Sunday, 16 May 2021 12:55 GMT

US govt shouldn't attend Winter Olympics if China continues rights violations: USCIRF


New Delhi/Washington, April 22 (IANS) The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has asked the US government not to attend the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing if the Chinese government continues its crackdown on religious freedoms of minorities in China.

In its annual report released on Wednesday, the USCIRF recommended the Joe Biden administration to redesignate China as a "country of particular concern", or CPC, for engaging in systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom, as defined by the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA).

The Commission asked the US government to publicly express concerns about Beijing hosting the 2022 Winter Olympic Games and state that US government officials will not attend the games if the Chinese government's crackdown on religious freedoms continues.

It has also recommended the US government to enforce to the fullest extent the existing US laws -- such as the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act and Tibetan Policy and Support Act -- and continue to impose targeted financial and visa sanctions on Chinese government agencies and officials responsible for severe violations of religious freedom.

The US government, it said, must urge like-minded countries to independently investigate and formally determine whether the abuses in Xinjiang meet the definitions of genocide and/or crimes against humanity under international law, and work together to take measures to hold China accountable.

Washington must also continue and intensify its efforts to counter Chinese government influence operations in the US -- including the Confucius Institutes -- that suppress information or advocacy regarding religious freedom violations in China, the report said.

The US Congress should support legislation to promote religious freedom in China, including the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, the Commission recommended.

Last year, the report said, religious freedom conditions in China had deteriorated.

The government intensified its "sinicisation of religion" policy, particularly targeting religions perceived to have foreign connections, such as Christianity, Islam and Tibetan Buddhism.

The authorities also continued their unprecedented use of advanced surveillance technologies to monitor and track religious minorities, and the Measures on Managing Religious Groups became effective in February, further constricting the space in which religious groups could operate.

In September 2020, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute had identified 380 detention centres across the Uyghur region (otherwise known as Xinjiang), including new facilities built in 2019 and 2020.

This indicates that the Chinese government has continued to detain Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims despite claiming to have released all the detainees.

Since 2017, authorities have reportedly sent millions of Muslims to these camps for wearing long beards, refusing alcohol, or exhibiting other behaviours deemed signs of "religious extremism".

Former detainees reported torture, rape, sterilisation and other abuses in custody. Experts raised concerns that the Chinese government's ongoing actions in Xinjiang could amount to genocide under international law.

Reports have also highlighted the use of Uyghur forced labour in internment and prison camps, factories and industrial parks in the region.

Moreover, authorities continued to carry out large-scale closures and destruction of Uyghur religious sites, including mosques and shrines important to that community's religious, ethnic and cultural identity, the report said.

The Chinese government continued its pervasive control and suppression of Tibetan Buddhism. In August, at the Seventh Tibet Work Forum, Chinese Communist Party (CCP) General Secretary, Xi Jinping, emphasised the importance of sinicising Tibetan Buddhism to make it compatible with Chinese socialism and mobilising Tibetans to "fight against separatism".

Subsequently, the local authorities organised seminars at Tibetan Buddhist monasteries to indoctrinate monks and nuns on these policies.

They placed tight restrictions on monasteries and temples -- including the Yachen Gar Buddhist centre in Sichuan Province -- barring worshippers from entering these sites.

The authorities broadly banned Tibetans, including students and government workers, from participating in traditional religious gatherings, and they detained and punished Tibetans for listening to the Dalai Lama's teachings or for possessing his portrait.

Despite the Vatican-China agreement on Bishop appointments, Chinese authorities continued to harass, detain and torture underground Catholic bishops such as Cui Tai and Huang Jintong, who refused to join the state-backed Catholic association.

They also harassed, detained, arrested and imprisoned members of Protestant house churches who refused to join the state-sanctioned "Three-Self Patriotic Movement".

The report said that in April, authorities arrested and charged house church pastor Zhao Huaiguo for "inciting subversion of state power", and in October, local authorities in Taizhou city, Zhejiang Province, sentenced Christian bookseller Chen Yu to seven years in prison and fined him roughly $30,000 for "illegal business operations".

The government also continued to demolish both Catholic and Protestant church buildings and crosses under its "sinicisation of religion" campaign.

In addition, there were reports that authorities across China demolished Mahayana Buddhist, Daoist and folk religion temples.

According to reports, thousands of Falun Gong practitioners were harassed and arrested in 2020 for practicing their faith, and some likely died due to abuse and torture while in custody.

Credible international reports also suggested that organ harvesting, including from Falun Gong practitioners, likely continued.

In October, 39 United Nations (UN) member states had condemned the Chinese government's abusive policies towards ethnic and religious minorities in Xinjiang and Tibet, including the use of internment camps, violations of religious freedom, forced labour, and forced birth control measures, the Commission noted.




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