WASHINGTON (BP)–Just days before President Bush visits Beijing, religious freedom campaigners released a report Feb. 11 indicating that state repression of Christians and other religious groups in China is systematic, harsh and authorized at senior government levels, according to CNSNews.com.
The Center for Religious Freedom at Freedom House analyzed seven top-secret or confidential Chinese government documents, which when taken together paint a picture of officials both determined to stamp out groups classified as “cults” and deeply concerned about their speedy growth in Chinese society — even within communist party circles.
“These documents provide irrefutable evidence that China remains determined to eradicate all religion it cannot control, using extreme tactics,” the center’s director, Nina Shea, said in a Feb. 11 news conference in New York.
“President Bush, who has repeatedly voiced concern for religious oppression in China, must speak out forcefully and publicly in support of religious freedom during his state visit to China next week,” Shea said.
Beijing only tolerates a “patriotic” Protestant church and an authorized Catholic church, which appoints its own bishops without consulting Rome. These official congregations have seen massive growth since the end of the Cultural Revolution in the late 1960s.
But unauthorized churches have grown even faster, with unregistered Protestants possibly numbering more than 50 million. The Vatican says millions of underground Catholics in China remain secretly loyal to the faith.
Many of these unregistered Christians, along with members of other groups like the Falun Gong meditation sect have borne the brunt of the state clampdown on what Beijing calls “cults.”
(A report on Fox News noted that 129 religious adherents have been killed and nearly 24,000 arrested in the government actions, according to the Center for Religious Freedom’s study.)
The center said the seven documents, dated between April 1999 and October 2001, were photocopied by sympathetic security officials in China and provided by the New York-based Committee for Investigation on Persecution of Religion in China. A renowned expert authenticated the documents.
Among other things, the documents give the state’s definition of a cult, identify and describe several groups so designated, and outline tactics to be used against them, including surveillance, the use of undercover spies, interrogation, arrest, confiscation of property and closed trials.
As the Center for Religious Freedom pointed out, the documents also reveal ignorance among officials of the basic teachings of Christianity — ignorance which likely underpins decisions to designate a particular church group as a cult.
For instance, misinterpreting the basic Christian belief that Christ lives in the believer, officials accuse members of groups that believe this of “deifying” their leaders.
“This officially atheist state and its officially atheist security officials are setting themselves up as the arbiters of true religious doctrine and, on this basis, imprisoning and torturing religious believers,” the center noted.
The documents also reveal paranoia about what officials see as outside attempts to attack China through unauthorized religious groups.
Thus, the Vatican is accused of inciting members of the authorized Catholic Church to rebel, while “antagonistic powers” like the United States and Taiwan are seen as colluding with Falun Gong adherents.
The U.N. Human Rights Commission meeting in Geneva each March has over the past decade become the stage for an annual power struggle between the United States and China. Washington sponsors a resolution critical of Beijing’s human rights record, and China invariably works up sufficient support from other nations to prevent a vote on the measure.
Ahead of this year’s gathering, China at the weekend launched a diplomatic initiative aimed at countering criticism of its rights record.
The Center for Religious Freedom noted Feb. 11 that Beijing also has been pushing a public relations campaign to persuade the West “that there is no religious persecution in China, that whatever incidents of repression occur are either the unauthorized acts of ‘overzealous cadres’ or else necessary measures against dangerous criminals, cultists and practitioners of ‘abnormal’ religious activities.”
However, the documents reflect the views of senior officials at national, regional or local levels. One document, a speech by a provincial-level security official, quotes senior party officials, including Hu Jin-tao, designated as successor to President Jiang Zemin, as stating the importance of crushing one group designated as a “cult.”
One of the documents reveals official concern that the clampdown is not proving successful. A provincial security official in a speech noted that, although banned, some illegal groups “came back from the ashes and resumed their activities.”
“Their key members have either altered their techniques or divided into small groups but are still busy clandestinely making connections,” the official stated.
The official also claimed some members of unauthorized churches attempt to infiltrate the communist party and government.
Another document expresses anxiety about the rapid growth of one particular group that has not been sufficiently successfully spied upon to provide authorities with intelligence on its sources of funding, overseas contacts and communication network.
The document accuses the group’s adherents of infiltrating “inner circles” of the party, government and state-sanctioned Protestant movement.
It also voices concern about relations between one unregistered Protestant group and underground Catholics.
“This cult is hastening its efforts to infiltrate underground Catholic churches so as to increase its strength by uniting with other underground powers,” the document said.
Goodenough is the Pacific Rim bureau chief with CNSNews.com, on the Internet at www.cnsnews.com. Used by permission.