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The Great Religious Wall of China

Great Wall of China Image by Andy Leung
Great Wall of China Image by Andy Leung
As many as a million Muslim Uighurs are currently imprisoned in Chinese “re-education camps,” according to new data released by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). ICIJ sources say classified Chinese manuals detail mass arrests, internment and surveillance.

Chinese officials say that the education is voluntary, and allowed Western journalists to tour one such camp. But the BBC maintains the Uighurs are locked up, indoctrinated and punished. The leak is only the latest in a series of revelations about Chinese repression of religion and religious minorities, the latest round of which began several years ago.

Bitter Winter, an online publication focused on religious freedom in China, said that the government has gone to great lengths to stop information leaks about official religious policy, while tightening social media and communication censorship. If “harmful” information begins to trend, teams of government commentators swing into action to divert public opinion. Bitter Winter itself has been designated a “hostile website” and reporters – who use pseudonyms – have been found and arrested, and could face up to 15 years in prison.

In addition, the Communist Chinese Party has been destroying or altering religious statues, blowing them up, ordering them covered, or in some cases, beheading them and replacing the heads of religious figures with Chinese emperors. In a recent case, a Buddhist statue was replaced with a giant teapot.

The Chinese Communist Party has also said it will choose the Dalai Lama’s successor, part of the CCP’s continuing effort to crush Tibetan Buddhism and culture. Tibetan Buddhists from around the world met in India recently and resolved that the reincarnation tradition would continue and that the Dalai Lama was the only one with the right to choose a successor. The Chinese government has already named a Panchen Lama, usurping the right of the Buddhists themselves to name the Panchen Lama, second highest to the Dalai Lama in the Buddhist hierarchy. When the Dalai Lama named Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as Panchen Lama in 1995, the State Council of the People’s Republic of China refused to accept him, charged the head of the search committee with treason and took the young boy into so-called “protective custody.” He has not seen in public since.

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