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Sunday, September 17, 2006

Communist China and religious freedom--an oxymoron

In the department's annual report to Congress on religious freedom around the world, the US has blacklisted China and seven other countries as serious violators of religious freedom, namely Iran, Myanmar, Eritrea, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Vietnam.

This a huge step backward for Communist China that should be focusing on improving its rights record, if only to preserve its image in the run-up to the Olympics. To illustrate the gravity of the situation, one only has to remember the three murder attempts made on Gao Zhisheng, a human rights defender for the Falun Gong and Christians, and his arrest of August 15—the word is that he has been tortured. It is clear that the present law on religious freedom does not protect believers but does quite the opposite. For example a single complaint about noise or whatever is enough to get a church raided and shut down. The five main religions in China--Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism and Protestantism--are not even recognized by the law. As if thiswasn't enough, I ask you what to make of this:

"Latest batch of Chinese spies wear the collar of Catholic priest ... there can be little doubt that Liu, likely also believes that the Bible authorized Chinese authorities to remove organs from living victims, too."

But this time again, Falun Gong practitioners who are defiant and fear not fight for their rights were hit quite hard. For example, we have all heard about the recent reports of organ harvesting from living practitioners in China and killing them in the process--the new form of evil on the planet. This is just one example adding to the long list of persecutory methods used on the Falun Gong.

Even though China revised its rules on religion last year, "the government's respect for freedom of religion and freedom of conscience remained poor," the State Department said Friday.

In an annual report of the state of religious freedom, the department cited violence against believers and people the government considers cultists, especially members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement. Most of the repression targeted worshippers and practitioners in organizations not registered with the authorities.

"Falun Gong practitioners continued to face arrest, detention and imprisonment, and there have been credible reports of deaths due to torture and abuse," the report said.

People who refuse to give up their belief can receive harsh punishment, including being sent to prison or being re-educated at labor camps, the report said.

"The government tends to perceive unregulated religious gatherings or groups as a potential challenge to its authority," the report said, "and it attempts to control and regulate religious groups to prevent the rise of sources of authority outside the control of the government" and the Communist Party. (more)

US Department of State: International Religious Freedom Report 2006: China [Excerpt]

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

The constitution provides for freedom of religious belief and the freedom not to believe; however, the Government seeks to restrict religious practice to government-sanctioned organizations and registered places of worship and to control the growth and scope of activities of religious groups. The Government tries to control and regulate religion to prevent the rise of groups that could constitute sources of authority outside of the control of the Government and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Nonetheless, membership in many faiths is growing rapidly.

During the period covered by this report, the Government's respect for freedom of religion and freedom of conscience remained poor, especially for religious groups and spiritual movements that are not registered with the Government. Unregistered religious groups continued to experience varying degrees of official interference and harassment. Members of some unregistered religious groups were subjected to restrictions, including intimidation, harassment, and detention.


Falun Gong practitioners continued to face arrest, detention, and imprisonment, and there have been credible reports of deaths due to torture and abuse. Practitioners who refuse to recant their beliefs are sometimes subjected to harsh treatment in prisons, reeducation through labor camps, and extra-judicial "legal education" centers, while some who recanted returned from detention. Reports of abuse were difficult to confirm within the country and the group engaged in almost no public activity within the country. Overseas Falun Gong practitioners claimed this was a result of the harsh government campaign, which began with the 1999 crackdown against the group. There were continuing revelations about the extra-legal activities of the Government's 610 office including torture and forced confessions, a state security agency implicated in most alleged abuses of Falun Gong practitioners.


Restrictions on Religious Freedom

During the period covered by this report, government repression of the Falun Gong spiritual movement continued. Membership in the Falun Gong [...] was illegal. Distributing Falun Gong literature or encouraging others to join the spiritual movement was punishable by criminal and administrative sanctions, including reeducation. As in past years, foreigners who distributed Falun Gong materials were expelled from the country, including an Australian expelled in October 2005 after attempting to distribute the book Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party. In January 2006 the Government released U.S. citizen Charles Lee after three years of imprisonment for Falun Gong-related activities.


Abuses of Religious Freedom


There were credible reports of torture and deaths in custody of Falun Gong practitioners in past years and overseas Falun Gong groups claimed that such incidents continued.

In December 2005 a Beijing attorney sent an open letter to President Hu Jintao highlighting abuses of Falun Gong practitioners. The letter described the electric shock torture of Zhang Zhikui, a Falun Gong practitioner arrested for repeated petitioning in Beijing, and the October beating death in Changchun, Jilin Province of Liu Boyang and his mother Wang Shouhui. The letter, and a similar open letter sent by the attorney in 2004, referred to the extra-legal activities of the 610 office, reportedly involved in many of the abuses of Falun Gong. In 2005 the Government revoked the attorney's license to practice law, and the attorney has claimed repeated government harassment, including an automobile accident that he publicly described as an "assassination attempt." Foreigners attempting to meet with the attorney have been detained and harassed.

According to Falun Gong practitioners in the United States, since 1999 more than 100,000 practitioners have been detained for engaging in Falun Gong practices, admitting that they adhere to the teachings of Falun Gong, or refusing to criticize the organization or its founder. The organization reported that its members have been subject to excessive force, abuse, rape, detention, and torture, and that some of its members, including children, have died in custody. NGOs not affiliated with the Falun Gong documented nearly 500 cases of Falun Gong members detained, prosecuted, or sentenced to reeducation during the period covered by this report. Credible estimates suggested the actual number was much higher. In November 2005 police at the Dongchengfang Police Station in Tunzhou City, Hebei Province, reportedly raped two Falun Gong practitioners. Reliable sources indicated that Zheng Ruihuan and Liu Yinglan were detained in Shandong Province in July 2005 for practicing Falun Gong. In May 2006, Yuan Yuju and Liang Jinhui, relatives of a Hong Kong journalist who works for a television station supportive of Falun Gong, were sentenced to reeducation [...] relating to their distribution of Falun Gong materials. Some foreign observers estimated that at least half of the 250,000 officially recorded inmates in the country's reeducation-through-labor camps were Falun Gong adherents. Falun Gong sources overseas placed the number even higher. Hundreds of Falun Gong adherents were also incarcerated in legal education centers, a form of administrative detention, upon completion of their reeducation-through-labor sentences. Government officials denied the existence of such "legal education" centers. According to the Falun Gong, hundreds of its practitioners have been confined to psychiatric institutions and forced to take medications or undergo electric shock treatment against their will.

CHINA: Would a religion law help promote religious freedom?

CHINA: Despite new Regulations, religious policy still under strain

China (includes Taiwan only): International Religious Freedom Report 2006

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