In recent days the world has been shocked yet again by Taliban thugs who shot a 14-year-old girl in the head because of her blogging posts which were critical of the Taliban and promoted the education of females. It would seem the Taliban were intent on proving the girl correct by their cowardly actions. There have now been some arrests over the shooting, while 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai fights for her life in hospital.
Church likely to face another harsh year, report says.
DUBLIN, April 9 (CDN) — Christian human rights activist Gao Zhisheng, kidnapped by state security agents on Feb. 4, 2009, has been released, though he appears unable to move or speak freely.
On Tuesday (April 6) Gao told Bob Fu, president of the U.S.-based China Aid Association (CAA), by telephone that he had just returned to his Beijing apartment from his guarded location in Shanxi Province.
“Gao Zhisheng and his family have suffered deeply from the long separation,” Fu stated on CAA’s website. “Despite the persecution, he continues to trust the Lord.”
On Jan. 9, 2009, less than a month before Gao was abducted in his home village in Shaanxi Province, his family members began their escape from China. His wife, Geng He, along with then 16-year-old daughter Geng Ge and then 5-year-old son Gao Tianyu, arrived on foot to Thailand and eventually reached New York City on March 14, 2009.
With Fu and with reporters from The Associated Press (AP) this week, Gao declined to discuss his physical condition or how he was treated during his captivity. He told the AP that by leaving his role as a critic of human rights violations in China, he hopes to be re-united with his family.
“Gao is still not able to speak or move freely,” Fu said on the CAA website. “We urge the Chinese government now to allow Gao Zhisheng to be reunited with his family. It is his right, according the Chinese law, to be able to see them, since he has broken no laws during his time of probation.”
Gao’s disappearance had drawn protests from international human rights groups, U.S. and British officials and the United Nations. He had defended house church Christians and coal miners as well as members of the banned Falun Gong, which fuses Buddhist-inspired teachings with forms of meditation. In 1999 Beijing banned it as an “evil cult.”
Early in 2009, Gao authorized CAA to release his account of 50 days of torture by state-sponsored thugs in September and October of 2007. Gao had written the account in November 2007 while under house arrest in Beijing after prolonged beatings and electric shocks on his mouth and genitals.
Gao’s suffering in the fall of 2007 followed an open letter he wrote to the U.S. Congress describing China’s torture of Falun Gong members and other human rights abuses.
Another Harsh Year Expected
Chinese Christians can expect more attacks on large urban churches, more harsh punishments for house church leaders and tighter control of registered churches this year, according to CAA.
In a report summarizing persecution it monitored in 2009, CAA identified five key trends in China’s management of Protestant Christianity.
Authorities last year specifically targeted house church leaders, sometimes handing out harsh sentences and fines; carried out violent raids on large urban churches; attempted to disrupt regular worship meetings and tightened control of churches registered with the government-approved Three-Self Protestant Movement (TSPM).
In response, some urban churches engaged in a “power encounter” with local governments, refusing to quietly allow officials to close or destroy their meeting places, CAA noted. For example, almost 1,000 members of Beijing Shouwang church on Nov. 1 worshiped in Haidian Park during a snowstorm after officials pressured Huajie Plaza managers not to renew the church rental contract.
These trends were confirmed by a Chinese House Church Alliance (CHCA) report, released in December, which described harassment and arrest of church leaders, violent raids on house churches and the oppression of TSPM churches.
While CAA reported only 77 incidents in 2009, these occurred throughout China, giving a broad indication of the status of Protestant Christians, particularly those in unregistered churches. A total of 2,935 people were affected in these incidents, a 44.8 percent increase from 2008. Of these, 389 were arrested, a decrease in arrests of 49 percent; and 23 were sentenced to prison, a decline of 34 percent.
Of the 389 people arrested, 211 were church leaders. Several received harsh prison sentences and fines, including Beijing bookstore owner and church leader Shi Weihan, who on June 12 was sentenced to three years in prison and fined 150,000 RMB (US$21,945). Xinjiang officials on Aug. 6 sentenced Uyghur church leader Alimjan Yimit (Alimujiang Yimiti in Chinese) to 15 years in prison, while a day later, officials in Inner Mongolia sentenced church leaders Li Ming-shun and Zhang Yong-hu to 10 and seven years respectively, with fines of 30,000 (US$4,390) and 20,000 (US$2,925) RMB.
A court in Shanxi Province in November awarded five Linfen church pastors sentences ranging from three to seven years, with fines ranging from 10,000 to 50,000 RMB (US$1,462 to US$7,315). A further five pastors were sentenced to two years in labor camp.
At least 400 paramilitary police violently raided the Fushan county branch of Linfen church on Sept. 13, injuring a few dozen church members, confiscating Bibles and money and damaging church property. A similar raid was carried out on another large church in Shanxi Province in November.
Authorities also sealed or destroyed both house church and TSPM church buildings. In one prominent case last June, officials in Chengdu city, Sichuan Province declared Quiyu church to be an illegal organization, forcing the church to close and confiscating church property.
Officials in Rizhao city, Shandong province, raided a training event at a TSPM church and de-registered two church meeting places, CAA reported, while CHCA reported that officials tore down the meeting place of Changchun church in Ninan city, Shandong Province, giving only token compensation.
Churches in ‘Grey’ Zone
Chinese scholar and former policy writer Liu Peng believes the government is attempting to remove the “grey” zone in Protestant Christianity, where some churches operate openly without legal status.
China now permits churches to bypass joining the TSPM when registering, but many house church groups reject this solution. Leaders would prefer churches to be in one camp or the other, Liu said in a December interview with the China Daily.
In predicting harsher treatment this year, CAA quoted Wang Zuoan, head of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, who in January told Oriental Outlook that the “reluctance, intimidation and inability” of local governments to deal with religious issues must be addressed.
If these words represent China’s religious policy direction in 2010, churches are likely to be targets of greater persecution, CAA concluded.
Report from Compass Direct News
Assemblies of God obtains ‘operating license,’ but quest for recognition continues.
HO CHI MINH CITY, October 23 (CDN) — The Assemblies of God (AoG) in Vietnam on Monday (Oct. 19) received an “operating license,” which the government described as “the first step . . . before becoming officially legal.”
This operating license gives permission for all of the congregations of the Vietnam AoG to “carry on religious activity” anywhere in the country for the next year. During this time the church body must prepare a doctrinal statement, a constitution and bylaws and a four-year working plan to be approved by the government before being allowed to hold an organizing assembly. These steps, AoG leaders hope, would lead to legal recognition.
The operating license is the first one granted since five were granted two years ago. The last of those five churches, the Christian Fellowship Church, was finally allowed to hold its organizing assembly in late September. According to an internal 2008 government Protestant Training Manual obtained by church leaders, this assembly was delayed because authorities observed large discrepancies between the number of followers the group claimed and the actual number, as well as other “instability.”
Vietnam News Service reported on Sept. 29 that the Christian Fellowship Church has “30,000 believers nationwide.”
Should the AoG achieve legal recognition, it would be the ninth among some 70 Protestant groups in Vietnam and the seventh since new religion legislation touted to expedite registration was introduced in 2004.
The AoG quest was typically long, and it is not yet over. Though started in the early 1970s before the communist era, the denomination was deemed dormant by authorities after the communist takeover and restarted in 1989. Strangely, the Vietnamese religion law requires a church organization to have 20 years of stable organization before it can even be considered for legal recognition.
Though the AoG had been trying for years to register, only this year did it fulfill the 20-year requirement in the eyes of the government. Sources said AoG’s resistance to strong pressure by the government to eliminate a middle or district level of administration may also have contributed to the delay.
Ironically, the official government news report credits the Vietnam AoG with 40,000 followers, while denominational General Superintendent Samuel Lam told Compass the number is 25,000. He also said he hoped the advantages of registration would outweigh the disadvantages.
With no more operating licenses being granted, the future of registration is in a kind of limbo. Sources said a lower level of registration in which local authorities are supposed to offer permission for local congregations to carry on religious activities while the more complicated higher levels are worked out has largely failed. Only about 10 percent of the many hundreds of applications have received a favorable reply, they said, leaving most house churches vulnerable to arbitrary harassment or worse.
Leaders of all Protestant groups say that they continue to experience government resistance, as well as social pressure, whenever they preach Christ in new areas. They added that evidence is strong that the government’s aim is to contain Protestant growth.
Hmong Christians who fled the Northwest Mountainous Region for the Central Highlands a decade ago, developing very poor land in places such as Dak Nong, reported to Compass that they were singled out for land confiscation just when their fields became productive. They said ethnic Vietnamese made these land grabs with the complicity of the authorities, sometimes multiple times.
At the same time, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported on Oct. 19 that Vietnam has experienced a “sharp backsliding on religious freedom.” Among other incidents, HRW cited the late September crackdown on followers of Buddhist peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh. Some 150 monks were forcibly evicted from his sect’s Bat Nha Monastery in Lam Dong province on Sept. 27, and 200 nuns fled in fear the next day. As in recent land disputes with Roman Catholics involving thousands of demonstrators, authorities hired local and imported thugs to do the deed to present the image that ordinary local people were upset with the religion.
After a visit to Vietnam in May, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recommended that the United States reinstate Vietnam as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC), the blacklist of religious liberty offenders. Vietnam had been on the list from 2004 until 2006.
The USCIRF, which experienced less government cooperation that on some previous visits, observed that “Vietnam’s overall human rights record remains poor, and has deteriorated since Vietnam joined the World Trade Organization in January 2007.”
Some key Protestant leaders describe themselves as weary and frustrated at what they termed the government’s lack of sincerity, extreme tardiness and outright duplicity regarding religious freedom. They too said they believe that the lifting of Vietnam’s CPC status was premature and resulted in the loss of a major incentive for Vietnam to improve religious freedom.
Report from Compass Direct News
Christians note increase in government harassment – some of it violent.
HANOI, Aug. 6 (Compass Direct News) – Local authorities in Vietnam have balked at registering house churches, contributing to a recent uptick in sometimes violent harassment of congregations.
Four police officers and two government officials broke up the Sunday morning worship service of a house church in Tran Phu Commune in Hanoi on July 26, announcing that it was illegal to worship and teach religion. The police chief of Tran Phu Commune in greater Hanoi, Dang Dinh Toi, had ordered the raid.
When Christians under the leadership of Pastor Dang Thi Dinh refused to sign a document admitting they were meeting illegally, an angry police officer shouted, “If I find you meeting here next Sunday, I will kill you all like I’d kill a dog!”
Officials had previously refused to grant the church’s application for registration. Pastor Dinh and the national leader of the Ecclesia Revival denomination, Pastor Vo Xuan Loan, appealed to commune authorities the following day – again trying to register the church according to the Prime Minister’s 2005 Special Directive Concerning Protestants.
The commune head angrily proclaimed, “There are absolutely no Christians in this commune!” and then shooed them away, church leaders reported.
In nearby Hung Yen province, an Agape Baptist house church led by Pastor Duong Van Tuan was raided several times in June (see “Police Attack House Churches, Jail Leaders,” June18). Since then Compass learned from Pastor Tuan that his wife Nguyen Thi Vuong was badly abused on June 21. A group of policemen roughed her up, and then two of them seized her by her arms and repeatedly banged her head into a wall, he said.
When she fainted, Pastor Tuan said, they dragged her out and dumped her in a nearby field. Fellow Christians took her to medical care. The church situation remains unresolved.
Also in the north, in Viet Thuan Commune of Thai Binh Province, commune police broke up a house church meeting of the Vietnam Good News Mission Church on July 25, seizing seven hymnals and summoning Pastor Bui Xuan Tuyen to the police station for interrogation. In a letter to his superiors, Pastor Tuyen complained of police cursing and scolding him.
They confiscated his motorbike and sent it to a distant district office. In spite of such pressure, he refused to write a confession for what they termed his “crimes.” He was held until 10 p.m. before being released to collect his motorbike.
The situation is not better in the south. On Friday (July 31) Vietnam Good News Mission Church Pastor Mai Hong Sanh was subjected to a public denunciation and trial reminiscent of 1950s-style communism in the town of Ea Hleo, in Dak Lak Province.
He was sentenced to three months of “local re-education” for expanding his house without permission and giving religious training without permission – both practically impossible for Christians to obtain – and “causing social division.” This was the government’s answer to his church’s aspirations and attempts to provide training for ethnic minority church workers at Pastor Sanh’s home.
As a result, he can go nowhere without prior permission and must submit to political indoctrination courses at the whim of local officials. About 120 people, mostly town officials and police, attended his “trial” – Pastor Sanh was not allowed to defend himself, and authorities marshaled people they said were members of another church to accuse him, Christian sources said.
On Sunday (Aug. 2), some 15 policemen barged into a house church worship service in Xuan Thoi Thuong Commune, Hoc Mon district, Ho Chi Minh City. Brandishing batons and electric prods, police demanded that people leave immediately, according to local sources. Two new believers fled, they said, but most of the small congregation remained.
In a show of force, police officers also lined up outside the house and announced to curious neighbors who had gathered, “If anyone of you come to Chinh’s house and believe in his God, you will be in deep trouble,” according to the sources. Nguyen Van Chinh, leader of this independent house church, had been receiving such visits and threats by security forces since January.
Following the advice of local authorities, he had tried to register his house church as provided by Vietnamese law, but to no avail. At midnight on July 24, five police officers beat on his door demanding to be let in “to check IDs.”
Though he had submitted a registration application months before, they told him that “future zoning would not allow religious activities” and that he must permanently cease church meetings, sources said. When his congregation continued meeting, he was issued an “administrative fine,” which he appealed. His house church continued worshiping, leading to Sunday’s raid.
Church leaders said such incidents are representative of many others not reported for security reasons. Asked about the reasons for this uptick in harassment, church leaders strongly agreed that it is a firm though unwritten government policy to try to stop any expansion of Christianity. They said the harassment was so widespread that it must have approval from the top level of the central government.
All of the churches in this report tried to register according to supposedly clear government guidelines but have been denied without a legitimate reason.
Christian leaders also observed that Vietnam, having achieved its goal of getting off the U.S. religious liberty black list and won accession to the World Trade Organization, no longer worries much about international opinion. Others added that authorities, who retain a special suspicion of Christianity, are trying to suppress any expressions of the widely growing discontent with Vietnam’s government and the Communist Party.
At the same time, Catholics have been involved in larger clashes with authorities and with gangs of thugs widely believed to be hired and stirred up by the government. The government-backed gangs have beaten Catholic families. A fierce clash between Catholics and the government flared up in Dong Hoi City, in central Quang Binh province, on July 22. Police and hoodlums interfered with some 200 faithful trying to rebuild part of the bombed out Tam Toa Cathedral.
Reminding Catholics of the heavy-handed ending to church property claims in Hanoi last year, this incident quickly got the support of Catholics around the country. Some estimated that up to 500,000 Catholics nationwide participated in prayer vigils the following Sunday.
According to a long-time Compass source on Vietnam, the legally registered Protestant bodies are no more optimistic than their Catholic counterparts. Their leaders complain of unending bureaucratic blockages, harassment and interference.
“Overall, there is more pessimism today than four or five years ago, when people had hopes that new religion regulations might lead to steady improvement,” the source said.
“But it was not to be. Hence trust in government promises to improve religious liberty is at a very low ebb.”
Report from Compass Direct News
Local authorities complicit or turn blind eye to assaults on Christians.
LOS ANGELES, May 11 (Compass Direct News) – A Hmong man in Vietnam’s Northwest Mountainous Region who murdered his mother in February because she had become a Christian has assaulted another Christian, leaving him critically wounded, according to area Christian sources.
Lao Lia Po on April 25 allegedly attacked Koua Lo of Meo Vac district, Ha Giang Province because he had become a Christian, according to a local church leader. Koua sustained severe head injuries; according to witnesses, his head was split open in two places with parts of his brain visible.
Koua was taken to a hospital, but after three days doctors said they could do nothing more for him and sent him home. As his injuries were life-threatening, those close to Koua did not expect him to recover.
The alleged attacker, Lao, is still at large and has not been charged. The assault took place in Sung Can Village, Sung Tra Commune, Meo Vac district, Ha Giang Province.
In the same area two years ago, a 74-year-old woman became the first Christian in the village. Today there are about 100 families who follow Christ, but the cost has been high. Stories of harassment and abuse of Christians in Meo Vac district have circulated for several months, with local Christians saying government officials are either complicit or look the other way.
On Feb. 3, local Christians said, Lao murdered his mother in a similarly brutal fashion, smashing her head until she died. Police only held him overnight before releasing him without charge. The day he was released, local sources said, he again threatened Christians with death.
A Vietnamese pastor petitioned the government to investigate – with no result. Another leader informed U.S. diplomats of the details. Some Vietnamese Christians have complained to Vietnam diplomatic missions abroad, all to no avail.
Advocates of religious freedom in Vietnam say such impunity puts a serious blot on Vietnam’s slowly improving religious liberty record.
Following heavy international scrutiny of Vietnam’s oppression of religion in general and Protestantism in particular, Vietnam promulgated new religion legislation in 2004 and 2005. To date this has led to the legal recognition of six church/denominational organizations, raising the total to eight out of about 70. Additionally, a few hundred of Vietnam’s thousands of house church congregations have been given interim permission to carry on religious activities, and large-scale government campaigns to force ethnic minority Christians to recant their faith have ceased.
High hopes for improvement following the new religion legislation led the U.S. Department of State to take Vietnam off its blacklist of the worst violators of religious freedom in late 2006, which enabled the U.S. government to endorse Vietnam’s accession to the World Trade Organization. And Christian support organization Open Doors this year dropped Vietnam to No. 23 on its World Watch List ranking of religion persecutors. In eight of the last 12 years, Vietnam had been placed among the organization’s top 10 worst religious persecutors.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), however, found exceptions to progress so widespread that it again recommended naming Vietnam a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) this year. The recommendation by USCIRF, responsible for monitoring state department compliance with the U.S. 1998 Law on International Religious Freedom, was announced on May 1.
The commission’s report recognizes progress but notes, “There continue to be far too many serious abuses and restrictions of religious freedom in the country. Individuals continue to be imprisoned or detained for reasons related to their religious activity or religious freedom advocacy; police and government officials are not held fully accountable for abuses; independent religious activity remains illegal; and legal protections for government-approved religious organizations are both vague and subject to arbitrary or discriminatory interpretations based on political factors.”
Given the uneven pace of religious freedom progress after removing Vietnam from the list of CPCs, continued detention of prisoners of conscience, and an overall deteriorating human rights situation, USCIRF recommended that Vietnam be re-designated as a CPC.
In Tra Vinh Province in the Mekong Delta Region of southern Vietnam, another Christian was murdered on April 5. Thugs ambushed Thach Thanh No, described as a young and enthusiastic church elder, on his way home from Sunday worship, according to local Christian sources. His family was unable to find him quickly, and he died from his injuries as he was transported to a hospital.
The congregation in Ngoc Bien Commune to which he belonged has long been harassed and threatened by local thugs supported by militant Buddhists, according to area Christians, who emphasized that authorities have done nothing to intervene.
Indeed, in Thach’s case, rather than prosecute the killers, the Ministry of Public Security’s World Security newspaper published an article on April 24 – concocted without any factual basis, according to area Christians – which portrayed him as dying from crashing his motorbike while drunk. His motorbike, however, was found entirely unmarked without any signs of a crash, and his body showed clear signs of a vicious beating, according to area Christians.
“In one case the law winks at the murder of a Christian and does nothing to punish the murderer – in another, authorities actively work to cover up a murder with elaborate lies,” said one long-time advocate for religious freedom in Vietnam. “Such behavior on the part of authorities convinces many Vietnamese Christians that their country’s top officials are still not sincere about improving religious freedom for all.”
Report from Compass Direct News
State-sponsored thugs threatened to kill Gao Zhisheng if he revealed torture.
LOS ANGELES, March 25 (Compass Direct News) – Certain that Chinese authorities are torturing Christian human rights activist Gao Zhisheng following the escape of his family to the United States, advocacy group China Aid Association (CAA) today urged the international community to take action on his behalf.
Earlier this year Gao had authorized CAA to release his account of 50 days of torture by state-sponsored thugs in September and October of 2007. Gao had written the account in November 2007 while under house arrest in Beijing after prolonged beatings and electric shocks on his mouth and genitals.
“Every time when I was tortured,” Gao wrote, “I was always repeatedly threatened that if I spelled out later what had happened to me, I would be tortured again, but I was told, ‘This time it will happen in front of your wife and children.’”
On Jan. 9, less than a month before state security agents in his home village in Shaanxi province abducted him on Feb. 4, Gao’s family members began their escape from China. They arrived on foot to Thailand and eventually were whisked to the United States. They arrived in Los Angeles on March 11 and transferred to New York on March 14.
Gao’s wife, Geng He, along with 16-year-old daughter Geng Ge and 5-year-old son Gao Tianyu, fear for his safety. In his 2007 account, Gao had written that those who captured and tortured him warned that if he revealed their ill treatment of him, he would be killed.
Gao wrote that Chinese officials among his captors – some of whom he recognized – referred to a report he had written on the torture of members of the Falun Gong spiritual group and warned him that he was about to suffer the same way. They urinated on him and repeatedly prodded his body, mouth and genitals with electric shock batons.
He described a tall, strong man who pulled his hair and said repeatedly, “Your death is sure if you share this with the outside world.”
Escape from China
Gao’s wife reportedly said that fleeing China was “extraordinarily difficult,” and that friends risked their lives to help them defect.
Geng reportedly said that Gao, under constant police surveillance, was unable to accompany them. According to Agence France-Presse (AFP), Geng told Radio Free Asia that the family traveled by train before crossing into Thailand on foot – walking day and night.
Her daughter and son had been under virtual house arrest, according to the AFP report. The adolescent Geng Ge had been unable to attend school, and with her increasing desperation came several suicide attempts, Gao’s wife reportedly told Radio Free Asia. The family is seeking asylum in the United States.
Aiding in their escape was were several groups, according to The Epoch Times, including Friends of Gao Zhisheng, the Global Association for the Rescue of Gao Zhisheng and the U.N. Refugee Agency.
Gao, who has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, has also defended house church Christians and coal miners as well as members of the banned Falun Gong, which fuses Buddhist-inspired teachings with forms of meditation. In 1999 Beijing banned it as an “evil cult.”
Gao’s suffering in the fall of 2007 followed an open letter he wrote to the U.S. Congress describing China’s torture of Falun Gong members and other human rights abuses.
“The persecution of Falun Gong is the worst disaster to human nature in this era,” he wrote. “It does not mean, however, that the rights of other religious groups in China are not violated. The CCP [Chinese Communist Party]’s continuous suppression of Christian family churches is comparable to the shocking persecution of Falun Gong.”
Persecution in towns and villages toward house church members is “no different from the disaster suffered by Falun Gong practitioners,” he wrote. “In my hometown, a small county, the number of arrested, detained, and robbed family church members each year is far beyond persecuted Falun Gong practitioners, and this illegal persecution has been going on for a long time.”
Harassment of house church Christians increased significantly last year, according to CAA. A total of 2,027 Christians were affected in incidents reported to CAA in 2008, compared with 788 people in 2007. Of the 2008 total, 764 Christians were arrested and detained, most for brief periods, and 35 were sentenced to prison terms or re-education through labor.
In Beijing, the total number of people persecuted was 539, up 418 percent from the 104 reported in 2007, CAA said.
In his November 2007 account, released last Feb. 9, Gao said that officials asked him to write articles cursing Falun Gong and praising the government. When he refused, they pressured him to write a statement saying that Falun Gong practitioners had given him false evidence of torture, and that – despite constant harassment – the government had treated him and his family well. Gao said he signed this statement, as well as others in which he confessed to sexual impropriety, after beatings that left him unrecognizable.
Eventually, he wrote in the November 2007 account, under torture he agreed to his captors’ demand that he admit to illicit affairs, and he invented stories about four different women.
Gao, who at one time had been honored by China’s justice ministry as one of the top 10 lawyers for his service to the poor, resigned his membership in the CCP in 2005 to protest repression of the Falun Gong.
CAA and Gao’s family are urging concerned people worldwide to sign a petition to the Chinese government advocating his release at www.FreeGao.com .
Report from Compass Direct News
Detailed evidence of human rights violations omitted from U.N. summary report.
DUBLIN, February 11 (Compass Direct News) – A Christian defender of human rights in China – whom authorities detained last week – detailed state-sponsored torture he suffered in 2007 in an open letter released on Monday (Feb. 9), the same day advocacy groups criticized a U.N. review of China’s treatment of Christians and other minorities for omitting serious abuses.
While a Chinese delegate at the U.N. review asserted that China would never allow torture against religious members or other minorities, the open letter by Christian lawyer Gao Zhisheng – whom officials seized from his Beijing home on Feb. 4 – described 50 days of beatings and electric shocks on his mouth and genitals by state-sponsored thugs that left him desperate to die.
Gao and his family authorized China Aid Association (CAA) to release the letter, written on Nov. 28, 2007, when Gao was under house arrest in Beijing. Currently Gao’s whereabouts are unknown, according to CAA.
The letter gives a detailed account of torture he suffered in September and October of 2007. Gao said his official captors – some of whom he recognized – referred to a report he had written earlier on the torture of Falun Gong members and warned him that he was about to experience the same treatment. They urinated on Gao and repeatedly prodded his body, mouth and genitals with electric shock batons. Other methods used were too graphic and “horrible” to describe, Gao said.
Officials later asked Gao to write articles cursing Falun Gong and praising the government. When he refused, they pressured him to write a statement saying that Falun Gong practitioners had given him false evidence of torture, and that – despite constant harassment – the government had treated him and his family well. Gao said he signed this statement, as well as others in which he confessed to sexual impropriety, after beatings that left him unrecognizable and the insertion of toothpicks into his genitals.
“I can’t use any language to describe the helplessness, pain and despair that I felt then,” he wrote. “Finally I made up stories, telling them about affairs that I had with four women. After more repeated torture, I had to describe how I had sex with each of these women. This continued until dawn the next day.”
During the U.N. review of China’s human rights record on Monday (Feb. 9), Chinese delegate Song Hansong of the Supreme People’s Procuratorate said that use of torture to obtain evidence was a criminal offense and that China had “established a comprehensive safeguard measure against torture in all our prisons and detention facilities.”
“China is firmly against torture and would never allow torture to be used on ethnic groups, religious believers or other groups,” Song said.
Louis-Martin Aumais, speaking for Canada, had asked that China follow recommendations of the Committee Against Torture, particularly on the inadmissibility in court of statements obtained through torture. He also asked that China ensure fundamental legal rights for those detained on state security charges, including access to counsel, public trial and sentencing and eligibility for parole.
Australian representative Caroline Millar welcomed improvements in China over the past 30 years but expressed concern over “reports of harassment, arbitrary arrest, punishment and detention of religious and ethnic minorities.”
Li Baodong, ambassador and permanent representative of China at the United Nations, said that 50 government departments were working on a national human rights plan to be implemented this year and in 2010.
Rights groups such as CAA and Human Rights Watch stated that a summary of reports submitted for the review omitted documented details of serious human rights abuses, including the treatment of Christians and other minority groups. Omitted documentation that Non-Governmental Organizations had submitted included evidence of mistreatment of Christians, Tibetan and Uyghur minority groups and human rights defenders.
Harassment of house church Christians increased significantly last year, according to a CAA report released on Feb. 5. A total of 2,027 Christians were affected in incidents reported to CAA in 2008, compared with 788 people in 2007. Of the 2008 total, 764 Christians were arrested and detained, most for brief periods, and 35 were sentenced to prison terms or re-education through labor.
In Beijing, the total number of people persecuted was 539, up 418 percent from the 104 reported in 2007, CAA said.
“This is not hard to understand, because whenever the government holds important social events, serious suppression is implemented to maintain the appearance of stability through spreading fear among people,” the report states. “Beside the factor of the Olympic Games, we cannot ignore that the persecution of Christianity and of some other religions serves as an essential policy of the atheist Chinese Communist government.”
Local governments in China last year reported on continued measures to prevent “illegal” religious gatherings and curb other criminalized religious activities, according to reports from the U.S. Congressional Executive Commission on China (CECC) on Dec. 20 and Feb. 2. The commission consists of nine senators, nine house representatives, and five senior administration officials appointed by the U.S. president.
From information provided on a local government website, the CECC learned that authorities in Hechuan district, Chongqing municipality last October had launched a six-month campaign to root out “illegal venues for worship.” Authorities were concerned about “anti-Chinese political forces” using Christianity to “infiltrate the area” and outlined a five-point plan to address illegal worship sites, including the “transformation through re-education” of Protestant members of unauthorized meeting places.
A website of the Wuhan municipal government in Hunan province described draft legislation aimed at curbing freedom of worship in private homes; the new law would permit only immediate family members to take part in such gatherings.
The United Front Work Department in Fuzhou city, Jiangxi province, responsible for the oversight of religious communities, reported last year that work to “transform and expand the patriotism of underground Catholic forces” was a key objective, as these forces were exerting a negative impact on the city, according to the CECC. The Fuzhou department report also expressed concern about unauthorized Protestant preaching.
A Xinjiang government website also detailed a campaign to educate children and young people against ethnic separatism and illegal religious activities, according to the CECC.
Evidence from these sources concurred with reports from watch groups such as CAA regarding the closure of house churches, detention of house church members and harassment of house church leaders, the commission said.
Arrests on ‘State Security’ Charges
In Xinjiang, Uyghur Christians Alimjan Yimit (Alimujiang Yimit in Chinese) and Osman Imin (Wusiman Yaming in Chinese) both detained on state security charges, remain behind bars – one sentenced, the other still waiting for a trial date.
In a closed trial in September 2007, the Xinjiang State Security Bureau (SSB) had sentenced Osman to two years of re-education through labor for “revealing state secrets” and “illegal proselytizing.” Associates, however, said he knew nothing about state matters and was arrested for being an outspoken Christian and a leader in the Uyghur church.
Officials had called for a 10-15 year criminal sentence, but after international media attention they significantly reduced the term.
Xinjiang court officials returned Alimjan’s case to state prosecutors in May last year, citing lack of evidence on charges of “inciting secessionist sentiment” and “collecting and selling intelligence for overseas organizations.” State prosecutors returned the case to court officials in mid-October for reconsideration.
During Alimjan’s employment with two foreign-owned companies, SSB officials regularly called him in for interrogation, forbidding him to discuss the questioning with anyone. In September 2007, they closed the business Alimjan worked for and accused him of using it as a cover for “preaching Christianity among people of Uyghur ethnicity.”
Officials have since denied regular visits from lawyers or family members and threatened to hand down a sentence ranging from six years in prison to execution.
Lawyers had hoped for an early acquittal for Alimjan based on unfair treatment due to his Christian beliefs, but a lengthy bureaucratic process has dimmed these hopes.
Report from Compass Direct News
Five Christians injured as officials raze ‘illegally constructed’ worship place.
HO CHI MINH CITY, December 17 (Compass Direct News) – Local government officials in Dak Lak Province this morning made good on their threat to destroy a new wooden church building erected in September by Hmong Christians in Cu Hat village.
At 7 a.m. in Cu Dram Commune, Krong Bong district, a large contingent of government officials, police and demolition workers arrived at the site of a Vietnam Good News Mission and Church, razing it by 8:30 a.m. Police wielding electric cattle prods beat back hundreds of distraught Christians who rushed to the site to protect the building.
Five injured people were taken away in an emergency vehicle authorities had brought to the scene. The injured included a child who suffered a broken arm and a pregnant woman who fainted after being poked in the stomach with an electric cattle prod. Villagers said they fear she may miscarry.
By day’s end one badly injured woman had not yet been returned to the village, and authorities would not divulge where she was.
One sad Vietnamese church leader said that the demolition of the church ahead of Christmas showed the heartlessness of officials toward Christian believers.
“They think no one will notice or do anything about what they do in a remote area,” he said.
Nearly eight years ago a congregation numbering more than 500 Hmong Christians had joined thousands of others fleeing persecution in Vietnam’s northwest provinces, migrating to the Central Highlands. They aspired to construct a church building so they could worship protected from the rain and sun.
In September they were finally able to assemble materials needed to erect a 12-meter by 20-meter church building, large enough for them to meet. Eventually they were able to put a durable tile roof on the building, and with great joy they began worshipping together in a single location.
Although virtually all buildings in this area of Vietnam are erected without building permits, local authorities accused the Christians of “illegal construction” and ordered the congregation to “voluntarily” tear it down. On Dec. 2, Krong Bong district officials made a formal decision to demolish the church within two weeks if the Christians would not do so themselves.
The Vietnam Good News Mission and Church is an organization that for more than a year has tried to register more than a hundred of its congregations without any success. Contrary to Vietnam’s new religion legislation, these requests for registration have either been denied or ignored.
Agony and Ecstasy
In contrast to this hostility toward ethnic minority Christians in a remote area, several Ho Chi Minh City congregations of the legally-recognized Evangelical Church of Vietnam (South) on Dec. 12-13 were allowed to hold a large Christmas celebration event in a soccer stadium.
An estimated 10,000 attended on each night of the event. The program, which featured a popular Vietnamese entertainer who recently came to faith in Christ, a U.S. soloist and Korean and Chinese choirs, included an evangelistic invitation to which hundreds responded.
In a country where Christians have suffered under communist attitudes and actions against them for more than 30 years, many Vietnamese Christians were ecstatic that such an event could take place.
Likewise, in Pleiku in Gia Lai Province in mid-October, some 20,000 Jarai ethnic minority Christians gathered to hold an unprecedented celebration of the 65th anniversary of the coming of the gospel to their people. They had sought permission for more than a year, but it was granted only four days before the event. Participants said they suspected officials granted permission chiefly because several high-profile U.S. visitors made it clear they would attend.
In contrast, authorities have worked to limit the spread of Christianity to new areas. In a remote commune of Lao Cai Province, officials pressured new Hmong Christians to recant their new faith and re-establish their ancestral altars (See Compass Direct News, “Vietnamese Authorities Pressure New Christians to Recant,” Nov. 21).
Also, Christians in Dien Bien Province are trying to verify recent reports of the torching of Christian homes in the area.
Vietnam’s large Catholic Church was also reawakened to authorities’ residual hostility toward Christianity this year, with the government reacting violently to sustained but peaceful pressure by thousands to recover church land and buildings confiscated by authorities after the prime minister had agreed to negotiations.
Vietnam gave unusually light, house-arrest sentences to eight Catholics arrested during the prayer vigils-cum-protests. Previously others arrested for similar reasons have been sentenced to prison for years.
“Unfortunately, the mostly urban bright spots are cancelled by the persistence of old-style repression among Vietnam’s ethnic minorities in remote areas,” said one veteran Vietnam observer. “The easier registration of churches promised in 2005 is being granted very selectively and is used as a means of limiting and controlling Christianity.”
That central government authorities responsible for implementing improved religion policy seem to turn a blind eye to old-fashioned thugs at the local level, he added, “is very discouraging to Vietnam’s Christians. Religious freedom reserved for some is not religious freedom.”
Report from Compass Direct News
Imam Samudra, Amrozi and his brother Mukhlas, the three men convicted for their part in the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people (including 88 Australians), have been executed in Indonesia. Scores more were injured in the terrorist attack carried out by the Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist group. The executions were carried out by firing squad on Nusakambanan Island, off Central Java at 12.15am Sunday morning.
Reports from the scene of the executions tell of Mukhlas being the most defiant of the three terrorists, while the smiling Amrozi was clearly fearful as he approached his doom, his trademark smile gone.
Abu Bakar Bashir, the spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiyah (who somehow escaped the same end as the three Bali bombers), addressed the assembled fundamentalist Islamic terrorist thugs in the Indonesian village of Tenggulun, the home village of Amrozi and Mukhlas, as their heroes were buried. Typically, the funeral gathering of extremist Islamists soon broke out into violence as Jihadists clashed with Indonesian police and the gathered media.
Indonesia is now on high terrorist alert following the executions of the three terrorists. The world’s largest Muslim nation is now a hotbed of Islamic fundamentalist anger, with Jihadists pledging revenge for the executions – a motivation completely void of logic. These men were, after-all, executed for being murderers and for taking many human lives. Certainly there is no room for commonsense or decency in the reasoning and behaviour of mindless extremist Islamic thugs.
However, Islamic leaders throughout Indonesia have condemned the three convicted bombers, declaring that they and their supporters have no basis for claiming martyrdom as they were simply behaving in a criminal manner and were guilty of cold-blooded murder. The criticism included that of Umar Shihab, the head of Majelis Ulama Indonesia (MUI), Indonesia’s top Islamic body.
From a Christian perspective, the Bali bombers fate is far worse than merely missing out on martyrdom – they now face an eternity in endless punishment, known of course as Hell.
Indonesia now has a major credibility problem – especially given the escape of Abu Bakar Bashir from the judicial fate he deserves. Jihadist and terrorist activity is clearly rampant in Indonesia and there are many locations that are clearly a breeding ground in Indonesia. Something must be done and soon if Indonesia is to be regarded as a nation that can rightfully take its place in the world at the United Nations.
If it does not take decisive action against terrorism it should be regarded in the same way as Syria and Iran, as a terrorist friendly country. Should this remain the case, Australia and our fellow peace loving countries, should withdraw all financial assistance given to Indonesia – which is quite substantial.
BELOW: Footage of the funeral processions and the Bali Bombing
The oldest son of a prominent Chinese house church leader has regained consciousness and has spoken about his severe beating at the hands of government officials, saying he wanted to die if his story would cause people to grasp how shameless the persecution of Christians in China has become, reports Baptist Press.
Zhang Jian, the son of “Pastor Bike” Zhang Mingxuan, chairman of the Federation House Church movement, was beaten by officers of China’s Public Security Bureau Oct. 16. The next day, he was able to speak with staff from China Aid Association, a human rights organization based in the United States.
China Aid reported that Zhang Jian’s right eye is severely wounded and doctors are unsure whether he will regain sight. His nose bone and eye bone are broken, and doctors have recommended further CAT scans and surgery. Despite his serious condition, the pastor’s son left the hospital because PSB officials were watching him there and he feared for his safety, China Aid said.
“I could not believe human beings could be so evil,” Zhang Jian told China Aid by phone. “Where is law, where is justice? I was crying out to the Lord. I felt I was dying and told the Lord, ‘Lord, please take my life as a martyr.
“‘Maybe this is the only way to awaken the conscience of the world and for the Chinese to open their eyes to see clearly that this is the religious freedom in China,'” Zhang Jian added. “‘I would like to die if my life could be used as a wakeup call and could help Chinese brothers and sisters further more freedom to worship the Lord freely — to demonstrate the darkness here in China.'”
Zhang Jian explained that his mother called him around noon the day of the beating and asked him to come to her apartment because plainclothes officers “along with hired thugs” had broken in and were throwing her belongings onto the street.
“When I got there, I saw my mom lying on the ground, being knocked down by these thugs who were led by a man who claimed to be the cousin of the property owner with whom my parents had signed two-year rental contract less than a month ago,” Zhang Jian told China Aid. “My younger brother Zhang Chuang was badly beaten up already with his mouth swollen bleeding.
“I asked, ‘How can you guys throw other people’s private items on the street?’ I tried to use my body to protect my mom from being hurt by them. Then this group of 15 officers and thugs immediately surrounded me and started beating my head and body with iron bars and said, ‘You are the one. We need to teach you a lesson as troublemaker.’
“I was very angry and upset in the beginning,” Zhang Jian said. “How could this happen in the daytime? My parents do not deserve to be treated like this just simply being preachers of the Gospel. My blood ran over from upstairs to the downstairs until I lost consciousness.”
Zhang Mingxuan, the pastor, was traveling in Yunnan province at the time and was unable to be contacted. Once Zhang Jian lost consciousness, his younger brother called 110, the Chinese equivalent to 911, but police did not arrive for more than an hour, Zhang Chuang told China Aid. Chinese law requires the police to arrive within 10 minutes of a call, and the PSB office is in close proximity to the Zhang residence.
“Ironically, seeing the police arrive, one of the guys who beat up my brother pretended to fall down, claiming he was beaten up by my brother Zhang Jian,” Zhang Chuang said. “Then the police even called in the ambulance to help that guy who was not hurt or wounded at all. But the ambulance refused to come to rescue my brother whose clothes were soaked with his blood all over after our repeated plea to 110. How could he or how dare he fight back when surrounded by 15 strong guys with iron bars? It’s very evil and is a joke to claim he could beat others at that time.”
Zhang Jian told China Aid that the doctors wanted him to have surgery to correct some of his wounds, but his family did not have the appropriate funds.
“I want to see some justice to be done and I want my father to be back home,” he said. “Where can we find a place to stay? No one in Beijing is able to host us. Pray for us, especially for my mom. She is exhausted.”
Chinese officials also have attempted to shut down the house church where Zhang Mingxuan preaches. On Oct. 10, police sealed the door of the church and blocked it with two truckloads of garbage. Officials were not letting anyone enter the church and had cut off electricity, even though the government just weeks earlier had given the church permission to meet, China Aid said.
“The physical assault on Zhang Jian is the most serious of the recent attacks on Zhang Jian and his family. During the past 22 years, Zhang Jian’s father, Pastor Bike, has been arrested 26 times, beaten and evicted from his home numerous times because of his faith,” the human rights group said. “Despite the persecution, this family continues to boldly preach and help the house church Christians.”
China Aid is assisting Zhang Jian and his family with medical expenses, legal help and other needs, the association said, and concerned citizens are urged to contact the Chinese Embassy by writing to 2201 Wisconsin Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20007 or by calling 202-338-6688.
Report from the Christian Telegraph