Marco Rubio Slams China for Crackdown on Religious Freedom; Calls for Release of Two Human Rights Lawyers

Feb 13, 2017 05:43 PM EST

Florida Senator Marco Rubio has criticized the Chinese government for its continued crackdown on religious freedom and called for the release of two human rights attorneys, Jiang Tianyong and Tang Jingling.

Rubio, the chairman of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, met with the wives of the two lawyers last week as part of a China Aid delegation, and took the Senate floor last week to draw attention to their plight and urge his colleagues to work towards their freedom.

"The Chinese people yearn for the protection of their most basic human rights, and bravely stand with their fellow marginalized and oppressed countrymen," Rubio said. "They are China's greatest asset, not its biggest threat, as the government and Communist Party wrongly believes. Any government, any government, which views its own people with such fear and hostility will, as has often been said, find itself on the wrong side of history."

Jiang, a 45-year old lawyer, was disbarred by the Chinese government because of his vigorous human rights advocacy, including his representation of blind legal advocate Chen Guangcheng, fellow rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, Falun Gong practitioners and other human rights cases.

"Despite the risks of this work, he has been steadfast in his support of the families and of their rights to lawyers and legal advocates caught up in China's sweeping nationwide crackdown on the legal community in July 2015, which ensnared roughly 250 lawyers and activists," Rubio said.

Jin Bianling, Jiang's wife, last heard from her husband on the evening of Nov. 21, 2016, as he prepared to board a train back to Beijing after visiting the family of Xie Yang, an incarcerated human rights lawyer.

However, when the train arrived the next morning, Jiang was not aboard, and officials later announced that he was being held at an undisclosed location. To this day, Jiang has not been allowed visits from his family or access to a lawyer.

"All of these realities underscore that China remains a country of rule by law," Rubio said. "As such, lawyers, advocates, dissidents and others often find themselves in the Party's crosshairs, persecuted under the law, rather than protected by it, and they have no recourse for justice."

In turn, Tang entered police custody on suspicion of "inciting subversion of state power" in the weeks leading up to the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. In January 2016, he and two other prisoners of conscience were tried, and Tang was sentenced to five years in prison.

Following his conviction, Tang shared how his faith sustained him in the midst of injustice: "The Holy Bible has a passage that reads: ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake.' Today, we have been pronounced guilty, thrown in prison, separated from our families, and have endured humiliation and difficulties-and I am far from being able to convince or prove to others how these tribulations could have become my blessings. But God's will is inevitably difficult to understand. I often pray and ask him to give me more strength, so that I may persevere until the moment of revelation. I dare say, in 2011, while in a secret jail, and now in detention, almost every day I have passed has been calm and fulfilling. I have never lost my direction."

Rubio concluded his address by urging government officials to take up the causes of those who suffer from persecution in China.

Officially, China is an atheist country, but constitutionally guarantees religious freedom. However, authorities are wary of all religious organizations, viewing them as threatening forces. Currently, the Party is believed to have around 88 million members, whereas there may be up to 100 million Christians in China today.

China is ranked 39th on Open Door USA's World Watch List of 50 countries where Christians face the most persecution.