NGO: Minors Forbidden to Attend Church Services in Xinjiang

March 31, 2005

A Catholic priest in the Xinjiang city of Ghulja (Yining in Chinese) told the Norway-based Forum 18 News Service that government authorities in Xinjiang do not allow minors to attend church services. This information apparently contradicts Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao’s recent statement that "China has no laws prohibiting minors from believing in religion." According to the Ghulja-based priest, police checkpoints at churches prevent minors from attending services; a schoolteacher beat one boy who managed to attend Christmas Mass; and managers at state-owned enterprises threaten to sack employees who attend church.

Other Chinese religious leaders were unwilling to discuss the issue with Forum 18, an NGO from Norway that focuses on religious persecution in Asia, without permission from the State Administration of Religious Affairs (SARA). One Buddhist monk remarked that even local people who want to learn about Buddhism have to first get permission from SARA. A Xinjiang deputy to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference recently said that, "under Chinese law schoolchildren do not have the right to attend religious institutions." Minors are allowed to participate, however, in religious services in many other parts of China.

Religious freedom is particularly constrained in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region, where Islam is central to the ethnic identity of several minorities (see CECC Roundtable on Practicing Islam). In 1997, police in Ghulja attempted to arrest two Uighur religious students (see Amnesty International’s 1999 report), prompting Uighur protests and the arrests of thousands of demonstrators.