WASHINGTON (BP)–Religious freedom activists in China are not the only ones needing a lawyer; their lawyers also are being attacked by the government.
“They are the defenders for the defenseless and a voice to the voiceless, and basically, for doing that, they themselves have been facing danger. The defenders themselves need defense, ironically,” said Bob Fu, president of China Aid.
At a news conference in Washington, six Chinese legal rights professionals recounted their treatment by the Chinese government.
One of the attorneys, Cao Zhi, founder and editor-in-chief of the Citizen Republic magazine in China, noted that a 2005 law enacted in China stipulates that if the government does not grant permission for a religious activity, it is considered illegal.
Dai Jinbo, a legal counsel for Chinese house churches, described a recent case that involved a church that was attacked at 3 a.m. on Sept. 13 in northeastern China’s Shanxi province. At least 300 police raided the Linfen House Church, physically beat a number of believers and destroyed much of the church’s property.
Zhang Kai, a defense attorney whose law license was revoked in May, cited some reasons Chinese officials persecute church members through beatings, imprisonments or insults:
— If the church is not registered through the government.
— If the church does not ask permission to have religious activities.
— If the church evangelizes in other Chinese regions without government permission.
On Oct. 13, Christian leader Pastor Bike, as he is known, and his wife, Xie Feng-Lan, were on their way to visit Linfen Church leaders who were arrested and being kept at a detention center. When they crossed the border into Shanxi province, police arrested Pastor Bike and jailed him, according to China Aid. Two days later, the police released the pastor and barred the couple from returning to Shanxi.
When a defense attorney handles such cases, said Li Fangping, a lawyer who has defended clients in more than 10 high-profile cases, “The government can refuse you, decline you, and even if they grant you the case, they can interfere with what you’re doing in the process.”
Jiang Tianyong, a human rights defense attorney whose law license also was revoked, said human rights activists can have a difficult time finding defense attorneys for their cases.
“It is extremely hard for the lawyer to process. The lawyers will be followed by the policemen, harassed or beaten physically. In court, we talk about the basic fact of these cases. We’re not allowed to talk about constitutional human rights,” Jiang said.
“No lawyer should be harassed or beaten or imprisoned because of the clients they defend on the cases they take on,” said Michael Cromartie, vice chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), at the Oct. 28 news conference in Washington.
Despite the current religious liberty conditions in China, the number of believers in the house movement church in Beijing is growing rapidly, said Wang Guangze, a Chinese political and law expert and former international journalist for The New York Times.
However, Wang said Chinese media professionals are limited in reporting about religion in China and are required to release only positive reports.
“We can see there is a very large religious community in China, but we don’t see much about them in the media,” Wang told reporters.
With President Obama scheduled to travel to China in mid-November, the six attorneys said they hope Obama will address human rights with Chinese President Hu Jintao.
Jiang commented, “I think this is a nature of a real fallen world if the president of the United States has a problem to talk about the basic human rights in freedom and in public.”
Cromartie said he would urge Obama “to meet with the human rights lawyers and ask … why so many detained religious believers cannot get adequate legal protection. He should ask why so many lawyers have been intimidated and stripped of their legal rights as they are trying to protect individuals.”
The USCIRF annual report, released in May, included recommendations for U.S. policy to support Chinese rights defenders through the State Department’s Human Rights and Democracy Fund, including:
— Creating new programs with increased networking of non-governmental organizations in China that address issues of religious freedom and other rights.
— Expand contacts among U.S. human rights experts, Chinese government officials and non-governmental organizations on international standards relating to such issues as religious freedom.
— Increase consultation on regulations and practices with international standards on freedom of religion or belief and human rights.
“China will not be changed by the Chinese government, but by the Chinese people,” Li said.
In another recent case of persecution, Chen Le, a high school student at Huashan Middle School, was expelled Oct. 20 for refusing to renounce his Christian faith, according to China Aid. The organization reported Oct. 29, however, that the party secretary for the high school division and school officials had visited Chen the day before and invited him to return to the school.
Cindy Ortiz, a junior at Biola University in La Mirada, Calif., is attending the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities’ Washington Journalism Center this semester and serving as an intern with Baptist Press.