’s end:  310 Protestants, 205 Church of Almighty God members, 136 Muslims, 22 Buddhists, and nine Catholics, compared with 308 Protestants, 277 Church of Almighty God members, 107 Muslims, 30 Buddhists, and nine Catholics at the end of 2017.  According to Dui Hua, these numbers are based on Dui Hua’s classification system for inclusion in the PPDB and are not the total number of religious prisoners.  The number of Muslim prisoners did not include 505 Uighur and 234 Kazakh prisoners, which Dui Hua classified as “ethnic prisoners.”  According to Dui Hua, these figures did not account for Muslims in “vocational skill education training centers.”  The PPDB listed 3,486 Falun Gong practitioners imprisoned at year’s end, compared with 3,516 at the end of 2017.  Dui Hua defined imprisoned religious practitioners as “people persecuted for holding religious beliefs that are not officially sanctioned.”

Falun Gong reported that during the year authorities arrested or harassed approximately 9,000 citizens for refusing to renounce Falun Gong.  According to Minghui, authorities arrested 4,848 Falun Gong practitioners and harassed an additional 4,127.  Of those arrested, 2,414 remained in detention at year’s end.

According to the Epoch Times, Sichuan Province security officials detained 78 Falun Gong practitioners in the province during the first six months of the year.

International Falun Gong-affiliated NGOs and international media reported detentions of Falun Gong practitioners continued to increase around “sensitive” dates.  Authorities instructed neighborhood communities to report Falun Gong members to officials.

The Church of Almighty God reported authorities arrested 11,111 of its members during the year, of which 2,392 remained in custody.

On December 31, Radio Free Asia reported more than 100 riot police and People’s Armed Police in Yunnan’s Weishan County raided three mosques and forcibly evicted Hui Muslims for engaging in what they said were “illegal religious activities.”  Authorities injured several individuals who resisted the eviction.  Video footage showed police charging into a crowd of unarmed civilians and shoving, dragging, and beating them.

On December 24, two police officers beat and kicked a Christian woman who was protesting the demolition of the TSPM church in Luyi County, Zhoukou City, Henan Province.

Radio Free Asia reported that on September 5, uniformed officers in Nanyang, Henan Province, conducted raids on at least four Protestant churches, physically subduing passersby who asked about the raid.

According to the NGO International Christian Concern, on November 21, more than 100 uniformed government officers raided the Beimen Catholic Church in the city of Ji’an in Jiangxi Province and injured four elderly Catholics who were defending the church.

The New York Times reported on December 9, authorities in Sichuan Province raided the Early Rain Covenant Church – Chengdu’s highest-membership unregistered church – and detained more than 100 leaders, seminary students, and congregants.  This was the third time since May that officials raided the church for lacking proper registration.  ChinaAid reported authorities arrested 200 church members in May and another 17 in June.  One detainee publicly said officials struck him approximately 30 times as they interrogated him.  According to church members, police struck another individual in the face even though he had not resisted arrest.  In May authorities arrested lead Pastor Wang Yi, an outspoken critic of the government’s controls on religion, on allegations of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.”  In December Wang and his wife Jiang Rong were both charged with “inciting subversion of state power,” which carries a potential sentence of life imprisonment.  As of year’s end, the whereabouts and conditions of many detainees remained unknown, including Wang and his wife, who were being held in unspecified locations.

In anticipation of his arrest, Pastor Wang Yi wrote a letter titled “My Declaration of Faithful Disobedience,” which the Early Rain Church published following his detention on December 9.  He wrote, “I am filled with anger and disgust at the persecution of the church by this Communist regime, at the wickedness of their depriving people of the freedoms of religion and of conscience…I am not interested in changing any political or legal institutions in China … I’m not even interested in the question of when the Communist regime’s policies persecuting the church will change.  Regardless of which regime I live under now or in the future, as long as the secular government continues to persecute the church, violating human consciences that belong to God alone, I will continue my faithful disobedience.”

Bitter Winter, an online magazine on religious liberty and human rights in China, reported that pastors across the country released a joint declaration in August supporting religious liberty and condemning the CCP’s revised Regulations on Religious Affairs.  At year’s end, more than 600 pastors, ministers, and church elders had signed the statement.  According to the report, the Bureau of Religious Affairs in every region was strictly monitoring all individuals who signed the letter and prohibiting them from traveling to Chengdu to support the Early Rain Church.  A statement released by the Early Rain Church said authorities had questioned and pressured more than half of the signatories.  Reportedly, authorities also raided and shut down churches because their pastors had signed the joint declaration.

In March authorities in Yunnan Province convicted and sentenced Protestant pastor Cao “John” Sanqiang, a U.S. lawful permanent resident and Christian leader, to seven years in prison for “organizing others to illegally cross the border.”

In January Radio Free Asia reported defense attorney Xiao Yunyang said the Yun County People’s Court in Yunnan Province sentenced six Christians to up to 13 years in prison for involvement in the Three Grades of Servants, which the government had designated a “cult.”  Authorities in Yunnan reportedly told lawyers defending the accused their licenses to practice would be reviewed.  Attorney Li Guisheng said the court revoked the status of lawyers defending Christians in a similar case in Fengqing County, Yunnan Province.  In April a court in Dali, Yunnan Province, sentenced Tu Yan to two years of imprisonment for participating in Three Grades of Servants activities.  As part of a case that involved more than 100 Christians in Yunnan Province, authorities arrested Tu in 2016, and held her in a detention center for more than 20 months before sentencing her.  Authorities originally charged Tu with “organizing and using a cult organization to undermine law enforcement.”

In April the government sentenced Su Tianfu, Copastor with Yang Hua of the Livingstone Church, to a yearlong suspended sentence and a further six months of residential surveillance for “illegally possessing state secrets.”  Authorities also fined Su and Yang 7,053,710.68 RMB ($1.03 million) for collecting “illegal” donations from congregation members.  The government rejected Su’s appeal in which he said church members voluntarily donated the money to fund church activities.

On November 16, Crux reported that Catholic bishop Peter Shao Zhumin of Wenzhou, recognized by the Vatican but not government authorities, had again been taken into custody.  The article stated Shao had been “subjected to several days of interrogation as in the Cultural Revolution” but gave no further details.  Authorities denied knowledge of his whereabouts.  According to the news agency Union of Catholic Asian (UCA) News, authorities released Shao on November 23 after detaining him for 14 days.  News sources said security officials detained Shao before Holy Week (April 9-15) 2017 and held him five days.  Authorities again subsequently detained Shao in May 2017 and released him on January 3, 2018.  Authorities have detained Shao several times since September 2016, reportedly to prevent him from assuming control of Wenzhou Diocese following the death of Bishop Vincent Zhu Weifan.

UCA News also reported that Catholic priest Lu Danhua, who was taken into custody by officials of the Qingtian Religious Affairs Bureau in Wenzhou, Zhejiang in December 2017, was released November 22.  According to the report, a source said authorities detained Lu because they wanted to replace him at the Qingtian church with a priest from the CCPA.

Media reported police detained Vincenzo Guo Xijin, the Vatican-appointed bishop of the Mindong area of Fujian Province, on March 26 after he reportedly declined to jointly lead an Easter ceremony with government-approved Bishop Vincenzo Zhan Silu, who was not recognized by the Holy See.  Police released him the next day.  In a compromise, authorities allowed Guo to lead the ceremony, provided he kept it “low key” and agreed not to wear his bishop’s insignia.

On June 3, police arrested a Baptist preacher Liang Ziliang and his wife, Li Yinxiu, in Heshan, Guangdong Province, for distributing brochures about Christianity and carrying banners protesting abortion in a local park, according to ChinaAid.  Authorities held the couple at a detention center for several days.

In June Xuanwu District Court, Nanjing City, Jiangsu Province, sentenced Falun Gong practitioner Ma Zehnyu to three years and fined him 30,000 RMB ($4,400) for mailing letters in defense of Falun Gong to some of China’s top leaders.  The Nanjing Intermediate People’s Court upheld his conviction in August.  Ma’s lawyers requested to meet with him in November, but authorities denied the request.  As of year’s end, Ma was serving his sentence in Suzhou Prison, Jiangsu Province.  Ma, who had been imprisoned previously, was arrested in September 2017 and authorities reportedly told him, “This time, we will let you die in jail.”

On March 15, police arrested a Liaoning Province woman, Zhou Jinxia, after she traveled from Dalian to Beijing to attempt to share her Christian faith with President Xi Jinping, reported the Gospel Herald.  Zhou held up a sign in front of Zhongnanhai, the former imperial garden, which said, “God loves the people of the world and is calling out to Xi Jinping.”  Authorities immediately transported her back to Dalian where authorities criminally charged her.

Radio Free Asia reported in July that authorities in Sichuan Province detained two Tibetan businessmen after they found the men in possession of photographs of the Dalai Lama.

The government did not recognize religious groups not affiliated with the “patriotic religious associations” including unregistered Protestant (also known as “house” churches), Catholic, Muslim, and other groups, and continued to close down or hinder their activities.  At times, the closures reportedly were because the group or its activities were unregistered and other times because the place of worship reportedly lacked necessary permits.

Some local governments continued to restrict the growth of unregistered Protestant church networks and cross-congregational affiliations.  Some officials reportedly still denied the existence of unregistered churches.  Although SARA 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.

In implementing the new regulations on religious affairs, authorities required unregistered religious groups to disband, leaving their congregations with the sole option of attending services under a state-sanctioned religious leader, rather than allow it to alter its legal status as an intact religious community.

ChinaAid reported that after the religious affairs regulations went into effect on February 1, officials in 19 towns in Henan Province went door-to-door, urging Christians to attend the government-sponsored TSPM-affiliated Church instead of unregistered churches.  Reportedly, many Christians subsequently met secretly in their homes, afraid of public security agents.

Sources said that local Public Security Bureaus in Liaoning Province began intensifying efforts to force the closure of dozens of unregistered “underground” churches and detained their pastors even before the revised Regulations on Religious Affairs went into effect February 1.  According to Bitter Winter, since March, authorities shut down at least 40 unregistered churches across Liaoning Province in cities such as Donggang, Anshan, Dandong, and Shenyang.

According to a September Voice of America report, there were widespread reports indicating the government of Henan was waging a campaign against the province’s Christians by taking down crosses, demolishing churches, and erasing Christian slogans from church buildings.  According to Bitter Winter, in the past years there was the most severe “persecution against Christianity” in Henan Province.

In late July religious affairs officials raided Chongqing Aiyan House Church and issued an order for the church to end all “illegal” religious activities.  Citing the new regulations, the officials told congregants they were conducting religious activities at an unregistered location and ordered them to attend religious services at a TSPM church instead.  Authorities warned congregants authorities would arrest them if they did not comply.

On February 4, police shut down another house church in Qingxi Town, Dongguan, Guangdong Province, and dismissed more than 80 congregation members, warning them against future assembly.

ChinaAid reported authorities in Xuzhou, Jiangsu Province, raided Dao’en Church on September 7, saying the Church had not registered with the government.  Authorities closed three of the Church’s five branches and pressured landlords to not renew leases for the Church, according to the report.  ChinaAid earlier reported authorities had fined the pastor and another minister of Dao’en Church 10,000 RMB ($1,500) and threatened to confiscate the Church’s offerings.

Radio Free Asia reported that on September 9, authorities in Beijing shut down Zion Church, a large unregistered Protestant church led by Pastor Jin “Ezra” Mingzhi, saying it had broken rules by organizing mass gatherings without registering with authorities.  A church elder surnamed Yi said more than 100 police officers entered the church and detained some church members who tried to stop them shutting it down.  The church’s landlord canceled the contract even though the terms of the contract had not yet expired.

Radio Free Asia reported in February that authorities in Shenzhen ordered a 3,000-member Protestant church, the Shekou One Country International Church, to close after a fire and safety inspection.  Also in February, authorities in Henan Province fined a Protestant house church in Yuzhou, citing violations of building and safety regulations, and stating the building was an illegal structure because the church failed to obtain required permissions when it was built.

According to a source, local authorities in Liaoning Province charged underground church leaders with taking members’ money under false pretenses.  ChinaAid reported that on August 20, authorities visited a church in Shenyang they said was an “unapproved venue.”  Officials deemed church offerings illegal and forced the church to close by August 23.  On December 31, Radio Free Asia reported authorities sealed three mosques in Yunnan’s Weishan County after a protest, to prevent further use as they were pending demolition at year’s end.  A local source reportedly said local Muslims had submitted the right paperwork to register the mosques but were unsuccessful, and that the local state-sanctioned Islamic Association of China (IAC) approved of the closures.

The South China Morning Post reported in August hundreds of Hui Muslims gathered outside the Weizhou Grand Mosque in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region to protest its demolition.  The mosque had been recently rebuilt, the second to replace Weizhou’s 600-year-old mosque that was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution.  The article said although the government seemed to support the mosque’s construction in 2015, government officials said the mosque had not been granted the necessary planning and construction permits.  After days of negotiation, authorities and religious leaders agreed on an alternative plan:  instead of demolishing the mosque, the government would revamp the mosque and construction would only take place once everyone was happy with the renovation plan.  The government initially proposed removing eight of the mosque’s nine domes, but the local community opposed the idea.

According to a Radio Free Asia report, local believers in Henan said authorities demolished or shut down over 100 churches and crosses in August.

According to the Association for the Defense of Human and Religious Rights, on September 16, authorities in Zhengzhou, Henan Province demolished Yangzhai Zhen Jesus Church after forcing members to agree to the demolition by threatening their families’ livelihood.

ChinaAid reported that on September 9, approximately 100 officials from the religious affairs and public security bureaus attempted to break into Dali Christian Church, in Zhengzhou, Henan Province, but more than 400 church members stopped them.  The officials left after handing the church a document that said the building was not a legal religious activities site and the religious department had not approved the day’s speaker, both violations of the revised Regulations on Religious Affairs.  Church members therefore immediately had to cease holding “illegal” religious events.

Bitter Winter reported that from October 28 to November 1, authorities shut down or sealed off 35 Buddhist temples and memorial temples in the city of Xinmi, Henan Province.

ChinaAid reported that on Sunday, January 14, more than 20 government agents closed an unregistered church in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, interrupting a service led by Lou Siping.  They informed the Christians gathered there that the building had not been registered and took 30 church members to the police station for questioning.  Authorities later demanded the church’s landlord cancel the church lease.

In January police and local officials dynamited the 50,000-member Golden Lampstand (Jindengtai) Church in Linfen, Shanxi Province, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide.  The state-run Global Times reported the destruction was part of a campaign against “illegal buildings.”  This church did not register with TSPM and reportedly had been involved in a dispute with local officials, who refused to grant the building permits when it was originally constructed.

Bitter Winter reported the United Front Work Department of Shaanxi Province issued a document outlining a campaign against Buddhist and Daoist religious sites in the Qinling Mountains that the department said violated construction or processing regulations.  In July authorities destroyed Longhua Temple of Taiyi Town, Chang’an District, Xi’an City, saying it did not have a permit.  At the end of August authorities sent 100 armed police officers and two excavators to destroy the Jade Buddha Temple in Huyi District of Xi’an City, Shaanxi Province.  Several monks who lived at the temple were left homeless and, according to Bitter Winter sources, local villagers were not allowed to admit monks into their homes.

ChinaAid reported government officials in Qiqihar, Heilongjiang Province, destroyed the St. Theresa Convent on December 18-19.  Nuns living at the convent received an eviction notice on the morning of December 18, and by 11:00 p.m., authorities began demolishing the site.  According to the report, church members said they believed authorities destroyed the convent to put pressure on congregations not registered with the government.  Following the convent’s demolition, the nuns were left temporarily homeless.

A number of Catholic churches and bishops appointed by the pope remained unable to register with the CCPA.  The government and the Holy See still did not have diplomatic relations, and the Vatican had no representative in the country.  In September the Holy See and the China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs both announced that the two sides had reached a provisional agreement that would resolve a decades-long dispute concerning the authority to appoint bishops.  Neither provided details of the provisional agreement.  When speaking to media in late September, Pope Francis said there would be a “dialogue” on bishops who would be named by the pope.  At year’s end, there was no official explanation on what the mechanism would be for the Vatican and the government to make decisions regarding appointment of bishops.  The existing government regulation on the Election and Consecration of Bishops requires candidate bishops to publicly pledge to support the CCP.  Also in September the Vatican said the pope would be lifting the excommunication of seven bishops who had been ordained without the pope’s authority.  The Vatican subsequently appointed two of these men to lead dioceses and appointed the bishops it had formerly appointed in those dioceses (including Bishop Gua of Mingdon) as auxiliary bishops.

In an interview in February, retired Archbishop of Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun condemned talks between the Holy See and the Chinese government.  Zen expressed concerns that a deal between the Holy See and the government would give too much power to authorities and would place the country’s Catholics in a “birdcage.”

Unofficially, authorities tolerated members of foreigner groups meeting for private religious celebrations.  International churches received heavy scrutiny, as authorities forced them to require passport checks and registration for members to prevent Chinese nationals from attending “foreigner” services.

In May SARA released draft Measures on the Administration of Foreigners’ Group Religious Activities in the Mainland Territory of the People’s Republic of China.  These regulations, which would apply to religious activities of groups containing 50 or more foreigners, would update regulations last issued in 1991.  The draft amendments stipulate where groups may hold religious activities, who can preside over and attend these activities, and who would be responsible for reporting activities to authorities and what kind of information about the participants they would be required to provide.  To obtain approval for their activities, groups would need to name three representatives who do not possess diplomatic immunity.  Foreign groups would need to allow the corresponding state-sanctioned religious association to assign a Chinese religious professional to preside over the function.  All other Chinese citizens would be barred from attending the activities of these foreign groups.  As of the end of the year, SARA had not announced the implementation of these regulations.

The government continued to recognize as “lawful” only those religious activities it sanctioned and controlled through the “patriotic religious associations” or otherwise.  Government-accredited religious personnel had to conduct such activities and only in government-approved places of religious activity.

SARA continued to maintain statistics on registered religious groups.  According to the SCIO’s report on religious policies and practice released in September 2017, there were 21 officially recognized Protestant seminaries, 57,000 clerical personnel, and 60,000 churches and other meeting places.  This report stated there were 91 religious schools in the country approved by SARA, including nine Catholic schools.  This report also stated there were six national level religious colleges.  Civil society groups reported the government closed CCPA-affiliated seminaries in Shanghai and Chengdu, Sichuan Province.  Although there were two CCPA seminaries in Beijing, civil society regarded one of them to be primarily used as the CCPA’s propaganda for international visitors.

The state-run Global Times quoted Bishop Guo Jincai, Secretary General of the Bishops Conference of the Catholic Church in China, as stating there were 61 (CCPA-affiliated) Catholic bishops, 12 of them over the age of 80.  The Vatican did not previously recognize eight of these bishops, and had excommunicated three of them.  Crux, an online newspaper reporting on the Catholic Church, reported in September more than 37 Catholic bishops remained independent of the CCPA.  In some locations, local authorities reportedly pressured unregistered Catholic priests and believers to renounce all ordinations approved by the Holy See.

The SCIO report also estimated there were 35,000 mosques, 57,000 imams, and 10 Quran institutes (religious seminaries under the auspices of IAC) in the country.

Religious groups reported “patriotic religious associations” continued to be subject to CCP interference in matters of doctrine, theology, and religious practice.  Official “patriotic religious associations” regularly reviewed sermons 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.

As part of its efforts to implement the central government’s policy of Sinicization of religions, at a forum in Guizhou in September, TSPM leaders highlighted what they said was TSPM’s important role in helping China’s Christianity get rid of foreign influence during the last 68 years and helping Christian churches to truly gain sovereignty while strengthening Christians’ patriotism.  Religious scholars said they interpreted this statement as informal guidance for Christians to curtail all interactions with international Christian groups.

At the end of August in Jiaozuo City, Henan Province, CCP officials forcibly occupied and converted multiple TSPM churches into communist party schools, cultural centers, and activity hubs.  Bitter Winter reported that in September at least 20 churches in Dengzhou City and more than 138 churches in Luoyang City, including some government-approved TSPM churches, were repurposed to suit government needs.

According to sources, Northeast China had fewer unregistered churches than other parts of the country.  While still strictly controlled, the northeastern religious groups had reportedly enjoyed relatively more autonomy over their sermons and practices in past years.  Sources indicated that authorities closed some Sunday schools in Jilin, Liaoning, and Heilongjiang Provinces.  According to sources, until July authorities in Northeast China rarely enforced a rule preventing churches from holding services for minors under the age of 18.  Until recently, the updated religion regulations mainly affected unregistered churches.  In July authorities began scrutinizing registered churches in Liaoning more strictly, including pressuring young adults over the age of 18 not to attend church services.  Some churches reported also shutting down their college student services.

There were reports of government officials, companies, and education authorities compelling members of house churches and other Christians to sign documents renouncing their Christian faith and church membership.

In February many companies began requiring workers to sign a “no-faith commitment,” according to Bitter Winter.  Between April and August, local security personnel approached nearly 300 members of Zion Church in Beijing and pressured members to sign a document renouncing their church membership as well as their Christian faith.

Radio Free Asia reported that in mid-September, the CCP took further steps to implement the ban on religious activity among government employees, including schoolteachers and medical personnel.  According to local Christians, authorities were asking teachers working in high schools in Zhejiang, Jiangxi, and Henan Provinces to sign a letter pledging to hold no religious beliefs.  Christian believers said the crackdown on religious beliefs among teachers came alongside pressure on students, who are required to submit to an interview with school authorities if they declare religious beliefs on mandatory forms.

World Watch Monitor, an online news site reporting on Christianity, reported in April that teachers forced more than 300 Christian children in two high schools in Zhejiang Province to fill out a form stating they did not adhere to any religion.  According to the report, the children were given a questionnaire about their faith and pressured to write they had no religion.  Those who did not comply reportedly were denied access to opportunities at school and faced the potential threat of not receiving certificates of completion, which would make them unable to attend college.

In May ChinaAid reported education authorities in Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province, asked students to state the religious beliefs of their families.  After identifying students whose parents were Catholic or another Christian denomination, authorities visited the parents in their homes to persuade them to give up their religious beliefs.  Some authorities used the parents’ employers to pressure parents to renounce their religious beliefs, including by withholding bonuses, according to the report.

According to pastors and a group that monitors religion in China, the government was ordering Christians to sign papers renouncing their faith.  The New York Post reported in September that ChinaAid leadership released video footage of what appeared to be piles of burning Bibles and forms stating that signatories renounced their Christian faith.  ChinaAid leadership said this marked the first time since the Cultural Revolution that Christians had been compelled to make such declarations, under the fear of expulsion from school and the loss of welfare benefits.

International media and NGOs reported on a nation-wide campaign to “Sinicize religion,” and the government restricted individuals’ ability to express or practice their religion in other ways.

On March 28, in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, the government launched a five-year plan on promoting the “Sinicization of Christianity.”  The plan outline advocated “incorporating the Chinese elements into church worship services, hymns and songs, clergy attire, and the architectural style of church buildings” and proposed to “retranslate the Bible or rewrite biblical commentaries.”  The government’s proposed plan to augment the content of the Bible in line with CCP policies fueled speculation in Christian groups that it was a reason the government began enforcing a ban on online Bible sales.

According to the South China Morning Post, cities throughout Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region in north-central China reported efforts by authorities to replace Islamic structures and symbols with traditional Chinese iconography.  Individuals in Yinchuan reported bright red lamps with Chinese cloud designs replacing gray lamp posts with Islamic motifs and two round flat rings in the style of Chinese jade discs replacing two large crescent moon sculptures.  The local government banned Arab-style mosques and set out plans to convert existing mosques to resemble Chinese temples.

Radio Free Asia reported in August that state-sanctioned religious associations had proposed a measure that would require all places of worship to fly the national flag.  Representatives at a conference in Beijing indicated that the national flag should be raised at religious venues during national holidays and during each religion’s important festivals and celebrations.  The measure also indicated that otherwise officials would place scrutiny on the places of worship.

Authorities reportedly pressured churches to display banners with political ideology, recite the national anthem before singing Christian hymns, and engage in other acts demonstrating one’s loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party over the church.

ChinaAid reported that in early July, more than 100 churches in Xinyu County, Jiangxi Province, received a warning from local authorities demanding they dismantle their crosses and replace them with an image of President Xi Jinping or the national flag.  Reportedly, government agents destroyed the crosses of churches that refused to dismantle their crosses.

In September Pastor Zhang Liang reported authorities in Shangqiu, Henan Province, had begun requiring churches to flank the cross with a photograph of Chairman Mao Zedong on one side and President Xi Jinping on the other.

According to Bitter Winter, on November 1, authorities in Luoning County, Henan Province ordered a government-approved TSPM church to remove one of the Ten Commandments from a sign displayed on its wall.  Authorities said President Xi Jinping opposed the commandment “You shall have no other gods before me,” and they wiped it off from the display.  Prior to this incident, media reported in August government officials had forcibly dismantled the church’s cross.

In 2017, the Ningxia government initiated a campaign to remove Arabic translations from street signs, and by February 2018, Arabic logos for halal restaurants and butcher shops were removed and replaced by Chinese characters and pinyin.  In Tongxin, Hui County, Ningxia, the article stated the government barred party members from going to mosques for daily prayers or taking part in the Hajj, even after they retired from office.  Authorities also banned government workers from wearing white caps to work.  In Yinchuan, the capital of Ningxia, authorities banned calls to prayer on the grounds of noise pollution.  Government officials ordered the Quran and books on Islam removed from souvenir shops and ordered mosques to cancel public Arabic-language courses.

Bitter Winter reported that authorities told Buddhist temple leaders in Xinmi, Henan Province, they had to take down banners and lock their doors because this was CCP Central Party Committee policy.  Authorities painted over the names of CCP members who had donated to the temples and whose names were displayed on the donors’ recognition steles.  According to the report, villagers said they saw the defacing of the donors’ steles as the coming of another Cultural Revolution.

According to media reports, at least four cities and one province ordered restrictions on Christmas celebrations including bans on Christmas decorations, promotional activities in shops, Christmas-themed events, and public performances.  Authorities also increased law enforcement and patrols in the days leading up to December 25 to prevent any illegal Christmas celebrations.  Police in Kunming issued a notice prohibiting Christmas decorations and related activities in crowded places such as hotels, karaoke parlors, internet cafes, and bars.  The notice said, “It is forbidden to hang Christmas stockings, wear Christmas hats, and place Christmas trees, and so on.”  Officials sent a notice to churches in Zhoukou, Henan Province, requiring them to vet Christmas commemorations with the government, forbidding minors from participating in Christmas events, and limiting expenses to 2000 RMB ($290).  School administrators at a university in Shanghai canceled a student union’s Christmas celebration, and administrators warned students in Qingdao against celebrating Christmas.

According to a brief statement released on August 28 by the National People’s Congress, the country’s new revised civil code would no longer retain the relevant content of family planning, which could scrap birth restrictions altogether.  The revised code, however, will not be completed until March 2020, and there is no indication yet how exactly the change would be made, or whether any other restrictions or conditions might remain on Chinese families.

In December state-run media outlet the Global Times reported that the Gansu provincial market regulation bureau banned four provincial halal certifications for food, restaurants, dairy, and noodles.  The article cited an official at the Gansu Ethnic Affairs Commission who stated that one region and five provinces (Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region and Qinghai, Shaanxi, Henan, Yunnan, and Tianjin Provinces) would also restrict the use of halal certifications on various products.  The Ethnic Affairs Commission employee stated the province was restricting these standards in line with the CCP’s United Front Work Department requirement to “fight the pan-halal tendency.”

Hui Muslims in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region and Gansu, Qinghai, and Yunnan Provinces continued to engage 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 workday and were not given time off for Islamic holidays.

In August the government of Hubei Province issued new regulations on the commercialization of the Buddhist and Daoist religions stating all activities of any religion must be confined to the private sphere and strictly prohibiting religious iconography in the public sphere.

Authorities increased social media and other surveillance on religious groups.  According to Bitter Winter, church leaders in Hebei and Henan Provinces had begun warning their church members that their social media accounts were under surveillance and cautioned them not to transmit religious content.

Christian organizations seeking to use social media and smartphone applications to distribute Christian materials reported the government increased censorship of these materials.

In July Radio Free Asia reported authorities in Malho, Qinghai Province, tightened controls on social media and deployed large numbers of armed police to Tibetan villages to discourage celebrations of the July 6 birthday of the Dalai Lama.  Authorities warned managers of social media chat groups to restrict sharing any secret or internal information by Tibetans and to keep an eye out for attempts to organize celebrations of the spiritual leader.

The Wall Street Journal reported in July that the IAC required Chinese Muslims departing for Mecca in Saudi Arabia to wear customized smart cards with personal data and a GPS tracker.

In September Pastor Zhang Liang reported the Chinese government had tightened its control over his church’s operations in Shangqiu, Henan Province.  Zhang said the government was installing “information officers” to report on “antigovernment” activities and behavior seen as a threat to social stability.

In April Beijing authorities ordered an unregistered church, Zion Church, to install 24 closed-circuit surveillance cameras inside the church, according to Reuters.  After church leadership refused this order, police and security personnel harassed and threatened church members and ultimately forced the eviction of the church.  In November the State Security Bureau installed surveillance equipment including multiple surveillance cameras inside an officially registered Protestant church in Lanzhou, Gansu Province, including in washrooms, according to Bitter Winter.

Authorities continued to restrict the printing and distribution of the Bible and other religious literature, and government prepared regulations to extended control of online postings by religious groups.

The government limited distribution of Bibles to CCPA and TSPM/Chinese Christian Council entities such as churches, church bookshops inside churches, 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.  Authorities only allowed the national TSPM and CCPA to publish the Bible legally.  According to reports, while there were no independent domestic Christian booksellers, publishers without a religious affiliation could publish Christian books.  Approximately 20 distribution centers and bookstores were linked to the national TSPM.  In addition, authorities reportedly allowed churches with more than 2,000 members 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.

While only government-sanctioned bodies that oversee Christian churches were officially able to sell the Bible, a South China Morning Post article reported that authorities had tended to look the other way.  The article also reported that on several visits in April Ministry of Culture inspectors told the Christian bookstores they could no longer sell “foreign books.”

Radio Free Asia reported that starting April 2, online selling platforms Taobao, JD.com, and Dangdang banned the sale of Bibles without international standard book numbers (ISBNs) and related spiritual books, according to a Taobao seller.  A New York Times article said the government banned online retailers from selling the Bible, and on leading online stores, internet searches for the Bible came up empty.  The article also reported that Christianity was the only major religion in China whose major holy text “cannot be sold through normal commercial channels.”  As of the end of the year, at least one dual-language (English and Chinese) Bible and two foreign-published English language Bibles were sold on some online sites.  Bibles in Chinese only were still unavailable for online purchase, however.

Bitter Winter reported that in Anshan Prefecture, Liaoning Province, police imposed a 400,000 RMB ($58,200) fine on any church discovered with an “unofficial” version of the Bible.  Faced with these pressures, underground churches reported gathering far less frequently and breaking up into small groups that moved around and held services at different locations.

The government continued to allow some foreign educational institutions to provide religious materials in Chinese, which are used by both registered and unregistered religious groups.

In September the Associated Press reported the government posted draft rules regulating religious activity on the internet that would impose tight limits on what could be said or posted, including a ban on criticizing official religious policies and promoting religion among minors.  The draft regulations would require anyone wishing to provide religious instruction or similar services online to apply by name and have authorities deem them morally fit and politically reliable.  They also would prohibit livestreaming of religious activities, including praying, preaching, or burning incense.

According to Bitter Winter, the draft rules regulating religious activity on the internet would force churches to obtain licenses so the Chinese government could control what religious information is posted online.

The government continued limitations on religious education.

The South China Morning Post reported in January education officials from the local government in Guanghe County, a largely Hui Muslim area in Gansu Province, banned children from taking part in religious education during the Lunar New Year break.  Officials did not allow children to attend religious events, read scripture in classes, or enter religious venues during the holiday, and instructed teachers and students to “strengthen political ideology and propaganda.”  Officials also implemented similar restrictions in Linxia, the capital city of the Linxia Hui Autonomous Prefecture, Gansu Province.

Starting in April authorities reportedly pressured churches to prevent children under 18 years old from attending services or otherwise studying the Bible.  Local government departments of religious affairs in Henan, Shandong, and Anhui Provinces released public letters announcing juveniles could not enter religious venues or attend religious education activities.  One announcement in Xinxiang City, Henan Province stated the purpose of these measures was to ensure minors do not believe in religion, enter religious places, participate in religious activities, or participate in religious training classes.  The same message was delivered in other locations.  AsiaNews reported in April a joint notice from the Henan Catholic Patriotic Association and the Henan Commission for Church Affairs required the religious bodies to adhere to the principle of “separating religion from education,” and in particular prohibit religious associations from organizing activities of any type to disseminate religious education to minors and effectively prohibit minors from attending church.

In August Open Doors USA, a Christian nonprofit organization, reported that in Shangrao, Jiangxi Province, more than 40 churches hung slogans that said “Non-locals are prohibited form preaching; no underage people allowed in church.”

Radio Free Asia reported that on October 25, state security agents prevented more than 100 Protestants from unrecognized churches from traveling to a religious training event in South Korea hosted by a U.S. church.  Saying the participants would “likely damage national security,” airport police in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, and Hong Kong issued travel bans on the conference participants.

Radio Free Asia reported in July that authorities in Dzachuka, a Tibetan-populated region of Sichuan Province, forced Buddhist monks aged 15 and younger to leave their monasteries and placed them in government-run schools.  Authorities strictly limited the number of monks and nuns enrolled at the monasteries and forced those remaining to take part in classes promoting loyalty to the country and the ruling CCP.

On April 16, approximately 20 officials from Fujian Province’s Xiamen Education Bureau and the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau conducted a surprise inspection, without warrants, of a kindergarten operated by a local, unregistered house church.  Authorities said the kindergarten operation was illegal.  Authorities reportedly tried to confiscate religious teaching materials and shut down the school, but faculty members and parents prevented them from doing so.

On June 20, Liang Liuning, Deputy Director General of the Guangxi Ethnic and Religious Affairs Commission, held two lectures for more than 100 Islamic clerics and administrators on the essence of the 19th Party Congress and the implementation of the revised Regulations on Religious Affairs.

Individuals seeking to enroll at an official seminary or other institution of religious learning had to obtain the support of the corresponding official “patriotic religious association.”  The government continued to require students to demonstrate “political reliability,” and political issues were included in examinations of graduates from religious schools.  Both registered and unregistered religious groups reported a shortage of trained clergy due in part to government controls on admission to seminaries.

The government reportedly discriminated in employment against members of religious groups it identified as “cults” and others and prevented employees from participating in religious activities.

In February the Guiyang-based Yunnan District People’s Court specified in its recruitment notice for judicial assistants that individuals who previously participated in “illegal religious activities” or “cult-organized activities” could not apply for the position.

On February 18, formerly jailed Jiangmen house church clergyman Ruan Haonan said it was almost impossible for a blacklisted “cult” member to find a decent job.  Ruan was a chef before he worked full time at a house church in Heshan City.  He said authorities warned each employer Ruan contacted, and as a result, no employer dared offer him a job.  Heshan police arrested Ruan on June 12, 2017, for sabotaging law enforcement by utilizing and organizing “heretic cult organizations” and released him on bail with restricted movement in July 2017.  ChinaAid reported that while on bail, authorities required Ruan to report to the Public Security Bureau every three months and to obtain permission before traveling.

According to sources, individuals with Christian affiliations in Northeast China faced difficulties with career enhancement or government employment.  Government officials or employees tied to state-affiliated organizations often attempted to hide their religious beliefs to avoid discrimination.  The sources said it was one reason some believers choose to attend unregistered rather than official churches.

Healthcare professionals were required to discover, stop, and report violations of law regarding religion, including among family, friends, and neighbors, according to a letter issued to staff at the Yueqing Maternal and Child Health Hospital in Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province.  Any staff organizing or participating in religious activities in the hospital could be fired.  Staff were banned from wearing any clothing linked to a religious belief.  Staff were also considered to have committed a violation if they did not adhere to the pledge not to follow any religion or participate in religious activities.  The hospital’s letter stated violations of this policy would lead to “education.”  Hospitals in Xinyu, Jiangxi Province, posted banners and notices against religious beliefs as well.

Authorities took other actions against “cults.”  On March 17, Guangzhou’s Huadu District Political and Law Commission hosted an anticult organization event in Hongshan Village for local students.  After the event, many students vowed to stay away from any “cult” organization and signed their names on the anticult signature wall.

In April Fujian Province’s Zhangpu County Government and Zhangzhou Justice Department redesigned a local public park giving it an anticult theme to promote the results of the 19th Party Congress and related anticult laws and raise awareness of the influence of “cults.”

On April 24, the Foshan Municipal CCP Political and Legal Commission, the Guangdong University of Finance and Economics’ Shanshui Campus (Foshan), and the Guangdong Legal Studies Institute Shanshui Campus jointly launched an anticult campaign highlighting the influence of “cults” on state security, social developments, and family lives.

On February 24, the Guangdong Provincial Anti-Heretic Cult Association posted a letter drafted by former Guangzhou Falun Gong member Zhang Zhiming denouncing Falun Gong as a “cult organization” that had jeopardized his work and ruined his family life.

In September Jiangxi Province’s commission on religious affairs published an article indicating changes to the basic nature of religious control in the province.  The article stated all religious activities should be “amiable and gentle” and that they should contribute to the unity of the people.

On November 29, The Telegraph reported that local authorities in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region had signed a “cooperation antiterrorism agreement” with Xinjiang officials to “learn from the latter’s experiences in promoting social stability.”  As part of these efforts, the Communist Party head of Ningxia, Zhang Yunsheng, went to Xinjiang to learn about combatting terrorism and managing religious affairs.  According to a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, there was a growing fear among Chinese that the Xinjiang model could spread across the country and have grave consequences for religious freedom.

Government policy continued to allow religious groups to engage in charitable work.  Regulations specifically prohibited faith-based organizations from proselytizing while conducting charitable activities.  Authorities required faith-based charities, like all other charitable groups, to register with the government.  Once registered as an official charity, authorities allowed them to raise funds publicly and to receive tax benefits.  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.  Authorities often required these groups to affiliate with one of the five “patriotic religious associations.”

The government continued its efforts to restrict the movement of the Dalai Lama.  After the Dalai Lama visited Sweden in September, Global Times reported the government consistently firmly opposed the decision of any country to allow such a visit, adding “…some countries still turn a deaf ear, taking chances to challenge China’s bottom line.”

In October ChinaAid reported that since the second week of September, a CCP-backed militant group, United Wa State Army, had arrested more than 200 Christian pastors and missionaries in territory the group controls in Shan State, Burma, according to Lahu Baptist Church, a local church in Burma.  At least 100 were released after guards forced prisoners to sign a pledge they would pray only at home, rather than at churches.  According to the report, many observers believed close ties between United Wa State Army and China fueled these actions.

Egypt

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

In February security forces launched a military campaign, “Sinai 2018,” in the Sinai Peninsula against ISIS, in part to respond to a November 2017 attack on a mosque in Al-Rawda village in North Sinai that killed over 300 individuals at worship; the mosque was reportedly attacked because it was frequented by Sufis.  Although the government reported significant successes in the campaign, ISIS attacks continued in North Sinai.

In November a court sentenced an alleged ISIS supporter to death for the fatal stabbing of an 82-year-old Christian doctor in September 2017.  Authorities did not identify the defendant.

On July 12, police thwarted an attempted suicide bombing at the Church of the Holy Virgin in Qalioubiya, near Cairo.  After encountering security forces, the attacker detonated an explosive vest in the vicinity of the church, killing a police officer and civilian.  On August 11, security forces foiled a suicide bombing at the Coptic Virgin Mary Church in the Cairo suburb of Mostorod.  After being denied entry to the church, the bomber died when he exploded his suicide belt; no one else was injured.

During the year, courts imposed death sentences on several people convicted of killing Christians.  On February 12, a court confirmed a death sentence against the killer of Semaan Shehata, a Coptic Orthodox priest from Beni Suef.  The killer stabbed Shehata to death in the Cairo suburb of El-Salaam City in 2017 and carved a cross on his forehead.  On April 1, the Cassation Court upheld the death sentence of the killer of liquor storeowner Youssef Lamei, who had confessed to slitting Lamei’s throat outside his store for selling alcohol in January 2017.  In April a military court sentenced 36 people to death for Coptic church bombings between 2016 and 2017 in Cairo, Alexandria, and Tanta, resulting in the deaths of more than 80 people.  ISIS claimed responsibility.  International human rights organizations expressed concern about these mass convictions and asserted the proceedings did not meet international fair trial standards.

In March media reported that Matthew Habib, a Christian military conscript who had complained to his family of persecution from superiors due to his religion, committed suicide while on duty.  Although the official cause of death was determined to be multiple self-inflicted gunshot wounds, the family alleged that Habib had been killed by a more senior officer.

On January 31, the Giza misdemeanor court sentenced 20 individuals to one-year suspended jail sentences for an attack on an unlicensed Coptic church in Kafr al-Waslin village south of Cairo, carried out on December 22, 2017.  Each was fined 500 pounds ($28) on charges of inciting sectarian strife, harming national unity, and vandalizing private property.  The court also fined the owner of the unlicensed church 360,000 pounds ($20,100) for building without a permit.  The Archdiocese of Atfih has reportedly applied for the Kafr al-Waslin Church to be legalized.

On January 2, press reported that the public prosecutor filed murder charges against an individual accused of killing 11 people on December 29, 2017, in an attack on a Coptic church and Christian-owned shop in Helwan, a suburb south of Cairo.  On December 1, the prosecutor general referred 11 additional suspects to trial for forming a terrorist group, murder, attempted murder, and other charges related to the attack.

The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, citing its 2016 report, reported in October that 41 percent of all blasphemy charges had been brought by authorities against the country’s Christian population

March 14, police in Beni Suef Governorate arrested social studies teacher Magdy Farag Samir on charges of denigrating Islam after he included wordplays in a set of questions for students about the Prophet Muhammad.  Samir was detained for 15 days while police investigated the charges.  A court acquitted him on April 19.

In December a court in Upper Egypt upheld a three-year prison sentence for blasphemy against Christian Abd Adel Bebawy for a Facebook post that allegedly insulted Islam.  Authorities arrested Bebawy in his home village of Minbal on July 6 and the original court passed the prison sentence in November.  Bebawy’s lawyers stated that he reported the hacking of his Facebook account in July and that the post was immediately deleted.  On July 9, reportedly in response to Bebawy’s social media posts, a crowd of Muslims attacked Christian-owned homes in Minbal.  Police arrested over 90 Muslim attackers, charging 39 with a variety of crimes related to the attack.

On May 3, police arrested atheist blogger Sherif Gaber and detained him for four days.  Authorities accused Gaber of insulting Islam and sharia, disrupting communal peace, and other charges stemming from a series of videos he posted on YouTube.  Police had earlier arrested Gaber on similar charges in 2015 and 2013.  In October Gaber tweeted that he had been prevented from leaving the country and that authorities had charged him with three additional felonies and that the charges now included blasphemy, contempt of religion, supporting homosexuality, and religious extremism.

According to the NGO International Christian Concern (ICC), during several incidents of interreligious violence between Muslims and Christians in Upper Egypt from August 22 to 25, security forces delayed providing protection to Christians.  On August 22, in the village of Esna in Luxor Governorate, a crowd of Muslims gathered to protest Christian worship in a church that was seeking legalization.  Following Friday prayers on August 24, the crowd gathered a second time.  While the police prevented this second gathering from escalating, local sources report that authorities arrested five Christians, who were charged with conducting religious rituals in an unlicensed church and incitement, and 15 Muslims.  All those arrested were released in September.  Also on August 24, a crowd gathered in the village of Sultan in Minya Governorate to protest efforts by a local church to seek official legalization.

Security forces arrested members of what they described as a terrorist cell in Nag’ Hammadi in Qena Governorate during Coptic celebrations for Easter in April.  Security forces increased their presence in Coptic institutions and communities around Christmas, Easter, and other Christian holidays.

Religious freedom and human rights activists said government officials sometimes did not extend procedural safeguards or rights of due process to members of minority faiths, including by closing churches in violation of the 2016 church construction law.  On April 14, a group of Muslim villagers hurled stones and bricks, breaking the windows of a building used as a church in Beni Meinin in Beni Suef Governorate.  The attack followed a government inspection of the building, a step toward legalizing the church.  Authorities arrested 45 Muslim and Christian residents of the village, and, following an agreement according to customary reconciliation procedures (a binding arbitration process, often criticized by Christians as discriminatory), all arrestees were released and the church remained unlicensed and closed.

The government prosecuted some perpetrators of sectarian violence committed in previous years.  Authorities transferred to a court in Beni Suef for prosecution the 2016 case against the attackers of Souad Thabet, a Christian who was paraded naked through her village of Karm in Minya in response to rumors that her son had an affair with the wife of a Muslim business partner.  Authorities charged four people with attacking Thabet, and another 25 with attacking Thabet’s home and six others owned by Christians.

There were multiple reports of the government closing unlicensed churches following protests, particularly in Upper Egypt.  In November the NGO Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) reported that from September 28, 2016, when the church construction law was issued, to October, authorities shuttered nine churches that hosted religious services prior to the closure orders.  Four of these churches were closed during the year, with Copts denied access and religious services in them prohibited.  In July media reported that police closed a church in Ezbet Sultan after a series of protests and the destruction of Christian-owned property.  During one protest, Muslims reportedly chanted, “We don’t want a church.”

In a November report, EIPR documented 15 instances of sectarian violence related to the legalization of 15 previously unlicensed churches from September 2017 to October 2018.  The churches had been functioning for several years and were well known to both state institutions and local residents.  EIPR’s report also documented 35 cases of violence since the church construction law was issued, not including incidents associated with the construction of new churches.

On August 22, in Zeneiqa village in Upper Egypt, police closed a church following protests by local Muslims against legalization of the church.  They arrested five Copts and five Muslims, plus an additional 10 Muslim residents during protests held a week later.  In March local mosque personnel in Al-Tod village near Luxor encouraged Muslims to protest the licensing of a church that had been in use for a decade.  Protestors built a wall to block access to the church.  Christians and Muslims took part in a customary reconciliation session led by Muslim elders and, reportedly under pressure, the Christians agreed to abandon their application for a church license.

According to official statistics, from September 2017 the government approved 783 of the 5,415 applications for licensure of churches.  According to a local human rights organization, the increased pace of legalization and construction of churches was causing sectarian tensions in some communities where Muslim citizens did not want a legal church in their village.

As it did in recent years, the government in October closed the room containing the tomb of the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, Imam Al-Hussein, located inside Al-Hussein Mosque in Old Cairo, during the three-day commemoration of Ashura.  The government explained the closure was due to construction, but multiple news reports described it as an attempt to discourage the celebration of Shia religious rituals.  The main area of the mosque remained open; only the room containing the shrine was closed.

In September the Ministry of Awqaf cancelled the preaching permit of prominent Salafi cleric Mohamed Raslan and banned him from delivering sermons for refusing to recite the official sermon written by the ministry.  The ministry reinstated his license after he apologized publicly and committed to follow the government’s weekly sermon.

There were reports of government actions targeting the Muslim Brotherhood, which the government had designated as a terrorist organization, and individuals associated with the group.

In May the government announced a policy to ban imams from preaching on Fridays at 20,000 small prayer rooms (zawiyas) used as mosques and restricted their use to daily prayers.  In a statement, the Ministry of Awqaf said the measure would prevent “fundamentalist” preaching during Ramadan.  The May announcement repeated a policy first announced in 2015 that resulted in the closure of 27,000 zawiyas and forbade preaching in them.  Authorities also increased the penalties for mosques using their loudspeakers for anything other than the traditional call to prayer.

In October the Ministry of Awqaf announced that the government had successfully “regained” control over 95 percent of public Islamic discourse in the country and cited the ministry’s “complete” control of Islam as expressed through “the media, lessons, seminars and [public] forums.”  Public issuances of fatwas were, according to a senior advisor at the Dar al-Iftaa, the country’s fatwa issuing authority, restricted to Muslim clerics from Al-Azhar University, 40 clerics from Dar al-Iftaa, and a small number of clerics affiliated with the Ministry of Awqaf.  The ministry announced that any unauthorized cleric offering religious sermons or issuing fatwas would be subject to criminal investigation and prosecution for “carrying out a job without a license.”

In September the Court of Urgent Matters suspended a July ruling by an administrative court that had allowed policemen with long beards to return to work.  The court upheld MOI regulations on facial hair and stated the government had an obligation to keep the police force a “secular organizational entity.”

During Ramadan in May the government put in place regulations governing the practice of reclusion (itikaaf), a Sunni Muslim religious ritual requiring adherents spend 10 days of prayer in mosques during Ramadan.  Authorization required an application to the Ministry of Awqaf, registration of national identification cards, a residence in the same neighborhood of the requested mosque, and personal knowledge of the applicant by the mosque administrator.

On June 22, a video showing adherents performing Sufi religious rituals in a mosque sparked demands on social media to ban Sufi rituals inside mosques.  In response, the Ministry of Awqaf suspended the mosque attendant for participating in the incident, and announced a public campaign to raise awareness of “correct Islam.”

The government did not prevent Baha’is, members of the Church of Jesus Christ, and Jehovah’s Witnesses from worshiping privately in small numbers.  However, Baha’i sources said the government refused requests for public religious gatherings.  According to members of Jehovah’s Witnesses, security officials engaged in surveillance and frequent home visits during which adherents were interrogated and sometimes threatened.  The National Security Services (NSS) also summoned members to their offices for interrogations.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that on April 3, a security officer who has interrogated and threatened its members in the past questioned a male Witness at length, asking numerous probing questions about the operations and activities of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The government continued to ban the importation and sale of Baha’i and Jehovah’s Witnesses literature and to authorize customs officials to confiscate their personally owned religious materials.  In July NSS officers stopped two Jehovah’s Witnesses members in Beni Suef and confiscated their religious materials.  NSS officers did the same with two other Jehovah’s Witnesses who arrived later.

Twelve Baha’i couples filed lawsuits requesting recognition of their civil marriages, four of which were approved by October.  While Baha’i sources hailed the first issuance of a civil marriage license that took place in 2017, they reported that courts remained inconsistent in their rulings on the matter.  By year’s end, standardized procedures for issuing civil marriage licenses to couples with no religious affiliation designated had not been developed.

In May the country’s Supreme Administrative Court ruled that regulators must block the YouTube service for one month because of the availability of a video, “The Innocence of Muslims,” that denigrated the Prophet Muhammad.  A lower court had ordered in 2013 the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology to block YouTube because of the video, but the decision had been appealed and the court’s ruling has not been implemented.

The minister of immigration and expatriate affairs was the only Christian in the cabinet.  On August 30, as part of a nationwide governors’ reshuffle, President al-Sisi appointed Christian governors to the Damietta and Dakahliya governorates, the first such appointments since April 2011 when the government suspended the appointment of a Copt to Qena in Upper Egypt following protests.  The new Governor of Damietta was the country’s first-ever female Christian governor.

Christians remained underrepresented in the military and security services.  Christians admitted at the entry-level of government institutions were rarely promoted to the upper ranks of government entities, according to sources.  According to a press report, a senior Christian judge in line for promotion to the leadership of the Administrative Prosecution was reportedly denied the position in May due to her religion.  When a Muslim judge challenged the failure to promote her, he was dismissed.

No Christians served as presidents of the country’s 25 public universities.  In January for the first time, a Christian was appointed as dean of the dental school of Cairo University.  The government barred non-Muslims from employment in public university training programs for Arabic language teachers, stating as its reason that the curriculum involved study of the Quran.

The government generally permitted foreign religious workers in the country.  Sources reported, however, some religious workers were denied visas or refused entry upon arrival without explanation.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) stated that it continued to develop a new curriculum that included increased coverage of respect for human rights and religious tolerance.  In the fall, kindergarten and first grade students began instruction under the new curriculum.  According to the MOE, the new curriculum for subsequent grade levels would be introduced yearly.  Local English-language press reported in May that curriculum reform plans, aimed at encouraging tolerance, included a textbook for use in religious studies classes to be attended jointly by Muslim and Coptic Christian students.  Muslim and Christian students previously attended separate religion classes.  Minister of Awqaf Gomaa, whose ministry oversees Islamic studies courses in the country’s schools, announced the plan.  The press reported that the planned textbook drew criticism from conservative Muslims.

In January the grand mufti issued a fatwa that defined greeting Christians on Coptic Christmas as an act of righteousness.  During the same month, Minister of Awqaf Gomaa affirmed the protection of churches “as legitimate as defending mosques,” and said that those who died in the defense of a church were “martyrs.”

In August Al-Azhar issued a statement criticizing ISIS for issuing fatwas justifying the killing of non-Muslims and stressed its prohibition.

In June the Ministry of Awqaf completed training in Quranic interpretation and other Islamic texts for 300 female preachers (wa’ezaat).  In July the government published an action plan for “renewing religious discourse” that included hiring and training imams and expanding the role of women in religious preaching.  The ministry opened a new training academy for preachers in October and announced that women could begin to serve as preachers in mosques and schools, serve on governing boards of mosques, and sing in choirs dedicated to liturgical music.

In December President al-Sisi decreed that the government create an agency tasked with countering sectarian strife.  The new Supreme Committee for Confronting Sectarian Incidents would be headed by the president’s advisor for security and counter terrorism affairs and composed of members from the Military Operations Authority, the Military and General Intelligence Services, the NSS, and the Administrative Oversight Agency.  The new committee was charged with devising a strategy to prevent sectarian incidents, address them as they occur, and apply all antidiscrimination and antihate laws in carrying out these responsibilities.  The committee had the authority to invite ministers, their representatives, or representatives of concerned bodies to meetings.  The government stated that the strategy would include awareness-raising campaigns, promotion of religious tolerance, and possible mechanisms for dealing with individual incidents.

Al-Azhar continued to host events to promote religious tolerance.  In February the grand imam received a delegation from the Anglican Communion and stressed the importance of dialogue between religions.  In July the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar and the Archbishop of Canterbury organized an interfaith conference in London for young Muslims and Christians.  In October Grand Imam Ahmed el-Tayeb visited Pope Francis in the Vatican, where they stressed their commitment to religious dialogue.

Hong Kong

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

During the year, Falun Gong practitioners reported generally being able to operate openly and engage in behavior that remained prohibited elsewhere in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), such as distributing literature and conducting public exhibitions.  In August, in an ongoing Falun Gong lawsuit against the Hong Kong government to contest a requirement to obtain government approval for the display of posters, a court overturned government decisions to confiscate Falun Gong banners.  Falun Gong practitioners said they suspected that the CCP funded private groups that harassed them at public events.  Practitioners also reported continuing difficulties renting venues for large meetings and cultural events from both government and private facilities.  According to Falun Gong practitioners, the Hong Kong government, which controls a significant number of large venues in the city, denied Falun Gong members’ applications to rent venues, often telling practitioners that the venues were fully booked.  Private venues also refused to rent space to the Falun Gong, which Falun Gong practitioners attributed to concerns about harassment by anti-Falun Gong groups that they believed were linked to the central government.

Falun Gong practitioners held a rally on October 1 to raise awareness of what they said was 19 years of CCP persecution of the Falun Gong in the Mainland.  The Falun Gong reported that many local political leaders spoke at the rally to support their cause.

The Home Affairs Bureau functioned as a liaison between religious groups and the government.

Senior government leaders often participated in large-scale events held by religious organizations.  The SAR government and Legislative Council representatives participated in Confucian and Buddhist commemorative activities, Taoist festivals, and other religious events throughout the year.

India

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

On June 22, the government charged two police officers with culpable homicide after a Muslim cattle trader, Mohammad Salim Qureshi, died of injuries sustained while being questioned by police in Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh.  The accused officers were suspended following a police inquiry.

On May 11, a Muslim youth died in a police shooting and a Hindu shopkeeper died in his burning shop following communal clashes in Maharashtra’s Aurangabad city.  These events followed allegations that authorities were conducting a civic crackdown on illegal water connections in a discriminatory manner, possibly triggered by the removal of water connection of four Muslim residents.  In the immediate aftermath of the violence, in which seven officers were injured, Aurangabad police arrested 14 persons.  With families of both victims alleging partisan policing and video footage of the clashes receiving wide coverage on social media, police ordered an investigation.

A court in Jharkhand sentenced 11 individuals, including a local BJP official, to life in prison for beating to death Alimuddin Ansari, a Muslim, in June 2017.  Ansari’s killers said they believed he was trading in beef.

On August 13, the Supreme Court ordered Uttar Pradesh authorities to reinvestigate and submit a report on the June 18 killing of Qasim Qureshi, a Muslim cattle trader attacked by a mob while transporting cows through Harpur.  The order came after multiple online videos surfaced casting doubt on the initial police report, which described the assault as an incident of “road rage.”  In one video, a bloodied Qureshi is seen refuting claims that he was transporting the cows for slaughter.  Police arrested and filed murder charges against nine individuals in connection with the attack.

On April 20, the Gujarat High Court acquitted former Gujarat Minister of State for Women and Child Development Maya Kodnani and upheld the conviction of former Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi related to the 2002 Naroda Patiya communal riots in Gujarat.  Kodnani had been charged with provoking a Hindu mob.  Bajrangi was accused and convicted of criminal conspiracy, collecting weapons, and leading a violent mob.  In March the Supreme Court stated it would not give the Gujarat government further extensions to meet its request for a status report on disciplinary action taken against police officers convicted in the gang rape of a pregnant 19-year-old woman, Bilkis Bano, during the 2002 riots.  On June 25, the Gujarat High Court sentenced P. Rajput, Rajkumar Chaumal, and Umesh Bharwad to 10 years of imprisonment for their involvement in a mob that killed 96 Muslims during the 2002 riots, reversing the judgment of a lower court.  The court upheld the acquittals of 29 others in the case.

On April 1, Hyderabad police arrested four Christians for “hurting religious sentiments” for handing out Christian tracts during an Easter procession.  Christian news website World Watch Monitor said the charges against Rayapuri Jyothi, Meena Kumari, Mahima Kumari, and Bagadam Sudhakar were spurious, and came following a complaint from activists of the Hindu nationalist organization Hindu Jana Shakti.  Authorities released the individuals on bail on April 3.  According to other news reports, however, the police also filed charges against four activists of the Hindu Jana Shakti in the same case, charging them with “outraging the modesty” of the Christian women and forcing them to wear the traditional Hindu vermilion mark on their foreheads.

The NGO Alliance Defending Freedom India (ADFI) stated authorities pursued charges against members of the minority Christian community in several states under religious conversion laws.

On September 12, police in Uttar Pradesh’s Jaunpur District charged 271 Christians with “spreading lies about Hinduism” and allegedly drugging people to try to convert them to Christianity.  The police action came after a local Hindu group filed a complaint with the court alleging the Christians refused to stop conducting Sunday prayer services and spread misinformation about Hinduism.  Deputy Police Superintendent Anil Kumar Pandey said the individuals were “accused of various criminal offenses like fraud, defiling places of worship, and prejudice against national integration.”

On January 10, Jammu and Kashmir police arrested eight Hindu men, including four police personnel and a retired government official, in connection with the kidnapping, gang rape, and killing of 8-year-old Asifa Bano.  The victim belonged to a Muslim tribal community in Kathua District and was kidnapped while grazing her horse in a meadow.  The men allegedly took Bano to a nearby Hindu temple where they drugged and raped her over the course of several days.  According to media reports, the men raped and murdered Bano to drive her nomadic Muslim community out of the area.  The Jammu High Court Bar Association joined several Hindu groups and two BJP state government ministers in a protest to demand the release of the accused, saying it was an anti-Hindu move by police and prosecutors in the Muslim-majority state.  On May 7, the Supreme Court ordered the transfer of the trial to Punjab’s Pathankot District.  The two state BJP ministers who attended the rally supporting the suspects resigned their positions.

In September Uttar Pradesh authorities suspended three police officers after video surfaced of one of the officers slapping a Hindu woman for reportedly consorting with a Muslim man while two other officers taunted her.  Media reported police were dispatched to rescue the interfaith couple, both medical college students, whom members of a Hindu nationalist organization had attacked in protest of so-called “love jihad,” a term used to accuse Muslim men of converting Hindu women by seducing them.

On December 9, police in Bakhitayrpur village, Patna District, Bihar State, arrested and detained a local Christian pastor for attempted forced conversions after he showed a film about Jesus.  Local residents reportedly tried to stop the pastor from showing the film and said they wanted him removed from the village.  According to media reports, the police detained the pastor but did not arrest him, and told him to return to his home village and not return to Bakhitayrpur.

In May the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported police in Uttar Pradesh arrested Rev. Gyan Singh and another Pentecostal Christian in the village of Bugauliya Block, Basti District for forced conversions.  Police told GCIC that they would release the two without charges.  In June authorities arrested an Uttar Pradesh pastor, Dependra Prakash Maleywar, after he was accused of the forced conversion of 16 persons.  Police originally arrested Maleywar after a local Hindu activist accused him of an assault against some activists of the Bajrang Dal Hindu group.  A judge ordered Maleywar to 14 days of judicial custody pending investigation; after a week, authorities released him on bail.  Police in Jharkhand arrested Dalu Soren, a Christian veterinarian, on October 16, after a 13-year-old girl’s father filed a complaint charging forced conversion.

According to the website AsiaNews and Catholic media outlet Crux, four men attacked a Catholic priest, Vineet Vincent Pereira, who was conducting a prayer service in Ghohana, Uttar Pradesh on November 14.  The four attackers were allegedly members of a Hindu group trying to “reconvert” Hindus who had earlier changed their religious beliefs.  After the attack, police took Pereira into protective custody, but charged him the next day with rioting and unlawful assembly.  The attackers were not charged.

In October Hyderabad police arrested well-known Muslim preacher Brother Imran after he allegedly made derogatory remarks against the Shia community and another Islamic group.  According to the complainants, Imran tried to create “communal animosity” and outraged the feelings of the Shia community, resulting in tension in the area.  He was released on bail and the court had not taken up his case by year’s end.

On August 27, a special court in Ahmedabad, Gujarat sentenced Farooq Bhana and Imran Sheru to life imprisonment and acquitted three others accused of setting fire to the Sabarmati Express train on February 28, 2002, that killed 59 Hindu pilgrims and led to large-scale intercommunal riots in the state of Gujarat in 2002.  By year’s end, courts convicted 33 suspects in the case and eight remained at large.

In its World Report covering 2018, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the government failed to “prevent or credibly investigate” mob attacks on religious minorities, marginalized communities, and critics of the government.  At the same time, according to HRW, some BJP officials publicly supported perpetrators of such crimes and made inflammatory speeches against minority communities, which encouraged further violence.  According to HRW, mob violence against minority communities amid rumors that they traded or killed cows for beef, especially Muslims, by extremist Hindu groups continued throughout the year.  As of November, there had been 18 such attacks, and eight people killed during the year.

On December 15, police in Assam arrested two men who vandalized a Catholic church and a grotto in the village of Chapatoli.  Police stated they believed the two to be responsible for the desecration of the church’s crucifix and for toppling a statue.

In June media reported Arunachal Pradesh’s BJP Chief Minister Pema Khandu announced that his government would repeal the state’s 40-year-old anti-conversion law.

On September 18, media reported a village council in Haryana passed a decree urging Muslim residents to adopt Hindu names, refrain from such actions as growing beards or wearing traditional skullcaps, and avoid praying in public.  The announcement reportedly came a month after police arrested Yamin Khokkar, a Muslim villager, whom local authorities accused of illegally slaughtering a calf.  Subsequent media reports stated the village council denied it passed the decree.

According to NGO sources, authorities reportedly denied three U.S. citizens entry under non-missionary visas due to concerns they intended to engage in missionary activity, although the U.S. citizens denied that this was their intention.

On April 21, Bharat Singh, a BJP Member of Parliament from Uttar Pradesh, said, “Christian missionaries are a threat to the unity and integrity” of the country and the opposition Congress Party is “controlled by them [Christian missionaries].”  The president of the GCIC, citing a survey by news channel NDTV, stated that hate speech by BJP representatives had increased by 490 percent since 2014.

In August Catholic bishops in Jharkhand sent a memorandum to the state governor in response to perceived harassment and intense scrutiny of Christian organizations by government agencies after allegations emerged regarding a baby-selling scandal in a home for unwed mothers run by the Missionaries of Charity (MOC) in Ranchi.  Church leaders said the crackdown on the MOC by the Jharkhand government was a ploy to discredit the organization as part of the state government’s anti-Christian agenda.

On June 21, authorities transferred a regional passport official in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, after he reportedly refused to issue passports to an interfaith couple.  Media reported the official harangued Tanvi Seth for not adopting her husband’s surname, then later suggested her spouse, Mohammad Anas Siddiqui, convert to Hinduism.  The Ministry of External Affairs intervened after Seth went public with their story on social media.  Authorities issued the couple passports a day later.

On June 11, Hyderabad police charged a member of the Telangana legislative assembly, T. Raja Singh of the BJP, for making hateful and derogatory remarks against Muslims and the Quran.  The police arrested him on charges of promoting enmity between different groups.  This was the 19th case filed against Singh.  In a live Facebook video session, Singh allegedly demanded a ban on the Quran, stating that its verses called for killing Hindus.

On February 7, BJP Member of Parliament Vinay Katiyar said Muslims had “no business” staying in India.  Speaking to a media organization, Katiyar said Muslims should instead settle in Bangladesh and Pakistan since they were responsible for the partition of India.

On July 31, the government of Assam published the final draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC), a document intended to define individuals with a claim to citizenship in a state that experienced an influx of foreigners in 1971.  Authorities excluded more than 4 million individuals from the list, many of them Bengali-speaking Muslims.  The Supreme Court continued to oversee an appeals process at year’s end for those excluded.  The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill of 2016 that would allow certain Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian (but not Muslim) migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan to become citizens continued to face strong criticism and was not taken up by the upper chamber of parliament during the year.

In January the Supreme Court ordered a newly-constituted Special Investigation Team (SIT) of law enforcement officials to assess 186 cases related to anti-Sikh riots in Delhi and Punjab in 1984.  In July media reports suggested the SIT failed to begin its work due to a member refusing to participate in its proceedings.

In April the central government removed its proposed ban on selling cattle for slaughter in animal markets that had been suspended by the Supreme Court.  Observers expressed concern the ban would most negatively impact Muslims, who dominate the country’s quarter trillion rupee ($3.58 billion) buffalo meat export industry.  Observers noted an increase in cow vigilantism hurt members of the Muslim, Dalit, and Adivasi communities who were economically dependent on the cattle trade and leather industries.  On July 17, the Supreme Court said violence in the name of cow vigilantism was unacceptable and the onus of preventing such incidents lay with the states.  The court ordered all state governments to designate a senior police officer in every district to prevent mob violence, ensure that the police act promptly against attackers, and asked the legislature to consider enacting a new penal provision to deal with mob violence by self-styled cow protectors and provide deterrent-level punishment to offenders.

On July 8, Union Minister Jayant Sinha came under public scrutiny after embracing individuals convicted of killing a Muslim trader in Jharkhand in 2017.  The eight men who met with Sinha were convicted of murder in the killing of Alimuddin Ansari, who they said was transporting beef.  Social commentators criticized Sinha, particularly for not speaking about the victim or about justice for his surviving family members.  Following the public backlash, he issued statements condemning violence and vigilantism.

On October 12, the Supreme Court stayed an order of the Uttarakhand High Court directing a blanket ban on fatwas by Islamic religious bodies.  The court acted in response to a rape victim’s complaint about a village council banishing her family from the village.

On September 19, the government issued an executive order to fine and imprison men who practice “triple talaq” – via which a Muslim man can divorce his wife instantly by saying the work “talaq” (Arabic for divorce) three times.  Muslim women’s groups have been central to efforts to end the practice, which is outlawed in many Muslim majority countries.  In 2017 the Supreme Court ruled that the practice was unconstitutional and inconsistent with Islamic law and urged parliament to draft a new provision.  The current executive order is scheduled to lapse if its provisions are not enacted into law by parliament before national parliamentary elections are held in 2019.

On August 28, the Punjab government passed an amendment to the federal penal code punishing the intentional desecration of certain religious texts – the Guru Granth Sahib (the Sikh holy book), the Bible, the Quran, and the Bhagwad Gita – with life imprisonment.  Media reports criticized the amendment as “excessive” and noted its potential misuse by authorities to restrict freedom of expression and silence political opponents.  As of September 25, the proposed amendment was under review by the central government, which must approve state-specific amendments to federal law.

On July 6, Gujarat became the third state, along with Maharashtra and West Bengal, to grant the Jewish community minority status, providing members with “benefits of welfare schemes formulated for religious minority communities within the jurisdiction” of the state.

The government continued its challenge, dating from 2016, of the Supreme Court ruling regarding the minority status of Muslim educational institutions that affords these institutions independence in hiring and curriculum decisions.  The central government continued to state that Aligarh Muslim University was a central university set up under an act of parliament, and therefore should not be considered a minority institution.

State and local jurisdictions submitted 25 proposals to the MHA during the year to rename cities across India, mirroring a similar trend of renaming train stations, islands, and roads that previously had British or Islamic names.  According to AsiaNews and Reuters, BJP leaders in Uttar Pradesh decided to rename some cities that “sounded too Islamic.”  In October Uttar Pradesh changed the name of Allahabad to Prayagraj.  In November authorities changed the name of the Faizabad District to Ayodhya, the place where Hindus believe Lord Ram was born.  Activists said these proposals were designed to erase Muslim contributions to Indian history and had led to increased communal tensions.

The Supreme Court in March overturned a 2017 Kerala High Court order that annulled the marriage of a Hindu woman and a Muslim man based on third-party allegations that she was forcibly converted to Islam, despite her denials.

Kazakhstan

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

According to AROK, authorities reduced their pressure on minority religious communities, with fewer arrests and less harassment than the previous year.  According to Forum 18, in 2018, authorities brought administrative charges against 165 individuals, religious communities, and charities for violations including attending worship meetings, offering or importing religious literature and pictures, sharing or teaching faith, praying in mosques, and bringing a child to a religious meeting.  Of these, 139 individuals or organizations received fines or bans on religious activity.  In comparison, authorities carried out 284 administrative prosecutions in 2017.  Forum 18’s religious freedom survey released in September for the period 2014 to 2018, however, noted increased numbers of prisoners of conscience jailed for exercising freedom of religion and belief, and unfair trials and torture of prisoners.  The survey also noted broadly written laws allowed much scope for arbitrary official actions and a wide range of offenses prosecuted, numbers of prosecutions, and levels of fines.  The survey noted the government made exercise of freedom of religion and belief dependent on state permissions, with restrictions on activities allowed; restrictions on freedom of religion and belief for children and youth; complete control being imposed on the Islamic community; girls in headscarves being denied access to education; and prior compulsory religious censorship.

On April 6, a court in Karaganda convicted Kazbek Laubayev, Marat Konrybayev, and Taskali Naurzgaliyev of illegally disseminating ideas and recruiting members for Tabligi Jamaat, which the government banned as extremist in 2013, and sentenced each to three years’ imprisonment.  The men denied their affiliation with Tabligi Jamaat and filed an appeal with the Karaganda regional court.  On May 22, the court rejected their appeal.

Media reported that on May 3, the specialized juvenile court in Sairam in South Kazakhstan Region convicted 18-year-old high school student Shakhsat Ismailov of incitement of religious discord and propagating terrorism, and sentenced him to four years’ imprisonment.  According to the court, Ismailov created a group on social media and disseminated religious extremist materials among his friends and followers.  He denied the charges.

On January 9, a court in Almaty sentenced Yeraltay Abay to seven years’ imprisonment for incitement of religious discord and propagating of terrorism.  Authorities arrested Abay in September 2017 after he posted an interpretation of a chapter of the Quran on social media.  Abay’s attorney stated that the book from which he copied the text was not banned in the country, and Abay had deleted his posts immediately after law enforcement warned him about the allegedly illegal content.

According to Forum 18 and other sources, authorities arrested Galymzhan Abilkairov and Dadash Mazhenov in April for posting audio recordings of talks by jailed Muslim preacher Kuanysh Bashpayev on social media.  Among other things, the men argued that the talks, which a court in Pavlodar banned as extremist in 2017, were not illegal at the time that they shared them online.  The court in October sentenced both Abilkairov and Mazhenov to more than seven years’ imprisonment.

Forum 18 reported that the Atyrau city court in December convicted two Muslim men, Erzhan Sharmukhambetov and Ermek Kuanshaliyev, and sentenced them both to three and a half years of restricted freedom, a form of probation, for incitement of discord and participating in the activities of a banned religious association.  The two were childhood friends of Sunni Muslim Murat Bakrayev, who was detained in Germany in September at the request of the government.  Authorities accused Bakrayev, who left the country in 2005, of inciting religious hatred, expressing support for terrorism or extremism, and involvement in a banned organization.  According to Forum 18, Bakrayev’s family and friends said that the police arrested Sharmukhambetov and Kuanshaliyev to pressure them to testify against Bakrayev.  At the end of the year, German authorities continued to detain Bakrayev.

On July 9, a court in Aktobe convicted seven followers of the Tabligi Jamaat group for participation in the activities of an extremist organization.  Authorities had arrested them in May.  During the trial, the defendants admitted guilt and “repented.”  The court sentenced two leaders – Zhanat Dosalin and Amanzhol Kishkentekov – to three years’ probation, and the five others to one year of probation and 120 hours of community service.

Media reported that on February 25, police in Kyzylorda city raided the local New Life church during its Sunday service; detained and questioned members of the church, including the pastor; filmed those present against their wishes; and seized religious literature.  The reports stated that police responded to a complaint by parents who claimed their school-aged daughter had attended church services without their permission.  Police took Pastor Serik Beisembayev to a police station, where they interrogated him and initiated a police report.  According to Forum 18, police took approximately 20 church members to the police station where they were released after each had written a statement about why he or she had become Christian and how long the individual had attended the church.  Ultimately, authorities dropped the case against the pastor.

On February 7, the Aktobe court found Pastor Viacheslav Poptsov of the local Evangelical Christian Baptist community guilty of violating the ban on participation of minors in religious services without parental approval.  According to the police investigation, parents of some school-age children who attended the church’s Christmas service did not approve of their children’s attendance.  By law, it was the pastor’s responsibility to check whether minor participants had their parents’ permission.  The court imposed a fine of 120,250 tenge ($320).  In May the court of appeal upheld the district court’s decision.

Forum 18 reported that 20 Muslims were taken to court for saying “amen” aloud in mosques in violation of SAMK’s code of conduct, which is punishable by law as an administrative offense.  Those arrested paid administrative fines.

On August 24, Kyzylkoginsky district court in Atyrau Region ruled a resident of Miyaly village violated the law when, during the Friday service, he said “amen” aloud.  The court fined the man 84,175 tenge ($220).

Courts continued to fine individuals for illegal missionary activity.  Religious organizations noted that local law enforcement continued to interpret and label any religious discussions that took place outside of a registered religious building as “illegal missionary activity,” including invitations to religious services and discussions.

On January 23, the administrative court of Balkhash in Karaganda Region found Nikolay Popov of the local community of the Council of Baptist Churches guilty of illegal missionary activity and distribution of religious literature not approved by official government experts.  The court imposed a fine of 226,900 tenge ($600).  According to police investigators, Popov traveled to villages near Balkhash, talked to people about his faith, and gave them religious books.

On August 6, the Korday district court in Zhambyl Region found two local residents, Aidar Kharsanov and his wife Zarina Manu, guilty of illegal missionary activity.  According to police investigators, the couple taught the Quran to a group of school-aged girls without formal registration as religious missionaries.  The couple admitted their actions, but both appealed to the Zhambyl Regional Court on August 22 after the court imposed fines of 360,750 tenge ($960) for Kharsonov and 120,250 tenge ($320) for Manu.  Forum 18 noted that neither of the accused was represented by a lawyer.

On February 8, in three separate trials, the Sarykol District court in Kostanay Region found Jehovah’s Witnesses Estay Asainov, Maksim Ivakhnik, and Timur Koshkunbayev guilty of “illegal missionary activity” and imposed fines of 168,350 tenge ($450) each.  On February 13, the Sarykol District court found 79-year-old Jehovah’s Witness Taisiya Yezhova guilty of violating the requirements of the law on holding religious ceremonies and meetings by holding meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses at her house.  The court imposed a fine of 85,000 tenge ($230).  In initiating the court case, Yezhova’s neighbors complained about what they called her persistent attempts to draw them into her faith.

The Council of Baptist Churches stated it continued to refuse on principle to register under the law.  Community representatives reported that the number of police actions and court cases initiated against them decreased compared to 2017, but authorities continued to closely monitor their meetings and travels, and police followed and surveilled them as in prior years.  The government banned community members who were fined and did not pay their fines from traveling outside the country.  Baptists reported several police raids on adherents’ residences and churches and 14 administrative court cases during the year.

The government maintained its policy of banning religious clothing from schools.  The Ministry of Education and Science continued to prohibit headscarves in schools throughout the country.  According to media, in March 200 parents of schoolgirls in Aktobe Region who were barred from attending classes for wearing religious headscarves appealed to the president.  Media reported that authorities issued administrative fines to eighteen parents, 32 families moved to different regions where the national ban was not yet being enforced, and the rest chose to comply with the school rules.  Subsequently, on September 14 the Aktobe court convicted three fathers who had continued to insist that their daughters be allowed to attend classes wearing headscarves.  According to media, the men had reportedly threatened teachers at the school.  The court sentenced Nuraly Shakkozov to three days in prison and Medet Kudaibergenov and Zhanibek Otaliyev each to five days’ imprisonment.

Media reported that on September 1, authorities prevented approximately 300 girls wearing religious headscarves from attending classes in Firdousi village in South Kazakhstan Region.  The government, at the direction of Minister of Education and Science Yerlan Sagadiyev, dispatched a special commission to the region to explain the ministry’s rule and the principle of secular education and to persuade the girls’ parents to comply with the ban.  Most of the girls agreed, although 15 switched to other schools where the regulation was not yet enforced.  Thirteen parents were punished with fines of 12,025 tenge ($32).  Before sending the special commission, Sagadiyev, in commenting on the situation in Firdousi, told a reporter “according to the law, school girls in headscarves are not allowed to attend classes.”

On October 12, the Supreme Court declined to review lower court decisions against residents of West Kazakhstan Region who had protested the education ministry’s ban on religious headscarves in school.  The lower court determined that the country’s constitution supported such a regulation.

According to Forum 18, a group of 107 Muslim parents from three of the country’s regions, whose school-age daughters were barred from attending school because they wore headscarves, planned a further appeal to the Supreme Court.  The parents’ case failed previously in the lower courts, including Astana City Court on March 27.  They argued that the ban was a violation of the country’s constitution and international human rights norms.

The parliament considered draft legislation that would place additional restrictions on religious attire, symbols, education, and literature, as well as proselytizing and membership and participation in religious communities; civil society representatives and religious experts stated they feared such amendments would further infringe religious liberty.  Government representatives justified the draft legislation as necessary to address security concerns created by “religious extremism.”  Among the government’s justifications for the legislation was that people arrested for undertaking religious activities without government permission were “a risk group.”  Government officials at the end of the year indicated that it was unlikely that the draft legislation would become law.

On March 30, a research institute attached to the former Religious Affairs Department of West Kazakhstan Region instructed some local registered Christian communities to submit by April 10 full names, ages, place of study, and national identification numbers of all people under the age of 18 who come to meetings for worship, Forum 18 reported.  The official who sent the letter stated to Forum 18 the information was needed for “monitoring.”  According to Forum 18, the official stated that the request was sent only to Christians, and “selectively,” refusing to explain what “selectively” meant.

On July 10, pursuant to a Supreme Court ruling, the Kokshetau Administrative Court extended an official apology and ordered the return of a fine of 173,100 tenge ($460) to Jehovah’s Witnesses congregant Andrey Korolev.  A court had convicted Korolev of conducting illegal missionary activity in 2013.  While authorities continued to conduct raids of services and detain participants, members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses also reported that four Supreme Court rulings issued since 2017 overturned lower court decisions and affirmed Jehovah’s Witnesses’ right to freely practice their religion, including the right to proselytize.

On April 2, the president pardoned Teymur Akhmedov, a Jehovah’s Witness who had served more than one year of a five-year sentence on charges he had “incited religious discord” by talking about his faith with men identified as university students.  Akhmedov suffered from cancer and the government previously had transferred him from prison to a hospital.

On July 10, atheist blogger Aleksandr Kharlamov won a civil lawsuit against the government.  The court determined that Kharlamov, who spent five years under investigation for charges of “incitement of religious discord,” suffered emotional and physical harm as a result of the prolonged and restrictive investigation and awarded him more than 1 million tenge ($2,700) in damages and court expenses.  Among other restrictions, after his arrest in 2013, authorities detained Kharlamov for six months, including one month in a psychiatric hospital.

The Church of Scientology continued to function as a registered public association rather than as a religious organization.  The government allowed the church, as a public association, to maintain resource centers/libraries where members could read or borrow books and host discussions or meetings, but did not allow the church to engage in religious activity.

The MSD and the SAMK maintained an official agreement on cooperation, and NGOs said this led to the government effectively exercising control over the nominally independent SAMK.  The government did not approve the registration of Muslim groups apart from the Sunni Hanafi school, which the SAMK oversaw.  All other schools of Islam remained unregistered and officially unable to practice in the country, though some Muslim communities continued to worship informally without government interference.  By joining the SAMK, Muslim communities relinquished the right to appoint their own imams, subjected themselves to SAMK approval over any property actions (such as sales, transfers, or improvements), and were required to pay 30 percent of the mosque’s income to the SAMK.

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community remained unregistered, after authorities denied the group reregistration for the sixth time in June 2016.  Government experts previously concluded the community’s teachings were not Islamic and that the community needed to remove the word “Muslim” from its registration materials.  During the year, the group attempted to engage in dialogue with the MSD and continued to prepare documents for its next reregistration application.  Community members reported that, due to lack of registration, they did not engage in any official religious activity.

The SAMK continued to oversee the opening of new and restored mosques.  In February then-Minister of Religious and Civil Society Affairs Nurlan Yermekbayev criticized the construction of new mosques while, he said, others remained empty or were put up for sale.  Eighty-four out of 3,601 mosques were not being used, he said.

According to the CSA, there were 3,715 registered religious associations or branches thereof in the country, compared to 3,692 in 2017.  The SAMK continued to control the activities of all 2,591 formally registered Muslim groups affiliated with the Sunni Hanafi school and had authority over construction of new mosques, appointment of imams, and administration of examinations and background checks for aspiring imams.  The SAMK was responsible for authorizing travel agencies to provide Hajj travel services to citizens.  Saudi Arabia increased its 2018 pilgrimage quota for Kazakhstani Muslims to 3,000, from 2,500 the previous year.  The MSD worked closely with the SAMK on the training of imams, upgrading madrasahs to the status of degree-granting colleges, and controlling Hajj pilgrimages. The SAMK permitted imams to enroll in baccalaureate, masters, or PhD programs offered at Nur Mubarak University’s Islamic Studies and Religious Studies departments based on their prior education levels.  The CSA published information about schools for religious training, including 11 schools for Sunni Hanafi imams, one school for Roman Catholic clergy, and one school for Russian Orthodox clergy.

MSD officials continued to monitor the internet, collecting information on internet sites with “destructive” content, applying expedited procedures for the evaluation of such materials by religious experts, and obtaining court authorizations for immediate closures of internet sites it deemed unacceptable. In 2017, the ministry detected 3,555 websites containing what it considered illegal and harmful information.  In the first quarter of 2018, the ministry analyzed the content of 2,299 websites and determined that 700 of them contained what it considered illegal and harmful information.  Media reported the MSD forwarded the negatively assessed online content to the Ministry of Digital Development, Defense and Aerospace Industry’s Information Security Committee for further consideration and potential action, such as blocking the websites.  On September 20, Dr. Aidar Abuov, Director of the MSD’s International Center of Culture and Religions, stated that monitoring of domestic Internet, social media, and news media had revealed “practically no” extremist materials.

The MSD and other authorities continued to inspect religious facilities regularly to review compliance with security requirements mandated by the counterterrorism law, such as utilization of security cameras and maintenance of recorded data for at least 30 days.  There were fewer complaints about security inspections conducted by the authorities compared to 2017.  The Pentecostal Harvest Church received a 176,750 tenge ($470) fine on March 15 for failure to store video surveillance recordings for the required 30-day minimum.

On February 22, the administrative court in Shymkent ruled that the local New Life church violated fire safety regulations.  Although the pastor of the church stated that he had complied with the results of an inspection a month earlier and installed additional fire detectors, the judge levied a fine of 240,550 tenge ($640) and ordered a one-month suspension of the church’s activity.  The pastor submitted an appeal and on March 20, the court of appeals overturned the administrative court’s decision, citing a lack of evidence that the church had violated the law.

According to the Penitentiary Committee of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, all prisons had a dedicated specialist to create programs to counter religious extremism, in accordance with a 2017 order issued by the minister of internal affairs adding the position of “religious specialist” to prison staff as part of the State Program for Counteraction against Terrorism and Religious Extremism.

Religious community representatives and civil society actors expressed hope that the government renaming the Ministry of Religious and Civil Society Affairs the Ministry of Social Development would lead to a reduced focus on policing religious practice and increased tolerance for religious diversity and expression.

Macau

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

Falun Gong members continued to hold rallies and set up informational sites at public venues without incident.  In July Falun Gong practitioners held a rally to protest the CCP’s persecution of Falun Gong members on the Mainland and a candlelight vigil to commemorate deceased practitioners.

Some religious groups reported they retained their ability to conduct charitable activities on the Mainland by working through official channels and officially recognized churches.  There were reports that Mainland students could not attend local seminaries.

The Catholic Diocese of Macau continued to run many educational institutions.

The government provided financial support, regardless of religious affiliation, for the establishment of schools, child-care 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.

Tibet

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

During the year, four Tibetans reportedly self-immolated as a means of protest against government policies, compared to six individuals in 2017.  Some experts attributed reports of the decreasing number of self-immolations to tighter control measures by authorities.  Sources said that during the year, authorities told family members not to discuss self-immolation cases.  The NGO Free Tibet reported since 2009 more than 150 Tibetans had set themselves on fire in protest against what they said was occupation and human rights abuses on Tibet’s religion and culture under Chinese rule.  According to media reports, 16-year-old Gendun Gyatso self-immolated in Ngaba (Chinese:  Aba) County, Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (TAP) in Sichuan Province, on December 8 or 9 and died of his injuries.  Media said that on December 8, Drugkho (reportedly also known by his monastic name Choekyi Gyatso), a young Tibetan man, set himself on fire in Ngaba shouting, “long live the Dalai Lama.”  Some news reports stated he may have survived.  Reportedly, both Gendun and Drugkho were monks at Kirti Monastery.  According to the website Tibet Sun, on November 4 in Ngaba, Dopo, another Tibetan youth, died after carrying out a self-immolation, reportedly shouting “Long live the Dalai Lama.”  On March 7, Tsekho Tugchak (also spelled “Topchag”), a man in his forties, reportedly called out, “Long live His Holiness the Dalai Lama and freedom for Tibet” as he self-immolated in Meruma Township, Ngaba County; the location of his remains was unknown.  Ngaba County had also been the site of numerous prior self-immolations by monks from the Kirti Monastery.

There were reports of the forced disappearance, torture, arbitrary arrest, and physical abuse of individuals on account of their religious beliefs or practices.

The whereabouts of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, recognized as the 11th Panchen Lama by the Dalai Lama and most Tibetans, remained unknown since his 1995 forced disappearance by Chinese authorities.  Nyima was six years old at the time he and his parents were reportedly abducted.  Authorities did not provide information on his whereabouts, and stated previously that he was “living a normal life” and did “not wish to be disturbed.”  The Panchen Lama was considered by the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism the second-most-prominent leader after the Dalai Lama.

The TCHRD, an NGO run and staffed by Tibetans in exile, reported in May a Tibetan monk’s account of torture and sexual abuse in a re-education camp in the TAR.  According to TCHRD, the unnamed monk spent approximately four months in a re-education camp in Sog County of Naqchu (Chinese: Naqu) where he said all inmates, except for “two or three laypersons,” were monks and nuns.  The monk said detainees had to attend self-criticism sessions and participate in military drills; detention officers also beat older monks and nuns who were physically weak and did not understand Chinese.  The monk said, “Many nuns would lose consciousness during the [military] drills.  Sometimes officers would take unconscious nuns inside where I saw them fondle the nuns’ breasts and grope all over their body.”  He also stated some inmates “were singled out and beaten up so severely with electric batons that they would lose consciousness.  The officers would revive the unconscious inmates by splashing water on their faces.  This cycle of losing and reviving consciousness would go on for some time at the end of which the officers would use a black plastic pipe to beat and pour water on all parts of the body and then use electric batons to beat some more.  Soon black and blue marks would appear on the victim’s body and render him or her half-dead.”  TCHRD reported authorities subjected inmates to torture and collective punishment, food deprivation, sleep deprivation, prolonged wall standing, and beatings.

According to The Tibet Post, Geshe Tsewang Namgyal, formerly a monk from Draggo Monastery in Kardze (Chinese: Ganzi) County, Kardze TAP, Sichuan Province, reported that authorities tortured him while he was in prison, resulting in permanent injuries to his legs.  Authorities released Geshe Namgyal on January 24, after he completed his six-year prison term.  Officials arrested him in 2012 for participating in a peaceful protest against China’s policies in Tibet.

Limited access to information about prisoners made it difficult to ascertain the exact number of individuals imprisoned on account of their religious beliefs or affiliation, 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 4,037 records of Tibetan political prisoners, of whom 300 were known to be detained or imprisoned as of December 21.  Of these, 131 were reported to be current or former monks, nuns, or Tibetan Buddhist reincarnate teachers.  Of the 120 cases for which there was available information on sentencing, punishment ranged from two years’ to life imprisonment.  Observers, including commission staff, believed the actual number of Tibetan political prisoners and detainees to be much higher, but the lack of access to prisoners and prisons, as well as the lack of reliable official statistics, made a precise determination difficult.  Authorities continued to hold an unknown number of persons in detention centers rather than prisons.

According to the NGO International Campaign for Tibet and other sources, on December 10, the anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, police in Ngaba severely beat Sangay (also spelled “Sanggye”) Gyatso, a monk from Kirti Monastery, as he protested for freedom for Tibet.  Police detained him, and his whereabouts remained unknown at years end.

According to the NGO Canada Tibet Committee, in February local authorities detained Karma, a leader of Markor village in the TAR’s Naqchu Prefecture, for challenging an official order to sign a document permitting local authorities to conduct mining activities at Sebtra Zagyen mountain.  Local Tibetans consider Sebtra Zagyen a sacred location.  The Canada Tibet Committee also carried a report by TCHRD that in April officials detained and beat approximately 30 Tibetans, at least two of whom were monks, after information about Karma’s detention leaked to the Tibetan exile community.  According to local sources, Karma’s whereabouts remained unknown at year’s end.

In May TAR authorities detained Gangye, a Tibetan man from Sog County, for possessing religious books written by the Dalai Lama and CDs featuring the religious leader’s teachings, according to news portal Phayul.  His whereabouts remained unknown at year’s end.

According to local religious community sources, between September 5 and September 9, security forces separately detained three Tibetan monks from Meruma.  The monks were reportedly protesting against government policies, specifically the requirement for Tibetans to be at least 18 years old to become monks (historically children as young as toddlers began the process of study to become monks) and the government’s interference in monastic management.  On September 5, authorities detained Dorje Rabten of Kirti Monastery immediately following his protest.  On September 6, they also detained Tenzin Gelek after he protested against Dorje’s detention.  Similarly, on September 9, officials took Lobsang Dargy into custody following his protest against the detention of both Dorje and Tenzin.  Their whereabouts remained unknown at year’s end.

According to the Central Tibetan Administration, on January 28, authorities arrested and detained Lodoe Gyatso from Naqchu Prefecture of the TAR after he staged a peaceful protest in front of the Potala Palace in Lhasa.  Prior to the protest, Lodoe Gyatso published a video announcing his plans to organize a peaceful demonstration in support of the Tibetan people’s commitment to world peace and nonviolence under the guidance of the Dalai Lama.

Radio Free Asia reported that in September authorities detained Tibetan monks Nyida, Kelsang, Nesang, and Choeje of Gomang Monastery in Ngaba TAP, Sichuan Province, for publicly protesting against a government housing project near their monastery.  The four detainees were reportedly still in Khyungchu County’s custody.  A fifth monk was reportedly detained and released.

According to a February report by Radio Free Asia, at the end of 2017 authorities convicted Tashi Choeying, a Tibetan monk from Tawu (Chinese: Daofu) County of Kardze TAP in Sichuan Province, on an unknown charge and sentenced him to a six-year prison term.  Authorities had held Tashi, who had studied in India, incommunicado since November 2016.  Religious community sources said Tashi’s conviction may have been due to his communications with the media in India about self-immolation cases in Tawu.

In June Phayul reported local officials raided the residences of two Tibetans from Kardze TAP, Sichuan Province, and arrested the men for possessing photos of the Dalai Lama.

RFA reported in June that authorities released Lobsang Tenzin, formerly a monk at Kirti Monastery in Ngaba County, Sichuan Province, from prison three years before the end of his ten-year prison sentence.  He had been jailed in 2011 for allegedly supporting a self-immolation protest.

Authorities continued to exercise strict controls over religious practice and maintained intrusive surveillance of many monasteries and nunneries, including through permanent installation of CCP and public security officials and overt camera surveillance systems at religious sites and monasteries.

Provincial, prefectural, county, and local governments continued to station CCP officials 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 2017.  Security forces continued to block access to and from important monasteries during politically sensitive events and political religious anniversaries.

According to many contacts in Ngaba County, Sichuan Province, officials placed family members, relatives, and close friends of self-immolators on a security watch list to prevent them from meeting and communicating with international visitors and, in some cases, deprived them of public benefits.

Authorities met with family members of individuals who had self-immolated and instructed them not to talk about the cases 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.  After a self-immolation in December, authorities reportedly instituted a “clampdown” on the area and blocked internet communication.

The government continued to control the approval process of reincarnations of Tibetan Buddhist lamas and supervision of their religious education.

According to local sources, while high-ranking religious leaders and local Tibetan Buddhists attempted to search for the reincarnation of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, a prominent Tibetan religious leader who died in prison in 2015, security officials closely monitored their efforts and threatened them with imprisonment if the religious leaders continued their search.

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, whom authorities had disappeared that same year.  According to numerous Tibetan Buddhist monks and scholars, UFWD and Religious Affairs Bureau officials frequently pressured monks and laypersons, including government officials, to attend religious study sessions presided over by Gyaltsen Norbu, and ordered every Tibetan family in Lhako (Shannan) city to send family members to an August teaching session to ensure hundreds of thousands of people paid him respect.  In 1995, authorities installed Gyaltsen Norbu in Tashi Lhunpo Monastery in Shigatse (Chinese: Xigaze), the traditional seat of the Panchen Lama, and visited the monastery every summer since.

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, continued to manage the selection of the reincarnate lamas’ religious and lay tutors in the TAR and some other Tibetan areas.  Religious leaders reported that, as part of authorities’ interference in reincarnate lamas’ and monks’ religious education, authorities were incentivizing these young men to voluntarily disrobe by emphasizing the attributes of secular life as compared to the more disciplined and austere religious life.  Religious leaders and scholars said these and other means of interference continued to cause them concern about the ability of religious traditions to survive for successive generations.

According to media reports, as of December 2017, the government added seven additional “living buddhas” below the age of 16 to the 2017 list of more than 1,300 approved “living buddhas.”  Such individuals reportedly continued to undergo training on patriotism and the CCP’s socialist political system.  The BAC announced its database of 1,311 “living buddhas” that it deemed “authentic” was nearly complete.  Neither the Dalai Lama nor Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was on the list.

The government continued to place restrictions on the size of Buddhist monasteries and other institutions.  According to local sources, at Larung Gar, Kardze TAP, Sichuan Province, site of the world’s largest Tibetan Buddhist institute, the government continued its program of evicting monks and nuns that began in 2016.  During the year, the government evicted approximately 2,000 monks and nuns from a population that was at least 20,000 in 2016 and demolished an estimated 900 residences, leaving the remaining population at approximately 5,000, according to Human Rights Watch and a local source.  Monks and nuns evicted from the institute returned to their hometowns where the source said they were unable to receive “quality religious education” free from government interference.  According to Chinese press reports, the government stated the demolition was to prevent fires and promote crowd control.  Rights groups said that if safety were the primary motivator for this government action, then other provisions, such as building additional housing that met fire safety codes, could be a way to resolve the issue instead of large-scale demolitions and expulsions.  Local sources stated the destruction was to clear the way for tourist infrastructure and to prevent nuns, monks, and laypersons from outside the area, particularly ethnic Han, from studying at the institute.  Reportedly, in hopes of saving the institute, Larung Gar’s monastic leadership continued to advise residents not to protest the demolitions.

In January Human Rights Watch described the Chinese government’s interference at Larung Gar as an “extreme control over religious practices,” “an immediate threat to the religious freedom of all Tibetans,” and “a long-term threat to all Chinese.”  The organization also noted “the scale of the Communist Party’s intervention at Larung Gar is unprecedented.”

According to local sources, during the year, authorities continued their program of destroying residences at another Buddhist complex at Yachen Gar, also in Kardze Prefecture.  During the year, authorities destroyed at least 700 residences and evicted approximately 1,000 monks and nuns from a 2016 estimated population of 10,000 religious practitioners in Yachen Gar.  At year’s end, a local source estimated the remaining population to be approximately 5,000.  Local sources reported that authorities prohibited monks and nuns from Yachen Gar, who returned to their hometowns in the TAR, from joining any other monastery or nunnery there or participating in any public religious practices.

According to reports, authorities continued “patriotic re-education” campaigns at many monasteries and nunneries across the Tibetan Plateau, forcing monks and nuns to participate in “legal education,” denounce the Dalai Lama, express allegiance to the government-recognized Panchen Lama, and study Mandarin as well as materials praising the leadership of the CCP and the socialist system.

In many areas, authorities reportedly forced monks and nuns under the age of 18 to leave their monasteries and Buddhist schools to receive “patriotic education.”  According to local sources, from 2017 on authorities removed nearly 1,000 minors from various monasteries in Kardze TAP, Sichuan Province.  According to other reports, authorities removed 600 minors from Litang Monastery (also known as the Ganden Thubchen Choekhorling Monastery, the largest Buddhist monastery in Litang, Sichuan Province.  Authorities removed 20 monks from Jowo Ganden Shedrub Palgyeling monastery in Kham and on July 10 authorities removed as many as 200 young monks from Dza Sershul monastery.

Sources also reported from March to July, in Kyewu Township, Sershul (Chinese: Shiqu) County, Kardze TAP, 77 minors were removed from monasteries.  To facilitate the removal of minors, authorities threatened the parents, other family members, and acquaintances, telling them they risked losing social benefits and government jobs if they did not comply with official orders.

In July media reported the government banned all underage students in the TAR from participating in religious activities during the summer holidays.  School officials required students to sign an agreement stating they would not participate in any form of religious activity during the summer.

The Education Affairs Committee, the Municipal People’s Government, and the Municipal Education Bureau of the TAR issued an order banning parents from taking their children to monasteries or allowing children to participate in religious events during the Saka Dawa festival in May, according to media reports.  Reportedly, authorities also encouraged parents not to participate in the festivities or go to monasteries.  The government also required schools to inform the education bureau of students who were absent during the month and taking part in the festival.

On August 31, government officials conducted a political training session for a select group of Tibetan monks and nuns in Lhasa from May 31 to June 2.  The training session aimed to strengthen participants’ political beliefs and prepare them to spread the ideology of the central government in their own monasteries and communities.  The government did not disclose the number of participants, but according to Human Rights Watch, a 2016 political training course for 250 Tibetan monks and nuns was reportedly the pilot program for this training session.

In December Global Times reported authorities in the TAR launched the opening session of a five-year training program for Tibetan Buddhism teaching staff, including local Tibetan Buddhists as well as monks and nuns.  As part of the program, which aims to better adapt Tibetan Buddhism to socialist society, participants are required to study national policies, history, culture, laws, regulations, modern knowledge, and religious studies.  A local CCP official reportedly said monks and nuns were “expected to firmly set up the concept that government power is higher than religious power, and that national laws are above religious rules.”  The launch of this program coincided with the launch of another training course specifically for government officials assigned to Tibetan temples.  Officials are required to take part in a three-year training course to manage temples and “better serve” monks and nuns in conducting religious affairs in accordance to laws and regulations.

The CCP continued to 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 TAR regional government punished CCP members who followed the Dalai Lama, secretly harbored religious beliefs, made pilgrimages to India, or sent their children to study with exiled Tibetans.

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.  In April TAR Party Secretary Wu Yingjie continued to call for monks and nuns in the region to fight against the “Dalai clique and defend the unity of the motherland.”  In May Wu continued to instruct various party and government organs that they “must resolutely implement the central government’s principles and policies on the Dalai clique’s struggle, carry out in-depth anti-secession struggles, and ensure political security.”  Authorities in the TAR continued to prohibit 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.

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 nearly all Tibetan Buddhists recognized as the 11th Panchen Lama.  Punishments in certain counties inside the TAR for displaying images of the Dalai Lama included expulsion from monasteries and criminal prosecution.

Although authorities permitted some traditional religious ceremonies and practices, they continued to maintain tight control over the activities of religious leaders and religious gatherings of laypersons, confining many such 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, local authorities again ordered many monasteries and laypersons not to celebrate or organize any public gatherings for celebrations of the Dalai Lama’s 83rd birthday in July, the anniversary of the March 10, 1959, Tibetan uprising, or the March 14, 2008, outbreak of unrest across the Tibetan Plateau.  TAR authorities banned monks and nuns from leaving their monasteries and nunneries during such times.  According to local sources, Sichuan and Gansu provincial authorities patrolled major monasteries in Tibetan areas and warned that those holding special events or celebrations would face severe consequences.  Local sources reported that in July religious affairs officials instructed senior monks at Draggo and Tawu Monasteries in Kardze TAP not to celebrate the Dalai Lama’s birthday.  As a result, the monks did not organize any public celebrations.  Sources reported they feared repercussions from the government for defying orders, including fear of death.  Officials in Gansu Province met with senior monks from Labrang Monastery and Bora Monastery, and also instructed them not to celebrate the Dalai Lama’s birthday publicly, according to sources.  Authorities warned the monks would face legal consequences for their actions, but did not specify what the consequences were.

Authorities deployed the military to monitor prayer festivals in the TAR and other Tibetan areas.  During Lunar New Year celebrations in February, multiple local sources reported the authorities, among other measures,  deployed military forces at prayer ceremonies at Drephung, Sera, and Gandan Monasteries in the TAR, Draggo and Tawu Monasteries in Sichuan Province, and Kirti and Kumbum (Chinese: Ta’er) Monasteries in Qinghai Province.  Authorities hosted a series of meetings in Lhasa instructing monks and nuns to comply with party policy and inspected “armed forces” and CCP officials at Tibetan Buddhist monasteries.  In September the government banned the annual Dechen Shedrub prayer festival from occurring in Larung Gar, citing overcrowding and unfinished reconstruction.  The ban marked the third consecutive year the government did not allow the 21-year-old festival to take place.

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

Sources continued to report security personnel targeted individuals in religious attire, particularly those from Naqchu and Chamdo (Chinese: Changdu) Prefectures in the TAR and Tibetan areas outside 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 attire to avoid such harassment when traveling outside their monasteries and around the country.

The traditional monastic system reportedly continued to decline as many top Buddhist teachers remained in exile or died in India or elsewhere; 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 Khatok Getse Rinpoche, as well as Bon leader Kyabje Menr Trizin – all resided in exile.  The government also banned India-trained Tibetan monks, most of whom received their education from the Dalai Lama or those with ties to the leader, from teaching in Tibetan monasteries in China.  In May India Today reported Zhu Weiqun, the former head of the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, said it was necessary to tighten supervision so monks educated abroad by the “Dalai clique” did not use “local Buddhists to conduct separatist activities.”

Multiple sources also reported that during the past four years the Chinese government increasingly restricted Tibetan Buddhist monks from visiting Chinese cities to teach or to meet with international contacts.  Authorities also restricted Tibetans’ travel inside China, particularly for Tibetans residing outside the TAR who wished to visit the TAR, during sensitive periods, including Losar (Tibetan New Year), the Saga Dawa festival, and the anniversary of the March 10, 1959, Tibetan uprising.

During the year, many religious figures reported it was very difficult for them to enter the TAR to teach or study.  The government also restricted the number of monks who could accompany those who received permission to travel to the TAR.  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 had not returned, some because of government prohibitions.

Many Tibetans, including monks, nuns, and laypersons, continued to encounter difficulties traveling to India for religious purposes.  In many cases, Public Security Bureau officials refused to approve their 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.  According to a Human Rights Watch annual report, several hundred Tibetans traveling on Chinese passports to attend a teaching session by the Dalai Lama in January were forced to return.  In December Chinese authorities refused to grant Tibetans new passports or confiscated issued passports in an attempt to block their travel to India and Nepal to attend the Dalai Lama’s teaching sessions.  As a result there was a large reduction in the number of China-based Tibetans attending the teaching compared to previous years.  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 local sources.  There were also instances of authorities confiscating and canceling previously issued passports as a way of preventing Tibetans from participating in religious events involving the Dalai Lama in India.  Restrictions also remained in place for monks and nuns living in exile, particularly those in India, which made it difficult or impossible for them to travel into Tibetan areas.

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.  These new housing units had no nearby monasteries where resettled villagers could worship, and the government prohibited construction of new temples without prior approval.  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 continued to justify interference with Tibetan Buddhist monasteries by associating the monasteries with “separatism” and pro-independence activities, as reported in state media.  In August Wu Yingjie, the TAR Party Secretary instructed party members “to adhere to China’s Sinicization of religion, and independence and self-determination should be the guidance principles for those in the Tibetan Buddhism community.”  Wu said, “We will expose the reactionary nature of the 14th Dalai Lama and the ‘Dalai clique,’ as well as educate and guide the vast majority of the monks and nuns and religious followers to oppose separatism in order to safeguard the unity of the motherland and ethnic unity.”

In accordance with official guidelines for monastery management, the 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.”  General administrative affairs in TAR monasteries, which monks traditionally managed, were instead 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.  During the year, a local source said the CCP had appointed 100 percent of monastic management in Tibetan areas of Sichuan Province, including Kirti Monastery.  In January Human Rights Watch reported a 2017 official document said scores of CCP officials would be installed at every level and in each section of the monastic settlement at Larung Gar.  The officials “will hold nearly half of the positions on most committees and in most offices, and in most cases will occupy the top positions.”  According to the document, six “sub-area management units” that supervise the monks would each be headed by a CCP official rather than a monk.

Senior monks at some monasteries continued to report informal agreements 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 TAR CCP committee and government required all monasteries to display prominently the Chinese flag and the portraits of five CCP chairmen from Mao Zedong to Xi Jinping.

According to local sources, authorities continued to hinder 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.

In some cases, authorities continued to enforce special restrictions on Tibetans staying at hotels inside and outside 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 a Radio Free Asia report confirmed by several hotels.

On December 12, the State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China issued a report on what it said was the “progress in human rights” over the previous 40 years.  The report said, “[r]eligious beliefs and normal religious activities are protected by law.  At the moment Tibet Autonomous Region has 1,778 venues for practicing Tibetan Buddhism, and some 46,000 resident monks and nuns.  Tibet now has 358 Living Buddhas, more than 60 of whom have been confirmed through historical conventions and traditional religious rituals.  By 2017 a total of 84 monks from Tibet had received senior academic titles in Lhasa and 168 in Beijing.”

Xinjiang

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

According to media and NGO reports, since April 2017 the government in Xinjiang continued to cite concerns over the “three evils” of “ethnic separatism, religious extremism, and violent terrorism” as reasons to have detained an estimated 800,000 to two million Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and members of other majority Muslim groups, mostly Chinese citizens, in prison-like conditions.  According to a July ChinaAid article, Christians were also detained in the same facilities.  There were reports of deaths in detention and disappearances.  The government targeted individuals for detention based primarily on their ethnic and religious identities, and detainees were reportedly subjected to forms of torture or cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment, including sexual abuse.  Police raids and the government’s restrictions on Islamic practices as part of “strike hard” campaigns, which began in 2014, continued throughout the year.  Local observers said, however, many incidents related to abuses or pressure on Uighurs went unreported to international media or NGOs.

According to Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP), two Uighur religious scholars, Muhammad Salih Hajim and Abdulnehed Mehsum, died in detention camps.  Authorities detained Hajim in late 2017, along with several members of his family, and in January UHRP learned of his death.  UHRP reported that Mehsum died while in detention in Hotan in November 2017, but his death was not made public until May.

In August The Guardian reported local sources told a reporter that a Uighur named Karim had been jailed and “died after prolonged heavy labor.”  He had lived in Muslim-majority countries and owned a Uighur restaurant in a major Chinese city.

On November 28, Mihrigul Tursun, said that while in detention, she saw nine women of the 68 who shared a cell with her die over the course of 3 months.

There were also reports of suicides.  A Uighur advocacy group reported that more than 10 Uighur women committed suicide during the year in direct response to pressure or abuses by authorities.  Reportedly, officials came to their homes and said either the women had to marry a Han Chinese man or the officials would take their parents into detention.  To prevent this, the women committed suicide.

The New York Times, Radio Free Asia, and UHRP reported on the disappearance of several Uighur academics and university administrators during the year.  A report released by UHRP in October identified 231 Uighur intellectuals authorities had caused to disappear, removed from their post, imprisoned, or sent to detention facilities.

In October UHRP said Uighur literature professors Abdukerim Rahman, Azat Sultan, and Gheyretjan Osman, language professor Arslan Abdulla, and poet Abdulqadir Jalaleddin had disappeared and were believed to be held in detention facilities.

Radio Free Asia reported in September that two Kashgar University administrators (Erkin Omer, Muhter Abdughopur) and two professors (Qurban Osman and Gulnar Obul) had been removed from their positions and their whereabouts were unknown.

International media reported former president of Xinjiang University Tashpolat Tiyip and former president of Xinjiang Medical University Hospital Halmurat Ghopur separately received two-year suspended death sentences.

In August The New York Times reported Uighur academic Rahile Dawut, from Xinjiang, who had lectured and written extensively on Uighur culture, disappeared sometime after telling a relative of her intent to travel to Beijing from Urumqi in late 2017.  Her family and friends said she was secretly detained as part of the government’s crackdown on Uighurs.

In March Toronto’s The Globe and Mail interviewed Nurgul Sawut, a clinical social worker in Canberra who said at least 12 of her family members disappeared in Xinjiang since the beginning of the year.  Sawut also stated 54 relatives and close friends in Xinjiang of one couple in Australia had disappeared and were presumably in detention facilities.  The article said more than 30 members of the family of Rebiya Kadeer, an activist and former president of the World Uyghur Congress, vanished or were being detained.  Gulchehra Hoja, a broadcaster with the Uighur service of Radio Free Asia, stated that more than 20 of her relatives were missing and the government was responsible.  The article also reported that Adalet Rahim of Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, said a brother and six cousins were in forced indoctrination programs.  Her father, Abdulaziz Sattar, said some 50 of his relatives – among them bureaucrats, teachers, and a medical doctor – had been incarcerated in Xinjiang.

Associated Press reported the continued disappearance of 16-year-old Uighur Pakzat Qurban, who arrived at the Urumqi airport from Istanbul on his way to visit his grandmother in 2016.

There were numerous reports of authorities subjecting detained individuals to torture and other physical abuse.

In October ChinaAid reported first-hand accounts of a three-part system to which Uighurs were subjected in several detention facilities.  According to local residents, each camp consists of areas A, B, and C.  Guards first placed “newcomers and Muslims” in C, the worst area, where guards deprived them of food or water for 24 hours.  Guards shackled their hands and feet, beat them, and screamed insults at them until they repeatedly thanked the CCP and President Xi Jinping.  Then the guards transferred them to area B, where they ate poor quality food and were permitted to use the bathroom.  They went outside for 15 minutes every day to sing the national anthem.  Guards then moved those considered successfully re-educated in Communist Party beliefs to area A, where the conditions were better.

The September Human Rights Watch (HRW) report titled Eradicating Ideological Viruses contained an account from a detention center in Xinjiang where detainees described interrogations and torture, including beatings, staff hanging detainees from ceilings and walls, and prolonged shackling.  Detainees also reported being kept in spaces so overcrowded there was no room for all to sleep.  One detainee said fellow detainees feared torture when being removed from their cells for interrogations, and one showed him scars after guards hanged the detainee from the ceiling.  After being left hanging for a night, he said he would agree to anything.  One individual said guards chained him to a bed so at most he could only sit and stand in one place.  Guards told him that they would treat detainees the same way that they treat murderers.  They also said there was a Xinjiang-wide order that all Uighurs and ethnic Kazakhs would have their feet shackled and their hands chained together with just five to six “rings” apart, making movement very difficult.

In May ChinaAid reported an 87-year-old ethnic Kazakh man said he was tortured in a Uighur detention facility in Xinjiang.  He said authorities blasted noise from a high-pitched speaker, causing many inmates to slip into comas.  He also said authorities forced Muslims to drink poor quality alcohol and eat pork, practices against their religious beliefs.  Another ethnic Kazakh with knowledge of the situation said prison officials forced detainees to wear a special helmet that played noise for 21 hours per day, causing many to suffer mental breakdowns.

In September The Guardian reported that Kairat Samarkand, an ethnic Kazakh Muslim who had been detained outside Karamagay for nearly four months, said he was forced to wear an outfit of “iron clothes” that consisted of claws and rods that left him immobile with his hands and legs outstretched.  He said guards forced him to wear it for 12 hours one day after he refused to make his bed.  According to Samarkand, guards told him that there is no religion, and that the government and the party would take care of him.  Samarkand told The Washington Post that guards in detention facilities would handcuff and ankle cuff detainees who disobeyed rules for up to 12 hours, and would subject detainees to waterboarding.

In July ChinaAid reported guards forced a woman in a detention facility to take unknown medication and her hair fell out.  The woman said prison authorities handcuffed detainees and made them wear 44 pounds of armor for three-12 hours per day.  Guards also shaved off Uighur women’s hair, which some of the women considered sacred.  Helatti Shamarkhan, a former inmate, said he saw detainees being forcibly vaccinated and medicated.

In September HRW reported that a former detainee said authorities put him in a small solitary confinement cell measuring approximately 2 by 2 meters (43 square feet).  They did not give the detainee any food or drink, handcuffed him in the back, and forced him to stand for 24 hours without sleep.

NGOs and international media reported arrests and detentions of Muslims in Xinjiang for “untrustworthy behavior” such as attending religious education courses, possessing books about religion and Uighur culture, wearing clothing with Islamic symbols, and traveling to certain counties.  There were also reports of authorities holding children in orphanages after their parents were taken to internment camps.

The Economist reported authorities in Xinjiang used detailed information to rank citizens’ “trustworthiness” using various criteria.  Officials deemed people as trustworthy, average, or untrustworthy depending on how they fit into the following categories:  were 15 to 55 years old (i.e., of military age); were Uighur; were unemployed; had religious knowledge; prayed five times a day; had a passport; had visited one of 26 countries; had ever overstayed a visa; had family members in a foreign country (there are at least 10,000 Uighurs in Turkey); and home schooled their children.  The Economist said “…the catalogue is explicitly racist:  people are suspected merely on account of their ethnicity.”  Being labelled “untrustworthy” could lead to being detained by authorities.  HRW reported the 26 “sensitive countries” were Afghanistan, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Libya, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Thailand, Turkey, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, and Yemen.

International media reported the government issued guidelines warning officials to look out for 75 “signs” or behaviors that signified religious extremism.  These guidelines included growing a beard, praying in public outside of mosques, and abstaining from smoking or drinking alcohol.  Radio Free Asia reported in November that government authorities in Hotan, Xinjiang, were using an expanded set of guidelines that included additional behaviors, such as how people stood during prayer and dying hair red with henna.  According to another source, authorities considered red hair a sign of affiliation with extremist religious groups because some individuals say the Prophet Mohammad had red hair.  Radio Free Asia reported that officials threatened individuals who did not comply with the list of proscribed behaviors with detention.  Authorities also pressured students to report information on their family’s religious practices to their teachers, who would then pass the information to security officials.

In July the NGO China Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) published a report saying that, based on Chinese government data, criminal arrests in Xinjiang accounted for 21 percent of all arrests in China in 2017, while the population of Xinjiang comprised less than 2 percent of China’s overall population.  CHRD reported the ratio of arrests in Xinjiang increased by more than 300 percent during the 2013-2017 period compared with 5 percent in preceding years.  CHRD reported that, although the government does not provide an ethnic breakdown of the arrests, “…criminal punishment would disproportionately target the Uyghur Muslim group based on their percentage of the population.”

On July 25, CHRD reported officials in a Xinjiang village detained the local imam and forced him to provide his students’ names.  Soon thereafter, authorities detained a carpenter in the village because he had attended Quranic studies classes 10 years previously.

On September 8, the New York Times reported that Abdusalam Muhemet said police in Xinjiang detained him for reciting a verse of the Quran at a funeral.  Xinjiang residents said authorities detained people for visiting relatives abroad, possessing books about religion and Uighur culture, and even for wearing a T-shirt with a Muslim crescent.  The article said the goal of these actions was to remove any devotion to Islam.

HRW reported a witness said he knew “three restaurant owners … [who] ran ‘Islamic’ restaurants – they got detained because they don’t allow smoking or drinking in their restaurants….  [The authorities] are banning everything Islamic.”  A former detainee stated that authorities in the detention centers did not allow people to say “as-salaam alaikum,” a religious greeting, but instead forced them to speak Mandarin only.  The detainee also stated that if he used Turkic language words, officials would punish him.

In September The Associated Press reported Gulzar Seley and her infant son, Uighurs who lived in Istanbul and returned to Xinjiang to visit family, were imprisoned.  According to Seley’s husband, who remained behind in Istanbul, authorities detained Seley shortly after she arrived at the airport in Urumqi and took her to her hometown, Karamay.  Upon being released for a short period, she called her husband in Istanbul to tell him she and her son would not be coming back because she did not have time.  She then disappeared, but her husband said he later learned she and their son were in jail.

According to The Guardian, in June police in Urumqi sentenced Guli, an ethnic Kazakh woman from Kazakhstan, to 15 days detention for not having her identification with her.  Local authorities had previously interrogated her, citing reports that she wore a hijab and prayed.  Guli described her detention facility as a long, single-story building that held approximately 230 women.  She said inside the detention center, guards forced women to sing patriotic songs for two hours on most days, memorize a 10-point disciplinary code, and undergo self-criticism sessions.  One woman told Guli she was there because police had found a “happy Eid” message on her phone.  Authorities released Guli after eight days and sent her back to Kazakhstan.

Under a policy launched in 2017, authorities in Xinjiang built “welfare centers” aimed at providing orphans with state-sponsored care until they turn 18.  According to a July Financial Times report, a former teacher in detention facilities said detainees’ children were sent to “welfare centers” as they were forbidden to attend school with “normal” children because their parents had political problems.  The same article said public tenders issued by local governments since 2017 indicated “dozens” of orphanages were being built.  One county in Kashgar built 18 new orphanages in 2017 alone, according to local media.

Radio Free Asia reported in July and September that authorities placed children whose parents were in detention facilities in “Little Angel Schools.”  The reports described the schools as surrounded by walls topped with barbed wire.  Reports on the ages of children held varied, and some said children from six months to 14 years were being held, and were not allowed to go out due to security concerns.  Reportedly, one worker at a regional orphanage in southern Xinjiang told Radio Free Asia his facility was seriously overcrowded with children “locked up like farm animals in a shed.”  He said, with the overcrowding, authorities “are moving children to mainland China,” although he was unsure of where they were being sent.  He added that “it isn’t possible” for parents released from detention to look for their children in orphanages.  The CCP Secretary for Hotan Prefecture’s Keriye County said approximately 2,500 children were being held in two newly constructed buildings.  International media and NGOs reported the government restricted individuals’ ability to engage in religious practices and forced Muslims in Xinjiang to perform activities inconsistent with their religious beliefs.

The New York Times reported in September that officials in Hotan set very narrow limits on the practice of Islam, including a prohibition on praying at home if there were friends or guests present.  Residents said police sometimes searched homes for forbidden books and items such as prayer mats, using special equipment to check walls and floors for hidden caches.

ChinaAid reported that on February 17, authorities in Yili, Xinjiang, ordered Uighurs and ethnic Kazakhs to destroy the Islamic star and crescent symbol on all gravesites.  Otherwise, authorities would forcibly demolish the graves.

Bitter Winter, an online magazine on religious liberty and human rights in China, reported government officials monitored funeral services in Xinjiang and prohibited Muslims from commemorating their dead according to their faith traditions.  In February armed police officers detain Ezimet, a Uighur CCP member from Kashgar City, for performing an Islamic funeral prayer at his mother’s burial ceremony several years previously.  As of year’s end, Ezimet remained in custody in an undisclosed location.  Authorities also implicated his wife and child, and forced them to study government policy.

Radio Free Asia reported in June that authorities in Xinjiang affiliated with the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps were building nine “burial management centers,” which included crematoria, in areas with high Uighur populations.  Members of the Uighur exile community said authorities were using the centers to remove the religious context from funerary rites.  According to the article, other members of the exile community said “authorities use the crematoria to secretly ‘deal with’ the bodies of Uyghurs who have been killed by security forces during protests against … religious repression… or who have died under questionable circumstances in re-education camps.”  The article cited a source who said “very few” ethnic corpses brought to his crematorium in Kuchar (Kuche) county came from the “re-education camps.”  The source said the corpses of ethnic minorities brought to his crematorium are “normally brought to us with special documentation provided by police.”

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs continued to deny international media reports stating authorities banned Uighur Muslims from Ramadan fasting, and said the constitution provided for religious freedom for Uighurs.  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 employees of state-owned enterprises and state-run organizations, and instead hosted education events about the dangers of “religious extremism.”  Authorities also hosted morning sessions in order to ensure students and workers ate breakfast.  According to The Independent, authorities required mandatory 24-hour shifts for local government employees, and mandatory sports activities and patriotic film sessions for students on Fridays throughout the month.  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.

There were reports of authorities prohibiting students from the middle school level through to the university level from fasting during Ramadan.

According to Radio Free Asia, authorities required all Uighur cadres, civil servants, and pensioners to sign a pledge stating they would not fast and would seek to dissuade their families and friends from doing so.

The government facilitated participation in the Hajj, and Muslims applied online or through local official Islamic associations.  Media reported authorities punished pilgrims attempting to perform the Hajj through routes other than government-arranged options.  According to an official media report in Global Times, approximately 11,500 Chinese Muslims were expected to make the Hajj pilgrimage during the year, compared to 12,800 in 2017.  Approximately 3,300 of them were to receive GPS tracking devices as part of a pilot program allowing the IAC to monitor their location in real time throughout the pilgrimage.  According to the manufacturer, SARA and IAC jointly designed the device.  In 2016 IAC reported that Saudi Arabia imposed an annual quota on the number of pilgrims from China that was lower than those for other countries.  State media said Xinjiang provided nearly a quarter of pilgrims, although independent sources say only 1,400 Uighur Muslims were able to participate.  These figures included IAC members and security officials sent to monitor Muslim citizens and prevent unauthorized activities.  Uighur Muslims reported difficulties taking part in state-sanctioned Hajj travel due to IAC’s criteria for participation in the official Hajj program.  The government confiscated the passports of Uighurs in Xinjiang, and Uighurs reported near universal failure in efforts to regain possession of travel documents.  Age restrictions limiting Hajj travel to Uighurs over 60 years old also reduced the number traveling to Mecca, according to media reports.  Those selected to perform state-sanctioned Hajj travel were required to undergo political and religious “education,” according to SARA and media reports.  Uighurs allowed to attend the Hajj were also reportedly forced to participate in political education every day during the Hajj.  Organizations reported 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.

In September HRW reported authorities began requiring everyone in a village in Xinjiang to gather for a weekly Chinese flag-raising ceremony.  On one occasion, police hit an elderly woman, telling her to take off her headscarf.  Authorities confiscated prayer mats and copies of the Quran.  Village authorities prohibited children from learning about religion, even at home.

In February ChinaAid reported that officials forced Muslims in Xinjiang to take part in traditional methods of celebration for the Chinese Lunar New Year, despite conflicts with Islam.  According to an ethnic Kazakh man, authorities forced ethnic Kazakhs and Uighurs in Xinjiang to eat pork dumplings – a violation of Islamic dietary restrictions.  If they refused, public security staff detained them on the spot.

Authorities continued to prevent any “illegal” religious activities in Xinjiang and prioritize Chinese language and culture over Uighur language and culture under the rubric of ethnic unity.  Authorities promoted loyalty to the Communist Party as the most important value.  Reportedly, authorities encouraged thousands of Uighurs to participate against their will in ceremonies wearing traditional Han Chinese clothing, performing tai chi, and singing the national anthem.  HRW reported in September that in Xinjiang, officials required individuals to attend political indoctrination meetings and, for some, Mandarin classes.

On December 12, the SCIO issued a report on what it said was the progress of human rights over 40 years.  The report said the state offered training sessions to clerics on interpreting scriptures and, since 2011, the National Religious Affairs Administration had trained several hundred Islamic clerics from Xinjiang.  The central government supported the Xinjiang Islamic Institute.

Authorities in Xinjiang maintained extensive and invasive security and surveillance, reportedly in part to gain information regarding individuals’ religious adherence and practices.

HRW reported the government required all individuals in Xinjiang to have a spyware app on their mobile phone because the government considered “web cleansing” necessary to prevent access to terrorist information.  Failing to install the app, which could identify whom people called, track online activity, and record social media use, was deemed an offense.  The reported stated that “Wi-Fi sniffers” in public places monitored all networked devices in range.

The People’s High Court, Public Security Bureau, Bureau of Culture, and Bureau of Industry and Commerce in Xinjiang continued to implement restrictions on video 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 in online marketplaces.  As part of these measures, police randomly stopped individuals to check their mobile phones for sensitive content.

In September HRW stated that in Xinjiang, officials used questionnaires to examine people’s everyday behavior, inputting the results into a large-scale data analysis program.  According to HRW, any indications of religious piousness, along with “storing lots of food in one’s home” or owning fitness equipment, could be construed as signs  of “extremism.”  HRW said the government’s religious restrictions had become so stringent that it had “effectively outlawed the practice of Islam.”

At the end of December 2017, HRW reported a continuing effort of authorities in Xinjiang to collect DNA samples, fingerprints, iris scans, and blood types of all residents in the region between the ages of 12 and 65.  This campaign significantly expanded authorities’ collection of biodata beyond previous government efforts  in the region, which were limited to biometric information from passport applicants.

According to The New York Times, authorities collected DNA samples, face-scans, voice recordings, and fingerprints of individuals in Xinjiang after saying they were receiving a free health check, but authorities refused to provide the results of the “check.”  In patent applications filed in 2013 and 2017, government researchers said they took genetic material from Uighurs and compared it with DNA from other ethnic groups, and were able to sort people by ethnicity.  Human rights groups and Uighur activists said collecting genetic material was a key part of the government’s campaign in Xinjiang.  They said the government would compile the information into a comprehensive DNA database used to track any Uighurs who resisted conforming to the government’s wishes.

According to an HRW report released in September, an individual who spent months in detainment facilities in Xinjiang said in May that guards watched the inmates through video cameras, forcing everyone to remain still until a voice came from the speakers telling detainees they could relax for a few minutes.  Guards also watched when inmates went to the bathroom.  The same report detailed how the government extended surveillance to life outside the camps.  A woman who left Xinjiang in 2017 told HRW that five officials took turns watching over her at home, documenting that they had checked on her.  According to the report, the government officials appeared in photographs reading political propaganda together and preparing a bed to stay overnight.  The report said having male cadres stay overnight in homes with female inhabitants caused women and girls to be vulnerable to sexual abuse.

Throughout Ramadan, authorities in Hotan Prefecture assigned party cadres to stay in local residences.  They observed families throughout the day and ensured they did not pray or fast.  According to Radio Free Asia, an official said “During this period, [officials] will get to know the lives of the people, assist in their daily activities – such as farming – and propagate laws and regulations, party and government ethnic and religious policies, and so on.”

In May CNN reported that authorities had dispatched more than one million Communist officials from other parts of the country to live with local families in Xinjiang.  The report stated the government instituted these home stays to target farmer households in southern Xinjiang, where authorities have been waging what the report called an unrelenting campaign against the forces of “terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism.”  The report also stated the government required families to provide detailed information on their personal lives and political views during the officials’ visits.  Authorities also subjected families to political education from the live-in officials – whom the government had mandated to stay at least one week per month in some locations.  The program started in 2014, according to CNN.

A local Xinjiang government statement online indicated officials had to inspect the homes in which they were staying for any religious elements or logos and instructed the officials to confiscate any such items they found.

On August 8, The New York Times reported that, in addition to the mass detentions in Xinjiang, authorities intensified the use of informers and expanded police surveillance, including installing cameras in some people’s homes.

In May The Economist reported that in Hotan, Xinjiang, there were police stations approximately every 300 meters (1000 feet).  The article stated that the government referred to the stations as “convenience police stations.”  The stations were part of a grid-management system similar to those Xinjiang Party Secretary Chen Quanguo started when he was Party Secretary in Tibet from 2011 to 2016.  In Xinjiang authorities divided each city into squares, with approximately 500 people in each square.  Every square had a police station that monitored the inhabitants.  The report adds that every village in Xinjiang had a similar type of “convenience police station.”

The same report detailed police activities at a large checkpoint on the edge of Hotan, where a police officer ordered all the passengers off the bus.  The passengers (all Uighur) took turns in a booth, where officials scanned identity cards, took photographs and fingerprints, used newly installed iris-recognition technology, and forced women to take off their headscarves.  The officials also forced young Uighurs to give authorities access to their phones in order to download their smart phone contents for later analysis.

The government restricted access to houses of worship.  The Economist reported in May that in Hotan authorities closed neighborhood mosques, leaving a handful of large mosques open.  The account stated that police forced worshippers to register with them before attending mosques.  At the entrance to the largest mosque in Kashgar, the Idh Kha – a famous place of pilgrimage – two policemen sat underneath a banner saying “Love the party, love the country.”  Inside, a member of the mosque’s staff held classes for local traders on how to be a good Communist.  In Urumqi, the article stated that authorities knocked down minarets and Islamic crescents on the mosques that were permitted to remain open.  Other reports said restrictions across Xinjiang that required worshippers to apply for mosque entry permits remained in place.  According to a local source, authorities banned individuals under the age of 20 from attending religious services in mosques.

The government reportedly moved against human rights activists.  Radio Free Asia reported that on August 16, police threatened prominent Hui Muslim poet Cui Haoxin (whose pen name is An Ran), after he tweeted about the mass incarceration of Uighurs in internment camps.  According to Cui, five police officers raided his home and warned him not to use social media.  Authorities had previously sent Cui to a weeklong re-education course in eastern China and briefly detained him in connection with his poetry and writings that referenced Xinjiang.

The government also reportedly restricted travel and sought to intimidate or forcibly repatriate Uighur and other Muslims abroad.

According to an HRW September report, individuals had to apply to the police for permission and proceed through numerous checkpoints to go from one town to the next in Xinjiang.  HRW also reported that authorities recalled passports from people in the region and prohibited communication with individuals outside the country, including relatives.  Ethnoreligious minorities also reported increased screening at airport, train station, and roadside security checkpoints.

The Wall Street Journal reported in August that Chinese security officials told Uighurs living abroad to collect information on other Uighurs.  Several Uighurs abroad reported the government denying their passport renewals and instead offering a one-way travel document back to China.  Several individuals also reported authorities threatened to put family members of Uighurs living abroad into detention centers if they did not return.

HRW reported that in September an officer called an ethnic Turkic Muslim living in the United States and told him to return to China, threatening to abduct him if he refused.  It may not be now, the officer said, “but this is just a matter of time.”

HRW reported in June that Chinese authorities contacted Murat, a 37-year-old student living outside the country whose sister was in a detention facility in China, telling her that even though she was in a foreign country, they could “manage” her.  Murat stated that she did not join any terrorist organization or any organization against China or join any demonstrations.

According to a Business Insider report from August the government began compiling a database of its Muslim citizens living abroad.  The article said authorities used intimidation tactics to obtain license plate numbers, bank details, and marriage certificate information from Uighur citizens in other countries.

In a March 28 article, The Economist cited reports issued by human rights groups saying authorities forced hundreds of Uighurs back to China in the past decade from Egypt, Thailand, Vietnam, and elsewhere.  These groups said Chinese authorities in foreign countries had detained and interrogated individuals and several hundred were in foreign jails.  Chinese officials often recruited local residents on both sides of the country’s southwestern borders and across Central Asia to report the arrival of “suspicious” individuals.  The Economist report said the government frequently succeeded in having these individuals sent back without going through any official legal process.

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