|2000 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom:
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
U.S. Department of State, September 5, 2000
On December 20, 1999, Macau reverted from Portuguese to Chinese administration (the handover) and became a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People's Republic of China with a high degree of autonomy. Macau's Basic Law (mini-constitution) and 1998 Religious Freedom Ordinance provide for freedom of religion and prohibit discrimination on the basis of religious practice, and the Macau SAR Government respects these rights in practice.
There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report. However, during the handover ceremonies, police prevented foreign practitioners of Falun Gong, a spiritual movement that does not consider itself a religion, from demonstrating. Since the handover, senior SAR Government officials have reaffirmed that practitioners of Falun Gong may continue their legal activities without government interference.
The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights. Consulate General officers from Hong Kong meet regularly with religious leaders.
Section I. Government Policy on Freedom of Religion
On December 20, 1999, Macau reverted from Portuguese to Chinese sovereignty and became a Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China. The Basic Law, Macau's mini-constitution, provides for freedom of conscience, freedom of religious belief, and freedom to preach and to conduct and participate in religious activities in public. The July 1998 Freedom of Religion Ordinance, which continued to apply after the handover, provides for freedom of religion, privacy of religious belief, freedom of religious assembly, freedom to hold religious processions, and freedom of religious education. The Macau Government respects these rights in practice.
The Religious Freedom Ordinance requires the registration of religious organizations. This is handled by the SAR's Identification Services Office. There have been no reports of discrimination in the registration process. Practitioners of Falun Gong (a spiritual movement that does not consider itself a religion) have not applied for registration because a local lawyer advised them that their application for registration would not be approved since the Falun Gong was banned in mainland China in October 1999. The Identification Services Office has not issued any instructions regarding the Falun Gong, and senior SAR Government officials have reaffirmed that practitioners of Falun Gong may continue their legal activities without government interference. Falun Gong practitioners continue their daily exercises in Macau's public parks.
According to 1996 census figures, of the more than 355,000 persons surveyed (the total population is 450,000), 60.9 percent have no religious affiliation, 16.8 percent are Buddhist, 6.7 percent are Roman Catholic, 1.7 percent are Protestant, and 13.9 percent are "other" (a combination of Buddhists, Taoists, and followers of Confucianism). The enclave's Roman Catholics recognize the Pope as the head of the Church. The number of active Falun Gong practitioners declined from approximately 100 persons to about 20 after the movement was banned in mainland China.
A wide range of faiths are represented in the Government, the judiciary, and the civil service.
The Freedom of Religion Ordinance stipulates that religious groups may maintain and develop relations with religious groups abroad.
Missionaries are free to conduct missionary activities and are active in the enclave. More than 30,000 children are enrolled in Catholic schools, and a large number of influential non-Christians have had Christian educations.
According to Falun Gong practitioners, the group's materials, available for sale in two Macau stores before Falun Gong was banned on the mainland in October 1999, were removed from the shelves by store management. However, the Government has taken no action to limit their availability.
Religious bodies may apply to use electronic media to preach.
There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered during this report.
There were no reports of religious detainees or prisoners.
Governmental Abuses of Religious Freedom
On December 19, 1999 (just prior to the handover of Macau from Portuguese to Chinese sovereignty), the Portuguese colonial authorities detained 30 foreign Falun Gong practitioners who were doing qigong exercises and carrying signs near a large hotel. After questioning the practitioners, the authorities expelled them to Hong Kong. The practitioners did not have permission to demonstrate, and as foreigners did not have the legal right to demonstrate.
Forced Religious Conversion of Minor U.S. Citizens
There were no reports of the forced religious conversion of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the Government's refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.
Section II. Societal Attitudes
Relations between the various religious communities are amicable. Citizens are generally very tolerant of other religious views and practices. Public ceremonies and dedications often include prayers by both Christian and Buddhist groups.
Section III. U.S. Government Policy
The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights. Officers from the Consulate General in Hong Kong protested the detention and expulsion of foreign Falun Gong practitioners by the Portuguese colonial government in December 1999. Officers from the Consulate General in Hong Kong meet regularly with religious leaders.
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