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China's Crackdown on Christians

Authorities Step Up Hard-line Measures

BEIJING, August 2, 2004 (Zenit) - China seems determined to restrict the spread of Christianity in the country. Authorities are now using the same tactics against Christian churches that they deployed to quash the Falun Gong spiritual movement, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.

The crackdown, ordered late last year by the China's political leadership, according to the Journal, is being carried out by an offshoot of the task force that coordinated the campaign against the Falun Gong. The main focus is on the rural zones, where religious fervor is on the rise.

"The spread of Christianity is really worrying the government, so it has become a target," said Kang Xiaoguang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences to the Wall Street Journal.

The government is targeting what it terms "cults," which are only loosely described. In practice the term is applied to whatever groups have not received official permission to operated. Apart from the continued persecution of Catholic groups that do not submit to official control, the government is particularly worried about evangelical and Protestant groups, who have been rapidly expanding.

Chronicle of persecution

Two groups active in documenting religious persecution, the Center for Religious Freedom, a division of Freedom House, and Compass Direct, have collected news on the crackdown by authorities from a wide range of sources. Among the reports from past months are the following items.

-- July 22. More than 100 religious leaders were arrested in the western province of Xinjiang. The arrests came during a meeting organized by the Ying Shang Church, a large house-church network headquartered in Anhui Province. The arrests came shortly after 40 house-church leaders were arrested while attending a training seminar in Cheng Du City in the province of Sichuan.

-- July 19. Chinese authorities detained and interrogated house-church leader Samuel Lamb after worship services on June 13. Ten of his co-workers were also detained and interrogated. This is the first time in 14 years that Chinese authorities have taken repressive steps against Lamb, who reportedly hosts 3,000 worshippers per week at his meeting place in Guangzhou.

-- July 5. A 34-year-old woman was beaten to death in jail on the day she was arrested for handing out Bibles in Guizhou province. Police arrested Jiang Zongxiu on June 18 on suspicion of "spreading rumors and inciting to disturb social order," according to the local press. Her mother-in-law, Tan Dewei, was arrested with Jiang but later released. She said police kicked Jiang repeatedly during interrogation.

-- June 23. The Vatican strongly protested to China over the arrest of three Catholic bishops -- one of them 84 years old -- in the previous month. The statement called the bishops' arrest "inconceivable in a country based on laws." The 84-year-old bishop of Xuanhua was arrested May 27. Another two bishops, from Xiwanzi and Zhengding, were detained for several days in June.

-- May 24. Gu Xianggao, a teacher in a house-church group, was beaten to death by Public Security Bureau officers.

-- May 16. Two Catholic priests, Lu Genjun and Cheng Xiaoli, were arrested May 14 in An Guo, Hebei province, by government security policemen. The priests were set to begin classes for natural family planning and moral theology courses. Father Lu was previously arrested on Palm Sunday 1998 for a short period. He was arrested again shortly before Easter in 2001 and detained for three years.

-- May 10. Chinese Christians gave evidence of persecution at a special meeting called by the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in April. The speakers testified to beatings, imprisonment, torture and harassment. Female members of the South China Church also testified to torture and sexual assault at the hands of police officers. Their evidence was supported by documents and a video showing the destruction of a church in Zhejiang province.

Religion feared

An in-depth look at the reasons behind the government's persecution of religious groups was published March 31 by the Norway-based human rights group Forum 18. The 10th National People's Congress that concluded in Beijing on March 14 included an amendment to the Chinese Constitution, stating that "The state respects and safeguards human rights."

Forum 18 observed that this new provision aroused skepticism among commentators, given that the constitution already contained safeguards protecting human rights. Those safeguards have not impeded past violations.

In fact, the report noted that on March 5, the very day the meeting opened, Bishop Wei Jingyi of Qiqihar in Heilongjiang province was arrested. And on the same day, police arrested, detained and beat Hua Huiqi, an unofficial house-church leader in Beijing.

A major factor behind the repression, according to Forum 18, can be found in the Communist ideology. Official policy bars Communist Party members from adhering to any religious belief or participating in religious activities.

And even if Communist ideology is no longer so popular, as recently as November an article in the People's Daily, the Communist Party newspaper, entitled "A Historical Study of the Communist Party of China's Theory and Policy Concerning Religion," inveighed against religion.

"To uphold the fundamental opposition in world outlook of Marxism and religion," stated the article, "it is of course essential to uphold the fundamental opposition of science and religion. Religion is an illusory, inverse reflection of the external world, whereas the task of science is to understand the objective world in accordance with reality, advocating seeking truth from facts and pursuing objective truth."

Forum 18 said that the government further fears religion because it represents a threat to the Communist Party's ability to mobilize the masses, particularly the peasantry. Officials estimate there are at least 100 million believers of all faiths throughout China, and authorities are worried that religious organizations could repeat what happened in the past, when religion was a key factor in popular revolts.

Concern over human rights

China also continues to maintain tight controls over political expression and organization. An April 14 press release by Amnesty International (AI) outlined some of the concerns over human rights in China.

-- Crackdown on Internet users: By the end of March, at least 60 people had been detained or imprisoned after accessing or circulating politically sensitive information on the Internet. According to AI the Internet censorship practiced by the Chinese government is the most extensive in the world, and many of the toughest controls have been issued since 2000.

-- Death penalty: China continues to execute more people than the rest of the world combined. Executions are carried out following trials that fall far short of international fair-trial standards. AI declared that the death penalty continues to be used extensively and arbitrarily as a result of political interference. And people continue to be executed even for nonviolent crimes such as tax fraud and pimping.

-- Torture, unfair trials and administrative detention: Ill-treatment remains widespread in police stations, prisons and labor camps. As well, those accused of both political and criminal offenses continue to be denied due process and detainees' access to lawyers and family members is severely restricted. China's economic progress in recent years has yet to be matched by advances in religious and political liberty.

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Keywords

China, Repression, Catholic, Persecution

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