Draft Regulation in Xinjiang Could Strengthen Legal Prohibitions Over Children's Freedom of Religion
Controls over religious practice in the Muslim-majority region of Xinjiang--home to the Uyghurs and other ethnic groups--are often harsher than those found elsewhere in China. The regional government is currently considering legislation that would tighten formal legal prohibitions over children's freedom of religion and parents' freedom to impart a religious education. The legislation builds off of an existing legal provision in Xinjiang that already mandates that parents may not let children participate in religious activities, a provision harsher than other known legal restrictions that address children's freedom of religion. The proposed prohibitions in law accompany tight restrictions implemented in practice in Xinjiang over children's right to freedom of religion.
The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) government is currently considering a draft regulation that would tighten formal legal prohibitions on children's freedom of religion and parents' right to impart religious teachings. A draft XUAR regulation on the protection of minors, submitted for deliberation to the Standing Committee of the XUAR People's Congress in June, adds new language that elaborates on and tightens enforcement of an existing XUAR legal prohibition on children's freedom of religion that already constitutes the harshest known legal provision on the issue within China. According to a June 1 report from Urumchi Online and June 8 report from Legal Daily (via MOFCOM's China Market Order Net), the proposed draft specifies that parents or guardians "may not permit minors to be engaged in religious activities" and "no organization or individual may lure or force minors to participate in religious activities or use religion to obstruct minors' compulsory education." In addition, where minors are "lured" or "forced" into such activities, they "can ask for protection from schools, neighborhood committees, village committees, offices for the protection of minors, or public security organs," and such "organizations or work units receiving requests for help must take measures in a timely manner and not refuse or shift responsibility." The draft provisions under consideration "target the demands of real conditions in the region, consolidating the attack against the 'three forces' [terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism] and specially rectifying illegal religious activities," according to the Urumchi Online report. The provisions also "are directed at the phenomenon in some places in Xinjiang of parents or other guardians forcing minors to believe in a religion or participate in religious activities," according to the Legal Daily report.
The relevant legal provision currently in force in the XUAR, article 14 of the XUAR's 1993 Implementing Measures for the Law on the Protection of Minors, specifies that "parents or other guardians may not permit minors to be engaged in religious activities." In addition, article 30 states that "no organization or individual may force minors to participate in religious activities" or "use religion to obstruct minors' compulsory education." The wording in article 14 is unseen elsewhere in China. In the 2005 report Devastating Blows: Religious Repression of Uighurs in Xinjiang, Human Rights Watch and Human Rights in China reported that neither the national Law on the Protection of Minors nor other provinces' implementing measures include such a provision. Some other provincial-level regulations have dealt with aspects of religious practice among minors but are not as restrictive as the current provision in force in the XUAR or the draft provisions under deliberation. See, for example, article 33 of the Fujian Province Implementing Measures on the Law on the Protection of Minors (specifying that "no organization or individual may force, trick, or instigate a minor to believe in a religion or participate in feudal superstition activities") and article 13 of the Inner Mongolia Implementing Measures on the Management of Venues for Religious Activity (specifying that "venues for religious activities must not recruit minors to join the religion"). A Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) official stated in 2005 that no laws prohibit minors from believing in a religion and that parents may give a religious education to children, according to a March 16, 2005 press conference summary from the MFA. The national Regulation on Religious Affairs is silent on the issue of children's freedom of religion and parents' right to impart religious teachings to their children.
The formal legal restriction on children's freedom of religion in the XUAR accompanies harsh measures implemented in practice, and the proposed regulation comes during a period of heightened controls over religion implemented in the region as part of wide-scale security measures and anti-separatism propaganda campaigns. As reported in previous Commission analysis (1, 2), recent controls over religion have targeted children among other groups. In addition, according to a June 5 report from Radio Free Asia (RFA), the Ili Intermediate People's Court in the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture sentenced 12 young Uyghur men in March 2009 to prison terms between 3 years to life for separatist crimes, based on what a family member described as their activities providing religious instruction to children. According to RFA, the men sentenced to the prison terms are Merdan Seyitakhun, Ahmetjan Emet, Mewlanjan Ahmet, Kurbanjan Semet, Dolkun Erkin, Omerjan Mehmet, Seydehmet Awut, Erkin Emet, Abdujilil Abdughupur, Abdulitip Ablimit, Mutelip Rozi, and Ubulkasim.