An annual report on religious freedom released by the US State Department accuses China of intensifying religious repression on its minority groups, particularly the Uighurs of northwest Xinjiang province, Christians, Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, and Falun Gong practitioners.
In the annual International Religious Freedom (IRF) Report, a survey of the state of religious freedom across the world, submitted to the US Congress, the State Department views that in China, citizens have freedom of religious belief but the state limits protections for religious practice to "normal religious activities" and does not define "normal."
The report said that despite President Xi Jinping's decree that all members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) must be "unyielding Marxist atheists," the government "continued to exercise control over religion and restrict the activities and personal freedom of religious adherents that is perceived as threatening state or CCP interests", according to religious groups, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and international media reports.
It added that Beijing only recognizes five official religions - Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Protestantism, and Catholicism. And religious groups belonging to these five state-sanctioned "patriotic religious associations" are permitted to register with the government and officially permitted to hold worship services.
The US government estimated in the report that since April 2017, Beijing arbitrarily detained more than one million Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Hui, and members of other Muslim groups, as well as Uighur Christians, in specially built or converted internment camps in Xinjiang and subjected them to forced disappearance, political indoctrination, torture, physical and psychological abuse, including forced sterilization and sexual abuse, forced labour, and prolonged detention without trial because of their religion and ethnicity.
The state department further cited a third document, the "Karakax List," originally leaked in November and later made public, which presented evidence that the Chinese government initially interned or extended the internment of individuals on religious grounds in four reeducation centers in Karakax County, Hotan Prefecture. Authorities in Xinjiang restricted access to mosques and barred youths from participating in religious activities, including fasting during Ramadan.
According to human rights groups and international media, authorities maintained extensive and invasive security and surveillance, in part to gain information regarding individuals'' religious adherence and practices. Satellite imagery and other sources indicated the government destroyed mosques, cemeteries, and other religious sites.
Since 1999, the report stated, China has been designated as a "Country of Particular Concern" (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom.
On December 18, the Secretary of State redesignated China as a CPC and identified the following sanction that accompanied the designation: the existing ongoing restriction on exports to China of crime control and detection instruments and equipment, under the Foreign Relations Authorization Act of 1990 and 1991 (Public Law 101-246), pursuant to section 402(c)(5) of the Act.
The report comes after US President Donald Trump signed an executive order on June 2 to advance international religious freedom, instructing the State Department and the US Agency for International Development to "develop a plan to prioritize international religious freedom" and to "budget at least USD50 million per fiscal year for programs that advance international religious freedom."