‘Christians want international community to pay attention to China’s religious and human rights situation
UCA News reporter, China, May 5, 2020
Chinese Christians have welcomed a damning US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) report but said religious oppression in China is more severe than what is reported.
Christian leaders say the space for religious freedom has severely shrunk in the past two decades, with the communist regime implementing a series of policies aiming to eradicate religion from society.
The US State Department has considered China “a country of special concern” since 1999, following the USCIRF recommendation. The recent 2020 report of the commission kept China among the global worst performers in terms of religious freedom.
But some religious scholars told UCA News that the most serious but often overlooked form of religious suppression in China is to make Christians sign a declaration rejecting religion under the threat of denying them government benefits such as pensions.
Since 2018 in areas such as Zhejiang province, Christian teachers in schools and colleges have been forced to sign such documents, without which they are denied pensions.
The oppression continues subtly, blocking people from practicing their faith, said a religious leader who requested anonymity.
The USCIRF report, released on April 28, said that “the state of religious freedom in China has continued to deteriorate” over the last year, with authorities using facial recognition and artificial intelligence to monitor religious minority groups.
Series of violations
Independent experts estimate that between 900,000 and 1.8 million Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyzstans and other Muslims are being held in more than 1,300 concentration camps in Xinjiang, the report said.
It also referred to attacks on Christians, saying that authorities had raided or seized hundreds of Christian house churches. They released members of the Autumn Rain Covenant Church in December 2018, but a court last December charged its priest, Reverend Wang Yi, with “subversion of state power” and sentenced him to nine years in prison.
The report also explicitly mentioned Auxiliary Bishop Guo Xijin of Fujian Mindong Diocese and Coadjutor Bishop Cui Tai of Hebei Xuanhua Diocese. Authorities harassed and jailed them for refusing to join the official state-sanctioned church.
It also alleges that various local governments, including Guangzhou, are offering cash incentives to people who report underground church groups.
In addition, crosses from churches across the country have been removed, people under 18 are banned from participating in religious liturgies, and images of Jesus or Our Lady are replaced with those of President Xi Jinping.
The report recommended that the US government again designate China as a country of special concern under the International Religious Freedom Act.
It wanted the US to impose targeted sanctions on institutions and officials that commit serious violations of religious freedom by freezing the property of the individuals involved or barring them from entering the United States.
They also suggested that if the Chinese government continues to suppress religious freedom, US government officials will not participate in the Winter Olympics hosted by Beijing in 2022.
The report also asked for intensified efforts to fight back against the Chinese government’s attempts to exert influence in the United States to suppress information or propaganda about religious freedom violations.
‘China defends freedom’
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang responded to the report at a regular press conference. He said the US committee was biased against China and has published reports over the years “denigrating China’s religious policy.”
He claimed that China has nearly 200 million people of all kinds of religious communities, more than 380,000 religious staff, about 5,500 religious groups and more than 140,000 religious activity sites registered by law.
Geng reiterated that China would never allow anyone to engage in illegal criminal activities under the guise of religion.
He also urged the US to respect basic facts, reject arrogance and prejudice, stop the misguided practice of releasing reports year after year, and stop using religious issues to interfere in China’s internal affairs.
But a Chinese religious scholar who wished to remain anonymous argued that the report was “basically telling the truth.”
Chinese authorities have been increasingly cracking down on religion in recent years, with the worst crackdown on Christianity in Henan province in 2018.
More severe than the demolition of crosses and churches is the “coercion of citizens to sign declarations rejecting religion under the threat of denying them benefits,” he said.
“It is a serious violation of human rights and contempt for the law, causing regression of the legal system in society,” he added.
Religious oppression as cultural revolution
The scholar said suppression in Henan province is like a rehash of the Cultural Revolution, which will cause major social trauma and great stimulation to people’s minds, triggering mutual hatred and creating a social group psychological distortion.
“After all these years since the Cultural Revolution, people have just regained a little bit of sanity, but they didn’t expect to go back all of a sudden, which is a disaster,” he said.
He pointed out that just 10 days before Geng Shuang responded to the report, the cross of Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Anhui province was removed. On the following day, the cross of Yongqiao Catholic Church in Suzhou City was also removed.
“But the Chinese communist authorities did not produce any legal documents for their action,” said the scholar.
Chinese official Geng Shuang was lying, said Cebu parishioner Paul Li. “The officials accused this US report of denigrating China’s religious policy. Is it China’s religious policy to tear down the crosses of churches? And to spend public money to demolish crosses despite churches’ objections,?” Li asked.
Father Thomas Wang, who has been following the developments, said authorities have never responded positively to these accusations of religious persecution, “either dodging them or outrightly evading them, or accusing others of interfering in internal affairs.”
Father Wang said the Chinese side sees it as a domestic fight. “I beat my wife and children behind closed doors; it has nothing to do with you, I just beat them to death, it’s our family business, it’s none of your business.”
Maria Li in Guangdong said China is no longer worried about international pressure and condemnation.
“They have bribed a lot of small countries and organizations; even international agencies like the World Health Organization defended it. So what are they worried about?” she asked.
However, she wanted the international community to pay attention to the religious and human rights situation in China.
“If more countries unite and put pressure on China, authorities will desist from blatant oppressions, which will help the Church to breathe,” she said.