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Minorities, Christians suffering 'egregious' treatment in China

Report highlights range of rights abuses, suggests U.S. against financing projects in minority areas

Minorities, Christians suffering 'egregious' treatment in China

Catholics stand inside the entrance to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church in Anyang, China's central Henan province on Aug. 4, 2015. A recently released U.S. report details how religious freedoms in China have increasingly been suppressed by communist authorities. (Photo by AFP) reporter, Phnom Penh

October 12, 2016

In the past year, ethnic and religious minorities in China have faced "egregious discrimination and violence" at the hands of the state, a U.S. government report concludes.

Released late last week, the annual Congressional-Executive Commission on China report details particularly harsh treatment of Muslim Uyghurs and Buddhist Tibetans and urges Congress to identify the officials and individuals most responsible "for severe human rights violations."

The 350-page report also suggests that the government press U.S. directors of financial institutions to "oppose the financing of projects in Tibetan autonomous areas, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, and other ethnic minority areas if such projects have the anticipated effect of facilitating large-scale migrations into ethnic minority areas, fail to promote economic self-sufficiency of ethnic minorities, or do not respect their culture, religion, or traditions."

While China ostensibly safeguards the rights of its 55 state-recognized ethnic minority groups, and is signatory to related international conventions, groups who have pushed for greater autonomy or fought sinicization have seen severe curbs on basic rights.

Tibetans and Uyghurs have faced particular repression with restrictions on their movements, unwarranted arrests and abuse.

In its section on Xinjiang, the report highlights "repressive security measures" that include "arbitrary detentions, oppressive security checkpoints and patrols, the forcible return of Uyghurs to the XUAR [Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region] from other provinces as part of heightened security measures, and forced labor as a means to ‘ensure stability.'''

It also notes a controversial local counterterrorism law passed in August that give police extensive powers and severely broaden the terms under which someone can be handed terrorism charges.

"The U.S. government and international observers have asserted that XUAR officials have justified limits on Uyghurs' religious freedom by equating them with efforts to combat extremism," the report says.

The report highlights ongoing pressure on Tibetan culture and language, noting that: "officials at times treated Tibetan efforts to sustain their culture and language as illegal or as a threat to social stability."

As with Muslim Uyghurs, "security officials continued to detain Tibetans who advocated on behalf of Tibetan culture and language, or who sought to publish their views."

They also severely curtail movement of Tibetans. Isolating Tibetans from the Dalai Lama remains a "priority" of the Chinese government, the report notes.

The language echoes that of the government itself, which late last month said its highest priority in the area was countering "the Dalai Lama clique."

And while the number of self-immolations — a popular, drastic form of protest among Tibetans — dropped considerably in the past year, the report notes this may well be traced to policies imposing "collective punishment" on family and community members.

Ongoing suppression of Protestant Christians, meanwhile, is part of the nation's high-level sinicization campaign, the authors note.

"In particular, authorities in Zhejiang province continued to target Protestants with harassment and close monitoring in the past reporting year, for example, by continuing to implement a campaign launched in 2014 that has resulted in the removal of an estimated 1,500 church crosses from state-sanctioned churches, and in more than 20 cases, the complete demolition of churches," says the report. "Some Protestant leaders have been sentenced to prison terms, and officials also detained those providing legal assistance to churches facing forced cross removal."

In a statement presented to the E.U. Parliament last week, Texas-based Christian rights group China Aid echoed the report's findings calling "2016 one of the most tyrannical years since the Cultural Revolution."

"As China regresses into a more Maoist regime, the Communist Party continues to place restrictive measures on religious freedom and executes its control over all forms of dissent by arresting or otherwise harassing those who oppose the strictures," said China Aid.

Kiri Kankhwende, press officer at Christian Solidarity Worldwide, told that while there was a "mixed picture" regarding the situation facing minorities, there had been a marked decrease in freedoms in recent years.

"For Christians the government is tightening control over registered churches at the same time as forcing unregistered churches outside the state-sanctioned structure to either register or disband," said Kankhwende.

"This trend fits into a broader pattern under [President] Xi Jinping of shrinking space for civil society, a heightened sensitivity to perceived challenges to Party rule, and the introduction of legislation that curtails civil and political rights in the name of national security," she said.

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