WASHINGTON (BP)–A U.S. religious freedom panel is encouraging President Obama to press China’s president, Hu Jintao, in their meetings this week in Washington to change China’s policy on political and religious dissent.
“Both President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have announced that human rights, including religious freedom, will be prominent in their discussions with President Hu,” a press statement by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said. USCIRF “urges President Obama to raise the cases of prominent religious prisoners and human rights lawyers in China” whose imprisonment violates “China’s international obligations and its constitutional protections for human rights and religious freedom.”
“The Administration needs to become a strong voice for the voiceless and vulnerable in China,” said Leonard Leo, USCIRF chair. “China’s imprisoned dissidents stand peacefully for freedom and the rule of law, but Beijing views them as enemies of the state, a position that is fundamentally at odds with U.S. global interests.
“The United States cannot ignore China’s continued repression of dissent in the hopes of finding common ground on other important global concerns,” Leo continued. “Nevertheless, we are encouraged that President Obama stated recently that human rights would be a major part of his discussion with President Hu and urge him to raise prominently the cases of prisoners.”
Private conversations between Obama and Hu will not be enough to move China toward greater political and religious freedom, Leo said. The Obama administration “must demonstrate that it believes respect for religious freedom and related human rights is a fundamental strategic interest and integrate this understanding into its overall China policy.”
In a Jan. 14 letter to Obama, Leo wrote to the president: “As you prepare to meet with President Hu Jintao next week, we respectfully urge you to speak publicly about why religious freedom is in China’s interest, rooted in international human rights treaties and standards which China has affirmed. In the past, USCIRF welcomed your eloquent statements before the U.S.-China Strategic Dialogue about why religious freedom is an important American interest, fundamental to our nation’s history. We hope you will use this opportunity with Chinese leaders to detail the tangible diplomatic, political, social welfare, security, and economic benefits China can gain by fully protecting and promoting religious freedom and related human rights, and also explain the costs of continued repression and religious freedom abuses to the future growth and flexibility of U.S.-China relations.”
Leo wrote that U.S. policy “should reflect the fact that human rights protections and the advancement of the rule of law are critically intertwined with many of our national interests with China.”
USCIRF released a list of 10 political and religious prisoners that is “a representative sample of the many prisoners being held in Chinese jails.”
The text of USCIRF’s list follows:
— Bishop Su Zhimin. “Bishop Su was arrested for being part of the ‘unregistered’ Roman Catholic Church (diocese of Baoding in Hebei Province). Bishop Su disappeared after his arrest in October 1997. In November 2003, Su was seen receiving medical treatment under police custody, but disappeared soon after. His whereabouts and status are unknown.”
— Gao Zhisheng. “Current Status: Presumably detained at an undisclosed location since April 2010. Background: Gao Zhisheng is an internationally recognized, self-educated human rights lawyer and Nobel Peace Prize nominee. He has endured detention, torture, and arbitrary detention from the Chinese government for representing politically sensitive cases, for his outspoken calls for constitutional reforms, and for calling on the government to cease persecution of religious minorities.”
— Liu Xiaobo. “Current Status: The 2010 Nobel Prize winner is serving an 11-year prison sentence for allegedly ‘inciting subversion.’ He was arrested and sentenced for organizing the document Charter 08, signed by thousands of Chinese calling for political reforms and the protection of human rights, including religious freedom. Background: Liu was also punished for essays he wrote and posted on overseas websites. The essays were critical of the Chinese Communist Party, but did not advocate violence. In a 2006 article ‘Changing the Regime to Change Society,’ Liu Xiaobo cited St. Thomas Aquinas’ notion of political virtue as critical to the reform of China’s political system, saying that ‘virtuous good governance lies not only in maintaining order, but even more in establishing human dignity … [recognizing that] humans exist not only physically, but also spiritually, possessing a moral sense … that is the natural source of our sense of justice.’ This idea worked its way into the Charter 08 document’s emphasis on human rights, including religious freedom, as essential reforms for China’s future.”
— Guo Feixiong, aka Yang Maodong. “Current Status: Since December 13, 2007, Guo has been serving a 5-year sentence in Meizhou Prison (Guangdong Province). He is scheduled to be released on September 13, 2011. Background: Guo Feixiong is a self-educated legal advisor and law partner of Gao Zhisheng. He has endured repeated beatings and torture for providing legal assistance to Taishi villagers in a political corruption scandal in 2005, for publicly speaking out against the Chinese government’s excessive crackdown of human rights activists and religious communities, and for exposing governmental corruption.”
— Xu Na. “Current Status: Na received a 3-year sentence on November 25, 2008. While her status and whereabouts are unknown, it is presumed that she is currently detained in Beijing Women’s Prison. Background: On January 26, 2008, Na and her husband, musician Yu Zhou, were arrested at a Beijing Olympic security checkpoint for possessing Falun Gong literature. Yu died just 11 days after their detention, raising speculation of police brutality. On November 25, 2008, Na was convicted of ‘using a heretical organization to undermine implementation of the law,’ and received a 3-year sentence. In 2001, Na was detained in Beijing Women’s Prison for five years for housing Falun Gong believers at her residence.”
— Thabkhe Gyatso. “Current Status: Since May 21, 2009, Thabkhe has been serving a 15-year sentence for ‘endangering state security’ for organizing a peaceful protest at Labrang Monastery in the presence of international media, opposing religious freedom restrictions. Reportedly, he was denied access to legal representation, his family was denied visitation rights, and finally, he endured severe beatings that may have seriously affected his mental health.”
— Huseyin Celil. “Current Status: Canadian citizen extradited from Uzbekistan to China in June 2006. Celil was detained in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, in March 2006, while visiting his wife’s relatives. He was traveling on a Canadian passport when he was detained. China maintains that Celil is ‘a Chinese citizen suspected of being involved in East Turkestan terrorist activities,’ and says his case is being tried and a verdict has not yet been reached. Background: Celil was wanted in China for his involvement in a campaign for the rights of the country’s minority Muslim Uighurs. He was arrested in China and tortured, but escaped from prison in 2000 and fled to Uzbekistan and Turkey before reaching Canada, where he was given citizenship.”
— Alimjan Yimit. “Current Status: Since his conviction on October 7, 2009, Yimit has been serving a 15-year sentence in Xinjiang No. 3 Prison in Urumqi, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR). Background: Arrested in January 12, 2008. While initially charged with ‘endangering national security’ during his first trial in May 27, 2008, that charge was dropped due to lack of sufficient evidence. On October 7, 2009, he was finally convicted of ‘instigating separatism’ and ‘providing state secrets to foreign organizations,’ and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Rights groups report that he has received harsh treatment while in prison, including denial of medical treatment.”
— Gedun Choekyi Nyima. “Current Status: Missing and incommunicado for the past 13 years, since the age of six. Background: On May 14, 1995, the Dalai Lama announced from Dharamsala that he had recognized Gendun Choekyi Nyima as the 11th reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, the second most prominent lama of the Gelug sect. Chinese officials denounced the announcement as “illegal and invalid” and took Gedun Choekyi Nyima, then age six, and his parents into custody. Several months later authorities installed another boy, Gyalsten Norbu, and demanded that the secular and monastic communities accept his legitimacy. The move continues to stir widespread resentment. The United States and other governments have repeatedly urged China to end restrictions on Gedun Choekyi Nyima and his family and to allow international representatives to visit them.”
— Aminan Momixi. “Current Status: Currently serving an unknown sentence for ‘illegally possessing religious materials and subversive historical information.’ Background: On August 1, 2005, authorities in Xinjiang arrested Aminan Momixi, a Uighur Muslim religious instructor, along with 37 of her students. Aminan Momixi was teaching the Koran to students between the ages of 7 and 20 when police arrested her. She was reportedly denied her access to a lawyer.”
USCIRF is an independent bipartisan U.S. federal government commission established in 1998 to review violations of religious freedom internationally and make policy recommendations to the president, secretary of state and Congress. USCIRF is on the Internet at www.uscirf.gov.
Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor and senior writer Mark Kelly.