After removing crosses from hundreds of churches and stopping Muslims from observing fasts during Ramadan, it sounds a little odd when the Communist Party of China claims it “protects freedom of religion.”
During a meeting on managing religion, Chinese President Xi Jinping warned his party members against foreign infiltration through religion, according to Reuters.
"We must resolutely resist overseas infiltration through religious means and guard against ideological infringement by extremists," Xi stated at the conference.
Although he didn’t elaborate as to who exactly the “extremists” are, it is believed Xi was referring to mainly Uighur Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists, whom the ruling government has long accused of using religious influence to defy Chinese rule.
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China is an atheist country but freedom of religion is provided for by the country's constitution.
However, ever since Xi took office in 2012, monitoring of religions and crackdown against “unofficial” religious groups increased visibly — to an extent that prompted criticism from international human rights groups.
In a bid to counter Islamic extremism, the Communist Party devised a draconian plan to strip Uighur Muslim students and civil servants living in the Northwestern province of Xinjiang of their religious right to observe the traditional fasting during the Islamic month of Ramadan. Moreover, Uighur Muslim shopkeepers were forced to sell alcohol in “eye-catching displays” — a coercive strategy that exacerbated tensions in the already volatile region.
“Religious freedom comes under specific attack in the draft legislation. Anyone who provides venues for religious worship could potentially be criminalized and branded as 'terrorists' or 'extremists,' even if the religious practices are completely peaceful,” Amnesty International noted in March 2015.
Separately, in a severe crackdown on “illegal” or “underground” churches, a number of places of worship and their crosses were razed to the ground. Several Christian groups protested but to no avail.
Just last week, Ding Cuimei, wife of the Rev. Li Jiangong, became a symbol of Christian struggle in China after she was reportedly buried alive in a ditch when she attempted to stop the government-ordered demolition of Beitou Church in the central Hena province city of Zhumadian.
There are around hundreds of millions of Buddhists, Christians and Muslims residing in China. Constantly depriving them of their faith, fearing political instability, is a blatant violation of human rights on a massive scale.
At a time when China strives to become a competitive global as well as cultural force, it is important the country respects religious and ethnic diversity within its own borders first.