it finally happened. As soon as I entered the lecture hall and sat down, I
could feel the professor’s eyes on me. After class started she didn’t give me a
second glance, but even so, when she called my name and told me to stay behind
afterwards, I wasn’t surprised. I guess I’ve been expecting this for a while.
need to talk to you about your Bible study group”, she said.
it’s more like a discussion group. We read a passage from the Bible, and then
we talk about its meaning and what we think it means for our own lives.
Sometimes we talk about social issues as well, it just comes naturally. But
there would be no point explaining all this to my professor. It would only make
Over the past year, the Chinese government has intensified
its crackdown on Christians and other religious groups across China.
incarceration of over one million predominantly Muslim Uyghurs,
Kazakhs and members of other ethnic groups in ‘re-education camps’ in Xinjiang since
2017 has alarmed the international community, with the detentions receiving UN
condemnation. At the same time, Christians across China are also being
relentlessly targeted by the Chinese state apparatus, with countless violations
ranging from the arrest and torture of religious practitioners to the forced
closure of places of worship remaining a daily reality for those peacefully
exercising their universal right to freedom of religion or belief (FoRB).
Since the revised regulations on religious affairs came into effect on 1 February 2018, reports have emerged of the removal of over 7,000 crosses in Henan province alone. Christians in Henan have also reported that unregistered churches across the province have been forcibly shuttered by authorities. Outside of Henan, in the wake of the revised regulations authorities across China continue to harass worshippers and restrict religious observance at state-approved churches by removing religious symbols from buildings, banning under-18s from religious activities, and forcing churches to install cameras and sing pro-Communist songs.
“My family, relatives, friends and dozens of innocent people [I know] have been arrested since April 2017. I have no knowledge of how many more of our relatives have been arrested as we lost contact with them at the beginning of the year. They have not committed any crime… They are ordinary people… since then I have not heard from them and I am unsure about their safety.”
– Chinese Uyghur living overseas.
Faith groups in China are currently experiencing the most severe crackdown on religious freedom and human rights in decades. One of the worst sites of this crackdown is the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), where recent reports estimate that as many as three million Uyghurs, Kazakhs and members of other ethnic groups have been detained in political re-education camps without charge.
Ethnicity appears to be the principle driver of these detentions, however there is also a significant religious element. The majority of detainees are Muslim, and reasons for detention – when a reason is given – have often been connected to the practice of peaceful religious activities such as participating in communal religious services or accessing religious materials online.
The religious element is further demonstrated by the treatment of Muslims inside the camps. Witnesses report that detainees have been forced to renounce Islam and promise not to follow religion. Prisoners have also been forced to eat pork or drink alcohol, which goes against their religious beliefs.
Three years ago, I found myself at the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC), playing a game with an eight year old girl – I would say the name of an animal and she would draw it. She was an Eritrean refugee and had come to the HRC with her parents as part of a delegation who were there to give testimony at a side event. Her entire family had been detained by the government, locked up with others in a shipping container. She shared memories of the entire place smelling awful, of being freezing cold at night and roasting hot during the day and of how she and her other siblings joked about which family member was covered with the most lice. A serious issue was turned into a game as their parents did their best to shield their children from the full force of the horrors they were experiencing.