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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

China Cited for Religious Rights Abuses

May 12, 2009

Foreign Ministry spokesman asserts 'full
religious freedom' despite arrests, torture.
By Sarah Page
Direct News
May 10, 2009

DUBLIN, May 8 (Compass Direct News) - A U.S.
government body cited increased harassment,
imprisonment and torture of members of
unregistered religious groups in China last year,
which a Chinese official roundly denied.

After the U.S. Commission on International
Religious Freedom (USCIRF) last week recommended
China remain on the U.S. Department of State's
list of the world's worst violators of religious
freedom, a spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry
said USCIRF's report was "an attempt to smear China."

"It is a fact that the Chinese government
protects its citizens' freedom of religious
belief according to law, and every ethnic group
in any part of China enjoys full religious
freedom," Ma Zhaoxu, said Tuesday (May 5) in a
statement quoted by the Chinese daily Xinhua.

The commission acknowledged that "the freedom to
participate in officially-sanctioned religious
activity increased in many areas of the country
over the past year," but noted that abuses of
members of unregistered religious groups had
extended to a small handful of lawyers who dared to defend them.

In at least 17 provinces, some 764 Protestant
leaders and house church members were arrested in
the past year, 35 of whom were sentenced to
prison for a year or more, the report said.
According to the state department, the total
number of Protestant house church members and
"underground" Catholics arrested in the past year may be in the thousands.

Religious freedom also deteriorated significantly
in Uyghur Muslim and Tibetan Buddhist regions
over the past year, according to the commission
report. Officials have urged "stronger
management" of Protestant and Catholic activity
in Xinjiang, while new laws have allowed greater
control over Muslim and Buddhist community leaders in both regions.

Police detained Chinese house church leader Lou
Yuanqi in Xinjiang province in May 2008, charging
him with "inciting separatism" and "utilizing
superstition to undermine the law." A local court
refused to accept his case due to insufficient
evidence, but Yuanqi remained in detention until
his release on bail on April 24.

Officials further restricted religious freedom in
the autonomous regions of Xinjiang and Tibet
during the period USCIRF covered for the report,
May 2008 through April 2009. Ismail Tiliwaldi,
chairman of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region
(XUAR), urged local police and religious affairs
officials to "exercise stronger management" over
Protestantism and Catholicism and strictly guard
against foreign infiltration and sabotage, the commission stated.

On Jan. 1, 2008, new laws gave officials in both
regions greater powers to monitor the training,
assembly, selection and speeches of community
religious leaders. More recently, officials have
enforced bans on religious education; authorities
in Tibet have warned parents to keep children
away from religious ceremonies, while Xinjiang
officials in February and March began a campaign
to halt illegal religious schools and arrest
anyone engaged in "cross-village worship."

The campaigns in Xinjiang have largely targeted
Muslims, but Uyghur Christians are also affected.
Unable to freely attend government-sanctioned
Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) Protestant
churches, they continue to meet in small groups
in private homes, risking arrest and detention in labor camps.

House church Christian Alimjan Yimit (Alimujiang
Yimiti in Chinese) remains in arbitrary detention
awaiting trial, 15 months after his arrest.
Officials initially closed the foreign-owned
business Alimjan worked for in September 2007 and
accused him of using it as a cover for "preaching
Christianity." He was then detained in January
2008 on charges of endangering state security and
was formally arrested on Feb. 20, 2008 on charges
of "inciting secession" and leaking state secrets.

Court officials returned Alimjan's case to state
prosecutors in May 2008, citing lack of evidence.
The case was returned to court for consideration last October.

On April 21, attorney Li Dunyong petitioned for
and was granted permission for a rare meeting
with his client on April 21 after witnesses saw
police and a prison doctor escorting Alimjan to
hospital on March 30; Compass sources said
Alimjan had been beaten in prison, although it
was not clear who beat him or why. When Li
questioned him, Alimjan indicated that he was not
allowed to speak about his health.

Officials also continued tight surveillance of
underground Catholic groups across China last year, according to USCIRF.

The official Catholic Patriotic Association (CPA)
insists on selecting and ordaining clergy and
forbids clergy or CPA members to have contact
with the Vatican or other foreign Catholic
organizations, USCIRF stated. The Vatican,
however, has secretly ordained as many as 90
percent of CPA bishops and priests, the commission reported.

China watchers say pressure will increase rather
than decrease as China anticipates several
significant political anniversaries later this year.

Rights Advocates on Trial

The crackdown has extended to lawyers,
particularly those handling religious rights
cases. In March, officials revoked the license of
Beijing's Yitong Law Firm; the firm's lawyers had
been handling cases for unregistered house church Christians.

Christian attorney Gao Zhisheng, known for
defending unregistered Protestant Christians and
Falun Gong members, disappeared in February.
Immediately prior to his disappearance, Gao had
published a report of torture endured during a
September 2007 interrogation. At press time his
whereabouts remained unknown. (See "Action Urged for Missing Rights Activist," March 25.)

Court officials in November 2007 sentenced Gao's
legal partner, Yang Maodong, to five years in
prison for "illegal business practices." Prison
guards have reportedly tortured Yang with
electric shock batons and other implements.

Earlier, in September 2007, officials beat
prominent religious freedom advocate and attorney
Li Heping with electric batons and ordered him to
stop practicing law. When he refused, officials revoked his license.

Given these developments, the commission has
urged the U.S. government to include religious
freedom concerns in its discussions with the Chinese government.

Under terms of the 1998 International Religious
Freedom Act, U.S. government officials are
obliged to address religious rights concerns with
the government of any country designated as a Country of Particular Concern.
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