CHINA: RELIGIOUS FREEDOMS THREATENED AS OLYMPICS DRAW TO CLOSE


House churches asked not to meet during Games; new crackdown planned for October.

DUBLIN, August 20 (Compass Direct News) – As the Olympics draw to a close, new evidence of religious freedom abuses offers a stark contrast to China’s efforts to provide religious services for athletes and visitors during the Games.

China hired religious clerics to provide these services and published a special bilingual edition of the Bible for distribution to athletes and official churches during the event. Simultaneously, officials asked house church leaders in Beijing to sign documents agreeing not to hold services during the Games, the China Aid Association (CAA) reported on August 13.

More ominously, China has planned a new crackdown on four “troublesome elements,” including house church leaders, for October, when most Olympic athletes, tourists and journalists will have left the country, CAA reported on Monday (August 18).

 

Positive Steps

A British-based Christian charity, the Bible Society, provided funding for a special bilingual Olympic edition of 30,000 full Bibles and 10,000 New Testaments for distribution in the Olympic Village and to registered churches in the Olympic cities, the Catholic News Agency reported in June. The Amity Printing Press, China’s only government-approved Bible publisher, printed the books in a new multimillion dollar facility that opened in Nanjing in May.

The Chinese government claims that Amity produces more than enough Bibles to meet the needs of the Chinese church, a claim many religious freedom organizations dispute. Amity also prints Bibles for export internationally.

A report circulating before the Games declared that China had banned Bibles from the Olympic Village, but this report proved false.

Officials also hired religious clerics from the five government-approved faiths to provide services for athletes and tourists during the Games. The five groups are Buddhists, Taoists, Muslims, Protestants and Catholics; each one answers to a specific religious institution appointed to oversee their activities.

 

Restrictions in Place

In the lead-up to the Games, officials asked a number of house church pastors to sign a document agreeing to forego any activities at “Christian gathering sites” or meeting points while the Games took place, according to CAA.

Under this agreement, house churches were banned from gathering from July 15 to October 15, a total of 17 weeks. Those who broke the agreement would face “disciplinary action.”

The agreement asked that house churches “refrain from organizing and joining illegal gatherings and refrain from receiving donations, sermons and preaching from overseas religious organizations and groups that have a purpose.”

The Union of Catholic Asian News confirmed in a report on August 7 that officials had forbidden bishops and priests in unregistered Catholic churches to administer sacraments or do pastoral work during the Games.

Officials placed several underground bishops under house arrest and forbade them to contact their priests, the report added.

In Wuqiu village of Jinxian county, Hebei, police erected a small “house” in front of the cathedral presided over by underground Bishop Julius Jia Zhiguo in order to provide a facility for 24-hour monitoring of the bishop.

Additionally, Bishop Joseph Wei Jingyi of Qiqihar in northeast China received phone calls from government officials asking if he planned to hold any religious gatherings during the Olympics. Wei said he would stay at home and pray for the success of the Games.

Prior to the Games, police banned several Christians from meeting with visiting U.S. government officials and asked others to leave Beijing for the duration of the event.

Police in July repeatedly asked house church pastor Zhang Mingxuan and his wife Xie Fenlang to leave Beijing. When they refused, police on July 18 entered a guesthouse where they were staying and drove them to Yanjiao in neighboring Hebei province.

When Zhang granted an interview to BBC journalist John Simpson, police detained Zhang and Xie before the interview could take place. (See Compass Direct News, “Chinese House Church Pastor Detained,” August 7.)

On August 10, police seized house church pastor and activist Hua Huiqi when he attempted to participate in a service at the government-approved Juanjie Protestant church in Beijing, where U.S. President George Bush was scheduled to appear.

Hua, still in hiding, wrote a letter to Bush later that day, pleading for prayer for his personal safety and for freedom of belief for all Chinese people. (See Compass Direct News, “Chinese Christians Plead for Relief as Olympics Continue,” August 13.)

 

October Crackdown

More prayer may be requested in coming months. China’s Communist Party (CPC) will launch a nationwide crackdown on four “unstable social elements” in October, CAA reported on Monday (August 18).

These elements were listed as illegal Christian house church leaders, petitioners, human rights defenders and political dissidents.

Outlined in a secret government directive passed to CAA, the crackdown is designed to coincide with a new campaign for “20 more years of political and social stability” in China.

In a speech on June 16, Zhou Yongkang, head of the Political and Legal Committee of the Central Committee of the CPC, called for “extraordinary measures” to be taken against these elements in order to protect the CPC’s continuous rule and reform programs.

The Beijing Municipal State Security Bureau has also begun a new citizen informant initiative, requiring ordinary citizens to report individuals and organizations posing a threat to national security, including those who “engage in activities that endanger state security by utilizing religions,” according to CAA.

Report from Compass Direct News

CHINA: HOUSE CHURCH PASTOR DETAINED


Police seize Zhang Mingxuan, wife and co-pastor after leader agrees to BBC interview.

DUBLIN, August 7 (Compass Direct News) – Chinese police detained house church leader Zhang Mingxuan, along with his wife Xie Fenlang and co-pastor Wu Jiang He, at a police station in Hebei after a BBC journalist attempted to interview him on Monday (August 4).

International affairs journalist John Simpson phoned Zhang to request an interview, as required in a handbook given to journalists reporting on the Olympic Games in Beijing. Zhang agreed to the interview, but as Simpson traveled to meet him, police seized Zhang and his companions and moved them to a local police station.

When Zhang informed Simpson of their whereabouts using a cell phone, Simpson drove to the police station and shouted a few questions across the courtyard to Zhang, who was visible through an open window on the second floor of the building, as shown on BBC video footage.

Public Security Bureau (PSB) officials had banished Zhang and his wife from Beijing for the duration of the Games, fearing they would try to meet with visiting foreign officials. After forcing Zhang and Xie to leave their home and evicting them from several other temporary residences, police on July 18 entered a guesthouse where they were staying and drove them to Yanjiao in neighboring Hebei province.

Zhang and Xie then moved to another, more remote town to await the completion of the Games. (See “China Banishes Pastor from Beijing Prior to Games,” August 5.)

 

Protests to President

Zhang traveled as an itinerant evangelist throughout China before moving to Beijing in 1998. He is co-founder and president of the China House Church Alliance, established in April 2005 to defend the rights of house church Christians.

In 2005, U.S. President Bush invited Zhang to a meeting during an official visit to China. The meeting never took place, however, as officials detained Zhang before he could attend.

As president of the alliance, Zhang in November 2007 sent an open letter to President Hu Jintao, urging China to grant greater religious freedoms.

The letter, also signed by Zhang’s wife, read in part, “President Hu, are you aware that officials under you arrest, beat and drive away the Christians from their homes?”

Zhang also mentioned several detentions for his religious activities, including a 185-day imprisonment in 1986, shortly after he became a Christian, and numerous threats, beatings and arrests after he moved to Beijing. In 1999, PSB officials seized Zhang for preaching in a public place and confined him to a mental hospital for 13 days.

The letter described harassment, including threats to cut off water and electricity, and accusations that Zhang was illegally adopting orphans after he established an orphanage and school at Yanjiao.

In his conclusion, Zhang implored Hu to improve the rights of religious minorities, particularly Christians, for the social and moral benefit of China.

This June Zhang met with U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf and Rep. Christopher Smith during a visit to Beijing, but officials placed him under house arrest the following night, the South China Morning Post reported. Also in June, officials detained Zhang when he attempted to meet with Bastiann Belder, a rapporteur of the European Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Also this week, authorities arrested three Christian activists who were demonstrating in Tiananmen Square. The Rev. Pat Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition in Washington, D.C., Brandi Swindell of Generation Life in Boise, Idaho, and Michael McMonagle, national director of Generation Life, were taken into custody yesterday (August 6) after displaying a banner that read “Jesus Christ Is King” in both English and Chinese.

They were released soon after.

Report from Compass Direct News