U.S. State Dept. Human Rights Report (2000)


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Section 2c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religious belief and the freedom not to believe; however, the Government seeks to restrict religious practice to government-sanctioned organizations and registered places of worship and to control the growth and scope of the activity of religious groups. There are five officially recognized religions -- Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Protestantism, and Catholicism. For each faith, there is a government-affiliated association to monitor and supervise its activities. Membership in religions is growing rapidly; however, while the Government generally does not seek to suppress this growth outright, it tries to control and regulate religious groups to prevent the rise of groups or sources of authority outside the control of the Government and the Chinese Communist Party. The Criminal Law states that government officials who deprive citizens of religious freedom may be sentenced to up to 2 years in prison in serious cases. However, there are no known cases of persons being punished under this statute.

During the year, the Government's respect for religious freedom continued to deteriorate. The Government intensified its harsh crackdown against the Falun Gong movement and extended its actions to "cults" in general. In some regions, the atmosphere created by the nationwide campaigns against cults and superstition had spillover effects on other unofficial faiths. Various sources report that approximately 100 or more Falun Gong adherents died during the year while in police custody; many of their bodies reportedly bore signs of severe beatings or torture, or were cremated before relatives could examine them (see Section 1.c.). A number of qigong (a traditional Chinese health regimen with mystical overtones) and Protestant house church groups were banned. House church groups in northeastern China reported more detentions and arrests than in recent years (see Section 1.d.), and in some areas officials destroyed hundreds of unregistered houses of worship. In many regions with high concentrations of Catholics, relations between the Government and the underground church loyal to the Vatican remained tense. The situation in Tibet was particularly poor, as the Government intensified and expanded its "patriotic education" campaign aimed at neutralizing lamas, monks, and nuns with sympathies to the Dalai Lama (see Tibet addendum). Apolitical religious activities that had been tolerated in the past in Tibet were more tightly restricted during the year and in some cases were not permitted. Regulations restricting Muslims' religious activity, teaching, and places of worship continued to be tight in Xinjiang, and the Government dealt harshly with Muslim religious leaders who engaged in political speech and activities that the authorities deemed separatist.

The state arrogates to itself the right to recognize and thus to allow to operate particular religious groups and spiritual movements. The State Council's Religious Affairs Bureau (RAB) is responsible for monitoring and judging the legitimacy of religious activity. The RAB and the Communist Party United Front Work Department (UFWD), both of which are staffed by officials rather than religious adherents, provide policy "guidance and supervision" over implementation of government regulations on religious activity, as well as the role of foreigners in religious activity. During a 1999 speech, President Jiang Zemin noted the Party's policy on freedom of religious belief but also called for stronger leadership over religious work and intensified management of religious affairs. He added that "we should energetically give guidance to religion so that it will keep in line with the socialist society and serve ethnic unity, social stability, and modernization."

The Government continued and, in some areas, intensified a national campaign to enforce 1994 State Council regulations and subsequent provincial regulations that require all places of worship to register with government religious affairs bureaus and to come under the supervision of official "patriotic" religious organizations. The Government officially permits only those Christian churches affiliated with either the Catholic Patriotic Association/Catholic Bishops Conference or the (Protestant) Three-Self Patriotic Movement/Chinese Christian Council to operate openly. There are six requirements for the registration and establishment of venues for religious activity: Possession of a meeting place; citizens who are religious believers and who regularly take part in religious activity; qualified leaders and an organized governing board; a minimum number of followers; a set of operating rules; and a legal source of income. There are reports that despite the rapidly growing religious population, it is difficult for new places of worship to be registered even among the five officially recognized faiths.

At the end of 1997, the Government reported that there were more than 85,000 approved venues for religious activities. Some groups registered voluntarily, some registered under pressure, while authorities refused to register others. Unofficial groups claimed that authorities often refuse them registration without explanation. The Government contends that these refusals were mainly the result of inadequate facilities and meeting spaces. Many religious groups have been reluctant to comply with the regulations out of principled opposition to state control of religion or due to fear of adverse consequences if they reveal, as required, the names and addresses of church leaders and members. In some areas, efforts to register unauthorized groups are carried out by religious leaders and civil affairs officials. In other regions, police and RAB officials performed registration concurrently with other law enforcement actions. Police closed scores of "underground" mosques, temples, seminaries, Catholic churches, and Protestant "house churches," including many with significant memberships, properties, financial resources, and networks. Some were destroyed; others were confiscated by authorities for other uses. It has been estimated that approximately 450 churches and temples were closed, destroyed, or confiscated for other uses during the weeks prior to December 25 in Wenzhou, and as many as 1,200 churches and temples were closed, destroyed, or confiscated by authorities for other uses in surrounding areas of Zhejiang Province during that same time. Leaders of unauthorized groups are often the targets of harassment, interrogations, detention, and physical abuse.

In some areas there are reports of harassment of churches by local RAB officials which is attributed, at least in part, to financial issues. For example, although regulations require local authorities to provide land to church groups, some local officials may try to avoid doing so by denying registration, thus avoiding the requirement to provide land. Official churches also may face harassment if local authorities wish to acquire the land on which a church is located. In addition to refusing to register churches, there are also reports that RAB officials have requested illegal "donations" from churches in their jurisdictions as a means of raising extra revenue.

There is significant variation in how the authorities deal with unregistered religious groups. In certain regions, Government supervision of religious activity is minimal, and in some parts of the country, registered and unregistered churches are treated similarly by authorities, existing openly side by side. Coexistence and cooperation between official and unofficial churches in such areas, both Catholic and Protestant, is close enough to blur the line between the two. In these areas, many congregants worship in both types of churches. However, in some areas relations between the two churches remain hostile. In other regions, particularly where considerable unofficial and official religious activity takes place, such as in Zhejiang, Guangxi, Shanghai, and Chongqing, local regulations call for strict government oversight of religion and authorities have cracked down on unregistered churches and their members. The relationship between unregistered and registered churches can be tense in such areas. During the year, some unregistered religious groups were subjected to increased restrictions, and, in some cases, intimidation, harassment, and detention. Some house church members asserted that authorities continued efforts to register house churches and to harass those who resist, especially in Henan and Shandong Provinces. Throughout the year, the Government moved swiftly against houses of worship outside its control that grew too large or espoused beliefs that it considered threatening to "state security."

The law does not prohibit religious believers from holding public office; however, most influential positions in government are reserved for Party members, and Communist Party officials state that Party membership and religious belief are incompatible. This has a disproportionate effect in such minority-inhabited areas as Xinjiang and Tibet. Party membership also is required for almost all high-level positions in government and in state-owned businesses and organizations. The Communist Party reportedly issued a circular in 1997 ordering Party members not to adhere to religious beliefs. This followed a 1995 document circulated to Party organizations at the provincial level ordering the expulsion of Party members who belonged to any religious organization, whether open or clandestine. There were reports that the Government issued a circular in early 1999 to remind Party cadres that religion was incompatible with Party membership, a theme reflected in authoritative media. President and CCP General Secretary Jiang Zemin stated in a September 1999 speech that "Party members of all ethnic groups must have a firm faith in socialism and communism, cannot believe in religion, cannot take part in or organize religious activities, and cannot take part in feudal superstitious activities." On March 11, the Party's flagship newspaper, the People's Daily, published a commentary on religious affairs work. The article urged all Party members to "promote atheist thought in a positive way and persist in educating the masses of various ethnic groups with the Marxist perspective on religion." While the commentary also called on the Party to protect "citizens' freedom of religious belief," it warned that "hostile forces outside (China's) borders and separatist forces are taking advantage of ethnicity and religion to bring about political infiltration and the separation of the motherland." Muslims allegedly have been fired from government posts for praying during working hours. The "Routine Service Regulations" of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) state explicitly that servicemen "may not take part in religious or superstitious activities." Party and PLA military personnel were expelled for adhering to the Falun Gong movement; there is no available information indicating whether Party or PLA military personnel were expelled for associating with other religious or spiritual/mystical groups. However, according to government officials, in certain localities as many as 20 to 25 percent of Communist Party officials engage in some kind of religious activity. Most officials who practice a religion are Buddhist or practice a folk religion. Religious figures, who are not members of the CCP, are included in national and local government organizations, usually to represent their constituency on cultural and educational matters. The National People's Congress includes several religious leaders, including Pagbalha Geleg Namgyai, a Tibetan "living Buddha," who is a vice chairman of the Standing Committee of the NPC. Religious groups also are represented in the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, a forum for "multiparty" cooperation and consultation led by the Chinese Communist Party, which advises the Government on policy.

The authorities permit officially sanctioned religious organizations to maintain international contacts that do not entail "foreign control." What constitutes "control" is not defined. Regulations enacted in 1994 and expanded in September codified many existing rules involving foreigners, including a ban on proselytizing by foreigners, but for the most part foreign nationals are allowed to preach to foreigners, bring in religious materials for personal use, and preach to citizens at churches, mosques, and temples at the invitation of registered religious organizations. Collective religious activities of foreigners also are required to take place at officially registered places of worship or approved temporary locations. Foreigners are not permitted to conduct missionary activities, but foreign Christians teach English and other languages on college campuses with minimum interference from authorities as long as their proselytizing is low key. There were reports in early 1999 that the Government issued a circular to tighten control over foreign missionary activity in the country. However, there was no evidence of further tightening during the year. On March 25, police raided a house church service in Jilin and confiscated the Bible and camera of a foreigner who was in attendance. The foreign Christian subsequently was fined, and one local official described the house church service as a "heretical religious activity."

According to an official government white paper, there are over 200 million religious adherents, 3,000 religious organizations, 300,000 clergy, and 74 religious colleges. Official religious organizations administer local Bible schools, 54 Catholic and Protestant seminaries, 9 institutes to train imams and Islamic scholars, and institutes to train Buddhist monks. Students who attend these institutes must demonstrate "political reliability," and all graduates must pass an examination on their theological and political knowledge to qualify for the clergy. The Government permitted limited numbers of Catholic and Protestant seminarians, Muslim clerics, and Buddhist clergy to go abroad for additional religious studies. In most cases, funding for these training programs is provided by foreign organizations. Both official and unofficial Christian churches have problems training adequate numbers of clergy to meet the needs of their growing congregations. However, due to government prohibitions, unofficial churches have particularly significant problems training clergy or sending students to study overseas, and many clergy receive only limited and inadequate preparation. Members of the underground Catholic Church, especially clergy wishing to further their studies abroad, found it difficult to obtain passports and other necessary travel documents (see Section 2.d.).

Since the end of the Cultural Revolution, the Government has restored or replaced some churches, temples, mosques, and monasteries damaged or destroyed between 1966 and 1976, and allowed the reopening of some seminaries. Implementation of this policy has varied from locality to locality. However, there are far fewer temples, churches, or mosques than existed 50 years ago (before the Revolution), despite the recent increase in the number of religious believers. The difficulty in registering new places of worship, along with the decrease in places of worship, has led to crowding in many existing places of worship.

Approximately 8 percent of the population are Buddhist, approximately 1.6 percent are Muslim, and an estimated 0.4 percent belong to the official Patriotic Catholic Church. An estimated 0.4 to 0.8 percent belong to the unofficial Vatican-affiliated Catholic Church, an estimated 0.8 percent to 1.2 percent are registered Protestants, and perhaps 2.4 to 6.5 percent worship in house churches that are independent of Government control. There are no available estimates of the number of Taoists. However, according to a 1997 Government publication, there are over 10,000 Taoist monks and nuns and over 1,000 Taoist temples.

Traditional folk religion (worship of local gods, heroes, and ancestors) of a majority of the population has experienced a revival in recent years and is tolerated to varying degrees as a loose affiliate of Taoism, or as an ethnic minority cultural practice; however, many manifestations of folk religion are officially considered to be "feudal superstition," and local authorities have destroyed thousands of local shrines.

Buddhists make up the largest body of organized religious believers. The Government estimates that there are more than 100 million Buddhists in the country, most of whom are from the dominant Han ethnic group. However, it is difficult to estimate accurately the number of Buddhists because they do not have congregational memberships and often do not participate in public ceremonies. The Government reports that there are 13,000 Buddhist temples and monasteries and more than 200,000 nuns and monks. In some areas, local Governments enforced strictly regulations on places of worship, particularly on illegally constructed Buddhist temples and shrines. In 1998 a senior provincial party official stated that goals for the coming year were to "tighten management of places of religious activities, properly handle issues concerning the indiscriminate establishment of temples and the setting up of outdoor Buddha statues, and crack down on heretical religious organizations and illegal religious activities."

Tibetan Buddhists outside of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) have more freedom to practice their religion than those in the TAR, although significant restrictions remain. The number of monks outside the TAR is substantial and growing--as is the number of teaching monks with advanced education--and the reconstruction of monasteries continues. However, restrictions remain, especially at those monasteries with close ties to foreign organizations. Monks who study abroad are often prevented from returning to their home monasteries outside of the TAR. There continue to be reports of monks and nuns outside of the TAR who have left monasteries and nunneries to avoid the patriotic education campaigns, which force them to choose between signing oaths with political content or possibly suffering serious consequences if they refuse to do so. (A discussion of government restrictions on Tibetan Buddhism in the TAR can be found in the Tibet addendum to this report.)

In the past, official tolerance for religions considered traditionally Chinese, such as Buddhism and Taoism, has been greater than that for Christianity. However, as these non-Western faiths have grown rapidly in recent years, there are signs of greater government concern and new restrictions, especially on syncretic sects.

According to government figures, there are 20 million Muslims, 35,000 Islamic places of worship, and more than 45,000 imams nationwide. The Government has stated that there are 10 colleges conducting Islamic higher education and 2 other Islamic schools in Xinjiang operating with government support. In some areas where ethnic unrest has occurred, particularly among Central Asian Muslims (and especially the Uighurs) in Xinjiang, officials continue to restrict the building of mosques and the religious education of youths under the age of 18.

Regulations restricting Muslims' religious activity, teaching, and places of worship continued to be tight in Xinjiang, and the Government dealt harshly with Muslim adherents who engaged in political speech and activities that the authorities deemed separatist. AI reported that Jelil Turdi, an ethnic Uighur from Xinjiang, who had been living in Kyrgyzstan for 3 years, was deported back to China for allegedly separatist activities. In October Wang Lequan, secretary of the Xinjiang Party Committee reminded Party members that "cadres at all levels should adhere consciously to Marxist atheism. Do not believe in religion, do not take part in religious activities." Provincial-level Communist Party and government officials repeatedly called for stronger management of religious affairs and for the separation of religion from administrative matters. For example, the official Xinjiang Legal Daily reported that in recent years a township in Bay (Baicheng) County had found cases of "religious interference" in judicial, marriage, and family planning matters. In response the authorities began conducting monthly political study sessions for religious personnel. In addition they required every mosque to record the numbers and names of those attending each day's activities. The official Xinjiang Daily reported that Yining County early in the year reviewed the activities of 420 mosques and implemented a system of linking ethnic cadres to mosques in order to improve vigilance against "illegal religious activities." The authorities also initiated a campaign to discourage overt religious attire such as veils and to discourage religious marriage ceremonies. There were numerous official media reports that the authorities confiscated "illegal religious publications" in Xinjiang. According to a July report of the International Coalition for Religious Freedom, since April 1996, only one publisher, the Xinjiang People's Publication House, has been allowed to print Muslim literature in Xinjiang. Human Rights Watch also reported a tightening of control over the teaching materials, curricula, and leadership of mosques and religious schools in 1999. HRW also reported that six imams from Hotan City and Karakash County were detained toward the end of 1999 in part for non-compliance with religious regulations and for failing to teach government policy at religious meetings.

Religious/ethnic tensions began to rise in September in Shandong Province when a non-Muslim merchant improperly labeled meat as being fit for consumption by observant Muslims. Disputes and insults between Muslims and non-Muslims followed, leading to angry demonstrations that led to a clash with police. In mid-December, according to an official press report, police clashed in Yangxin County with Muslim Hui, who were protesting a lack of respect for their religion. The police killed 6 Hui and injured 19; 13 police officers also were injured. According to foreign press reports, the Hui casualties occurred when police fired on the crowd of protesters after they refused to disperse. Following a central government and Party investigation, the Shandong provincial authorities fired the Yangxin County party secretary, the head of the Yangxin County government, and the chief of the county's Public Security Bureau.

In some areas, particularly in areas traditionally populated by the non-Central Asian Hui ethnic group, there is substantial religious building construction and renovation. Some young Uighur Muslims study outside the country in Muslim religious schools.

The Government permits, and in some cases subsidizes, Muslim citizens who make the hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca. According to government statistics, more than 45,000 Muslims have made the pilgrimage in recent years--5,000 in 1998. However, there have been nongovernmental reports that fewer persons have made the pilgrimage since 1998; according to some estimates, less than 2,500 persons went in 1999 and 2000. According to some reports, many Muslims of the Uighur minority are not allowed to go on pilgrimage. However, according to other reports, Uighurs secure a majority of places for the pilgrimage, even though they are a minority among the country's Muslims.

The Government takes some steps designed to show respect for the country's Muslims, such as offering congratulations on major Islamic holidays. However, government sensitivity to concerns of the Muslim community is limited. In 1998 a Qing dynasty mosque, which was the center of Muslim life in Chengdu, was destroyed in the city's Muslim quarter to make way for a boulevard near an expanded city square, despite strong opposition from the city's Muslim population. The construction of a new mosque over a complex of retail establishments further offended the community. At the end of 1999, no construction upon the site of the Qing dynasty mosque had yet occurred; the imam, or leader, of the mosque that was demolished was ordered to leave Chengdu and has been forbidden to engage in religious work. The new officially sanctioned mosque over the retail complex has been attended only lightly since its opening.

The unofficial, Vatican-affiliated Catholic Church claims a membership far larger than the 5 million persons registered with the official Catholic Church. Precise figures are difficult to determine, but Vatican officials have estimated that there are as many as 10 million adherents. According to official figures, the Government-approved Catholic Church has 69 bishops, 5,000 clergy, and about 5,000 churches and meeting houses. There are 60,000 baptisms each year. The Government so far has refused to establish diplomatic relations with the Holy See, and there is no Vatican representative in the country. The Government's refusal to allow the official Catholic church to recognize the authority of the Papacy in matters of faith and morals has led many Catholics to refuse to join the official Catholic church on the grounds that this refusal denies one of the fundamental tenets of their faith.

In January bishops of the official Catholic Church, without consulting the Holy See, consecrated 5 new official church bishops on the same day that the Pope consecrated 12 new Roman Catholic bishops in Rome. This was also the day on which the Pope historically consecrates bishops chosen for special recognition. Some bishops of the official church reportedly refused to attend the Beijing ceremony, which was seen as a deliberate affront to the Vatican. In June a new bishop was ordained in Hangzhou by several bishops, including one of those ordained in January. On the October 1st anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic, the Vatican canonized 120 saints with ties to China, 86 of whom had been killed during the Boxer Rebellion. The state-run media sharply criticized the canonizations. These incidents and the tensions between the Government and the Vatican have caused leadership problems for the official Catholic Church. Some bishops in the official Catholic Church are not recognized by the Holy See, although many have been recognized privately. Some church members and other clerics within the official Catholic Church have indicated that they are unwilling to accept the authority of bishops ordained without Vatican approval.

The Party's Central Committee issued a document on August 16, 1999, calling on the authorities to tighten control of the official Catholic Church and to eliminate the underground Catholic Church if it does not accede to Government control. There are many longstanding vacancies in the official Catholic administration, particularly among bishops, and there are reports that the RAB and the official church patriotic association are pressuring the church to fill the vacancies quickly. In recent months, there has been increasing pressure by the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, the Religious Affairs Bureau, and police authorities on the underground church to join the official church.

The Government maintains that there are between 10 and 15 million registered Protestants, 18,000 clergy, over 12,000 churches, and some 25,000 meeting places. According to foreign experts, perhaps 30 million persons worship in house churches that are independent of Government control, although estimates by some house church groups range as high as 80 million. There are reports of divisions within both the official Protestant church and the house church movement over issues of doctrine; in both the official and unofficial Protestant churches, there are groups with conservative views and groups with more unorthodox views.

The ongoing growth of unofficial Christian churches continued to cause concern among many government and Communist Party officials who perceive unregulated religious gatherings as a potential challenge to their authority, a threat to public order, and an alternative to Socialist thought. Both Catholic and Protestant underground churches came under increasing pressure during the year. Authorities in some areas continued a concerted effort to crack down on the activities of unapproved Catholic and Protestant churches. In some areas, security authorities used threats, demolition of buildings, extortion of "fines," interrogation, detention (sometimes prolonged), and at times beatings and torture to harass unofficial Christian religious figures and followers. In April the Fujian Provincial Government convened a meeting of religious affairs workers in order to exhort them to "ensure stability in religious circles and lead religious circles in making new and greater contributions to socialist material and spiritual civilization." At the meeting, a provincial leader also called on all religious affairs workers to "firmly establish a Marxist outlook on religion." Implementing regulations, provincial work reports, and other government and party documents continued to exhort officials to enforce vigorously government policy regarding unregistered churches. Since 1998 Guangdong Province has had highly restrictive religious regulations. In 1999 Zhejiang Province also promulgated religious affairs regulations that stipulated that "illegal" property and income would be confiscated from those who: "1) preside over or organize religious activities at places other than those for religious activities or at places not approved by a religious affairs department; 2) do missionary work outside the premises of a place of religious activity; and 3) sponsor religious training activities without obtaining the approval of a religious affairs department at or above the county level." Regulations in Guangxi, Shanghai, and Chongqing also call for strict government oversight. Authorities particularly targeted unofficial religious groups in Beijing and the Provinces of Henan and Shandong, where there are rapidly growing numbers of unregistered Protestants, and in Hebei, a center of unregistered Catholics. However, during the year there were reports that small family churches, generally made up of family members and friends, which conduct activities similar to those of home Bible study groups, usually were tolerated by the authorities as long as they remained small and unobtrusive. Family churches reportedly encounter difficulties when their memberships become too large, when they arrange for the use of facilities for the specific purpose of conducting religious activities, or when they forge links with other unregistered groups.

There were many religious detainees and prisoners. In some cases, public security officials have used prison or reform-through-education sentences to enforce regulations. In Hebei, where perhaps half of the country's Catholics reside, friction between unofficial Catholics and local authorities continued. Hebei authorities have been known to force many underground priests and believers to make a choice of either joining the Patriotic Church or facing punishment such as fines, job loss, periodic detentions, and, in some cases, having their children barred from school. Some were forced into hiding. According to a Hong Kong human rights organization, on March 2, 15 members of the China Evangelistic Fellowship were arrested while holding a service in Nanwang City, Henan Province. Two of the group's leaders, Jiang Qinggang and Hao Huaiping, reportedly faced reeducation-through-labor sentences. The director of the Government's RAB had labeled the fellowship publicly as a "cult" at the end of 1999. There were reports in May that local authorities in Zhejiang Province had closed down seven Catholic churches because they failed to join the official Catholic Church. In May Father Jiang Shurang, an underground priest in Zhejiang Province, was sentenced to 6 years in prison for illegally printing Bibles and other religious material. Roman Catholic Bishop Zeng Jingmu, released from a labor camp in 1998, was reportedly rearrested in Jiangxi on September 14 during the visit of a high-ranking foreign Cardinal; the Government denied those reports. The whereabouts of Roman Catholic Bishop Su Zhimin, whose followers report that he was arrested in 1997, remained unclear. Underground Catholic sources in Hebei claimed that he still was under detention, while the Government denied having taken "any coercive measures" against him. Reliable sources reported that Bishop An Shuxin, Bishop Zhang Weizhu, Father Cui Xing, and Father Wang Quanjun remained under detention in Hebei. Bishop Liu reportedly remained under house arrest in Zhejiang Province. According to a Freedom House report, in the last half of 1999, four Catholic bishops reportedly were detained or arrested for refusing to join the official church or for conducting unauthorized services. The four were Bishop Jia Zhiguo, Bishop Xie Shiguang, Bishop Lin Xili, and Bishop Han Dingxiang. All of the bishops reportedly were arrested for refusing to join the official church or for conducting unauthorized services. On February 10 in Fujian Province, a large group of police arrested 80-year-old underground Catholic Bishop Yang Shudao. The Government has denied that the elderly bishop is being detained and has claimed that he is receiving medical treatment. According to several NGO's, a number of Catholic priests and lay leaders were beaten or otherwise abused during the year. Underground Catholic Bishop Joseph Fan Zhongliang of Shanghai remained under surveillance and often had his movements restricted.

Some Protestant house church groups reported more frequent police raids of worship services and detentions than in previous years. According to the Jianghuai Morning Daily in Anhui Province, on April 9, police detained 47 members of the unregistered Full Scope Church, whose leader, Xu Yongze, was released from prison only in May, although his 3-year sentence ended in March. Although he was released from a labor camp, it is unclear whether Xu remains subject to some restrictions. According to the newspaper, six church leaders were to face criminal charges for organizing an "illegal sect," while eight others likely would receive "administrative" (usually meaning reeducation-through-labor) sentences. The Government's 1997 White Paper on Religious Freedom stated that Xu had violated the law by promoting a cult, preaching that the Apocalypse was near, and asking worshipers to wail in public spaces for several consecutive days. Group members deny these charges. Xu's colleagues Qin Baocai and Mu Sheng are believed to continue to serve reeducation-through-labor sentences. Pastor Li Dexian was detained in April for 15 days, during which time he was forced into a crouch for 3 days, unable to sleep or use toilet facilities, with his wrists and ankles manacled together. Li also has been detained on other occasions and reports that in some instances he was beaten. According to credible reports, on May 16, 2000, seven house churches were raided in Guangdong Province. According to a press release of Christian Solidarity International, more than 10 house church leaders were arrested in the raids. Several house churches also were closed by the authorities. In May seven evangelical Christians were arrested in Henan for violating the "Three Designates" policy that limits religious services to specific venues, requires leaders to preach only within specific areas, and fixes the number of persons permitted to preach. In early August, police detained 31 members of an underground Protestant church in Hubei's Guangshui City. In Henan a week later, 12 members of an underground Protestant church were arrested. On August 23, police arrested 130 members of a house church headquartered in Fangcheng City, Henan Province, after they held services with 3 foreign members of a Protestant fellowship organization. Authorities stated that the Fangcheng church was a "cult" that had been banned. On August 25, the three foreign church members were released and deported; they reported being beaten while in custody. According to NGO reports, 85 of those arrested from the Fangcheng church were charged on August 25 with crimes such as "using an illegal cult to obstruct justice."

Authorities also conducted demolition campaigns against unregistered places of worship. Beginning in early November, according to local press reports, officials in Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province, and surrounding areas began a campaign to close or destroy, sometimes with explosives, hundreds of unregistered Protestant churches and Buddhist and Taoist temples. Wenzhou has a long Christian history and reportedly counts several hundred thousand Christians among its population. It has been estimated that approximately 450 churches and temples were destroyed during the weeks prior to December 25 in Wenzhou, and as many as 1,200 churches and temples were closed or destroyed in surrounding areas of Zhejiang Province during that time. Officials stated that the places of worship that were closed and destroyed were targeted because they were unregistered and therefore illegal; however, according to some observers, many of the places of worship had attempted to comply with regulations regarding registration, but their paperwork had never been finalized by the RAB. According to some reports, the authorities carried out the campaign due to concern that there were too many unregistered places of worship in the Wenzhou and Luoyang areas, and that too many Party members were joining such groups. Authorities reportedly used criteria such as registration status and the degree of government control (measured by the existence of a Party-approved management committee and the participation of clergy in political study sessions) as criteria for targeting places of worship. Although the campaign appeared to have been carried out at the initiative of local religious affairs officials, central government authorities did not criticize the action or take any measures to reprimand those responsible. Two persons who tried to stop a demolition were arrested and sentenced to 2 years of reform-through-education. According to press reports, in 1999 more than 20 unregistered Catholic churches were demolished, some with explosives, by the authorities in Changle and other localities in Fujian Province. The churches were destroyed on the grounds that they had been built without the required permit or had been built with the wrong type of permit (such as with a permit for a building other than a church). Most of the churches reportedly were built by local congregations with the aid of remittances from relatives working abroad.

The increase in the number of Christians has resulted in a corresponding increase in the demand for Bibles. During 1999 the Government approved the printing of more than 3 million Bibles, and there currently are more than 22 million Bibles in print. One printing company that is a joint venture with an overseas Christian organization printed over 2.3 million Bibles during 1999, including Bibles in Braille and minority dialects, such as Korean, Jingbo, Lisu, Lahu, Miao, and Yao. Although Bibles can be purchased at some bookstores, they are not readily available and cannot be ordered directly from publishing houses by individuals. However, they are available for purchase at most officially recognized churches, and many house church members buy their Bibles from churches without incident. Nonetheless, some underground Christians hesitate to buy Bibles at official churches because such transactions sometimes involve receipts that identify the purchaser. Foreign experts confirm reports of chronic shortages of Bibles, mostly due to logistical problems in disseminating Bibles to rural areas; the situation has, however, improved in recent years due to improved distribution channels, including through house churches. Customs officials continue to monitor for the "smuggling" of Bibles and other religious materials into the country. There have been credible reports that the authorities sometimes confiscate Bibles in raids on house churches.

In recent years, some local authorities, especially in northeastern China, have subjected worship services of alien residents to increased surveillance and restrictions. In other areas, authorities have displayed increasing tolerance of religious practice by foreigners. Weekly services of the foreign Jewish community in Beijing have been held uninterrupted since 1995, and High Holy Day observances have been allowed for more than 15 years. The Shanghai Jewish community was allowed to hold services in an historic Shanghai synagogue, which had been restored as a museum. Local authorities indicated that the community could use the synagogue in the future for special occasions on a case-by-case basis.

Religious groups that preach beliefs outside the bounds of officially approved doctrine (such as the coming of the Apocalypse, or holy war) or that have charismatic leaders often are singled out for particularly severe harassment. Police continued their efforts to close down an underground evangelical group called the "Shouters," an offshoot of a pre-1949 indigenous Protestant group, which authorities deem to be an antigovernment, counterrevolutionary "cult." Since the early 1980's, authorities repeatedly have detained, fined, or imprisoned its members. Many groups, especially those in house churches, reportedly are viewed by officials as "cults." Some observers have attributed the unorthodox beliefs of some of these groups to undertrained clergy. Others acknowledge that some individuals may be exploiting the reemergence of interest in religion for personal gain. In October 1999, as part of its anti-Falun Gong crackdown, the Government passed a law outlawing "cults." According to reports, the crackdown on the Falun Gong led to a tightening of controls on all nonofficially sanctioned beliefs. Recent regulations require all qigong groups to register with the Government. Those that did not were declared illegal.

Since mid-1999 the Government has waged a severe political, propaganda, and police campaign against the Falun Gong spiritual movement; the campaign intensified significantly during the year. Falun Gong (or Wheel of the Law, also known as Falun Dafa) blends aspects of Taoism, Buddhism, and the meditation techniques of qigong (a traditional martial art) with the teachings of Li Hongzhi, who left the country in 1998. The Government estimates that there may be as many as 2.1 million adherents of Falun Gong; Falun Gong followers estimate that there are as many as 100 million adherents worldwide. Some experts estimate that the true number of Falun Gong adherents lies in the tens of millions. Despite the mystical nature of some of Li's teachings, Falun Gong does not consider itself a religion and has no clergy or formal places of worship. In July 1999, 3 months after 10,000 Falun Gong adherents had demonstrated peacefully in front of the Zhongnanhai leadership compound in Beijing, the Government officially declared Falun Gong illegal and began a nationwide crackdown. Around the country, tens of thousands of practitioners were rounded up and detained for several days--often in open stadiums--under poor and overcrowded conditions, with inadequate food, water, and sanitary facilities. Practitioners who refused to renounce their beliefs were expelled from schools or fired from jobs. The China Education Daily reported that "political thought and morality" assessments of applicants to take university exams were expanded to include questions to determine whether applicants were members of Falun Gong. Some detainees were government officials and Communist Party members. A few high-ranking practitioners were forced to disavow their ties to Falun Gong on national television. Government officials who were practitioners were required to undergo anti-Falun Gong study sessions and were prohibited from Falun Gong activities; some were expelled from the Party for refusing to recant their beliefs. The authorities waged an intense propaganda campaign against the group, seized and destroyed Falun Gong literature, and attempted to shut down Falun Gong Internet web sites. Also in July 1999, the Government issued a warrant for the arrest of Falun Gong leader Li Hongzhi, who was charged with holding demonstrations without appropriate permits and disturbing public order. The Government requested INTERPOL's assistance in apprehending Li, who resides abroad, but INTERPOL declined to assist, on the grounds that the offense was not a crime recognized under the INTERPOL charter, and that the request was political in nature. Late in the year, President Jiang Zemin announced that the campaign against the Falun Gong was one of the "three major political struggles" of 1999. The crackdown on "cults" intensified in late 1999, with press reports stating that restrictions would be tightened on several "cults" and various Christian groups. In late October 1999, as part of the Government's anti-Falun Gong crackdown, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress adopted a decision to ban "cults," including Falun Gong, under Article 300 of the Criminal Law. Under the decision, cult members who "disrupt public order" or distribute publications can receive prison terms of 3 to 7 years. Cult leaders and recruiters can be sentenced to 7 years or more in prison.

Although the vast majority of practitioners detained later were released, those identified by the Government as "core leaders" were singled out for particularly harsh treatment. On November 30, 1999, Vice Premier Li Lanqing stated that authorities detained over 35,000 practitioners between July 22 and October 30 1999 (the Government later clarified Li's statement, noting that the figure represented the total number of confrontations of police with adherents and that many persons had multiple encounters with police). In August the Director of the Religious Affairs Bureau stated that 151 Falun Gong practitioners had been convicted of leaking state secrets, creating chaos, or other crimes. According to credible estimates, as many as 5,000 Falun Gong practitioners have been sentenced without trial to up to 3 years of reeducation through labor. Human rights organizations estimate that as many as 300 practitioners have been sentenced to prison terms of up to 18 years for their involvement in Falun Gong. According to the Falun Gong, hundreds of its practitioners have been confined in mental hospitals.

Police often used excessive force when detaining peaceful protesters, including some who were elderly or who were accompanied by small children. During the year, there were numerous credible reports of abuse of Falun Gong practitioners by the police and other security personnel, including police involvement in beatings, detention under extremely harsh conditions, and torture (including by electric shock and by having hands and feet shackled and linked with crossed steel chains) (see Sections 1.a and 1.c.). Various sources report that approximately 100 or more Falun Gong adherents died during the year while in police custody; many of their bodies reportedly bore signs of severe beatings and/or torture, or were cremated before relatives could examine them (see Section 1.c.). Gao Xianmin died in police custody on January 17, 2000. Credible reports indicate that Gao, who was detained with a group of fellow practitioners in Guangzhou on December 31, 1999, was tortured while in custody, including by having high-density salt water forced into his stomach. Police gave no explanation for his death. On February 17, 60-year-old Chen Zixiu was detained in Weihai, Shandong Province, as she attempted to travel to Beijing to join peaceful protests there. Over the next several days, her family received word from another detainee that Chen was being beaten. On February 21, local police informed the family that Chen had died. According to family members, her body was covered with bruises and her teeth and nose were broken. According to press reports, Zhou Zhichang, a practitioner imprisoned in Heilongjiang Province since September 1999, died in custody in May 2000, after an 8-day hunger strike. Practitioners Li Zaiji and Wang Paisheng died in custody during the first 2 weeks of July, according to one NGO. One practitioner reportedly died after a feeding tube was mistakenly inserted into her lung rather than her stomach.

Practitioners defied ongoing government efforts to prevent them from protesting in Beijing. Protests (by individuals or small groups of practitioners) at Tiananmen Square occurred almost daily. Demonstrations also continued around the country. Police quickly broke up demonstrations, often kicking and beating protestors, and detained them. Most protests were small and short-lived as expanded police units quickly detained anyone who admitted to being or appeared to be a practitioner. Hundreds of practitioners reportedly were arrested at Tiananmen Square in February during lunar New Year protests, forcing a brief closure of the Square. Large numbers were arrested while protesting on March 5 (opening of the National People's Congress), April 25 (the anniversary of the 1999 Zhongnanhai demonstration), and May 11 (reportedly Falun Gong founder Li Hongzhi's birthday). Hundreds of Falun Gong practitioners were detained after peaceful protests in Tiananmen Square during the week of July 22, the anniversary of the Government's ban on the group. Despite a heavy security presence, on October 1, the anniversary of the founding of the PRC, hundreds, and perhaps more than 1,000, peacefully protesting practitioners were again arrested in Tiananmen Square, forcing a brief closure of the square. The press, in an unprecedented move, stated that the groups caused disturbances lasting 40 minutes. The Government later labeled Falun Gong a reactionary group attempting to subvert the State. On October 26, another mass protest marking the anniversary of the passage of 1999's Anti-cult Law was held at Tiananmen Square; more than 100 Falun Gong practitioners reportedly were detained. Many reportedly were beaten. Over the next few days, many more practitioners were arrested in Tiananmen Square. An estimated several hundred Falun Gong practitioners were also detained after protesting in Tiananmen Square over the 1999-2000 New Year holiday; many were beaten during their arrests.

Authorities also briefly detained foreign practitioners (however, it remains unclear whether the authorities were aware that such persons were foreigners). For example, in February, a U.S. citizen practitioner was detained for 3 days. In November, another foreign citizen was sentenced to 3 years of reeducation through labor for Falun Gong activities. On November 23, Falun Gong practitioner and foreign resident Teng Chunyan was tried on charges of providing national security information to foreigners, reportedly for providing foreigners with information about the Government's campaign against Falun Gong. On December 12, she was sentenced to 3 years of reeducation-through-labor. Several foreign reporters also were detained briefly on April 25, after having taken photographs of police detaining Falun Gong demonstrators on Tiananmen Square. Foreign tourists routinely had their film and videotape confiscated after recording (often inadvertently) Falun Gong detentions.

According to credible reports, authorities have confined some practitioners to psychiatric hospitals. AI reported that, on January 20, a Changguang Police Station spokesman confirmed that about 50 "extremist" Falun Gong practitioners had been placed in a psychiatric hospital near Beijing and cited reports from Falun Gong practitioners that the practitioner's families were asked for fees to cover living expenses in the hospital.

According to the local press, in November several persons accused of printing and distributing Falun Gong literature were arrested in Chaoyan, Liaoning Province. According to Amnesty International, two sisters, Li Xiaobing and Li Xaiomei, who owned a bookstore were sentenced on January 28 to 7 and 6 years in prison, respectively. They reportedly had been arrested in July 1999, just prior to the ban on Falun Gong, were held incommunicado without charge for 3 months, and were tried in secret. Many others have been arrested and sentenced to prison terms or terms of reeducation through labor for providing information about the crackdown on Falun Gong or abuses against Falun Gong practitioners to others, including the foreign media (see Sections 1.f. and 2.a.).

There have been reports that Falun Gong practitioners are no longer able to obtain passports.

During the year, the authorities also continued a general crackdown on other groups considered to be "cults," often using the October 1999 decision to ban cults under Article 300 of the Criminal Law. The Zhong Gong qigong group, which reportedly had a following rivaling that of Falun Gong, was banned under the anti-cult application of the Criminal Law, and its leader, Zhang Hongbao, was charged with rape, forgery, and illegal crossing of boundaries. Zhong Gong practitioners deny the charges. Zhong Gong, like other qigong groups, teaches that the body's vital forces, or qi, can be harnessed for healing purposes and spiritual growth through meditation and spiritual exercises. According to a news report, a local Zhong Gong leader in Zhejiang Province, Chen Jilong, was convicted in January of illegally practicing medicine and was sentenced to 2 years in prison. Two leaders of other qigong groups also reportedly were arrested, and the Government banned the practice of qigong exercises on public or government property. This has created an atmosphere of uncertainty for many qigong practitioners, and there are reports that some qigong practitioners now fear practicing or teaching openly. There were reports that 14 unofficial Christian groups and a Buddhist organization (known as Guanyin Famin) were branded by the Government as "evil sects," as well. In August police in Jiangsu arrested Shen Chang, the leader of a qigong group, and charged him with organizing gatherings aimed at disturbing social order and tax evasion.