Joint U.S. NGO Report Documents Increase in Religious Repression in Xinjiang

April 18, 2005

The Chinese government is conducting a "wholesale assault" against the Muslim faith of the Uighurs in northwest China, according to a new report jointly published by Human Rights Watch and Human Rights in China, entitled "Devastating Blows: Religious Repression of Uighurs in Xinjiang." The report is based on previously undisclosed regulations and documents intended strictly for internal circulation within the Chinese Communist Party and government organizations. The report’s appendix publishes five of these documents, including a document confirming that a large number of Uighurs have been arrested for alleged religious and state security offenses; a regulation strictly prohibiting minors from practicing religion; and a manual for officials with details on how to repress religion.

While China’s national religious regulations and the 1984 Ethnic Regional Autonomy Law guarantee minorities religious freedoms, implementation of these laws has varied greatly throughout the country (see the May 2004 CECC roundtable on differing policies toward Muslim Uighurs and Hui and the April 2005 CECC roundtable on the Ethnic Regional Autonomy Law). Many Uighurs, the most populous minority group in Xinjiang, resent central Chinese government policy (see here for more details), which they view as motivated by ethnic Han desire to eliminate Uighur culture and religious practices. Since 2001 in particular, the Chinese government has conflated minority calls for greater autonomy with "religious extremism" or "international terrorism" and has violently suppressed even the smallest sign of peaceful political dissent (for a U.S. scholar’s critique of Chinese allegations against Uighurs, see here).

The HRW/HRIC report concludes that Chinese government attempts to suppress Islam is "a policy likely to alienate Uighurs, drive religious expression further underground, and encourage the development of more radicalized and oppositional forms of religious identity."