A serious situation regarding religious liberty has been quietly developing in China, sources say. Although many had hoped that the Communist Party’s religious policy -- and especially its attitude towards the Christian church -- would liberalize in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics in 2008, sources say there is now clear evidence of a crackdown on “illegal religious activities,” especially unregistered Christian group activities, as well as a tightening of controls on academic and media activities related to religion.
According to Compass News, government authorities reportedly expanded the office which was set up to suppress the Falun Gong cult late last year so that it could deal with other unauthorized religious groups as well, which they label, sometimes very arbitrarily, as “cults.”
Meanwhile, persecution watch-dogs such as Forum 18, which monitors religious persecution in Communist and former Soviet states, also reported last month that the government has been tightening censorship over Internet sites and the publication of religious books.
There have also been reports of a wave of arrests in recent months. On July 12, around 100 House Church Christians were reportedly arrested in remote Xinjiang province. The arrests came during a meeting organized by the Ying Shang church, a large house church network based in Anhui province. Most have since been released, but Luo Bing Yin, a key leader of the Ying Shang movement, has been imprisoned.
Police also detained Jin Da, general secretary of the state-controlled Three Self Patriotic Movement church in Ningbo city, Zhejiang province, who was present at the meeting.
Another 40 house church leaders were arrested on July 17 at a training seminar in Cheng Du, Sichuan province.
On August 6, approximately 100 House Church Christians, meeting for a summer retreat near Kaifeng, Henan province, were surrounded by 200 military police and Public Security Bureau (PSB) officers. All were arrested. Those from outside Henan were sent back to their home provinces, where some have been sentenced or placed under strict surveillance.
Reports have also emerged of arrests in China’s Catholic underground. Police detained eight priests in a raid on an unofficial Catholic retreat in Hebei province on August 17. Three other Catholic bishops were arrested in May, prompting a protest from the Vatican in Rome.
Compass reports that some observers believe China is “headed back down a dead-end road unsuited to its diverse cultural and religious landscape,” and “entirely at odds with its responsibility as a member of the United Nations Security Council to propagate freedom of religion and belief within her borders.”