The theme for the Third Geneva Forum 2020 is “China’s Policy on Freedom of Religion: Global Impact.” The forum will report and deliberate on the declining freedom of religion in regions under China leading to religious persecution. It will also touch upon the constant interferences by the Chinese government in the religious practices of believers including the selection of their religious leaders, case in point being the continuous Chinese intrusions in the centuries old Tibetan Buddhist practice of recognition of reincarnated lamas and in particular its intention to meddle in the reincarnation of the Dalai Lamas. The forum will also discuss the larger ramifications of the Vatican’s agreement to recognize the Bishops appointed by China.
Detailed Narration of the Central Theme:
China is one of the worst violators of freedom of religion and belief. Even though the Chinese government recognizes five religious groups namely Buddhists, Taoists, Muslims, Catholics, and Protestants under the umbrella of “Patriotic Religious Associations”, it continues to meddle in to control their religious beliefs and traditions. Religious groups outside of the government’s control are referred to as “heterodox teachings” (CHN: xie jiao), which subjects them to torture, physical abuse, arrest, detention, imprisonment, and harassment. Evidence is mounting about potential adverse human rights impacts on religious minorities in China, including Tibetan-Buddhists, Protestants, Muslims, Falun Gong practitioners and Catholics.
The Chinese government has already abducted the 11th Panchen Lama Gedhun Choekyi Nyima within three days of his recognition by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. In fact this year is the 25th year since the enforced disappearance of the Panchen Lama Gedhun Choekyi Nyima on 17 May 1995. In his place, the CCP has appointed their own Panchen Lama after rigging the selection process to ensure that a son of Communist party member’s son is installed into one of the highest religious seats of Tibet.
The CCP—officially an atheist party—is now insistent on interfering with the appointment of the next His Holiness the Dalai Lama. For decades, Chinese authorities have attacked and denounced His Holiness as a “wolf in monk’s robes” and a “dangerous splittist”. However, they now want to have a say in his succession.
From regulating online religious activities to demolishing two of the largest Tibetan Buddhist institutes, Larung Gar and Yachen Gar by evicting more than 10,000 monks and nuns and subjecting them to “patriotic re-education camps”, China has been consistently persecuting the Tibetan Buddhists with impunity. Six UN Special Rapporteurs issued a joint statement to China condemning the mass expulsions from the two religious institutes. In a sharply worded statement, the rapporteurs expressed “grave concern […] over the serious repression of the Buddhist Tibetans’ cultural and religious practices and learning in Larung Gar and Yachen Gar.”
New administrative measures have been introduced to allow China to control internal monastic affairs through the monastic management committees of the institutes controlling a range of areas including admissions, management, finances, security and administrative matters. China has been meddling with the religious traditions of Tibetan Buddhists. In January 2007, China’s State Administration of Religious Affairs issued a new regulatory measure called “Order No. 5” on “management measures for the reincarnation of living Buddhas in Tibetan Buddhism.” The decree makes it compulsory for all the Tulkus (reincarnated teachers) to register and get government approval to practice. Article 2 of the regulation says that “reincarnating living Buddhas shall not be interfered with or be under the dominion of any foreign organization or individual” and shall be (Article 7) “recognized by the provincial or autonomous regional Buddhist Association or the China Buddhist Association in accordance with religious rituals and historically established systems.” Currently China has been keeping a database of “living Buddha” authorised by the government in complete disregard to the religious traditions and beliefs of Tibetans.
Similarly Muslims in China are also facing persecution. China has detained upwards of 1 million Uighurs in detention camps and re-education centres aimed at “curing” Uighurs Muslims of their religion and grooming them to be loyal to the CCP. Inside the camps, detainees are forced to learn Chinese, sing patriotic songs, as well as memorize rules applicable to Uighurs and other Muslims such as not speaking Uighur language in public. With Chen Quanguo appointment as the Party Secretary of East Turkestan (CHN: Xinjiang) in 2016, the grid-strategy implemented in Tibet has become the blueprint for crackdown on millions of Uighurs in the region. After Quanguo took power, the number of police-related job advertisements skyrocketed from 9000 job posts pre-2016 to 32, 000 in 2016, and over 60,000 in 2017.
The CCP has come down strongly on Christians as well, particularly the house churches. Many house churches have been forcibly shut down along with their pastors and leaders being arrested and sentenced. Around 500 house church leaders signed a statement narrating the instances of forceful removal of crosses from buildings, forceful hoisting of Chinese flags, singing of patriotic songs and barring of minors from attending the congregations. The sale of Bibles are controlled and barred from being sold online. The Bibles are being translated according to State’s perception and to make it more “Chinese.”
The Falun Gong practitioners were also persecuted in 1999. The CCP banned its practice and carried out nation-wide persecution of the followers of Falun Gong. The authorities mobilized the state media apparatus, judiciary, police, army, the education system, families and workplaces against the group. The China Tribunal passed a judgement calling China a criminal state for carrying out systematic torture, illegal imprisonment, forced labour, organ harvesting and abusive psychiatric measures, with the apparent aim of forcing practitioners to recant their belief in Falun Gong. Foreign observers estimate that hundreds of thousands and perhaps millions of Falun Gong practitioners have been detained in “re-education through labour” camps, prisons and other detention facilities for refusing to renounce spiritual practice.