WASHINGTON – Following in the footsteps of American clergyman, Nobel Prize winner, and paragon of nonviolent protest, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., three Chinese Christian activists hope to use non-violent approaches and China’s own constitution to defend religious freedom in the communist state.
During the meeting with U.S. President Bush at the White House on Thursday – Yu Jie, Li Baiguang and Wang Yi – shared testimonies of the Chinese government’s control on religion and persecution of "house" churches – unofficial churches not registered with the government. The religious freedom advocates expressed their determination to fight for the right of freedom of worship and expression through nonviolent methods such as informing people of the real situation in China through writings and the internet as well as providing legal aid to those persecuted for their faith.
"We think the Chinese brothers and sisters in China … should study law and use their rights to protect religious freedom," said Dr. Li Baiguang, a prominent writer-peasants’ right advocate and legal professional. Li has been imprisoned three times and was the first legal representative for peasants protesting against government land-seizures.
"Before, the persecuted house church … could only pray for the ones who persecuted them, not knowing what else they can do. Now, we will teach them to use the law as a defense to protect themselves," Li told the San Francisco-based Gospel Herald on Thursday directly following the White House meeting. Li said he will continue to give legal advice to those persecuted by the Chinese government.
Li was named Asia Newsweek’s "Persons of the Year" of 2005 and has brought legal action against the Chinese government on behalf of over 100,000 peasants. His most recent "wrongful" imprisonment occurred in late 2005 when he was arrested and imprisoned for 37 days in Fu’an for providing farmers with legal advice in their battle against illicit land seizures carried out by the government.
Law Professor Wang Yi also is a firm believer in the use of law to protect religious freedom. The pro-democracy writer whose award-nominated weblog was shut down by the Chinese government addressed the issue of internet filters and American search engine companies with the president. Yi said that search engine companies such as Yahoo provide the Chinese government with information used to imprison those critical of the government including many writers and human and religious freedom advocates. The law expert, similar to Li, has offered legal advice to persecuted individuals including Pastor Cai Zhuohua, a Christian house church leader currently imprisoned for printing and distributing Bibles.
According to Bob Fu, a leading voice in the world for the persecuted Church in China who spoke to the three Christian dissidents following their meeting, Bush was "very concerned about the lack of progress on religious freedom in China" and vowed to raise the issue again and again. Fu also noted that the president was "pleased to hear" that the activists want to use nonviolence like Martin Luther King to evoke change in their country.
Li complimented Bush for his spirituality, saying that Bush and the American government had a deep "understanding for the importance of religion."
"Before Bush was not Christian, and he got in the habit of drinking. When he believed [in God], God changed him," said Li, who added that Bush showed genuine concern for the Christian situation in China, according to Gospel Herald.
Bush has often raised concerns for religious freedom in China in the past, including during his visit to Beijing in November and during Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visit to the White House in April.
Fu said that the meeting with Bush was "certainly … a spiritual encouragement to persecuted brothers and the sisters in China."