Religions ‘clearly frighten Chinese authorities’

The 25th anniversary of Tiananmen Square last month has provoked a fresh look at human rights in China, especially religious freedom.

Katrina Lantos Swett, chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, and M. Zuhdi Jasser, a USCIRF Commissioner, write in The Washington Post.

“From repressing Muslims to bulldozing churches and tearing down crosses, Chinese officials have been denying the internationally guaranteed right to believe or not believe. The simple proposition that individuals have the right to live out their beliefs openly and peacefully, without fear or intimidation, clearly frightens Chinese authorities, as evidenced by their repressive persecution of numerous faith communities.”

Uighur Muslims were denied freedom to fast and fulfil other religious rites during the recent month of Ramadan, especially in Xinjiang province, according to Swett and Jasser. Threats, detention and arrests have been faced by those opposing the ban.

“In recent years, officials have shut down religious sites; conducted raids on independent schools, leading to multiple injuries and even deaths; confiscated religious literature; restricted private study of the Quran; monitored the sermons of imams and forced them to undergo political training; restricted Muslim dress and religious expression; banned children from being brought to mosques; and arbitrarily deemed religious gatherings and activities illegal.”

Buddhists also suffer under the communist regime. More than 130 Buddhists, including 61 monks, nuns or former nuns, have immolated themselves since May 2011 in Tibet as a protest against the deterioration of religious freedom conditions. Members of the Falun Gong community have been imprisoned with reports of death in custody, psychiatric experiments and the harvesting of organs.

Christians still face persecution with any groups refusing to register with the Government being arrested, fined and having the churches shutdown. An official directive to wipe out all unregistered Protestant churches during the next decade has also been issued by the Government. Registered churches too now face persecution with more than 100 churches in Zhejiang province being recently demolished, altered or forced to remove crosses by government officials. Pastor Zhang Shaojie of Nanle County Christian Church in Henan province was given a 12-year prison sentence on 4 July on trumped-up criminal charges.

“China’s leaders undoubtedly believe — as did their predecessors — that repression and fear will solidify their control and bring security. They are mistaken. By denying the bedrock freedoms of conscience and religion, China risks more restiveness and instability.

“If China is to assume a truly honoured place among the community of nations, its leaders must reject the dark ways of repression and embrace the light of liberty for all.”