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Xinjiang enjoys unprecedented religious freedom: white paper
2016/06/03

China on Thursday issued a white paper titled "Freedom of Religious Belief in Xinjiang," saying the freedom of religious belief in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region today "cannot be matched by that in any other historical period."

Since the founding of the People's Republic of China (PRC) in 1949, the Constitutional principle of freedom of religious belief has been comprehensively implemented in Xinjiang, with the citizens' freedom of religious belief fully respected and believers' normal religious needs effectively met, said the white paper released by the State Council Information Office.

"No citizen suffers discrimination or unfair treatment for believing in, or not believing in, any religion," it said.

In Xinjiang, "the positive role of religious circles in promoting economic development and social stability is well displayed, the government's capability of administrating religious affairs is constantly strengthened, international exchanges in the religious field are being expanded, and the proliferation and spread of religious extremism is being effectively contained," it noted.

The white paper was issued following an April conference on religions, at which President Xi Jinping promised to fully implement the central authorities' policy of religious freedom, manage religious affairs in line with law, retain the principle of religious independence and self-administration, and help religions adapt to the socialist society.

PROTECT FREEDOM OF RELIGIOUS BELIEF

At present, the major religions in Xinjiang are Islam, Buddhism, Protestantism, Catholicism and Taoism, according to the white paper.

Normal religious activities in Xinjiang are protected by law, and religious organizations are responsible for coordinating internal religious affairs and the government should not interfere, the white paper said.

Judicial organs at all levels in Xinjiang combat criminal activities committed in the name of religion to better ensure the citizens' freedom of religious belief and normal religious activities, said the paper.

"No Xinjiang citizen has been punished because of his or her rightful religious belief," it said.

There are 24,800 venues for religious activities in Xinjiang, with 29,300 clerical personnel, according to the document.

Among them, there are about 24,400 mosques, 59 Buddhist temples, 227 Protestant churches or meeting grounds, 26 Catholic churches or meeting grounds, one Taoist temple and three Orthodox churches or meeting grounds.

Citizens' religious feelings and needs are fully respected, the document said.

During the holy Islamic month of Ramadan whether to close or open halal restaurants is completely determined by the owners themselves without interference, said the white paper. This year's Ramadan will start a few days later.

To ensure successful pilgrimages for believers in Islam, Xinjiang arranges charter flights every year, taking more than 3,000 Muslims to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, Shewket Imin, an official with the Xinjiang regional committee of the Communist Party of China, said Thursday at a press conference elaborating on the white paper.

The Xinjiang government spends millions of yuan every year on the accommodation, medical care, transportation and other services for the pilgrimages, he said.

Religious and cultural heritages are also effectively preserved, according to the white paper, citing 109 religious and cultural sites in Xinjiang which have been placed under the protection of the autonomous region and the state.

"The Xinjiang government attaches equal importance to administration and services. While legally administrating religious affairs, it endeavors to satisfy believers' normal religious requirements," it read.

COMBAT RELIGIOUS EXTREMISM

The white paper drew a fine line between religious freedom and extremist activities that undermine peace and development.

It defended China's efforts in fighting religious extremism, saying it is a just act to safeguard the fundamental interests of the country and the people.

Religious extremism is by nature "anti-human, anti-society, anti-civilization and anti-religion," read the white paper.

Affected by international religious extremism, religious extremism has grown and spread in Xinjiang in recent years.

Religious extremist forces have designed and carried out a series of severe and violent terrorist attacks in China, injuring or killing religious personnel and believers and other innocent people, read the paper.

It said crackdown on terrorism and extremism is in accordance with relevant laws and regulations, such as the Criminal Law and the Counterterrorism Law, and is an important part of the battle of the world community against religious extremism.

China prohibits any organization or individual from splitting the country, disseminating extremist religious thoughts, inciting ethnic hatred, undermining national unity, disturbing social order, or impairing citizens' physical and mental health in the name of religion.

The key to combating extremism lies in local communities, where problems tend to form, Shewket Imin said.

He cited a three-year campaign in Xinjiang, launched in 2014, which involves some 210,000 officials visiting villagers, understanding the conditions they live in and "winning their hearts."8

RELIGIOUS INDEPENDENCE AND SELF-MANAGEMENT

Meanwhile, the while paper warned of foreign interference and even "domination" in China's religious affairs.

China upholds the principle of independence and self-management in religious undertakings and foreign organizations and individuals must not interfere, the document said.

China's religious undertakings are run by its own religious groups, personnel or citizens, and the country's religious affairs or organizations are "not subject to any foreign domination," it stated.

Foreigners must abide by Chinese laws and regulations when participating in religious activities within Chinese territory and must not interfere in China's religious affairs, it read.

"As a provincial-level administrative region of China, Xinjiang sticks to the principle of independence and self-management in terms of its religious affairs," it said.

It went on to say that the Chinese government resolutely opposes the politicization of religious matters and any other country's interference in China's internal affairs in the name of religion.

"China ... will never allow any foreign organization or individual to interfere with China's religious affairs," the white paper said.

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