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Christian prisoner in spotlight at China rights event

WASHINGTON (BP) — The release of an underground church leader reportedly jailed in China for his Christianity was among pleas at an interfaith roundtable U.S. Vice President Mike Pence attended on China’s religious rights abuses.

China should release Hu Shigen, held since 2015 on charges of subverting state power, religious freedom advocate Gary Bauer urged at the meeting, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said. Reportedly, Hu’s baptism photo was used to convict him.

Bauer advocated for Hu at an interfaith discussion Pence attended with members of the International Religious Freedom Roundtable Monday (Aug. 5). Among other Christians attending the meeting were Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore, ChinaAid President Bob Fu, Open Doors USA President David Curry, 21 Wilberforce President Randel Everett and U.S. Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback.

“China’s persecution of Christian house churches is a stain on its international reputation,” said Bauer, a USCIRF commissioner. “China may strive to be a leading economic power, but the world cannot forget the government’s deplorable treatment of religious believers and peaceful advocates within its borders.”

Attendees discussed ways the U.S. might hold China accountable for its religious freedom violations, which include a systematic crackdown on Christianity and other faiths, and the detention of as many as 2 million Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs and other Muslims.

Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), said China should invite Brownback and USCIRF commissioners to visit China for a first-hand survey of human rights, ChinaAid reported, particularly Tibet and Xinjiang where abuses are considered more severe.

“Grateful for a productive meeting with Vice President Mike Pence and our @ERLC-led multi-faith coalition combatting the Chinese persecution of Christians, Uyghur Muslims, Buddhists, and others,” Moore tweeted after the event.

Curry and Fu advocated for U.S. sanctions against China, with Fu encouraging sanctions against key Chinese leaders under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, which allows the U.S. to withdraw visas.

In a White House statement, Pence reaffirmed a Trump administration “commitment to stand with people of every faith in every country around the world, including in the People’s Republic of China where the administration will continue to call upon Beijing to respect the rights enshrined in China’s constitution to allow Muslim, Buddhist, and Christian believers throughout the country the freedom to practice their faiths.”

The U.S. State Department identifies China as a country of particular concern regarding religious persecution. Open Doors, in it 2019 World Watch List, tags China as the 27th most dangerous country in the world for a Christian to live.

Hu Shigen

Hu was sentenced in 2016 to seven-and-a-half years in prison, ChinaAid said. He is listed among ChinaAid’s 18 Chinese prisoners of conscience who, according to ChinaAid, “represent thousands of men and women in China who work at their peril to promote and advocate for the rule of law, religious freedom, democracy, and basic human rights.”

ChinaAid describes Hu as a pro-democracy activist and renowned church elder who spent 16 years in a Chinese prison for events he sponsored near the third-anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Upon his release, he organized several underground churches and served as an elder, but was arrested again during a 2015 government crackdown on human rights defenders.

Bauer has been advocating since 2018 for Hu’s release as part of USCIRF’s Religious Prisoners of Conscience Project.

“Hu Shigen simply called on the Chinese government to let Christians practice their religious beliefs without interference,” Bauer said. “It’s time for China to drop the unjust charges against Hu and to release him.”