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Secret Chinese Campaign of Religious Persecution Revealed
Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom today released a report analyzing seven never-before-seen, top-secret Chinese government documents detailing an official crackdown against large, unregistered Christian churches and other religious groups nationwide. The Center had the official documents authenticated by renowned expert and exiled former Chinese government journalist, Su Xiaokang.
The seven documents, issued between April 1999 and October 2001, detail the goals and actions of China's national, provincial and local security officials in repressing religion. They provide irrefutable evidence that China's government, at the highest levels, aims to repress religious expression outside its control, and is using more determined, systematic and harsher criminal penalties in this effort. Hu Jin-tao, designated as the successor of President Jiang Zemin (and regarded by many China observers as a member of a younger, more liberal generation of communist party leaders) is quoted in the document as endorsing the drive against the Real God church. The Minister of Public Security is quoted giving the order to" smash the cult quietly." (Document 4).
"These documents provide irrefutable evidence that China remains determined to eradicate all religion it cannot control, using extreme tactics," said Center for Religious Freedom Director Nina Shea. "Normal religious activity is criminalized, and, as the December death sentences brought against South China church Pastor Gong Shengliang and several of his co-workers attest, the directives outlined in these documents are being carried out with ruthless determination," she said.
"President Bush, who has repeatedly voiced concern for religious oppression in China, must speak out forcefully and publicly in support of religious freedom during his state visit to China next week," said Ms. Shea.
On the eve of President Bush's first state visit to China, Ye Xiaowen, the head of China's Religious Affairs Bureau, wrote in January 2002 that repression is not working and suggested that a more nuanced approach is needed. In fact, the documents reveal that a brutal, but more clandestine approach, is being employed to crush unregistered churches and religious groups.
Several of the documents focus on measures to "smash" the Christian South China church and the Real God church, which, Chinese authorities state, rivals Falun Gong in its reach and dangerousness. Other documents mention Falun Gong, the Unification Church, and other banned religious groups. In all, 14 religious groups are listed in Document 1 as "evil cults."
Several of the documents indicate that Beijing is losing its battle to control religious expression. They note with palpable alarm that the Real God group is growing rapidly throughout 22 Chinese provinces. In Document 4, authorities reveal that "inner circles" of the communist party and government officials have secretly joined the banned Real God church, and instruct officials to find out who among them are members of the group.
The documents are notable for their crudeness in understanding the religions the government purports to control. Revealing a fundamental misunderstanding or deliberate misinterpretation of the New Testament, Document 1 uses a basic Christian doctrine that Christ is in every believer to accuse churches of "deifying" their leaders, a practice defined as "cult-like." China is an officially atheist state that arrogates to itself the authority to define orthodoxy, determine dogma and designate religious leaders.
Document 2 betrays deep paranoia on the part of Chinese officials. It raises particular concerns about public unrest over China's entry into the WTO; it ties this unrest to Western support of democracy movements ("Democratic Party of China"), and religious groupings, especially Falun Gong; it accuses the Vatican of "still waiting for any opportunity to... draw the patriotic religious believers up to them and incite them to rebel."
In Document 4, "Praying for world peace," ecumenical relations between churches, printing publications and developing a diocesan, parish and prayer group-like organizational structure, are all seen as dangerous.
Document 4 also views with alarm ecumenical relations between the Protestant house-church Real God and the underground Catholic Church. Real God is also found to have ties with Tianenmen Square student protest leaders.
Measures outlined to be taken against the banned religious groups include surveillance, the deployment of special undercover agents, the gathering of "criminal evidence," "complete demolition" of a group's organizational system, interrogation, and arrest, as well as the confiscation of church property. Document 2 repeatedly refers to the use of "secret agents" to infiltrate "cults," underground Catholics, businesses, joint ventures, people with 'complicated political backgrounds," prestigious colleges and universities and other organizations.
Copies of the documents, along with translations, were provided to Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom by Mr. Shixiong Li and Mr. Bob Fu of the New York based Committee for Investigation on Persecution of Religion in China. A full translation, with explanatory notes, can be found on the Center's web page www.freedomhouse.org/religion, or can be emailed.
Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.