CHINA’S BLACKLIST OF FORBIDDEN RELIGIONS – The Chinese Communist Party’s War on Religious Liberty

The Black-Lists: The Evolution of China’s List of “Illegal and Evil Cults”

Xi Jinping

Edward A. Irons

The Hong Kong Institute for Culture, Commerce and Religion

Bublished by CESNUR:

ABSTRACT: In China, departments under the central government have published lists of banned and illegal religious groups since 1995. This practice can be seen as an extension of traditional ways of categorizing heterodox associations dating back to imperial times. Groups on the current list are often identified as xie jiao—normally translated as “evil cults.” The list is thus directly connected to questions of the categorization of religion in China. The study of the lists provides insight into the government’s evolving policy on religion, as well as the legal environment for religious activity.

Over the past quarter century, China has sporadically published lists of banned religious groups. These lists as they have been consolidated and published reflect the government’s evolved thinking on religious policy, and illuminate significant aspects of the contemporary religious scene in China while offering insights into the government’s official policy toward religion. The consolidated lists were published in 1995, 2000, again in 2014, and most recently in September of 2017. These published announcements constitute the “lists” proper. They are supplemented by a number of individual circulars that speak to a more limited number of the banned groups, which provide content that would be subsequently compiled into the longer lists.

A range of agencies are involved in these circulars, but the major lists are published by Public Safety, the State Council, both government agencies, and the General Office of the Central Committee, a department of the party. Recent lists appear under the aegis of the recently-established agency established to counter xie jiao groups, the Anti-Cult Association.

Xie Jiao (邪教)

Nearly all of the lists place the individual groups in the category of xie jiao. This term is widely translated inside and outside China to mean “cult.” While convenient for translators, this usage is a misleading simplification. Xie jiao in fact has a long history of its own (Wu 2016). It was used as early as the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) to mean heterodox, harmful sects. In the 1990s, xie jiaowas applied as a convenient, well-known term for translating a foreign word, “cult,” that had its own separate and complex background. Like current usage of “cult” in many countries, xie jiao has become a term in common usage. Clearly, the two terms come from different backgrounds. Yet, for better or worse, cult and xie jiao are two concepts whose fates remain intermingled.

The 2000 circular gives a useful official definition of xie jiao. A xie jiao is any group that:

a. establishes an illegal organization in the name of religion, qigong, etc.;

b. deifies its leaders;

c. initiates and spreads superstitions and heterodox beliefs;

d. utilizes various means to fabricate and spread superstitions and heterodox [or cultic] beliefs to excite doubts and deceive the people, and recruit and control its members by various means;

e. engages in disturbing social order in an organized manner that brings injury to the lives and properties of the citizens (危害公民生命財產安全等活動).

Each of the lists discussed below are xie jiao lists. The individual groups are banned because they are xie jiao, are harmful, and are hence illegal. Xie jiao, an existing concept in the Chinese political lexicon, has been applied to a contemporary religious landscape. This alerts us to the importance of the pre- Communist period in understanding how illegal religious groups are viewed. So, before listing the contemporary groups, I will discuss how such groups were seen in the past.

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China’s Persecution of Christians Beyond it’s Borders


Producers of KBS – Korean National TV – interview Peter Zoehrer (FOREF Europe)

On September 2–4, 2018, Austrian journalist Peter Zoehrer was an eyewitness to false “spontaneous demonstrations” staged by the CCP and Korean anti-cultists against asylum seekers of The Church of Almighty God in Seoul. He tells the whole story to Bitter Winter.

Rosita Šorytė

Bitter Winter reported extensively about the false “spontaneous demonstrations” organized in South Korea between August 30 and September 4 by the Chinese Communist Party and Korean anti-cultists against the asylum seekers of The Church of Almighty God, a Chinese Christian new religious movement heavily persecuted in China.

We also reported that an Austrian journalist, Peter Zoehrer, was an eyewitness to the events. Zoehrer is also the secretary of FOREF (Forum for Religious Freedom Europe)and has uploaded on FOREF’s YouTube channel videos of the events. We have interviewed Zoehrer in Warsaw, where he was attending the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe).

You interviewed several members of The Church of Almighty God (CAG) about persecution and torture, what was your experience?

Yes, I can tell honestly, that the last four days of my stay in Korea were some of the most intense, exhausting but at the same time enriching days in my entire lifetime. During this period, I interviewed 17 members of The Church of the Almighty God. Not only this: five of them were victims of physical torture. All of them have been persecuted in China. They fled to South Korea to escape permanent surveillance by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) and in desperate search for religious freedom.

I was shocked when I saw members of an anti-cult group demonstrating outside their church in Seoul and asking their members to be deported back to China where everybody knows they will be arrested, jailed, interrogated and tortured.

During these few days I had the extraordinary chance to meet the members of a religious community that has experienced severe persecution by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) since the early 1990s. It is said that on the CCP index of the twenty most “dangerous cults“ The Church of the Almighty God is ranking among the top seven.

Through the interviews, I also had the unique opportunity to hear very personal, often tearful stories of the members who suffered unspeakable persecution because of their faith. The CCP established a nearly perfect system of thought-control by using countless spies as well as their state of the art observation technology. Additionally, they observe believers through neighbours, teachers, and even relatives and family members. Already at elementary school, the CCP instills fear of punishment into children, should they start to believe in God.

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Chinas grenzüberschreitende Christenverfolgung


Team des Koreanisches Nationalen Fernsehens KBS und Peter Peter Zoehrer beim Interview

In der Zeit vom 2. – 4. September 2018 wurde der österreichische Journalist Peter Zoehrer Augenzeuge der falschen, von der KPCh und koreanischen Anti-Sekten-Aktivisten inszenierten “Spontandemonstrationen“ gegen asylsuchende Angehörige der Kirche des Allmächtigen Gottes in Seoul. Er übermittelte Bitter Winter einen vollständigen Bericht der Ereignisse.

Rosita Šorytė

Bitter Winter berichtete ausführlich über die falschen “Spontandemonstrationen“gegen asylsuchende Angehörige der Kirche des Allmächtigen Gottes (einer neuen christlich-religiösen Bewegung in China, die dort unter starker Verfolgung leidet), die zwischen dem 30. August und dem 4. September von der Kommunistischen Partei Chinas und koreanischen Anti-Sekten-Aktivisten in Südkorea organisiert worden waren.

Wir berichteten ebenfalls, dass der österreichische Journalist Peter Zoehrer Augenzeuge der Ereignisse wurde. Zoehrer, der auch Schriftführer von FOREF (Forum Religionsfreiheit Europa) ist, hat Videos von den Ereignissen auf den YouTube-Kanal von FOREF gestellt. Wir haben Zoehrer in Warschau interviewt, wo er am Human Dimension Implementation Meeting der OSZE (Organisation für Sicherheit und Zusammenarbeit in Europa) teilnahm.

Sie haben mit mehreren Mitgliedern der Kirche des Allmächtigen Gottes (KAG) über Verfolgung und Folter gesprochen – was haben Sie erfahren?

Nun, ich kann wirklich sagen, dass die letzten vier Tage meines Aufenthalts in Korea zu den intensivsten Tagen meines Lebens gehört haben. Sie waren anstrengend, aber gleichzeitig auch sehr bereichernd. In dieser Zeit habe ich mit 17 Mitgliedern der Kirche des Allmächtigen Gottes Interviews geführt. Und nicht nur das: Fünf meiner Gesprächspartner waren Opfer körperlicher Folter. Alle sind in China verfolgt worden. Sie sind nach Südkorea geflohen, um der ständigen Überwachung durch die KPCh (Kommunistische Partei Chinas) zu entgehen. Sie waren auf der verzweifelten Suche nach Religionsfreiheit.

Ich war entsetzt, als ich gesehen habe, wie Anti-Sekten-Gruppen vor ihrer Kirche in Seoul demonstriert und gefordert haben, die Mitglieder der Kirche sollten zurück nach China gebracht werden – wo doch jeder weiß, dass sie dort festgenommen, ins Gefängnis geworfen, verhört und gefoltert werden.

Während dieser kurzen Tage hatte ich die außergewöhnliche Gelegenheit, Mitglieder einer religiösen Gemeinschaft kennenzulernen, die seit den frühen 1990 schwerer Verfolgung durch die Kommunistische Partei Chinas ausgesetzt ist. Es heißt auf der KPCh-Liste der zwanzig “gefährlichsten Sekten“, befände sich die Kirche des Allmächtigen Gottes unter den ersten sieben.

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Posted in Anti-Cult Movement, CESNUR, China, Christians, Commentaries and Interviews, Europe, FoRB Violations, FOREF Europe, HRWF, Human Rights, Interviews, Peking, Persecution of Religious Groups, Religion, Religious Discrimination, Religious Freedom, Religious Intolerance, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

US Statement on Religious Freedom – OSCE / ODIHR in Warsaw (Annual Meeting, 2018)

Working Session 7: Fundamental freedoms 1, including: Freedom of thought, conscience, religion, or belief

Pastor Andrew Brunson (center), who has been under house arresting Turkey since July following his prolonged and unjust detention on baseless terrorism charges.

As prepared for delivery by Ambassador Sam BrownbackAmbassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom,
Warsaw, September 13, 2018

Promoting and defending international religious freedom is a fundamental issue for the United States. This July, U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo hosted the first Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom. Following the Ministerial, the United States issued the Potomac Declaration and the Potomac Plan of Action. The Declaration reaffirms the fundamental freedom of religion or belief. The Plan of Action provides concrete ways to defend it. Separately, we thank Armenia, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Kosovo, Lithuania, Poland, and the United Kingdom for signing on to one or more of the statements of concern issued at the Ministerial, including on “Counterterrorism as a False Pretext for Religious Freedom Repression,” “Religious Freedom Repression by Non-State Actors, including Terrorist Groups,” and “Blasphemy/Apostasy Laws.” The statements remain open for endorsement, and we invite all countries to join.

During the Ministerial, the United States highlighted one country for its recent progress: Uzbekistan. President Mirziyoyev and his government have taken significant positive steps including: easing registration requirements for religious organizations; registering the Presbyterian church “Light of the World”; permitting children to attend mosques; removing 23,000 names from a list of so-called “extremists”; releasing hundreds of prisoners held for their religious beliefs; and passing a “road map” to implement the recommendations of the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief.

Uzbekistan has more to do to institutionalize these reforms and protect religious freedom for all, consistent with Uzbekistan’s international obligations and commitments. We encourage Uzbekistan to work with the OSCE, the UN Special Rapporteur for Religion or Belief, and other international experts as it drafts new laws and pursues new policies. We urge the government to release the remaining prisoners arrested for practicing their religion. We also urge authorities to cease violating the rights of individuals to freely and peacefully gather and express their religious views publicly. The government should continue to honor its public statements to register peaceful religious congregations without a cumbersome, multi-tier bureaucratic practice.

Unfortunately, a number of OSCE participating states are not taking actions to promote religious freedom; instead they are violating this human right. The Russian Federation continues to cloak its restrictive laws and legal rulings in trappings of combating so-called “extremism”. Russian law enforcement agencies have escalated targeted raids, detentions, arrests, criminal prosecutions, and imprisonments of Jehovah’s Witnesses on absurd “extremism” grounds. Other members of peaceful religious groups, including some Muslims, have similarly been targeted as “extremists.” According to credible NGO accounts, Russia currently imprisons over 130 people for their peaceful religious practice.

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OSCE / HDIM Warsaw: Russia’s Persecution of the Jehovah Witnesses – Joined Statement by HRWF & FOREF Europe

Russia’s ongoing Persecution of the Jehovah Witnesses

Willy Fautre, Director of Human Rights Without Frontiers delivers a joint statement by HRWF & FOREF Europe on the Persecution of Jehovahs Witnesses in Russia


Joined Statement by HRWF & FOREF Europe at the OSCE / Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, Warsaw, 13.09.2018


In the Russian Federation, peaceful and law-abiding Jehovah’s Witnesses are being violently detained by security forces who physically and verbally ill-treat them as if they are terrorists based on the government’s assertion that their books and teachings “undermine confidence in Christian teachings.” They are treated as violent, dangerous criminals, as members of an “extremist” organization.

We know of 54 prosecutions under Administrative Code Article 20.29 in 2017, resulting in 49 convictions, and the confiscation and destruction of literature. We know of 23 members of the faith who are incarcerated, all based on an April 2017 Supreme Court Ruling that banned all Jehovah’s Witness groups.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are under surveillance by wiretapping and videotaping.

More than 200 Jehovah’s Witnesses have asked for asylum in Finland, fleeing police raids, criminal prosecution, and beatings.

Russia’s Presidential Council on Human Rights has questioned the legality and validity of the criminal prosecutions of Jehovah’s Witnesses, stating that “There is a clear contradiction between the stated position of the Government of the Russian Federation and law enforcement practice. This is a cause for concern, as criminal prosecutions and arrests have become endemic.”

Denials by the Government of the Russian Federation in response to concerns raised by the United Nations Human Rights Committee and the European Court of Human Rights, to the effect that there is no threat to freedom of religion posed by the Supreme Court Ruling and by the follow-up practices to which we have referred, lack credulity. The Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Russian Federation are being arrested, detained and prosecuted because of their beliefs.

The legalistic denials are simply evidence of a profound contempt for international human rights law and for those institutions. And we are sorry to observe that the Russian Federation is also demonstrating its contempt for political commitments undertaken here, in the OSCE. The persecution of an entire religious community by a participating State is unique in the history of the Helsinki Process. It sets a terrifying precedent as evidence of the failure of this organization to protect human rights.


Like all of the main independent Russian human rights organizations, some of which were brutally persecuted by the Soviet Union but have illuminated principles that should inform civil society human rights activity, we demand that the Russian Federation:

  • put an end to the prosecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses;
  • release from custody of all charged with extremism under Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code;
  • overturn the Supreme court ruling prohibiting the activity of Jehovah’s Witness organizations.

We urge all participating States to make the same points and to back them up with bilateral policies that make clear that no democratic state that truly honors human rights can have a normal relationship with the Russian Federation as long as its persecution of the Jehovah’s Witnesses persists.

Thank you.

Posted in Aaron Rhodes, FoRB Violations, FOREF Europe, HRWF, Jehovah's Witnesses, OSCE, Religious Discrimination, Religious Intolerance, Russia | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Stop the Persecution of Chinese Refugees in South Korea

Stop the Persecution of Chinese Refugees of The Church of Almighty God in South Korea

Heavily persecuted in China, with many documented cases of torture and extra-judicial killings, hundreds of members of The Church of Almighty God have escaped to South Korea, where they are seeking refugee status. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is pursuing them also in Korea. It has coerced or persuaded with threats their relatives to go to Korea and ask that the refugees “return home,” i.e. go back to China where they would not go “home” but to jail, and is staging false “spontaneous demonstrations” with the help of local organizations against the “cults.”

It is a scandal that for the CCP persecuting religious dissidents in China is not enough. They are pursued even in the countries where they have escaped, with the help of misguided “anti-cultists” and pro-Chinese sympathizers.

We ask the Chinese authorities to immediately stop this campaign of hate against harmless refugees, and the Korean authorities to grant asylum to the believers of The Church of Almighty God who, should they return to China, would face arrest, detention, and probable torture.

August 31, 2018

CAP-LC Coordination des Associations et des Particuliers pour la Liberté de Conscience

CESNUR – Center for Studies on New Religions

EIFRF European Inter-Religious Forum for Religious Freedom

FOB – European Federation for Freedom of Belief

FOREF – Forum for Religious Freedom Europe

HRWF – Human Rights Without Frontiers

LIREC – Center for Studies on Freedom of Belief, Religion and Conscience

ORLIR – International Observatory of Religious Liberty of Refugees

Soteria International

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Do Not Forget Religious Liberty – Open Letter to Giovanni Tria

An Open Letter to the Italian Minister of Economy, Mr. Giovanni Tria. While Discussing Economy with China, Do Not Forget Religious Liberty

Italian Minister of Economy, Mr. Giovanni Tria

Dear Mr. Tria:

We wish you a fruitful visit to China on behalf of Italian economic interests.

Last July, Italy was an official participant in the Washington D.C. “Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom”. There, 82 countries solemnly agreed that religious liberty should be regarded as a non-negotiable cornerstone of international relations.

We hope that the good economic relationships between China and Italy may help you in raising with your Chinese counterparts the matter of the gross violations of religious liberty in China, which became even worse with the new laws on religion that came into force in 2018.

Reliable academic sources report that one and a half million Chinese are detained in “transformation through education” camps because of their religious beliefs. They include Uyghur and non-Uyghur Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, Christians of several denominations, and members of new religious movements banned as “heterodox teachings” (xie jiao) and continuously defamed through fake news campaigns, including The Church of Almighty God and Falun Gong. Several NGOs documented numerous instances of mass arrests, extra-judicial killings, and torture. Even in the government-controlled religious communities, religion is treated in the same way as pornography, since it is entirely forbidden to minors, who are not even allowed to enter places of worship.

Laudably, Italy is a leading country in defending religious liberty internationally. We trust that your visit to China will be an opportunity to reiterate this position.

  • CAP-LC Coordination des associations et des particuliers pour la liberté de conscience
  • CESNUR – Center for Studies on New Religions
  • EIFRF – European Inter-Religious Forum for Religious Freedom
  • FOB – European Federation for Freedom of Belief
  • FOREF – Forum for Religious Freedom Europe
  • HRWF – Human Rights Without Frontiers
  • LIREC – Center for Studies on Freedom of Belief, Religion and Conscience
  • ORLIR – International Observatory of Religious Freedom of Refugees Soteria International

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