President George Bush’s symbolic visit to a Chinese Church on Sunday was nothing more than a show-tour, say Christian activists.
According to eye-witness reports collected by Christian Aid, an international rights group, all genuine worshippers were expelled from the Kuanjie Church ahead of Mr Bush’s visit.
In their place were sent government personnel – security, political and other specially trained staff. Organised under the so-called Red Worship Procedure, each “actor” received a special slip with instructions for the worship ceremony.
“They won’t give the ordinary believers of the church a chance to meet President Bush or overseas media. They will also drive the ordinary believers out of the church before and after President Bush’s visit,” says Christian Aid who interviewed church members the day before Bush arrived.
A believer who was baptized at Kuanjie Church nearly 20 years ago complained: “Whether you are a believer or not, no one is allowed to enter the church. When President Bush comes tomorrow, where can we do our Sunday service?”
Kuanjie Church is part of the Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) – a government sanctioned Protestant congregation, with an estimated 11 million registered worshippers.
The move to drive away church goers from the state-run facility is believed to further indicate the government’s fear of religious expression, says Christian Aid.
A majority of China’s Christians belong to the underground congregations, known as House Churches comprising an estimated 50 million people. They are not associated with state-controlled parishes, they persist in using uncensored bibles and they do not preach communist doctrine.
Amnesty International notes that House Church believers have been commonly subjected to persecution and torture and have been forced to gather in basements, sheds and even caves.
The recent stunt before Mr Bush’s visit indicates that religious freedom is still a long way away, believes Attorney Li who is a house church member currently under police surveillance.
In an interview with Radio Free Asia, Mr Li explained that if Bush had found out these Christian brothers and sisters were expelled and replaced with phoney worshipers he would be very hurt.
Meanwhile, in a letter written to Human Rights in China by Hua Huiqi, the well-known House Church brother paints an ugly picture of intimidation and death threats that were carried ahead of Mr Bush’s visit.
Mr Hua attempted to come to visit Kuanjie Church, but was illegally arrested by the National Security Guards from Beijing Chongwen District on August 10.
“One of the officers named as Bai Ying led another seven to eight plain clothes police to beat me,” he writes.
“They also threatened me that ‘today you are just not allowed to go to Kuanjie church. If you go, [we] will break your legs.’”
Mr Hua managed to escape and is now believed to be in hiding.