28 November 2006
Dr. Thomas Weyrauch/Germany

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Religious Persecution in the People's Republic of China

Speech to the “Conference on Religious Intolerance in China” in the European Parliament

sponsored by Mr. Edward McMillan-Scott, Vice President of EP and
Mr. Simon Coveney, Human Rights spokesman of EPP

Mr. Vice President McMillan-Scott, Mr. Coveney, distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

First of all I want to thank you for your invitation and to thank to the organizers of this conference, especially Dr. Yang Lixin of Epoch Times and Mr. Fautré of Human Rights without Frontiers for the excellent job in organizing everything.

China has a long-standing concept of human rights which is rooted in ideas of famous philosophers and religions. [1]

This tradition is still a part of the Chinese culture and should be expressed by legal means. The Chinese government declares that religious adherents can take part in various religious activities in temples, mosques, churches and individual residences. There should be 85,000 places of worship across the country, 300,000 clergymen, over 3,000 religious organizations, and 74 religious seminaries run by those organizations to train clergymen. [2]

In terms of international law the People´s Republic of China (PRC) actually  regards religious freedom only by accepting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights [3] and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights [4]. China has not yet ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [5], which would bind the Chinese authorities on religious tolerance as a hard law. Therefore the PRC is able to claim itself to be merely a signatory state of soft laws concerning religious freedom. (4) That means in all cases of critizism on the human rights situation in China, the country has no international duties on contractual character to fulfill. In this way China will never be in the position of a defendant. [6]

The preamble of the Chinese constitution declares the Communist Party of China (CCP) to be the leading factor of the Chinese state. (6) Although the Chinese state is dependent in this way on the atheistic CCP, the constitution and other laws stipulate religious freedom. [7]

To enjoy religious freedom, the believers have to join organizations, which are to be registered and controlled by a special authority, the State Administration for Religious Affairs. This body officially protects the five beliefs of Buddhism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Daoism and Islam, as long as they are organized under state control within the China Buddhist Association, the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, the protestant Three-Self Patriotic Movement of China and the Protestant Christian Council, the Chinese Daoist Association and the Islamic Association of China. But even the protection of a minimum of religious practice at home doesn’t really exist. [8]

China’s government replies in harsh words to American critics on this matter as follows: “The US report talked nonsense about 30 million Chinese people carrying out their mass at ‘home churches’. In fact, there are no ‘house churches’ in China. Christians usually organize religious rituals in families, which is only called a house meeting. Christians who take part in the house meeting also join congregations in churches, except for those who are too old or weak. House meetings were just a supplement to church meetings.” End of the quotation. The Chinese government finished the reply by stating that it respects those house meetings and would never intervene. [9]

Ladies and Gentlemen, the opposite of that Chinese governmental eulogy is the truth:

Since many years house churches are forcibly closed and their members detained. If their application to register their community as religious organization is rejected, they do not have legal protection. The same happens to those believers who refuse to apply for registration.[10]

In connection with alleged religious freedom it seems contradictory and even ridiculous that the frame conditions for religious activities are prescribed by an atheistic state under an atheistic leadership of an atheistic party. Furthermore this leadership even defines the character of a legal religion as well as the character of heresy. Religious or spiritual groups excluded from the privilege to be recognized by the state are labeled as ‘xiéjiào’, which means “evil cults”. In order to hinder such societies, the Chinese Anti Cult-Association was founded under the supervision of the Beijing-based Institute of Science and Technology. [11]

Of course, the local authorities may tolerate some practices of folk religions, such as prophecy or palmistry, while other popular practices are forbidden as ‘evil cults’. [12]

It is the spiritual movement Falun Gong, a method of self-cultivating based on Buddhist and Daoist elements, which was first fostered by the Chinese state in the Nineties and then labeled as “sect” and “evil cult” in 1999. Practicing and promoting Falun Gong or other cultivation methods became an illegal act. Without having a legal basis of the constitution or of other laws a department of the Central Committee of the CCP was founded, the Bureau 610. If I now mention that the Bureau 610 is enabled to give directives to police authorities and offices of public affairs, I just want to emphasize that it is an office of the leadership of the party. The only task of the Bureau is to persecute peaceful Falun Gong adherents. [13]

In 2004 the government announced a shift of paradigm by limiting control over religion. In fact, the new socalled ‘Regulation on Religious Affairs’ did not afford greater religious freedom. What kind of greater religious freedom do the Chinese people enjoy now? According to the regulation the Party’s United Front Work Department still influences the work of the Administration of Religious Affairs of different levels. Still the faithfuls have to apply for a registration of their group and to meet all the political conditions. Not the religious society itself is responsible for the appointment of the religious personnel like priests, monks, nuns etc., but the administration of townships, counties, provinces or of the Central Government influenced by the CCP. In cases of violations the regulations also provide administrative punishments like fines or detention. [14]

In the same year 2004 a new office, the ‘Central Bureau for the Work on Religious Affairs’, was established. It published documents, which forbade members of the CCP to join religious groups secretly. The document reports it was a matter of fact that religious people were working and gaining power within the party, the state administration and the jurisdiction. Such an infiltration was provoking protest movements. [15] Another document of this office prohibits religious activities and ceremonies in universities. Teachers and students, who are member of the CCP and of a religious society as well, will be expelled from the party. This means a threat for their career. [16]

The legal conditions for the religious life in the People´s Republic of China infringe the international respected human rights standards. The reality of millions of believers is even more serious. While officers of an atheistic state became representatives of religious bodies, who tell stories about religious freedom in China, the daily activities of banned religious and spiritual groups have to be carried out in underground. One example: What must Christians experience when they assemble secretly in house churches? Reports show that participants of underground masses were surrounded by policemen, who beat and arrested non-violent members of those churches. During their detention many of the Christians were tortured.[17]

To take another example of the Islamic people in Western China: According to the ‘Regulation on Religious Affairs’ Muslims will be fined, if they have a Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca without the government’s authorization. [18]

The Falun Gong practitioners presently have to suffer much more than other adherents of persecuted groups in China. Foreign journalists, like Philip Pan of the Washington Post or Ian Johnson of Wall Street Journal, could prove allegations of torture and killings of Falun Gong practitioners since 1999. It is reported that more than 1,000 Falun Gong practitioners have been killed after being atrociously tortured. [19]

Allegations of organ harvesting from the body of killed Falun Gong adherents seem to be true. [20]

The religious persecution is very often combined with sexual violence like raping or maltreating the genitals with electric shockers on detained female Christians of house churches, Tibetan nuns and Falun Gong practitioners. [21]

Those methods of persecution have been checked by Manfred Nowak of the United Nations´ Human Rights Commission, the special investigator on torture, who visited China last year and found that torture, though officially declared illegal since 1996, remains widely in use across China. [22]

In summary, one can say that the People´s Republic of China can be legally distinguished from countries like Myanmar (Burma) or the Democratic People´s Republic of Korea (North-Korea) by the factor that there is legislation on religion, but on the other hand China has a poor human rights record including a very limited freedom of religion. Until today religious activities are not protected. Socalled ‘cults’ are outlawed. Their adherents face brutal persecution. Therefore I want to point out that the situation of the believers in the People´s Republic of China is far from being satisfactory and indeed no indication for religious freedom.


[1]           For an extensive explanation see e.g. chapter “Menschenrechte in der chinesischen Philosophie” (Human rights in Chinese philosophy) in my book “Gepeinigter Drache – Chinas Menschenrechte im Spätstadium der KP-Herrschaft” (Anguished Dragon – China´s Human Rights in the Late Stage of CCP-Rule). 2nd Edition Heuchelheim/Germany (Longtai) 2006, pp. 10.

[2]          Embassy of the People´s Republic of China in the United States of America, http://www.china-embassy.org/eng/zt/zjxy/t36496.htm.

[3]          Article 2 and 18. General Assembly resolution of Dec. 10th, 1948.

[4]          Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, http://www.ohchr.org/english/countries/ratification/3.htm.

[5]          Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, http://www.ohchr.org/english/countries/ratification/4.htm. China has established a working commission to revise the constitution and other laws for conformity with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The PRC has asked the European Union for support and cooperation, see Xinhua Nov. 20th, 2000; http://mail.fsfeurope.org/pipermail/wsis-euc/2006-January/000686.html; www.cnn.com/2000/ASIANOW/east/11/21/rights.china; Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights: 4. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, http://www.ohchr.org/english/countries/ratification/4_1.htm.

[6]          That legal position is disputed.

[7]          Constitution, art. 36; Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law, art. 11; Education Law, art. 9; Criminal Law, art. 251 (infringement to the freedom of religious belief).

[8]          Congressional-Executive Commission on China: Annual Report 2006, Washington 2006, pp. 79, 80.

[9]          Embassy of the People´s Republic of China in the United States of America, http://www.china-embassy.org/eng/zt/zjxy/t36496.htm

[10]         Congressional-Executive Commission on China: Annual Report 2006, Washington 2006, pp. 79, 80.

[11]         Kupfer, Kristin: „Geheimgesellschaften“ in der VR China: Spirituell-religiöse Bewegungen seit 1978 – Entstehung, Entwicklung und Interaktion mit dem Staat, www.chinafokus.de/wissenschaft/bruehlertagung/3kupfer/fussnoten.php; Website of the Anti-Cult Association, www.anticult.org.

[12]         China aktuell, July 2002, p. 734.

[13]         World Organization to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong, Investigation Report, p. 47 ff.

[14]         Congressional-Executive Commission on China: Annual Report 2006, Washington 2006, pp. 79, 80.

[15]         Malek, Roman: Marxismus und Atheismus versus Religionsfreiheit, In: China heute XXIII (China-Zentrum: St. Augustin/Germany 2004), No. 6 (136), pp. 195.

[16]         Malek, Marxismus und Atheismus versus Religionsfreiheit, p. 197.

[17]         One example is the persecution of members of the Church of Southern China, see China aktuell, October 2002, p. 1120. Their priest Gong Shengliang has been tortured in his prison in Jingzhou City in Hubei Province. His death sentence has been revised. Amnesty International, Urgent Action June 11th, 2003; Spiegel Online August 16th, 2005, http://www.spiegel.de/panorama/0,1518,369287,00.html.

[18]          Regulation on Religious Affairs, Art. 51 Congressional-Executive Commission on China: Annual Report 2006, Washington 2006, p. 82.

[19]         Falun Gong Human Rights Working Group: The Falun Gong Report 2003, pp. 91; Falun Dafa: A Witness to History.p. 31 f.

[20]          Matas, David/Kilgour, David: Investigation Report into Allegations of Organ Harvesting of Falun Gong Practitioners in China, July 6th, 2006, http://www.david-kilgour.com/2006/Kilgour-Matas-organ-harvesting-rpt-July6-eng.pdf.

[21]         Tibetfocus, http://www.tibetfocus.com/zerstoerung/verhaftung&folter.htm, The Falun Gong Report 2003; Blume, Georg: Endstation Bambus-Gulag, In: Die Zeit Nr. 16/2001, http://www.zeit.de/2001/16/politik/200116_falun.html; www.faluninfo.de/144.0html; www.de.clearharmony.net/articles/200403/15811.html; http://www.chinaintern.de/article/-Menschenrechte/1092590040.html.

[22]          United Nations Press Release, Dec. 2nd, 2005, http://www.unhchr.ch/huricane/huricane.nsf/view01/677C1943FAA14D67C12570CB0034966D; BBC News, Dec. 2nd, 2005, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/4491026.stm.