Officials Ban Dozens of Religious Practices, Foreign Missionaries in China's Xinjiang

2017-02-28
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Uyghur men praying in a mosque in Hotan, in China's western Xinjiang region,  April 16, 2015.
Uyghur men praying in a mosque in Hotan, in China's western Xinjiang region, April 16, 2015.
AFP

Chinese authorities in the troubled northwestern region of Xinjiang have issued a detailed list of "illegal" religious activities spanning Islam, Christianity and Tibetan Buddhism, RFA has learned.

After officials confirmed a generalized ban on unofficial Christian churches last week, RFA has obtained a document believed to originate from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region religious and minority affairs department that details a very specific list of 26 types of banned religious activities.

The new rules have been sent out to local governments, requiring them to explain them to local people, residents said.

The list singles out attempts to proselytize or carry out missionary work "in the guise of" poverty and disaster relief, tourism and academic and cultural exchanges, according to a copy of the document shown to RFA.

The undated document, which appears to have originated with the regional government in Urumqi rather than with the ruling Chinese Communist Party in Beijing, has already been received, a source in the region said on Tuesday.

"These are [measures] being taken by the regional government, but there is no letterhead, seal or signature linked to the autonomous region," the source said.

"They told us to study them today, but I said that if it is the law of the land, at least there should be an official seal," he said. "We have to study these 26 [banned] things."

Under the new rules, no religious group is permitted to carry out any religious activities including preaching, missionary work, proselytizing of new believers and ordaining clergy without prior government approval.

Uyghurs not the only target

No classes or scripture study groups, nor religious studies courses may be offered by any group or institution without prior government approval, the rules say.

Some clauses appear to be specifically aimed at the mostly Muslim Uyghur ethnic group, who are prevented from engaging in religious rituals and customs in relation to marriage, divorce and funeral ceremonies.

A Xinjiang resident surnamed Li said the rules appeared to target Uyghurs, but not exclusively.

"There are also restrictions on reincarnations of Bodhisattvas, and on the transmission of Tibetan Buddhism," Li said.

"[It's also] aimed at underground Islamic groups who might come here to proselytize, that's to say, the [ethnically Chinese] Hui Muslim groups in Xinjiang."

"They have basically outlawed any underground preaching at all or missionary work, and that includes Catholicism [and other faiths] in the crackdown," Li said.

"All of them are now considered to be within the definition of illegal missionary activities."

He said item 16 on the list forbids the designation of reincarnations of Tibetan Buddhist teachers without government approval.

"They are focusing on specific and different details in every religion," Li said, adding that the document appears to have resulted from a vast network of government infiltrators.

"They are all very carefully described, which suggests that [government agents] have managed to penetrate deep into organizations and religious groups."

Dangerous foreign import

The document bans the unauthorized editing, translation, publication, printing, reproduction, production, distribution, sale and dissemination of religious publications and audiovisual products without authorization.

Publishing and broadcasting foreign religious radio and television programs are also banned, as is receiving religious materials from outside China or materials from banned organizations inside China.

"Missionary activities by groups or individuals from overseas under the guise of business, tourism, lectures, overseas study, cultural exchange or donations to disaster relief or to fund studies or alleviate poverty and sickness," are also prohibited by the document.

An official who answered the phone at the religious and minority affairs department of the regional government hung up after being contacted by RFA on Tuesday.

However, religious affairs officials had previously confirmed more vaguely worded reports of a ban on "unofficial religious activities" last week.

But the ruling Chinese Communist Party, which embraces atheism, has stepped up controls over any form of religious practice among its citizens in recent years, putting increasing pressure on faith groups to join government bodies set up to supervise them.

The administration of President Xi Jinping regards religion as a dangerous foreign import, with officials warning last year against the "infiltration of Western hostile forces" in the form of religion, particularly Christianity.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

CH. 1: MANDARIN | CANTONESE

CH. 2: VIETNAMESE | BURMESE | KOREAN

CH. 3: KHMER | LAO | UYGHUR

CH. 4: TIBETAN

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