China reported abusing independent churches

June 02, 1993|By Robert Benjamin | Robert Benjamin,Beijing Bureau

BEIJING -- China has been carrying out an expanding crackdown on religious activity outside of its state-run churches, according to an Asia Watch report released here today.

Roman Catholics and Protestants attempting to worship independently of China's official churches are subject to beatings, arrests, forced relocations, surveillance, property confiscation and other coercive measures, the New York City-based human rights group said.

Since early 1992, "the Chinese government has steadily tightened and expanded its control over all religious activity out of concern with the seemingly explosive growth of Christianity within its borders, especially among its youth," the group's report said.

The Asia Watch report comes as authorities here are aggressively pushing their own definition of human rights in the international arena, a definition that stresses collective rights over individual political and religious freedoms.

Based on unofficial sources in China, the new report contradicts some Western news accounts earlier this year indicating that the Chinese government might be growing more tolerant toward religious activities.

Asia Watch acknowledged that Chinese authorities have responded to international pressure by paroling some Catholic prisoners in recent months.

But at the same time, officials have stepped up attempts to control religion by short-term detentions, harassment and intimidation, the group said.

The human rights group also said two of 18 Catholic prisoners that China claimed to have released from jail earlier this year are actually still under detention.

Its report details 56 other religious leaders who remain in jail, some in "places of extra-judicial detention, euphemistically called 'old-age homes,' where elderly clergy are forcibly removed, cut off from friends and relatives and denied adequate medical care."

China's constitution guarantees freedom of religion; officials frequently say that no one is punished for his beliefs. But worshipers are officially restricted to state-run churches.

These "patriotic churches" attract only a fraction of an estimated 75 million Chinese Catholics and Protestants. Many instead worship illegally in informal "house churches."

The group's claim of a new wave of religious repression is buttressed by an "urgent appeal" to China's legislature last year by Bishop Ding Guangxun, head of the state's Protestant organization.

"I am forced by circumstances to make an urgent appeal here for an immediate cessation of the wind of suppression that is spreading through the country," the bishop said in speech documented by Asia Watch and other human rights groups.

Perhaps because of his blunt appeal, the bishop since then has lost his seat in China's legislature. Nonetheless, he essentially repeated much the same warning this spring before the nation's top political advisory body.

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