U.S. Urged To Press China On Religious Freedom

( [email protected] ) Jul 29, 2004 08:49 PM EDT

U.S. delegates to this weekend’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in Singapore should pressure China to grant full religious liberty to its citizens, Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom announced today.

“Religious persecution is on the upswing in China,” said Center for Religious Freedom director Nina Shea. “It is imperative that the U.S. delegation to APEC make clear to their Chinese counterparts that restrictions on religious freedom are intolerable.”

According to the China Aid Association, a Pennsylvania-based rights group, more than 100 Christian house church leaders were arrested in Lui Gong on July 12. Among them was Wang Yu Lian, a church leader for more than 20 years. Forty more Protestant leaders were subsequently detained while attending a training seminar in Cheng Du, among them a Taiwanese couple leading the seminar, whose current whereabouts are unknown.

Other cases of persecution abound. On April 26, police reportedly abducted Xu Shuangfu, a well-known Protestant pastor. Pastor Xu, 59, has been arrested many times and has served a total of 20 years in prison. Another pastor, Xing Jinfu, was detained on June 11 in Wuhan. He also remains in prison and reportedly has been tortured.

Also, according to a recent survey conducted by Forum 18, Norway-based organization that monitors religious freedom in Communist and former Soviet states, the Chinese government blocks access to Internet sites related to several religious bodies, including Protestant house churches, and major Protestant and Catholic organizations. Websites of American groups promoting religious freedom in China are also blocked, yet some Catholic sites in Taiwan and Hong Kong are still accessible, as is the Center for Religious Freedom’s website. According to Amnesty International, Chinese computer experts breaching these restrictions have been arrested. While most Chinese lack Internet access, some 80 million citizens do use the Internet.

Catholic Christians have also received their share of persecution. According to the Vatican, Chinese authorities arrested 83-year-old Catholic Bishop Zhao Zhengdong of Shangyingzhuang on June 23. He is reportedly being held at an undisclosed location. The bishop’s arrest is reportedly part of a systematic campaign by the Chinese government to bring the so-called “underground church” under its control.

China’s religious affairs bureau representative Liu Yongqing recently insisted that "Mr. Zhao Zhengdong was not arrested" and that he had voluntarily attended courses on religious policy organized by the bureau.

“These so-called ‘voluntary’ detainments are actually full-fledged abductions, aimed at convincing Catholic clergy in the underground church to join the Patriotic Association, which oversees the government-sponsored church in China,” said Shea ”This practice is in direct violation of the right to religious freedom guaranteed by numerous international documents to which China is signatory.”

China’s Catholic bishops are reportedly being pressured to renounce their ties to the Pope and subject themselves to exclusive communist party authority. According to a transcript of the interrogation of Bishop Zhao, made available by AsiaNews, he was asked: "Whom do you obey? The government of Beijing or the Pope?" The bishop answered: "In questions of faith, I respond to the Pope; in society, I respond to the government.” Security officers characterized this as unacceptable; "Since your church is in China, you must obey the government above all."

Clergy affiliated with state-approved churches also complain about being regularly subjected to months of "training,” including lessons on Marxism and the undisputed leadership of the Chinese Communist Party.

“China aspires to full acceptance as a major player in the modern world, both economically and politically,” said Shea. “To merit that recognition, the Chinese government must grant full religious liberty to all its citizens”

The U.S. State Department has named China a country of particular concern (CPC) for “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations” of religious freedom.