WASHINGTON – Amid China’s preparations to host the 2008 Olympic Games, a panelist of witnesses and experts half a world away testified before the U.S. government’s religious freedom agency about China’s intense persecution of religious bodies and people it deems subversive to its control.
Testimonies of heads of organizations supporting the underground church in China were presented before the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom on Wednesday.
Bob Fu, the president of China Aid Association, reported on China’s continuous crackdown of protestant Chinese house churches. He said that the Chinese government has changed its tactics against house churches. The government is now placing greater pressure on church leaders, effectively lowering the numbers of reported incidents of house church raids and arrests.
Another new development in Chinese persecution strategies involve labeling house churches as cults, thus allowing the government to justify its repression of unregistered Protestant churches.
“The changing strategies and tactics of Public Security Officials - interrogations on the spot, accusing church leaders of criminal activities and banning protestant movements as cults – suggest that the Chinese authorities are becoming increasingly concerned about appearing more tolerant of Christians in the eyes of the international community,” commented Fu.
“However there seems to be less evidence of a genuine change in their broad policy.”
China’s communist government only officially recognizes churches that have registered with government-run, designated Protestant and Catholic groups. Many churches have refused to register arguing that Christ is the head of the church, and not the Chinese government. Moreover, many Catholic churches refuse to register with the government run Catholic association because it does not recognize the authority of the Pope.
Joseph Kung, president of The Cardinal Kung Foundation, testified to the Commission about the arrest, torture, imprisonment, or disappearance of underground Catholic bishops in China.
Kung emphasized the case of Bishop Su Zhimin, who was a prominent leader of the underground Roman Catholic Church in China, leading several hundred thousand of underground Catholics. Su was arrested in October 1997 and at one time beaten to the point he suffered extensive hearing loss. His current whereabouts and whether he remains alive are still a mystery.
Sharon Hom, executive director of Human Rights in China, concluded the panel discussion by emphasizing that the United States and western governances should not back down on pressing and promoting human rights in China.
“Chinese government is now using human rights language,” said Hom. “So if they are using the language and they signed onto human rights treaties we should not be backing down in 2007 to say, ‘They might get nervous if we say human rights,’” she argues.
“We should say, ‘Didn’t you sign all these documents that say human rights, so let’s talk about how to promote human rights?,’” added Hom. “So I want to say we should really push it and not back down.”
Others who spoke on the panels included Michael Green, Japan Chair for the Center for Strategic and International Studies and former senior director for Asian Affairs at the National Security Council; Erping Zhang, president of Association for Asia Research; Bhuchung Tsering, vice president of International Campaign for Tibet; and Kamila Telenbidaeva, wife of Huseyin Celil of Uyghur Canadian Association.