China Claims 'Full and Broad Freedom of Religious Belief'

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

by Timothy Chow

BEIJING, June 27 (Compass Direct) -- Chinese officials have expressed “strong dissatisfaction” with a resolution passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on June 12 condemning rising persecution of religious believers in China.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said the resolution was based on “groundless accusations,” the Associated Press reported on June 13. Jiang Yu also said Chinese citizens enjoyed “full and broad freedom of religious belief in accordance with the law.”

The resolution against “rising persecution” came after U.S. President George W. Bush invited three members of China’s house church network to the White House on May 11: author Yu Jie, law professor Wang Yi and legal scholar Li Baiguang.

A Christian Activist Speaks

During his meeting with Bush, Yu claimed that Chinese Christians – particularly Christian activists – want to bring change “through the love and justice of God and through non-violent means,” according to a Washington Post report.

Yu, 33, attends Ark Church, an unregistered Protestant house church that meets in a rented apartment in Beijing.

The Chinese government requires all Protestant churches to register with the government. Citing strict controls and theology adapted to be “compatible with socialism,” many Christians prefer to meet in a burgeoning number of unregistered house churches.

Ark Church grew out of a simple home Bible study group run by Yu and his wife Liu Min. Police raided the church on January 15; since then, the church has had to shift location six times to escape harassment.

When Yu was asked to visit the White House, secret police in Beijing immediately called Liu at her office in downtown Beijing.

“They asked me to come down to the first floor right away,” Liu said.

Liu met with two men and a woman in a coffee shop. “They bluntly asked me to stop attending Ark Church, assuming that if I stopped going, the others would also scatter,” she said.

When she replied that she could not obey the order, the police said they would spread rumors to damage her husband’s reputation. They also advised her to divorce Yu.

“I told them they could do whatever they wanted, but I know and trust my husband,” Liu said.

In response, the police said that they would give her one month to think about it, and that they would return the next time Yu left the country.

When Yu and law professor Wang Yi arrived back in Beijing, a huge crowd of journalists and secret police met them at the airport. Yu may find it difficult to travel in the future; in early May, customs officials detained Christian lawyer Fan Yafeng when he attempted to join Yu for the meeting with President Bush.

Fan was instrumental in the formation of the Association of Chinese Christian Lawyers, which offers legal advice to house church believers who are persecuted because of their faith.

Both Fan and Li Baiguang attend Ark Church; the two have worked together on several persecution cases, including that of Pastor Cai Zhuohua – convicted of “illegal business practices” after a warehouse full of Christian literature was discovered and seized in September 2004.

Beijing and the Vatican

Two other resolutions were passed on June 12. One censured China for ordaining Catholic bishops without the approval of Pope Benedict XVI, while another advocated remembrance of the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square.

The government-approved Catholic Patriotic Association (CPA) ordained Joseph Ma Yinglin and Joseph Liu Xinhong as bishops in May, despite complete lack of authorization from the Vatican.

The Pope immediately invoked a rule ordering those who took part in the ordination to be excommunicated.

China’s Communist government broke off ties with the Vatican when it came to power in 1949. The government maintains tight control of the CPA and all affiliated churches.

An unregistered or “underground” Catholic church also exists; this branch of the church rejects CPA ordinations and remains loyal to the Vatican.

Particular Concern

The China Aid Association (CAA), a U.S.-based group that monitors religious oppression, claimed in a report issued on Monday (June 26) that authorities in China arrested at least 1,958 Christians over the past 12 months.

Some China commentators say the arrests were an exception in a country where tens of millions worship openly and without penalty. CAA’s report indicated there were no known arrests in half of China’s provinces.

Chinese Christians in urban centers say the key is to maintain a low profile and avoid provoking or embarrassing local officials. In rural areas, however, officials are far more likely to attack and raid house church meetings, beating pastors and interrogating church members.

Following a trip to China in August 2005, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) reported that the Chinese government had continued to systematically violate the right to “freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief,” contrary to China’s constitution and international human rights agreements signed by China.

The U.S. Department of State designated China a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) in 2005. Last May 3, when the USCIRF announced its recommended CPCs for 2006 to the state department, China remained on its list of 11 such countries.

Copyright 2006 Compass Direct