Religious freedom charity Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) has called on the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to raise the issue of freedom of religion violations with the Chinese authorities during her visit to country this week.
In a letter to Michelle Bachelet, CSW raised concerns about restrictive new regulations controlling religious life in China as well as numerous cases of violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief targeting Buddhist, Catholic, Muslim, Protestant and other communities across the country and perpetrated by the Chinese authorities.
The submission draws specific attention to the detention and torture of members of groups labelled as "xie jiao", usually translated into English as "heterodox teachings" or "evil cults", including Falun Gong practitioners and members of the Church of Almighty God.
It also draws attention to freedom of religion and belief (FoRB) concerns in the Uyghur Region, where Uyghurs and others have been arbitrary detained for peaceful religious acts and mosques and sacred sites have been destroyed.
CSW's CEO Scot Bower said: "The visit of the UN High Commissioner to China - the first such visit to China since 2005 - presents both risks and opportunities. A meaningful visit could provide a vital step towards holding perpetrators of human rights violations accountable, by investigating and exposing abuses, and engaging with religious and ethnic minority groups, survivors, activists and civil society. However, core minimum conditions must be met. The High Commissioner must ensure transparency around crucial aspects of the visit, including on measures taken to ensure independent, unfettered access, and should publicly report on, and interrupt the visit if this is impeded by the Chinese authorities."
Speaking to Premier, CSW's China Advocacy Officer 'Jane' said :
"Freedom of religion or belief in China is going from bad to worse all the time and this is true for all religious groups across the country. We hear new reports of violations against religious communities every week if not every day and of course this is very true for Christians as well."
During the six-day trip, Bachelet will visit Xinjiang, where the High Commissioner's office said last year it believes the mostly Muslim ethnic Uyghurs have been unlawfully detained, mistreated and forced to work.
The Chinese foreign ministry said it welcomes her but rejects "political manipulation" when asked by media if she can visit the detention centres, re-education camps and prisons where rights groups say Uyghurs have been mistreated. China has repeatedly denied any mistreatment of Uyghurs.
"The purpose of the private visit is to enhance exchanges and cooperation between both sides and promote the international cause of human rights," ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a media briefing on Monday.
He said that Bachelet's visit will be conducted in a "closed loop", referring to a way of isolating people within a "bubble" to prevent the COVID-19 virus from potentially spreading.
This means that Bachelet will not be able to have free and spontaneous in-person meetings with anyone who has not been pre-arranged by China to be brought inside the "bubble".
Bachelet's office posted a photo of her on Twitter in a meeting room with Chinese officials including Foreign Minister Wang Yi and said: "We will be discussing sensitive, important human rights issues, and I hope this visit will help us work together to advance human rights in China and globally."
CSW has also joined other organisations in calling on the High Commissioner to release a report on serious human rights violations in the Uyghur region. In December, a spokesperson for OHCHR stated the report would be released 'in a matter of a few weeks', but this has not happened.
International scrutiny of the government's actions in Xinjiang heightened in 2018 after the United Nations said 1 million Uyghurs were held in "massive internment camps" set up for political indoctrination.
China initially denied the existence of any camps, then later admitted it had set up "vocational training centres" with dormitories where people can "voluntarily" check themselves in to learn about law, Chinese language and vocational skills.
The atheist ruling Communist Party said such centres are necessary to curb the "Three Forces" of terrorism, separatism and religious radicalism in Xinjiang, which borders Central Asia on China's north-western frontier.
Xinjiang Governor Shohrat Zakir said in 2019 all trainees had "graduated".
Bower added: "Without transparent and concrete outcomes, this visit risks compounding the disappointment of witnesses and survivors of human rights violations, both inside China and in the diaspora. Around the world, Chinese Christians, Uyghurs, Tibetans, Falun Gong practitioners, Hong Kongers and many others are looking to the UN, and the international community, to end violations in China. We call on the High Commissioner to ensure that this visit is a step in that direction."