The Chinese government's latest move to tighten control over the religious practices of Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region drew criticism from Human Rights Watch. Effective February 1, 2024, revised regulations aimed to "Sinicize" religions, aligning them more closely with Han Chinese culture and the ideology of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
The revisions marked President Xi Jinping's ongoing effort since 2016 to reshape religious practices and places of worship in Xinjiang. Human Rights Watch stated that the 2024 changes aligned the region's regulatory framework with national laws and restrictions introduced since 2014.
According to Human Rights Watch, the regulations emphasized the need for religions to "practice the core values of socialism" and adhere to the "Sinicization" direction. Notably, places of worship, whether built, renovated, expanded, or rebuilt, were required to reflect Chinese characteristics in architecture, sculptures, paintings, and decorations.
The regulations also imposed stricter requirements for religious institutions applying to create places of worship, along with more cumbersome approval processes for construction, expansion, alteration, and relocation of these places.
Beyond the physical aspects, the "Sinicization" process extended to the content of religious teachings. Places of worship were mandated to interpret teachings in line with contemporary China's development and progress, emphasizing the values of the Chinese Communist Party.
This move was seen as the latest attempt to suppress Uyghur culture and ideology, following the 2014 amendments that extended state controls over online religious activities and restricted what the authorities deemed "extremist attire."
The revised regulations also introduced a new chapter ensuring government control over religious education. It prohibited religious education by entities not approved by the government and required religious schools to operate with "Chinese characteristics," cultivating patriotic religious talents and interpreting sacred texts in a government-approved manner.
Grassroots Communist Party cadres were empowered by the 2024 revisions to monitor society, requiring them to report any discovery of "illegal religious organizations, illegal preachers, illegal religious activities, or the use of religion to interfere in grassroots public affairs."
Since 2017, China has faced international condemnation for widespread abuses against Uyghurs, including arbitrary detention, torture, forced labor, cultural and religious persecution, and violations of reproductive rights. Human Rights Watch and the United Nations have characterized these actions as "crimes against humanity."
As concerns persisted, international governments were urged to address Beijing's human rights violations in Xinjiang, considering options such as opening domestic criminal cases under the principle of "universal jurisdiction" and advocating for a formal UN investigation into abuses in the region. Human Rights Watch called for coordinated action to hold the Chinese leadership accountable for these grave rights violations in Xinjiang.
Edited and collated by Team TRC