WASHINGTON—Freedom of religion has always been restricted in communist China, but in recent months, state control and interference have never been worse since the Cultural Revolution, according to testimony given at a congressional hearing.
The Congressional-Executive Commission on China on July 23 heard from representatives of Falun Gong, Tibetan Buddhists, Uyghur Muslims, and Christians in China, who discussed new forms of persecution in their respective faith communities.
Chairman Chris Smith (R-N.J.) introduced the hearing with the statement, “Chinese authorities are frightened by the simple proposition that individuals have a right to live out their beliefs openly and peacefully, without fear and intimidation.” To demonstrate his point, he listed several examples, including, “Over 1,200 crosses, along with 35 church buildings, were demolished since 2014. This was done reportedly because they were too prominent,” he said.
Smith and Co-chairman Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) opening statements highlighted the July 10 roundup of human rights defenders. Smith said, “The lawyers were accused of being a ‘criminal gang’ charged with ‘creating chaos,’ because they defended the rights of Falun Gong, Uyghurs, Christians, and others persecuted.”
Rubio’s statement said that 200 lawyers were detained, interrogated, or missing, which he characterized as the most severe crackdown on the legal profession since 1980 when the legal system was established after the Cultural Revolution.
Both Smith and Rubio connected the crackdown on lawyers to China’s religious suppression, pointing out that many of those detained were practicing Christians, and had taken on the defense of high-profile individuals, who dared “to live out their religious and spiritual convictions,” said Rubio.
Communist Party Threatens Canadian Actress’s Family
Anastasia Lin, actress, Canadian citizen, and recently crowned Miss World Canada, spoke about the pressure on her father in China, after she won the 2015 title. Initially, he said he was very proud of her, but after a few days, he told her to stop her advocacy for human rights in China, or else he would have to sever contact. She said she was concerned that her testimony at this hearing would make her father worried for his business and family in China.
Lin was indignant that as a Canadian citizen, “upholding Canadian values on the other side of the world,” her father is threatened by Chinese security agents. She mentioned that she plays a woman imprisoned for practicing Falun Gong in the film, “Bleeding Edge,” to be released this winter. Though the character portrayed is tortured, the hardest scene for Lin was when her family members are brought before her and made to kneel and beg her to give up her belief. Lin said that although she personally had never experienced torture or what prison guards would do to her, “I now understand what it means to feel deep fear that my convictions could be paid for by people I love the most in the world.”
Rubio said, “It is amazing, shocking to a lot of people, that perhaps American citizens are being extorted and/or blackmailed due to safety and security of their own relatives in China.”
China’s communist regime also puts pressure on countries to accept their policy of destroying Falun Gong. Lin mentioned the 56 Chinese Falun Gong practitioners seeking refuge in South Korea who are threatened with deportation. Despite letters from members of Congress and the European Parliament, since 2002, very few Falun Gong practitioners have received asylum in South Korea. Smith said, “You can count on each of those [56 Chinese Falun Gong practitioners], I think, of going back to persecution. Incarceration is near certain, certainly harassment,” he said.
Lin said that because of her profession as an actress, she is intimately familiar with the torture methods used on Falun Gong practitioners. “Prison guards put bamboo sticks under their fingernails. Women are tortured with electric batons on their private parts and raped.” She also referred to common torture methods of beatings and” violent force-feedings that often puncture the esophagus or lungs.”
Beginning her acting career at age of 7, Lin has appeared in over 20 films and television productions about human rights in China. Having won the Miss World Canada title, Lin will be representing Canada in the global Miss World competition, to be held this December in Sanya, China. “At least that is my hope,” she said. “Recent events leave me uncertain.”
Uyghurs Face Humiliating Regulations
Despite China’s constitution and the Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law, supposed to guarantee religious freedom, the Uyghur people in East Turkestan are subjected to near total control of their religious beliefs and practices by the Chinese Communist Party.
Evidently, the CCP views with suspicion Uyghurs who continue with their religious practices. Rabiya Kadeer, president of the World Uyghur Congress, cited several accounts, widely reported in the media, of restrictions placed on Uyghurs’ ability to observe the Ramadan fast. She spoke through her English translator, Alim Seytoff, president of the Uyghur American Association. Kadeer, mother of 11 children, was a well-known, highly successful businesswoman in China until she was declared an enemy of the Party and spent six years in a Chinese prison.
Unconfirmed reports on social media said that Uyghurs were forced “to eat watermelon in public to demonstrate non-observance of the fast,” she said. She believes these reports to be credible because they are consistent with numerous accounts from Uyghurs, particularly students, “who are required to drink water in front of their teachers at school to ‘prove’ that they are following school and government regulations.”
She also cited an escalation of provocations against the Islamic faith. On the eve of Ramadan in the predominately Uyghur settlement of Niya, a beer drinking contest was organized. She said it was “a humiliation of the Islamic faith and “an attack on Uyghur people’s belief.”
Absolute Control of Tibetan Buddhism
Losang Gyatso, service chief of Voice of America’s Tibetan Service, said the oppressive environment created by the Party has triggered the self-immolation protests of over 140 Tibetans since 2009. The most recent instance occurred on July 9, when a 27-year-old monk, named Sonam Topgyal, set himself on fire at a public square in Kyegudo, Qinghai Province, making him the sixth Tibetan self-immolation to take place since the beginning of the year. Chinese authorities took him away and he is believed to have died.
A note he wrote one week before his act reveals his desperation. “At a time when the government is carrying out policies to stamp out our religion, tradition, and culture, and destroy our environment, there is absolutely no freedom of expression for the people, and there is no channel to appeal our situation.”
Another recent occurence involved the prison death on July 12 of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, a widely respected Lama and political prisoner. His family and the monastic community had been barred from seeing him since 2013, and on the day that Chinese authorities said he died. They needed the body returned in order to conduct a funeral appropriate for a high Lama. Tibetans pleading for the return of his body were beaten severely on July 13, said Gyatso. Several days later, his family and some monks were allowed to see the body in the detention center, where he was then cremated at the prison facility.
Gyatso said that Tibetans will see the prison cremation “as a humiliating and degrading act, and therefore understand it to be an added punishment for those who had been pleading his innocence for 13 years, and then pleading for his remains after his death.”
Gyatso was worried about the long-term effect of the CCP’s interference in the selection of reincarnated Tibetan spiritual masters. He said this interference undermines the foundation of Tibetan Buddhism by breaking “the trust and faith that Tibetans have invested in their Lamas for hundreds of years,” and could lead to “the eventual demise of Tibetan Buddhism as it has been practiced since the 13th century.”
Christians: Demolitions of Churches and Crosses
Bob Fu, president, ChinaAid Association, said that the suppression of house churches of Christians has “escalated significantly” in the past 18 months.
“According to information collected by ChinaAid, by the end of June this year, more than 1,500 churches had their crosses forcibly demolished or removed in Zhejiang Province … with more than 1,300 Christians having been interrogated, arrested, or held in custody for protesting or attempting to prevent the destruction of their churches or crosses,” said Pastor Fu.
Even the government-sanctioned “Three-Self” churches are subject to extreme state persecution campaigns. In the past month in the cities of Hangzhou and Jinhua, the crosses of Protestant and Catholic government sanctioned churches were destroyed or removed.
Fu added, “The government sponsored campaign to destroy the crosses of predominately government sanctioned churches reflects a new development in religious persecution in China.”