International Religious Freedom Report

International Religious Freedom Report,” US Department of State, 2018.


This report from the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor gives an overview of human rights and religious freedom in China. Due to the severity of reported religious freedom violations specific to Xinjiang, a separate section (page 60 to 78)  of the report focused specifically on that region. The report gives an overview of the laws and regulation implemented over the past year specifically targeting ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. The report highlights that while the Chinese constitution guarantees freedom of religious belief it limits the protections for religious practice to “normal religious practice” without defining “normal”.

“The constitution also stipulates the right of citizens to believe in or not believe in any religion. Only religious groups belonging to one of five state-sanctioned “patriotic religious associations” (Buddhist, Taoist, Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant), however, are permitted to register with the government and legally hold worship services or other religious ceremonies and activities.”

The report critiques the counter-terrorism law in Xinjiang as the law bans the wearing of long beards, full-face coverings, expanding halal practice beyond food among other provisions.

In addition, “Authorities in Xinjiang have defined 26 religious activities, including some practices of Islam, Christianity, and Tibetan Buddhism, as illegal without government authorization.” Religious group are not allowed to preach and proselytize without government approval.

The report estimates that the number Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and members of other majority Muslim groups, in prison-like conditions is between 800,000 thousand to two million.

an estimated 800,000 to two million Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and members of other majority Muslim groups, mostly Chinese citizens, in prison-like conditions.

The report also cites media reports and in-person accounts of conditions in the re-education camps and vocational training centers. Radio Free Asia, Human Rights Watch, ChinaAid, The Guardian and the New York Times are some of the media outlets used as sources for these accounts.

To conclude the section on Xinjiang, the report gives an overview of the U.S. Government policy and engagement. In particular, examples of the use of social media channels to engage with Chinese netizens on issues pertaining to religious freedom are highlighted in the section on U.S government policy and engagement.

The statement issued to accompany the Government-hosted Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom is emphasized:

“We are particularly troubled by reports of the Chinese government’s deepening crackdown on Uighurs and members of other Muslim minority groups…[including] the detention of hundreds of thousands, and possibly millions, in facilities ranging from makeshift holding centers to prisons, ostensibly for political re-education,” in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. There are reports of deaths in these facilities. We call on the Chinese government to release immediately all those arbitrarily detained.”