Crackdown on Religion Intensifies in China
Part I-Targeting Christians
Christians, Buddhists and others in China who wish to practice their personal beliefs have two choices: join one of five “patriotic” state-sanctioned churches and endure the oversight of atheistic communist leaders, or go underground and practice in secret, risking arrest, harassment, torture and detention in a forced-labor camp.
For some Chinese, the first choice is not even an option. China's communist regime controls what is taught, who is qualified to be clergy, and outlaws religious instruction to children under 18; many Tibetan Buddhists, Uighur Muslims, Protestants and Catholics feel left with no alternative but to go underground. There is not even an option for some believers, such as practitioners of Falun Gong, which has been targeted for eradication by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
To obtain the most recent information on the status of religious freedom in China, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) held a hearing at the Dirksen Senate Office Building in the nation's capital on January 31, 2007. USCIRF, an independent and bipartisan body, was created in 1998 by an act of Congress with the mandate to monitor the status of freedom of religion and belief abroad, and to make independent policy recommendations to the president, secretary of state, and Congress.
The goal of the USCIRF is to advise on “how U.S. policy can most effectively advance freedom of religion or belief and related human rights,” said the commission's chair, Felice D. Gaer, at the hearing last month.
After three years of negotiations with China, a commission delegation traveled to the mainland and Hong Kong in August 2005, given restricted access to registered church members in Beijing, Xinjiang, Tibet, Chengdu, and Shanghai. As a result of the investigation Gaer observed that religious practices were growing in China, but that the state repressed a practice when they could not control it, such as with unregistered churches, the Uighur Muslims and Falun Gong.
At the hearing were spokespersons representing the following faiths: Protestant, Roman Catholic, Muslim, Buddhist, and Falun Gong.
Communist Authorities Destroy Church
The strategy for repressing unregistered Protestant “house” churches changed in 2006, explained Xiqiu “Bob” Fu, from the China Aid Society (CAA). House churches are assemblies of followers that wish to practice their faith's beliefs uninfluenced by communist doctrine.
“According to CAA sources alone, the government detained over 600 Christians in 2006, [which was less than the 2000 arrests in 2005]. This reflects the Public Security Officials' new tactic of interrogating church members during a raid rather than officially arresting them. Most of the reported detentions in 2006 were church leaders,” said Fu.
Zhejiang and Henan provinces, where the Protestant house church movement is particularly strong, suffered the worse persecution in the past year, according to Fu. In 2006, 246 pastors and believers were arrested in nine raids, 10 were sentenced to imprisonment, and three churches were destroyed.
“After the raid on March 13, 2006 in Wen County, two arrested Christian ladies were forced to strip off their clothes during the interrogation. A disabled Pastor, Li Gongshe, was severely beaten, breaking one of his ribs,” testified Fu.
Fu also focused attention on the destruction of a church in Xiaoshan district in Zhejiang province on July 29, 2006. Over 100,000 Christians residing in Xiaoshan; 95 percent belonging to house churches sought and received government approval for constructing the church in Dangshan.
When the church was 70 percent complete, Zhejiang authorities deployed 3,000 armed policemen and public security persons to demolish church buildings, claiming “illicit use of land and illegal building.” As unarmed church members watched, their presence was interpreted as “violent resistance against law enforcement.” At least two members were beaten severely and hospitalized with broken ribs, according to Fu.
Fu concluded, “It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the house churches that have refused to register with the government to build their own churches.”
Fu also reported a secret execution in Heilongjiang province of three leaders of the “Three Grades of Servant” church; an unregistered church; and requiring members to join the official, government-controlled Protestant church: the “Three Self” church.
“The state church does not allow [Christians] to teach their children about Christ, evangelize outside the church building or talk about Jesus' second coming,” writes Tom White, director of The Voice of the Martyrs (VOM) group, which supports persecuted Christians in China.
A common complaint of persons who grow up in the Three-Self church propagated by communist authorities is that they have “knowledge of Jesus but no relationship with Him,” says the VOM monthly publication.
The Disappearance of Bishop Su and Father Lu
All of the approximately 40 underground bishops of the Roman Catholic faith have been arrested and jailed, placed under house arrest and strict surveillance, gone into hiding or simply disappeared, testified Joseph Kung, President of the Cardinal Kung Foundation. Kung knew of six bishops being held who were in their 70s or 80s.
Mr. Kung focused on two prominent leaders in the underground Roman Catholic Church in China, Bishop Su Zhimin and Father Lu.
Bishop Su, bishop of Baoding in Hebei province, was arrested at least five times and spent almost 27 years in prison, said Kung. “He once was beaten so savagely in prison that he suffered extensive hearing loss. He escaped from police detention in April 1996 and remained in hiding for 16 months, until October 1997 when he was rearrested.”
He has not been seen for 10 years, but the Cardinal Kung Foundation received reliable information in 2003 that he was still alive.
“The United States must continue to press on the Chinese [regime] for an answer on Bishop Su's disappearance and well being,” said Mr. Kung.
Father Lu, 44, the son of a farmer, was the administrative leader of the Roman Catholic Church in the Diocese of Baoding, said Mr. Kung. Father Lu was first arrested in 1990, in response to his ordination. Kung cited a source that said Father Lu was beaten and handcuffed for 24 hours a day for many days. “His head and face were hit so hard that his lower jaw and teeth loosened, making chewing impossible,” Mr. Kung read aloud.
Later, in March 2001, Father Lu was sentenced to three years in a forced-labor camp. The court document justifying the sentence said that Father Lu was guilty of being an ordained priest, belonging to a priesthood not recognized by the state-controlled Patriotic Association, and for “conducting illegal evangelization that created a comparatively big impact.”
In March 2004, Father Lu was released. Soon he was arrested again for teaching Catholic theology.
On Feb. 17, 2006, on the way to a train station, he was intercepted by several public security officials, and “He was never seen again,” said Mr. Kung.