UHRP BRIEFING: Chinese Government Accelerates Assimilative Policies in “Sinicization of Religion” Campaign

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For immediate release

May 9, 2018 1:00 pm EST

Contact: Uyghur Human Rights Project +1 (202) 478 1920

On April 3rd, the Chinese State Council Information Office, a propaganda organ aimed at overseas audiences, released a White Paper entitled “China’s Policies and Practices on Protecting Freedom of Religious Belief.” This comes as the authorities ramp up an official campaign to “Sinicize”(中国化) religion which is affecting believers nationwide. Religion must, the White Paper states, “explore religious thought which conforms to the reality in China;” the government retains the sole right to determine what that reality is. The Chinese government has long sought to control religion, but as the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) has documented, the Uyghurs have been a particular target of repressive policies, which infringe upon their right to freedom of religious belief.

In a new briefing, UHRP writes that the recent passage of numerous items of legislation by the central and Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) governments represent part of a new strategy aimed at bringing religion fully under state control, including the new assimilative element of calling for the addition of “Chinese” cultural features to religious practice, especially to “foreign” religions such as Islam and Christianity. This will have a particularly negative effect on the Uyghurs because their traditional religious practices do not historically have Chinese influence. This means that Uyghurs’ rights to maintain their ethnic identity are being further infringed. Moreover, the government’s targeting of the Uyghurs as a particular threat is directly related to their religious identity and is one of the primary motivations behind the establishment of re-education camps currently incarcerating tens of thousands of Uyghurs indefinitely and without charge.

The Sinicization of religion campaign is the latest in a series of policies aimed at controlling the religious observation of Chinese citizens. While the Uyghurs have been targets of particularly repressive policies for far longer, these latest policies suggest the government is ramping up its assimilative goals. These include discouraging traditional Uyghur practices while using the United Front Work Department and other official institutions to increase control over mosques. The confiscation of religious items and texts, government interference in ceremonies like weddings, funerals, and naming ceremonies, and fear of any foreign connection that Uyghurs might have are all manifestations of the recent religious legislation passed by the national and regional governments, demonstrating the singling out of Uyghurs as a particular threat in the eyes of the Chinese government. Together with the system of re-education camps set up across East Turkestan, these are examples of China’s increasingly extreme policies. The international community should work together to condemn these policies and be prepared for the possibility that conditions in East Turkestan could deteriorate further.

The full briefing can be downloaded at: https://docs.uhrp.org/pdf/ReligionWhitePaper.pdf