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Beijing’s bid for 2008 Olympics draws religious liberty opposition

WASHINGTON (BP)–A campaign against Beijing’s bid to host the 2008 Olympic Games has been launched by the Center for Religious Freedom at the Washington-based religious liberty organization Freedom House.

The campaign’s appeal to the International Olympic Committee is being waged “on the basis that China is a severe religious persecutor,” according to a statement by the center received by Baptist Press March 14.

The Olympic Committee will meet in Beijing in April to view the facilities there, the statement said, noting that four other cities also are in the running to host the Games, Toronto, Paris, Osaka and Istanbul. The Olympic Committee’s decision will be made in July.

“No religious group operating outside government control in China is spared harsh repression by authorities,” the Center for Religious Freedom’s statement said. “‘Unauthorized’ Roman Catholics, Protestants, Tibetan Buddhists, Muslims and practitioners of Falun Gong are all targeted.

“China is one of six countries recently designated by the U.S. administration as a ‘country of particular concern’ for ‘egregious and ongoing’ religious persecution,” the statement continued. “The U.S. Department of State, in its annual Religious Freedom Report issued last September, concluded that religious freedom in China ‘deteriorated markedly.'” The center also reminded that the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, in its May 1, 2000, annual report had recommended that the U.S. government use its influence with other governments to ensure that Beijing is not selected as the Olympic host, and its poor human rights record played a role in China being denied in its quest to host the 2000 Olympics.

“In addition, holding the Olympic events in China runs the risk that athletes and spectators would also be subject to the government’s religious controls and repression,” the center noted. “Christians may be told to leave their Bibles home, as they were during the U.N. Women’s Conference that was held in Beijing in 1995. Roman Catholics may not be able to attend Mass with a priest in communion with Rome since this is forbidden in China. Falun Gong practitioners would be curtailed from conducting slow motion exercises that are central to their belief system. It is likely that Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists would encounter difficulties entering the country and moving freely once there. Mormons, Jews, Bahais, Hindus and many other faiths would be unable to worship at all since theirs are not among the five religions recognized by Chinese authorities.”

The center’s director, Nina Shea, said in the statement that the Olympics would be “dishonored by the scandal of holding the prestigious events in a country where ‘unapproved’ houses of worship are routinely bulldozed, grandmothers and priests are bludgeoned to death for religious practices, and religious people are sent to labor camp by the tens of thousands.” Shea statements were in reference to the destruction of thousands of churches, temples and shrines in Wenzhou in the weeks before Christmas and the fact that mass numbers of religious believers, especially Falun Gong practitioners, are being arrested and persecuted.

“Putting pressure on China by rejecting its bid to host the Olympics is a good alternative to trade sanctions,” Shea added. “No jobs are lost, but the message is sent — China will not be a full-fledged member of the world community until it upholds basic human freedoms.”

Shea described China’s recent announcement that it would soon ratify the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as “a cynical attempt to deflect attention from an indisputably abysmal human rights record. It would be unjustifiable to bypass other cities where human rights and religious freedom are upheld to confer the honor of Olympic host on Beijing,” Shea said.

Hundreds of Chinese dissidents and relatives of political prisoners, both inside and outside China, are circulating their own petitions against China’s Olympic bid, and the International Olympic Committee policy does not preclude considering such protests, the Center for Religious Freedom said.

Individuals may address concerns to the International Olympic Committee, Chateau de Vidy, Case Postale 356, 1007 Lausanne, Switzerland; telephone, 41-21-621-61-11; fax, 41-21-621-62-16.

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