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IV. A Repressive Framework: Regulation of Religion in Xinjiang

…the intensified effort to administer religious affairs according to law…should be regarded as an important radical measure to oppose ethnic splittism and preserve social and political stability.54

At its heart, the control of religious activities in Xinjiang is a way of opposing “ethnic splittism” (minzu fenlie 民族分裂). Xinjiang’s Party Secretary Wang Lequan stressed in 1991 that the “major task” facing the authorities in Xinjiang was to“manage religion and guide it in being subordinate to … the central task of economic construction, the unification of the motherland, and the objective of national unity,” a vision of subordination that has hardly changed since.55

Although China has increasingly faced international criticism for its religious policies in Xinjiang,56 it has persistently rejected such criticism. In May 2003, the Information Office of the State Council released a White Paper57 on the “History and Development of Xinjiang.”58 The White Paper is the government’s most recent and comprehensive statement on the situation of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. It marshals various facts and statistics to make the case that ethnic minorities are thriving in Xinjiang. These include the existence of some 24,000 religious venues in Xinjiang; the role played by ethnic minorities in the administration of religion and religious policies; the allocation of “specialized funds for the maintenance and repair of the key mosques”; the establishment of “an Islamic college specializing in training senior clergymen”; “guaranteed access to scriptures and other religious publications”; and, above all, the fact that “all religious bodies independently carry out religious activities within the scope prescribed by law.”59

The White Paper states that, “The right to freedom of religious belief for various ethnic groups is fully respected, and all normal religious activities are protected by law,” specifically citing the enactment by the Xinjiang government of the Provisional Regulations for the Administration of Religious Activity Venues in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region––a regulation that was abruptly rescinded in May 200460––and “other regulations in accordance with the constitution and the law.”

However, there is a significant discrepancy between official materials published for international and public consumption and those intended for internal circulation. These secret regulations and policy statements––documents that are used as immediate guides to the implementation of laws and policies––are not publicly available and provide a much stricter framework for religious activity. Given the internal nature of most such policy instructions, most of these documents, and the detailed picture of regulation they present, have not been available until now. They are described below.

Policies Hidden from the Public

While white papers, the constitution, national legislation, and certain national and provincial policy statements are available to the public and reported in newspapers, there is a large and growing category of Chinese regulations and policies that the government and Party deliberately keep hidden.

Two specific regulations—revealed here for the first time––establish a draconian ban against unauthorized disclosure of information regarding almost any national minority or religious matter or policy, even if unrelated to national security. One regulation was jointly promulgated in 1995 by the State Secrets Protection Bureau (Guojia mimi baoshou ju 国家保密局) and the State Council Ethnic Affairs Commission. 61 The other regulation was promulgated at the same time by the State Secrets Protection Bureau and the State Administration of Religious Affairs (formerly the Religious Affairs Bureau).62 Salient information classified as state secrets includes:

1. government analyses of “situations and trends that seriously undermine ethnic relations as well as state unity and social instability caused by ethnic issues” must be classified as “top-secret,” as must public security measures “drafted to counter the use of religion in political infiltration and serious illegal activities” or measures taken to manage public security incidents relating to ethnic affairs and religion;

2. draft works classified as “highly confidential” including policies and analyses prepared “in response to religious situations and trends,” “important strategies, policies, and measures related to ethnic affairs work,” and “proposals and measures drafted to handle ethnic conflicts”;

3. foreign affairs matters such as “policies and measures drafted to counter major foreign affairs problems related to religious” and “measures in external propaganda work” that “need to be controlled internally.”

The regulations also list matters that must be treated as “internal” (neibu 内部), that is not to be publicized or announced without authorization. These include most documents relating to religious and ethnic policies which would routinely be public information in other countries. Among them are drafts of religious laws and regulations; reports, opinions and suggestions by religious representatives regarding religious affairs; “analyses of developments with overseas religious organizations and their personnel”; “information and statistics unsuitable for the public regarding religious organizations, institutions and activities”; and the “content of state organ meetings unsuitable for the public.”

While there is no criminal liability for disclosure of “internal” material, in practice many people in China have been sentenced for doing so because state secret laws allow authorities to classify material retrospectively. Some of the regulations and policies referred to in this report are treated as “internal” or are simply unavailable to the public.

Regulation in 1994-2001: “Keeping a handle on” the imams and party cadres

Until their revision in 2001, religious activities in Xinjiang were governed by a set of regulations issued in 1994, which echoed the national regulations.63 In the intervening years, a series of Communist Party directives indicated that Xinjiang would be targeted for special, effectively discriminatory treatment. For example, in 1996, Document Number 7 from the Political Bureau of the Central Committee, while still operating within the framework of the 1994 Regulations, laid the outline for a considerable toughening of regulations concerning religion and for the curbing of religious freedom that continues to this day.64

In October 1998, less than two months after an inspection tour of Xinjiang by President Jiang Zemin, local authorities created a new and comprehensive set of instructions on control of religion. These were based on directives originating from the central government.65 The “October 1998 Instructions” called for a tightening of regulations governing the management of religious personnel, religious places, the content of religious teachings, and the “fight” against all non-governmental religious activities. In violation of the guarantee of religious freedom enshrined in the Chinese constitution, the document explicitly instructed local authorities to establish “a political verification dossier to make sure imams meet political requirements,” the aim being no less than keeping “a handle on the imam's ideological state at all times.”66

The instructions also established a system of annual revision of the accreditations given to imams. This required imams to attend “patriotic education” courses and seminars, and to demonstrate their ideological conformity. Religious leaders were required to “stand on the side of government firmly and express their viewpoints unambiguously.” Any who failed to meet these requirements would be “stripped of imam status.”67

In 2000, the “Interim Provisions on Disciplinary Punishments for Party Members and Organs that Violate Political Discipline in Fighting Separatism and Safeguarding Unity” [the “2000 Interim Provisions”] provided a wide range of sanctions against Party members involved in religious activities. The provisions include strict rules for religious practice by Communist Party members in Xinjiang, and in effect the freedom of religious belief. Although the issue was openly debated in the Chinese press during the 1990s, the CCP has always demanded that its members be atheists. Thus, the enactment of special regulations specifically to enforce this in Xinjiang can be seen as part of an effort to “step up the struggle against national separatism” and to “root out reactionary religious behaviors.”68

The 2000 Interim Provisions state that sanctions must be taken against “persons in the Party who have a strong religious belief and are keen on organizing and participating in religious activities.” Furthermore, such persons are held responsible if they “connive at and harbor a situation wherein Party members, Party and government functionaries … teachers and students … are engaged in religious activities that will interrupt the order of their work … such as religious services, scriptural studies, and Ramadan.”69 Restrictions also apply in the field of publication, for people who “participate in the printing, reproduction, compilation, publication, and issuance of propaganda materials on religious subjects in violation of relevant stipulations … that impair the unification of the motherland and national unity.”70 The control extends well into the private life of Party members, who are forbidden to “establish contacts with overseas religious organizations,” “go on an overseas pilgrimage without authorization,” or even “send their children and families to private schools and private classes for scripture studies.”71  

The 2001 draft amendments to the 1994 Regulations: narrowing the scope of “normal” religious activities

The 2000 Interim Provisions were only the first sign of more stringent regulations to come. In July 2001, a series of comprehensive amendments to the 1994 Regulations was adopted by the Chairmen’s Committee of the Xinjiang People’s Regional Congress72 and submitted for deliberation to the Standing Committee (hereafter the “2001 Amendments”).73 These amendments represented a new regulatory regime extraordinarily hostile to religious activity in Xinjiang.74

The 2001 Amendments, yet to be made public, introduced considerable restrictions beyond those in the 1994 Regulations. They were appended to compilations of religious regulations circulated solely to local religious affairs bureaus for their internal use. From an analysis of references in other official documents, however, one can deduce that the amended regulations have superseded provisions in effect prior to their promulgation and that they govern religious activities in Xinjiang today.

The 2001 Amendments severely tighten the already restrictive provisions of the 1994 Regulations on Religious Activities in five main areas. These are:

a) narrowing the scope of “normal religious activities;

b) the extension of the “anti-separatist” clause, previously applied only to the clergy, to all “citizens who profess a religion;

c) increased control over registration and operations of religious organizations;

d) tightened control over religious publications; and

e) heavier sanctions and penalties.

a) Narrowing the protection of “normal religious activities”

One of the most critical features of the 2001 Amendments on religious activities in Xinjiang was deletion of the phrase “protection of normal religious activities” from the stated purposes of the regulations in the opening article. The 1994 Regulations specifically stated that one of their purposes was the “protection of normal religious activities” (weihua zhengchang de zongjiao huodong维护正常的宗教活动). The revision in the amended article states that the purpose of the Amendments is to “regulate religious activities according to law, strengthen the management of religious affairs, and guide religion to adapt to socialist society.” The change suggests that the focus of the amended regulations is to further limit the scope of acceptable religious activities.

It is difficult to overstate the importance of this change. The guarantee of “normal religious activities” has been at the heart of the religious policy of the CCP at the national level since 1982 and is guaranteed by the constitution (article 36). Even though the authorities have always been the only judge of what is “normal” and what is “illegal,” the deletion of a legally acknowledged entitlement to “normal religious activities” as the stated purpose of the regulation further restricts the ability of religious practitioners to negotiate categories of action that should be presumed to be lawful.

The 2001 Amendments implicitly condition the enjoyment of rights on the respect of obligations. A comparison of the 2001 Amendments with the 1994 Regulations demonstrates the heightened emphasis on the control, as opposed to the protection, of religious activity. For example, in article 1 of the 2001 Amendments the purpose of “protecting normal religious activities” has been deleted and replaced by “regulating” such activities “according to law” and “guiding” religion to “adapt to socialist society.” Article 1 now reads:

These regulations are formulated to protect the citizens’ freedom of religious belief, [protect normal] regulate religious activities according to law,[and] strengthen the management of religious affairs, and guide religion in such a way that it adapts to socialist society. The regulations are drawn up in accordance with the constitution, the relevant laws and statutes, and in the light of the actual conditions prevailing in the autonomous region. (italics and square brackets indicate 2001 insertions and deletions from the 1994 text respectively).

Article 26, dealing with the registration and operation of religious organizations, was similarly amended: the guarantee that religious organizations can conduct “normal religious activities” was removed and replaced by the more specific limitation that they can “organize religious activities and perform religious functions according to law.”

The only explicit protections for religious activities offered by the 2001 Regulations can be found in the new articles detailing the “rights and obligations” of religious personnel and religious organizations. Article 12 states that:

Clergy enjoy the following rights and privileges. They may:

    (1) engage in religious and church (mosque) activities according to law;

    (2) participate in the management of the place for religious activities where he or she belongs;

    (3) receive religious education; engage in religious academic research and exchange.

The corresponding duties appear in the next article:

Clergy shoulder the following responsibilities. They must:

    (1) love the country and the faith, abide by the laws and statutes of the state;

    (2) accept the supervision of the religious affairs bureaus of the people's government, the religious organization(s), and the democratic management organization of the places for religious activities;

    (3) protect buildings, cultural objects, facilities and the environment of the places for religious activities.

Religious organizations are subject to a similar bifurcation of their rights and obligations. Article 27 of the 2001 Regulations states that “Religious organizations enjoy the following rights:

    (1) the protection of the rights and interests of citizen believers, the clergy, and the places for religious activities; and the guidance and supervision of the operation of the places for religious activities;

    (2) the confirmation and supervision of their clergy and other personnel;

    (3) the enjoyment of the ownership and the right to use their buildings and other property according to law; and to independently dispose of their income;

    (4) the management of economic entities for the purpose of self-support.

Along with these “rights,” article 28 states that religious organizations must “perform the following duties:

    (1) abide by the laws and statutes of the state, accept control and supervision by the religious affairs bureaus and other relevant departments of people's governments at various levels;

    (2) propagate and carry out the policy of freedom of religious belief;

    (3) reflect the aspirations and demands of the citizen believers;

    (4) educate citizen believers in patriotism, abiding by the law, and living in harmony;

    (5) engage in training activities to enhance the capabilities of the clergy;

    (6) assist the religious affairs bureaus of people's governments in successfully managing religious affairs;

    (7) guide citizen believers to participate in building socialist modernization.”

In determining whether clergy are qualified to enjoy their delineated “rights and privileges,” the authorities clearly are granted ample grounds to assess subjectively whether the required duties are fulfilled. For example, whether an imam “reflects the aspirations and demands of the citizen believers” or “guides citizen believers to participate in building socialist modernization” is not susceptible to a uniform, predictable, or objective interpretation. These are political terms, the meaning of which has frequently changed in recent years. The new formulation has removed any grounds for a clergy member or a citizen charged with “illegal religious activities” to argue in his or her defense that the actions for which he or she was accused were in fact “normal religious activities,” as protected by previous legislation.

b) Extension of the “anti-separatist” clause, previously applied only to the clergy, to all “citizens who profess a religion”

One of the intrusive demands on Muslim clerics set forth in Article 8 of the 1994 Regulations was the obligation to demonstrate loyalty to the Chinese state. The 2001 Amendments take this requirement and extend it to “all citizens who profess a religion.”75 These requirements make religious freedom conditional on support for the government and Party leaders.

The requirement that believers “oppose” whatever is seen as “national splittism and illegal religious activities” is undefined in the regulations. Assessments are to be made by the authorities on the basis of Party instructions, which vary from time to time and are necessarily interpreted in practice in highly subjective ways by local officials. It is a catch-all clause that hands virtually unlimited power to the authorities to investigate or arrest any religious practitioner in disfavor with officials, a phenomenon that appears to be reflected by the high number of political sentences handed down in Xinjiang courts, particularly for certain groups of defendants (see section VI below).

c) Increased control over the registration and operation of religious organizations

Article 26 of the 2001 Amendments specifies that organizations can only begin activities after being approved, thus prohibiting activities while registration is pending.76 The registration and operation of religious organizations require approval by both a Religious Affairs Bureau and a Civil Affairs Bureau above the county level.77

The 2001 Amendments also narrows the right of registered religious organizations to sponsor seminaries, schools, or scripture classes. The requirement in the 1994 Regulations that these activities have prior approval has been retained, but the 2001 Regulations now emphasize that no one at all may teach “scripture students” without prior approval.78

The prohibition on teaching without prior approval appears to apply to individuals as well as institutions and professionals. It thus establishes an unusually onerous restriction on the free exercise of religion, not otherwise known to exist in contemporary China. Traditionally, in the countryside, parents would arrange for their children to receive some religious education, along with story-telling and folk songs, from someone knowledgeable or from a community elder, especially around the time of festivals or ceremonies such as weddings. Increasingly, however, the authorities have prohibited these kinds of semi-public meetings from touching on religious issues, on the pretext that they constitute “illegal religious activities.”79

Although these prohibitions do not seem to apply to a parent teaching a child, parents told Human Rights Watch they feared instructing their own children because they worried that their children might inadvertently display signs of religious awareness and attract the suspicion of authorities. Uighur government employees also consider themselves at risk if they instruct their children or other relatives in religion.

Even more restrictive is the prohibition on religious activities that “span different localities.” This outlaws religious personnel from conducting activities in places other than where they are registered. It also covers mass activities that span different localities.80 

The amended regulations also strictly prohibit pilgrimages (chaojin yundong 朝觐运动) not organized by the government.81 Authorities can use these provisions to control activities well beyond proselytism or missionary work. The so-called “on-the-spot” principle prevents, for instance, an imam from Hetian from preaching in Urumqi, or a Kashgar mosque from conducting a ceremony that convenes believers from different parts of Xinjiang. Authorities can also use this provision more broadly to prevent believers from establishing links with religious establishments in other geographical areas and from even visiting mosques or religious places in different areas of Xinjiang or China without permission.

The supervision of places of religious activities also constitutes a new feature of the 2001 Amendments. Under article 16, religious organizations are now required to “accept control and supervision by the religious affairs bureaus and other relevant departments of the people’s governments at various levels,” as well as to “assist the religious affairs bureaus of people's governments in successfully managing religious affairs.” 

The clergy is similarly required to “accept” supervision and routine checks. These regulations stipulate that those who violate the law or are “found incompetent” should be dismissed and the matter put on record at the county level Religious Affairs Bureau (art. 14).82 Political loyalty to the state and Party is an essential element establishing the “competence” of religious personnel, although interpretations of this undefined term vary widely. For instance, at the Xinjiang Conference on Religious Work, which took place in October 2002 in Urumqi, Xinjiang Party Secretary Wang Lequan instructed the authorities to “be sure that [religious public figures] are politically qualified.” By making political loyalty a pre-condition of the compulsory official approval of religious personnel––credentials that have to be regularly renewed––the authorities ensure that only pro-government figures can engage in religious activity and that any clerics who step out of narrow ideological strictures will be sanctioned or expelled.

d) Tightened control over religious publications

The fourth significant control mechanism introduced in the 2001 Amendments concerns the dissemination of religious publications. The amendments mandate prior governmental approval for the sale and distribution of religious material, including the distribution of leaflets.83 

The Amendments also introduce criteria that will make it more difficult to secure such approval. These criteria ban any publication by religious groups operating at a level below the provincial level; only the very largest institutions in Xinjiang are registered at that level, and these are few in number. Article 25 of the 1994 Regulations stipulated that “religious organizations wishing to publish … should complete the formalities for permission in accordance with the relevant stipulations.” The amended article now reads: “Religious organizations of the Autonomous Region’s level … should complete the formalities…” No provision is made for religious organizations below the provincial level.

In effect this means that approval for the publication of such documents has now been shifted from the local to the provincial level, presumably entailing delay and a higher level of scrutiny. As a result, publication activity outside of Urumqi has dwindled as publishing venues active in producing Uighur literature in the 1980s, such as the Kashgar People’s Publishing House, cease to produce any material that might run afoul of this regulation. 

The scope of the type of publications that must be regulated in this way has also been expanded. Article 31 states that:

Those religious organizations in the autonomous region wishing to publish, reprint or issue scriptures, classics or publish interpretations of classics, religious doctrines, or cannons should complete the formalities for permission in accordance with the relevant stipulations of the state and the autonomous region. No organization or individual may publish, print, reprint or issue religious publications without permission.

As before, individuals and non-religious organizations do not have the right to publish religious material outside of the government-approved system. The regulations also articulate the ban on bringing into China from abroad religious publications deemed to endanger state security or the public interest.84

e) Heavier sanctions and penalties

The 2001 Amendments also introduce a range of administrative sanctions and penalties for religious sites or organizations that violate the regulations. They permit fines to be levied for violations, ranging from 200 to 2,000 yuan (approximately U.S. $25-$250). The average income in Xinjiang is about 1,800 yuan a year. The previous regulations did not stipulate any fines.  

Other forms of punishment range from “criticism and education” to “cancellation of registration.” More alarming, the new amendments specify that certain “grave” violations may now constitute the crime of “endangering state security.” Whereas the 1994 Regulations provided only for offenses to be dealt with “according to the PRC management of public order dispositions” or generally according to criminal law.85

The regulations leave it to the Xinjiang Religious Affairs Bureau to ascertain whether the violation is “minor” or “serious” and if it warrants a fine or an administrative punishment.

The comprehensive nature of the 2001 Amendments, which impose political control over every aspect of religious activity, creates a legal net that can catch virtually anyone the authorities wish to target—a useful tool against Uighur ethno-national aspirations. In addition to providing new grounds for prosecuting offenders, the 2001 Amendments systematize collective responsibility in cases of violations and allow the administrative and security authorities to carry out even broader repression of dissent by considering all forms of religion to be potentially disguised forms of separatism. Their repressive character is best interpreted as an alignment of the regulatory framework with actual practices, particularly as experienced by the Uighur population.  

A Manual for Urumqi Municipality Ethnic Religious Work

The repressive framework imposed by the 2001 Amendments most probably derives from practical experience, and incorporates provisions already codified in the guidelines of religious affairs bureaus at various levels of government and of CCP religious affairs committees that supervise their work. These organs have the power to register, inspect and supervise religious organizations and sites, accredit clerics and approve religious publications. They effectively serve as an administrative arbiter of legitimate religious activities, relegating to illegality all the activities they do not endorse.

This section provides a previously undisclosed look at how these restrictive principles are put into practice in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi. The extracts presented below are excerpted from a 2000 handbook entitled A Manual for Urumqi Municipality Ethnic Religious Work, edited by the Ethnic Religious Work Committee of the Urumqi Nationalities Religious Affairs Bureau Work Committee (Manual). The Manual is “to be used to conduct education and serve cadres for nationalities religious affairs in their work.”86 

The Manual is probably the most comprehensive and detailed account of actual religious policies in Xinjiang to surface outside of China. It is also indisputably authoritative, as it was published by the institution in charge of controlling religion in the regional capital.

The Manual is structured as responses to 146 different questions, ranging from Party doctrinal topics (“What are the four fundamental principles and guiding principles on religious work set forth by Comrade Jiang Zemin?”) to specific issues that religious affairs cadres have to deal with (“What qualifications must religious personnel possess?”), and government policies (“What measures has the Urumqi Municipality Committee taken in the recent years to protect social stability?”).

The close correspondence between the Manual’s guidelines and the 2001 revised amendments tends to support the conclusion that the latter were designed to integrate and rationalize stipulations that were developed by the religious affairs bureaus. The Manual gives a rare glimpse into the actual policies of the religious affairs bureaus in Xinjiang, in particular in regards to the definition of illegal religious activities, the inspection of places of religious activities, and the censorship of religious publications.

a) What are illegal religious activities? What are their main forms?

Question No. 87 in the Manual is answered by a list of sixteen forms of illegal activity:

“In the category of illegal religious activity is any religious activity that violates the country’s constitution, laws and regulations or the Autonomous Region’s management of religious affairs’ regulations, dispositions or rules.

The main forms of illegality are:

    1) compelling people to believe;

    2) compelling people to participate in religious activities;

    3) privately organizing religious study schools;

    4) using religion to meddle (ganyu 干预) in administration, justice and education, weddings, family planning or cultural activities (wenhua yule huodong 文化娱乐活动);

    5) without having obtained authorization, engaging in religious activities spanning different localities or organizing other religious activities;

    6) beautifying, revamping or enlarging places for religious activities without having obtained authorization;

    7) restoring abolished religious feudal privileges and oppressive exploitative systems;

    8) printing religious propaganda material without authorization;

    9) receiving foreign contributions from religious organizations and individuals without authorization;

    10) going abroad to study religion or carrying out religious activities in conjunction with foreign religious organizations without authorization;

    11) privately setting up a religious “spot” and conducting proselytism without registration and authorization;

    12) slandering the authorities, plotting to murder patriotic religious figures, fighting against the leading authorities of religious places and organizations, premeditatedly evading supervision, and stirring up trouble;

    13) engaging in religious infiltration, setting up religious organizations, conducting proselytism and so on, by hostile enemy forces;

    14) advocating “holy war,” inciting religious fanaticism, developing religious extremist forces, spreading rumors, distorting history, advocating separatism, opposing the Party and the socialist system, sabotaging social stability or the unity of nationalities, inciting the masses to illegally rally and demonstrate, attacking the organs of the Party, government, army or public security;

    15) using religion to breed separatist elements and reactionary backbone elements or to establish reactionary organizations; to carry out other activities that are harmful to the good order of society, production and life, and to criminal activities;

    16) spreading evil cults.”87

Beyond painting a very dark picture of repression of religion, the list is notable in several respects. It is more extensive than even the already-extensive list set out in either the 1994 Regulations or the 2001 Amendments, particularly in two main areas: the supervision of places of worship, and the publication of any material related to religion or “sensitive” questions. 

In addition, many of the prohibitions represent blatant and substantial curtailment of basic civil and political rights beyond those relating to the right to freedom of religious belief. For example, “inciting the masses to illegally rally and demonstrate” implicates freedom of assembly; “distorting history” or “using religion to meddle in ... cultural activities” violates free expression; the injunction on “going abroad to study religion” or engaging in religious activities that “span different localities” tramples on freedom of movement. The list also contains catch-all “offenses” that allow the authorities to deny religious freedom under virtually any pretext, as for example using religion “to carry out other activities that are harmful to the good order of society,” or “to breed separatist elements and reactionary backbone elements.”

b) Inspection of mosques and collective responsibility

The Manual provides useful insights into how mosques are actually monitored and inspected. A “democratic management team” (minzhu guanli zuzhi 民主管理组织), composed of clerics and religious personnel vetted by the Religious Affairs Bureau, is responsible for each mosque, as described below:

The teams are in charge of daily management, establishing a completed system of regulations, and … maintaining the “annual inspection handbook” (nianjian tongzhi shu 年鉴通知书) which is a “self-supervision, self-inspection” instrument…The management teams must respect the laws and regulations, carry out religious activities and not engage in external religious illegal activities, have their finances in order, [have their] registration in order, [have] democratic management, and must permit annual inspection within the limits fixed by regulations.88

Annual inspections are conducted by the Religious Affairs Bureau according to national “[m]easures regarding the Annual Inspection of Places of Religious Activities,” adopted in 1996.89 After inspection, each religious site is given a certificate that it is either “conforming” (hege 合格), or “non-conforming” (bu hege 不合格).

The Manualindicates that management teams are to be held accountable in case of non-conformity and can be “investigated” and referred to higher authorities:

If the case is not serious, the authorities can issue a warning, stop the activities or withdraw the registration. For especially grave violations, the case must be transmitted to the people’s government of the same level to be suppressed according to law.90

These provisions, with their characteristic vagueness, bestow a significant degree of discretion on the authorities in deciding whether to certify mosques or on what basis to impose sanctions.

c) Censorship of publications “touching upon Islamic religion”

The Manual reveals for the first time the details of a draconian system of censorship of religious publications.91 Not only does publication require approval from the Xinjiang Religious Affairs Bureau and the Xinjiang News Publishing Department, but all publications also undergo multiple rounds of censorship, including at the printing and distribution stage. The content must be in line with precise guidelines, and cadres are instructed to defer to the higher authorities for any publication involving “sensitive questions,” such as “the implementation of religious policies” or issues related to “national minorities’ religious beliefs, taboos and customs.”92

These highly restrictive stipulations, which explicitly forbid “non-religious group(s)” and individuals from “publishing religious material,” are mirrored by strict censorship on the content of publications:

Any item to be published (including news and articles) related to research and appraisal of Islamic religion must uphold the Marxist point of view of religion, and use the yardstick of the Party's and the government's religious policies and regulations... For any sensitive question (mingan wenti 敏感问题), if it discuses the implementation of religious policies or foreign policies and touches upon the questions of national minorities religious beliefs, taboos, customs and so on, the publishing unit must report to the management department at the higher level to seek approval. It is imperative to seek in a timely manner the views of the provincial level and national level Islamic Association or the Religious Affairs Bureau.93

The explicit mention of the existence of a category of “sensitive questions” which must be reported “to the higher level” demonstrates that management of religion and nationalities affairs in Xinjiang is a matter of top-level political concern. One of the allegedly “sensitive question(s)” on which extra censorship is required is “the implementation of religious policies.”

The Manual then turns to the publishing and distribution system, specifically singling-out “publications related to Islamic religion”:

Commercial presses that do not have a “publishing unit” state license should never, without exception, accept commissions for any kind of publication related to Islamic religion…Distribution units should not distribute books, magazines, journals and musical material of religious nature from non-official publishing units.94

Finally, the Manualprescribes sanctions for publishing units that produce content “violating the Party's policies of nationalities and religion” and which “have created in society a severe and negative influence.” These range from administrative penalties of “suspension and rectification” (tingye zhengdun 停业整顿) to confiscation of the printing license,” as well as judicial penalties.95

Rather than drawing a clear line between legal and illegal publications, the Manualdescribes a system that institutionalizes the almost absolute discretion of the authorities to decide what to allow and what to censor. The sheer number of permits necessary to carry out any type of activity related to religious practice—most of them based on political criteria—give authorities wide discretion to crack down on clerics, activities, and publications that do not unconditionally endorse Party views. 

[54] Editorial, Xinjiang Daily [新疆日报], October 13, 2002, FBIS, November 5, 2002 [CHI-2002-1029].

[55] “Xinjiang Party Secretary Economic Development, Separatism,” Outlook [僚望], June 25, 2001, no. 26, pp. 52-53, FBIS, July 25, 2001 [CHI-2001-0710]. Wang Lequan reiterated these views in October 2002 while presiding over a regional party and government conference on religious work, to wit: “Our proposal of letting religions and the socialist society adapt to each other (…) ask religious personnel (…) to subordinate themselves to and serve the highest state interests and overall national interest in the religious activities they undertake (…) oppose all illegal activities that use religion to harm the socialist motherland and the people’s interests.” Editorial, Xinjiang Daily [新疆日报], October 13, 2002, FBIS, November 5, 2002 [CHI-2002-1029].

[56] The former United Nation High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, raised concerns on Xinjiang on her two visits to China, in November 2001 and August 2002. (“Robinson warns China on repression,” BBC News Online, November 8, 200; “U.N. slams China 'anti-terror' crackdown,”, August 20, 2002).

The European Parliament called in 2003 and 2004 for the adoption of a resolution on China at the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, citing the situation in Xinjiang (European Parliament, “European Parliament resolution on the EU's rights, priorities and recommendations for the 59th Session of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights,” January 30, 2003; European Parliament, “European Parliament resolution on the EU's rights, priorities and recommendations for the 60th Session of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in Geneva,” January 19, 2004).

The United States Congressional-Executive Commission on China has noted “harsh repression and restrictions on religious activity” in Xinjiang in its 2003 annual report to the Congress. (Congressional-Executive Commission on China, Annual Report 2003, October 2, 2003). Similar concerns are found in its previous report (Congressional-Executive Commission on China, Annual Report 2002, October 2, 2002).

Human Rights Watch, Human Rights in China, and Amnesty International have published a number of reports on the situation in Xinjiang. See “U.S.: Don’t Send Detainees Back to China,” Human Rights Watch, November 26, 2003, [online]; Human Rights Watch, “China: Human Rights Concerns in Xinjiang,” October 2001, [online],; Human Rights Watch, “China: State Control of Religion: Update #1,” March 1998; Human Rights in China, “Criminalizing Ethnicity: Political Repression in Xinjiang,” China Rights Forum, January 2004; Amnesty International, “People’s Republic of China: Uighurs fleeing persecution as China wages its ‘war on terror’,” July 7, 2004 [AI Index: ASA 17/021/2004]; Amnesty International, “China: International community must oppose attempt to brand peaceful political activists as ‘terrorists’,” December 19, 2003 [AI Index: ASA 17/040/2003]; Amnesty International, “People’s Republic of China: No justice for the victims of the 1997 crackdown in Ghulja (Yining),” February 4, 2003 [AI Index: ASA 17/011/2003]; Amnesty International, “People’s Republic of China: China’s anti-terrorism legislation and repression in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region,” March 2002 [AI Index: ASA 17/10/2002].

[57] The “White Papers” of the Chinese government summarize the official view of human rights and explicitly aim to refute foreign criticism. The first paper was published two years after the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, in November 1991, soon followed by other white papers on specific issues, such as religious freedom, ethnic minorities, Tibet, and so on. As reputed scholars have pointed out, “One explicit aim of the White Paper was to refute foreign criticism and present an alternative and more rosy picture of the situation in China.” Steven C. Angle and Marina Svensson, The Chinese Human Rights Reader: Documents and Commentary, 1900-2000, (London and Armonk: M.E. Sharpe, 1991), p.356.

[58] Information Office of the State Council Of the People's Republic of China, White Paper: History and Development of Xinjiang, May, 2003, Beijing, [online] [中华人民共和国 国务院新闻办公室: 新疆的历史与发展 (白皮书) , 2003年5月, [online]].

[59] White Paper, Section VIII “Upholding Equality and Unity Among Ethnic Groups, and Freedom of Religious Belief.”

[60] The “Provisional Regulations for the Administration of Religious Activity Venues in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region” [新疆维吾尔自治区宗教活动场所管理暂行规定] were repealed in May 2004. It is unclear whether newer regulations were adopted to replace them. (“The government of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region repeals 10 governmental regulations in administrative clean-up,” Xinjiang Economic Daily, May 24, 2004 [“新疆维吾尔自治区清理行政审批废止10项政府规章,” 新疆经济报, 2004年5月24日]).

[61] “Regulations on State Secrets and Specific Classification Limits in Religious Affairs Work,” Promulgated by the State Administration of Religious Affairs and the State Secrets Protection Bureau, October 12, 1995 [国务院宗教事务局,国家保密局:宗教工作中国家秘密及其密级具体范围的规定, 1995年10月12日].

[62] “Regulations on the Specific Scope of State Secrets and Classification of Ethnic Work,” Promulgated by the State Ethnic Affairs Commission and the State Secrets Protection Bureau, March 17, 1995.

[63] Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region People’s Congress, “Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region Regulations on Religious Affairs,” July 16, 1994, effective October 10, 1994. [新疆维吾尔自治区人大常委会:新疆维吾尔自治区宗教事务管理条例。发布日期:1994年7月16日, 实施日期:1994年10月1日]. On national regulations see Human Rights Watch, China: State Control of Religion.

[64] Document No. 7 urged authorities to “[l]egally strengthen the leadership and control over religion,” “[t]ake strong measures to prevent and fight against the infiltration and sabotaging activities of foreign religious forces,” “[r]estrict all illegal religious activities,” and “[s]everely control the building of new mosques.” “Record of the Meeting of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Chinese Communist Party concerning the maintenance of Stability in Xinjiang (Document 7),” reproduced in Human Rights Watch, “China: State Control of Religion: Update #1.”

[65] "Unequivocally Oppose National Separatism, Illegal Religious Activities,” Xinjiang Daily [新疆日报], August 16, 1998, in "Xinjiang Official on Opposing Separatism," FBIS, October 18, 1998 [CHI-98-291].

[66] Ibid.

[67] Ibid.

[68] “Interim Provisions on Disciplinary Punishments for Party Members and Organs that Violate Political Discipline in Fighting Separatism and Safeguarding Unity,” Discipline Inspection Commission of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Regional CPC Committee, December 14, 2000. The Interim Regulations were published in the Xinjiang Daily [新疆日报], May 8, 2001 in “Xinjiang Regulations on Party Discipline in Anti-Separatism Efforts,” FBIS, September 17, 2001 [CHI-2001-0529].

[69] Ibid.

[70] Ibid.

[71] Ibid. See also Convention on the Rights of the Child, art. 14(2), which protects the rights of parents “to provide direction to the child.”

[72] This ad hoc Committee comprised the Chairmen of the nationalities, religious, foreign affairs and overseas Chinese Committees of the Standing Committee of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region Congress.

[73] “Draft Amendments to the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region Regulations on the Management of Religious Affairs Adopted by the 23rd Session of the Standing Committee of the 9th People's Congress of Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region,” submitted on July 16, 2001 [新疆维吾尔自治区人民代表大会常务委员会第九届人民代表大会常务委员会爹日但侧会议通过:新疆维吾尔自治区宗教事务管理条例修正案 (草案), 2001年7月16日].

[74] The 2001 Amendments represent a codification of practice in Xinjiang’s religious affairs bureaus and committees. When submitting the 2001 Amendments for ratification in July 2001, the Conference of Chairmen reported it had conducted investigations and studies for nearly six months, and “extensively solicited opinions, held seven discussion meetings with the relevant departments, retired leading cadres, experts and scholars, religious groups and well-known patriotic religious personages …members of the Standing Committee,” as well as hearing “the opinions and suggestions of nineteen relevant units.”

[75] "Citizens who profess a religion must support the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and the socialist system, love their country and abide by its laws, safeguard the unification of the motherland and national solidarity, and oppose national splittism and illegal religious activities." (art. 9).

[76] “Religious organizations are mass organizations representing the legal rights and interests of the clergy and citizen religious believers. A religious organization must be examined and approved by the religious affairs department of a people's government above the county level. It must then be approved by and registered with the Civil Affairs department at the same level. Only then can it begin its activities. Those religious organizations that are qualified may obtain the status of legal persons.” (art. 26).

[77] The precise registration procedure is detailed in: National Bureau of Religious Affairs, “Measures regarding the registration of places of religious activities,” April 13, 1994 [国务院宗教事务局: 宗教活动场所登记办法, 1994年4月13日].The regulation specify that registration can be downgraded to a one or two year “temporary registration” if problems are found, or suspended for “rectification (zhengdun [整顿]).”

[78] “Religious seminaries and schools and scripture classes approved by the people's government should strengthen the training of patriotic religious personnel. No organization or individual may operate religious seminaries, schools or scripture classes without approval. Clergy may, in accordance with the relevant provisions of the autonomous region and with approval (by the relevant authority), teach scripture students, and train young patriotic clergy. No organization or individual may secretly teach scripture students without approval." (art. 11).

[79] Xinjiang Party Secretary Wang Lequan himself warned against the use of “folk cultural activities” [民间文化活动] as a carrier to entice part of the masses to receive reactionary propaganda to enter in opposition,” which he likened to “forms of infiltration and sabotage efforts carried out in the ideological sphere by the ethnic separatist forces.” (Xinjiang Information Network), February 1, 2002, [新疆新闻网, 2002年02月1日].

[80] “Religious activities must be carried out according to on-the-spot principle. No organized mass religious activity that spans different localities is allowed. Clergy are not allowed to administer religious activities in different localities. Missionary work in any form by non-clergy personnel is prohibited.” (art. 16).

[81] "Pilgrimage activities are to be organized by the religious affairs departments of the people's governments and religious organizations. No other organization or individual may organize such activities.” (art. 17).

[82] "During their tenure, the clergy should accept the routine check by the religious organization. Those who are found to be incompetent to carry out their duty or who have violated the law should be removed from their positions by the religious organizations, which had originally examined and approved their credentials. The matter should be reported to the religious affairs department of the county-level people's government and put on record." (art. 14).

[83] "No organization or individual is allowed to sell illegal religious publications or illegally imported religious publications. It is prohibited to distribute anywhere religious leaflets or religious publications that have not been approved by the relevant department of the people's government." (art. 24).

[84] The 1994 Regulations stipulated: “Bringing in religious publications or other religious objects from abroad is regulated by the relevant rules of the state and the autonomous region.” (art. 25) The 2001 Amendments add the following provisions: "Religious publications containing substance that endangers state security of the People's Republic of China or public interest of society may not be brought into the country. Religious publications or other religious objects illegally carried into the country from abroad discovered by public security, frontier defense or customs must be documented and handed over to the religious affairs department of the local people's government for investigation and disposal." (art. 32). The importing of such religious material was already an offense under the 1994 national regulations on religion.

[85] “Those who use religion to engage in activities that endanger national security should be punished by the national security or public security organs according to law. Those who engage in activities that constitute a crime will be called to criminal account by a judicial organ according to law.” (art. 35).

[86] Urumqi Municipality Ethnic Religious Affairs Committee, “A Manual for Urumqi Municipality Ethnic Religious Work,” June 2001. [乌鲁木齐市民族宗教事务委员会: 乌鲁木齐市民族宗教工作-普法读本, 乌鲁木齐, 2000年6月]. Quote taken from the afterword, p. 73.

[87] Manual, pp. 37-38.

[88] Manual, p. 28.

[89] The procedure for inspecting places of religious activities are set by the National Bureau of Religious Affairs, “Measures regarding the Annual Inspection of Places of Religious Activities” [国家宗教事务局:宗教活动场所年度检察办法], July 29, 19 96.

[90] Manual, p. 29.

[91] “What are the national regulations on publishing material affecting Islamic religion? [Question 79] The State has concrete regulations regarding the publication of material affecting Islamic religion. It is necessary to obtain the examination and approval of the religious affairs bureau at the provincial level of the people’s government, and to report to the corresponding governmental level of the News Publishing Department. This kind of material can only be distributed and circulated within government-approved mosques. If the volume is high, examination and authorization by the national Religious Affairs Bureau and a permit from the News Publishing Department are required. Non-religious groups and individuals, without exception, are not authorized to print and publish. Those who violate the above regulations are to be dealt with according to illegal publishing activities.” Manual, pp. 33-34.

[92] Manual, pp. 33-34.

[93] Ibid.

[94] Ibid.

[95] Ibid.

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