US criticizes China in international religious freedom report

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The United States criticized China in the State Department’s 2023 Report on International Religious Freedom, describing the country as a repressive regime.

In the report, released Wednesday, the department also cited an international and domestic increase in antisemitism and Islamophobia, which it attributed to the war in Gaza.

At the release of the report, Rashad Hussein, the U.S. ambassador at large for international religious freedom, addressed assembled partners, survivors and civil society representatives.

“The report,” he said, “also continues to cast light on the ongoing crimes against humanity and genocide the Chinese government is perpetrating against Muslim Uyghurs and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang.”

According to the report — which cites information from religious groups, nongovernmental organizations and international media reports — the Chinese government restricts the activities and freedom of religious followers it believes threatens state or Chinese Communist Party interests. Those found in violation of laws governing religious groups — even members of government-registered groups — are subject to arrest, torture, forced indoctrination in CCP ideology and even death.

“Due to a lack of transparency regarding law enforcement’s persecution of religious followers, estimates of those imprisoned during the year for their religious beliefs ranged from the low thousands to more than 10,000,” the report said.

The report says the Church of Almighty God, an unregistered entity that China considers a “cult,” reported that 12,463 members were arrested in 2023, and that 20 members died because of the persecution.

In 1999, the U.S. designated China as a Country of Particular Concern for having participated in or tolerated serious violations of religious freedom. In December, it reestablished restrictions on exports to China that could be used for crime detection.

Liu Pengyu, a spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, called the accusations in the report inaccurate and accused the U.S. State Department of trying to interfere in domestic Chinese affairs.

“The Chinese government protects citizens’ freedom of religious belief in accordance with the law. People of all ethnic groups in China are fully entitled to the freedom of religious belief as prescribed by law,” he said, adding that China has “nearly 200 million religious believers.”

“We urge relevant parties to stop using the so-called religious issues to meddle in China’s internal affairs,” he said.

In his remarks at the report’s release, Hussain addressed the sharp rise in antisemitism and Islamophobia worldwide since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

“Beyond Gaza, Israel and the West Bank, the conflict has also fed a global surge in acts of anti-Muslim hatred and antisemitism,” he said.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken also commented on the rise in hate crimes domestically.

“Here in the United States, reports of hate crimes and other instances targeting Muslims and Jews have gone up dramatically,” he said.

The State Department does not include the United States in its annual report. Instead, the report details the state of religious freedom in various countries, along with U.S. policies toward those countries that promote religious freedom.

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