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Spotlight on China

Human Rights and Religious Freedom Examined

By Father John Flynn, LC

ROME, MARCH 17, 2008 (Zenit) - China's human rights record is coming in for close scrutiny in the months preceding the summer Olympics. The attention is not pleasing to Beijing authorities and just last week Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi told critics to back off, Reuters reported March 12.

Just the day before Yang's remarks the U.S. State Department released its "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2007." There was some comfort for China, as the country was removed from the list of the worst offenders.

The report, nevertheless, contained strong censure for China's record on human rights. The section devoted to China said that the government's record "remained poor" in 2007 and controls were further tightened in areas such as religious freedom in Tibet.

The State Department also accused authorities of tightening restrictions on freedom of speech and the press, and of increasing efforts to control use of the Internet. Among many other points mentioned, the report also accused the government of continuing its coercive policy on limiting births, resulting in forced abortion and sterilization in some cases.

As is customary, China reacted with hostility to the State Department criticism, reported the Associated Press on March 13. The Chinese government released its own report, documenting what it considered to be human rights violations in the United States.

Human rights groups, however, wanted a tougher critique and were dismayed that the United States had taken China off its worst offenders list, reported the Washington Post on March 13.

Olympic concerns

"We and others have documented a sharp uptick in human rights violations directly related to preparations for the Olympics," Phelim Kine, Asia researcher with New York-based Human Rights Watch, told the Washington Post.

The article also cited the Paris-based organization, Reporters Without Borders, who declared that they would have preferred the United States obtain some positive action by China in the area of human rights before dropping the country from its list of worst offenders.

Regarding Tibet, the British newspaper, the Guardian, published an article last Wednesday reporting that hundreds of monks protested in the streets of Lhasa, in what was the biggest demonstration in almost two decades. The march took place on the anniversary of a failed anti-Chinese uprising in 1959, the Guardian commented. The article also said that between 50-60 monks were arrested.

Protests continued in the following days in what were the worst riots since 1989. Chinese state media reported 10 people dead during the protests, although opposition groups claimed it was 30, reported the BBC on Saturday.

When it comes to the pre-Olympic situation, human rights groups are protesting a recent surge in the arrest of dissidents. They accuse authorities of trying to shut down any opposition before the games start, reported the New York Times on Jan. 30.

The article noted that in recent times China has jailed 51 dissidents who had carried out their protests via the Internet. It also cited the group Reporters Without Borders, who say that last year authorities blocked more than 2,500 Web sites.

On Feb. 6 the group Human Rights Watch accused Chinese authorities of a "systematic crackdown on dissent."

"Beijing has given virtually no signs that it intends to keep the promises made to the international community in exchange for hosting the Games," said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, in a press release.

Faith flourishing

Religious freedom is another contended area. A number of recent accounts point to a surge in religious faith in China. On Dec. 8 the Times newspaper of London reported that demand for copies of the Bible is soaring. The only authorized publisher in China for the Bible is Amity Printing, who has just reached the milestone of 50 million copies printed, according to the article.

According to a Jan. 20 report published by the Washington Post, Chinese leaders are opening up to religion, but still wish to contain it within official guidelines. A sign of official acceptance was the recent publishing of a front-page photo in the party newspaper, People's Daily, of Hu Jintao, head of the Chinese Communist Party, shaking hands with Liu Bainian, general secretary of the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association at a New Year's tea party.

"We must take full advantage of the positive role that religious figures and believers among the masses can play in promoting economic and social development," Jia Qinglin, a member of the Politburo's Standing Committee, told a meeting of government-connected religious officials Wednesday, according to the Washington Post.

Therefore the opening-up to religion, the article commented, is limited to the extent to which it ...

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