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Commission urges U.S. to press China for religious freedom


WASHINGTON (BP)–The United States government should communicate a “consistent, candid and coordinated message” to the Chinese regime that it needs to reverse the deteriorating conditions for religious freedom and other human rights in the world’s most populous country, a bipartisan commission has recommended.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, reporting on its two-week trip to China, found a crackdown continues on unapproved religious groups and urged the federal government to take a variety of steps to influence reform under the communist regime.

“The commission continues to find that the Chinese government systemically violates the rights of freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief, contravening both the Chinese constitution and international human rights norms,” USCIRF Chairman Michael Cromartie said at a Nov. 9 Capitol Hill news conference at which the panel’s report was released.

“Moreover, on the basis of our trip, as well as ongoing analysis, the commission has concluded that the scope of political openness, public activism, civil and individual freedoms is actually now narrowing,” Cromartie said. “Economic freedom, as some had hoped, has not — has not — led to more religious and political freedom and human rights protection.”

The Chinese government especially suppresses Protestant Christians and Roman Catholics in unregistered, or underground, churches, as well as Tibetan Buddhists, Uighur Muslims and the Falun Gong, a meditation sect.

The commission and members of Congress called on President Bush to press Chinese leaders for change on religious liberty and other human rights when he meets with them soon in Beijing. The president will leave Nov. 14 for a multi-nation trip to the Far East and is scheduled to be in China Nov. 19-21.

“I urge the president to speak out boldly, not privately,” Rep. Frank Wolf, R.-Va., said at the news conference. He also said members of the Bush administration and Congress should “meet with the dissidents” whenever they go to China.

Bush told reporters the day before the report’s release he would raise religious liberty as an issue with Chinese President Hu Jintao. “I will continue to remind President Hu about, for example, my personal faith and the belief that people should be allowed to worship freely,” Bush said, according to The Washington Times.

Among the USCIRF’s recommendations to the U.S. government:

— Urge Beijing to end its suppression of religious groups and its efforts to force religious adherents to renounce their beliefs, and to release prisoners held because of their faith.

— Bring up China’s human rights abuses before United Nations bodies and at other multi-national meetings.

— Implement a March agreement with China in which parents would have the right to educate their children based on their religious beliefs and underage children would have the liberty to practice their faith.

— Name a counselor for human rights and the rule of law to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.

— Make the furthering of the rule of law a greater priority in its relationship with China.

— Continue to press Beijing to protect North Korean refugees who flee to China for asylum.

— Promote programs involving U.S. human rights experts and Chinese officials on international standards for the freedom of religion.

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and a USCIRF commissioner, told Baptist Press all of the recommendations are important, “because together the whole is more than the sum of the parts. And we hope that taken together that these policies will be a tsunami wave that will go over [the] top and then undermine the levees of intolerance and persecution.”

Land, one of seven commissioners on the two-week trip in August to China, said after the news conference the report is “a candid assessment of what we found when we were there, that there is significant religious repression and significant discrimination and persecution of people of religious faith who refuse to dot the i’s and cross the t’s and live within the government’s onerous and repressive regulations.”

The USCIRF delegation met with representatives of the government-sanctioned Buddhist, Catholic, Islamic, Protestant and Taoist religious organizations but was denied access to several prominent leaders of unapproved religious groups. Government officials attended all of the commission’s meetings with religious leaders, Cromartie said.

The delegation met with government officials, in addition to approved religious leaders, and traveled to Beijing, Urumqi, Kashgar, Chengdu, Lhasa and Shanghai.

The USCIRF’s report was released on the same day Bush met with the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader, The Times reported. It came a day after Cai Zhuohua, 34, leader of an underground Beijing church, was sentenced to three years in prison for printing Bibles illegally, Reuters News Service reported. His wife, Xiao Yunfei, and her brother, Xiao Gaowen, were given two-year and 18-month sentences, respectively, by a Chinese court, according to Reuters.

In addition to Wolf, House of Representatives Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and Reps. Tom Lantos, D.-Calif., Chris Smith, R.-N.J., and Mark Kennedy, R.-Minn., spoke at the news conference and applauded the commission’s report.

Representing the USCIRF at the news conference in addition to Cromartie, vice president of the Washington-based Ethics and Public Policy Center, and Land was Preeta Bansal, a constitutional lawyer in Washington.

Land served on the nine-member USCIRF from 2001-04 as an appointee by Bush. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist named Land in July to the commission for another term.

The USCIRF advises the White House and Congress on the condition of religious liberty in other countries. The president selects three members of the panel, while congressional leaders name the other six.

The USCIRF’s report and recommendations on China may be accessed online at its website, www.uscirf.gov.
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