Human rights watchdogs in the U.S. have geared up to push China to reform its grim human rights policies, especially on the aspect of religious freedom, while U.S. President George Bush meets with Chinese President Hu Jintao.
"It’s time for China’s leadership to deliver on its promises," said Brad Adams, director of the Asia division at New-York based Human Rights Watch (HRW), in a statement. "For years we’ve been hearing, ‘first economic reform, then political reform.’ President Bush must insist that the time for reform is now, before the list of abuses gets even longer."
In a letter dated April 5 to the President Bush from HRW, six pressing issues in China were addressed, including increased restrictions on free expression; unjust torture of detainees and criminals suspects; restrictions on the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and to act on those beliefs; harassment and arrest of HIV/AIDS activists; abuse of petitioners seeking remedies for official misconduct; and absence of progress in holding national elections.
Concerning religious repression, HRW condemned the Chinese government for further restricting the right to freedom of religion in China by the introduction of the new "Regulations on Religious Affairs" effective on March 1, 2005. All places of worships are required to register with the local authorities; otherwise these unregistered groups will be subjected to harassment and crackdown.
"The crackdowns on large-scale gatherings of ‘underground’ Catholics and evangelical Protestants, and intimidation of religious leaders aimed at forcing them to publicly affiliate with officially sanctioned religious organizations," HRW stated.
Even though China has always claimed the right to religious freedom for all Chinese citizens in its Constitution, actually believers are only free to worship within limits, in the boundary of government-sanctioned churches.
The Rev. Cao Shengjie, president of the China Christian Council, speaks at a press conference in Beijing Tuesday. Cao also openly admitted that "Christians are free to worship and spread their faith as long as they do so privately."
"So we don't have religious activities in public places because we don't want to cause religious disharmony," Cao said, adding that government regulations do allow worship in authorized venues.
HWR urged Bush to call upon Hu to "abolish official registration of religious organizations and sites," "advocate passage of State Council directives that will ensure that small families can conduct religious study and worship without registration, and that children may undertake religious education."
As the U.S. has always taken a hard-line stance in continuous negotiation with the Chinese government on human rights issue, once again the China-U.S. talks this time will be a battle to fight for the Chinese.
House subcommittee of Global Human Rights has also drawn into attention of the issue. Chairman Rep. Chris Smith will convene a hearing Wednesday- one day before President Bush will be meet with Hu in Washington D.C. - to examine China's human rights record, including areas such as China's compliance with international labor standards, censorship of the Internet, implementation of the right of Chinese citizens to worship freely, and the destructive effects on Chinese society of its government's coercive one-child policy.
Smith lamented that even though China’s economy has improved somewhat, human rights situation remains "abysmal." In particular, Smith mentioned of the freedom of access to information and speech in China, in the light of the recent critics against Google’s self-censorship of sensitive web contents.
Material about human rights, Tibet, Taiwanese independence, the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre and other topics sensitive to Beijing as well as Christian "God" and "Christ" are blocked in a certain extent.
"It is important to note that the freedoms that we enjoy in America allow individuals to publish information and news on the Web unfiltered - even from within the walls of Congress," Smith said. "Those freedoms do not exist in China and individuals who attempt to speak freely are imprisoned and even tortured, and U.S. corporations should not be aiding in that process."
On Tuesday, four rights and church institutions- the Texas-based China Aid Association (CAA), Institute of Religion and Public Policy, Jubilee Campaign, USA and Midland Ministerial Alliance- have released 2005 report on torture and abuse against independent Chinese House church members and leaders. The report was released to coincide the critical opportunity this time and to highlight the religious freedom issues in China.
The report recounts detailed testimonies on some of the most egregious cases of brutality and state-sponsored torture of Evangelical Christians in 2005, with photos evidence and video interviews of 19 believers from five different provinces, as documented by CAA.
"The report concludes that the PRC government demonstrates no regard for national nor international laws in their attempt to purge independent Christian faith from China. The report urges the international community to hold those officials (some named in the report) who involved torture and abuse accountable," a statement from CAA stated.
CAA encourages Christians to write their concerns over religious freedom in China to the Chinese Embassy and Consulates in the U.S. in each state.
The meeting between President Bush and Hu is scheduled for April 20 in Washington D.C.