HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
CHINA: RELIGIOUS PERSECUTION PERSISTS
December 1995, Vol. 7, No. 16 (C)
SUMMARY | RECOMMENDATIONS | TABLE OF CONTENTS
During 1994-95, Chinese government and Communist Party officials, struggling to contain political and social unrest and to promote the economic development that would secure party allegiance, broadened the drive to eliminate all expression of dissent. In the last two years, the Chinese government has issued new directives requiring all congregations to register with religious authorities, stepped up pressure on evangelists, and tightened control on contact with foreigners and distribution of religious materials. Those suspected of linking religion to political activity have been singled out for the harshest treatment.
In this report, Human Rights Watch/Asia focuses on the persistent crackdown against religious expression of Catholics and Protestants. We note, however, that repression in China is directed against all religions, the five that are officially recognized (Buddhism, Daoism, Islam. Catholicism, and Protestantism) and all allegedly aberrant and superstitious sects. In Tibet, for example, the Chinese government has violated international standards of religious freedom by insisting on its own choice for the new Panchen Lama, the second most important religious authority for Tibetan Buddhists.
The extensive crackdown on Catholics and Protestants since 1994 came in response to the destabilizing effects of two sets of challenges: economic change that introduced widespread unemployment, income inequality, and double-digit inflation during a period when the socialist safety net was being partially withdrawn; and rampant corruption coupled with a succession battle that threatened the legitimacy and power of Chinas rulers. Jiang Zemin, Chinas president and secretary-general of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), in his September 1995 speech to the Fifth Plenum of the Central Committee, explicitly acknowledged the problems. In conjunction with the committees release of a fifteen-year blueprint for Chinas economic and social development, Jiang listed reform, development and stability as the first of twelve major relationships which the party would have to manage. Stability, he said, is the premise for development and reform, and development and reform require a stable political and social environment. He went on to conclude with a reference to an advanced socialist spiritual civilization, stating that under no circumstance should temporary economic growth be achieved at the expense of culture and ideological progress.
On both counts Chinese leaders believe that religious adherents, particularly those who express their convictions outside the aegis of central control in so-called unofficial churches, bear watching. Any ideology other than communism and any authority outside the Chinese government is viewed as a threat to security of the Chinese state in its present form. But, taking no chances, Chinese lay administrators have also tightened control over official or open churches.
The history of religious activity in China, and that of western religions in particular, reinforces the official view that hostile elements from abroad, in conjunction with Chinese dissidents, intend to use religion to destabilize China, then overthrow its legitimate government. The role of the Catholic Church in ousting communist authority in Eastern Europe, coming as it did in 1989, the year of the uprising in Beijing, bolstered such a perception, as did the coupling of religion Buddhism and Islam respectively with independence movements in Tibet on Chinas southwestern borders and in Xinjiang in the far northwest. But three new phenomena have increased official unease: the growing link between pro-democracy dissidents and labor activists on one hand, and church membership on the other; the exponential growth in Protestant church adherents; and the slippage in popularity of the Chinese Communist Party, especially in rural areas and even among Communist Party members. In January 1995, the CCP circulated a document to party organizations at the provincial level ordering expulsion for party members belonging to religious organizations, open or clandestine.
On April 4, 1994, the semi-official Hong Kong China News Agency warned against the proliferation of religious believers. Articles in the Religious Work Bulletin, an internal publication of the governments Religious Affairs Bureau (RAB), called for greater control over religious affairs, including bans on the building of new religious venues and on the construction of new Buddhist statues in outdoor arenas. The latter, the bulletin said, could lead to social chaos. On May 25, the deputy director of the RAB criticized religion for spawning chaos and insisted that it be funded by the state to ensure the integrating [of] the groups into society. An internal document, reportedly specifying six problems requiring central government attention, cited the rapid spread of both Christianity and unregistered house churches and also made reference to hostile overseas forces.
Further evidence of the governments extreme suppression of foreign influence in religious matters was provided by its specific admonition to delegates to the U.N. Fourth World Conference on Women and the parallel 1995 NGO (Nongovernmental) Forum on Women, held in Beijing from August 30-September 15, 1995, not to bring religious materials into China other than those they personally required for worship.
The pattern of the crackdown lends credence to the thesis that the new phenomena, more rapid growth in church than in party membership and new ties among different dissident constituencies, have accounted for the escalating crackdown. From early 1994 through November 1995, repetitive instances of detentions, physical abuse, and exorbitant fines, followed by releases tended to occur in areas where foreigners actively proselytized and trained local lay leaders in doctrine and evangelical methodology. They also occurred where evidence of indigenous networks of unofficial churches surfaced or where native evangelists were especially active. Underground or house church members who challenged party and government authority through public worship were targeted. Churches, official or unofficial, that attracted too much attention through their size or wealth or prestige, or through the caliber of their leaders, were subject to repression. Also victimized were cohesive religious communities which competed successfully against a party or government institution for the loyalty of the local populace. Finally, officials often exploited tensions between church leaders to limit a congregations autonomy.
To the Government of the Peoples Republic of China:
Human Rights Watch/Asia calls on the Chinese government to release all those held for participation in religious activities outside the aegis of official churches, including those held or convicted of violating the laws on counterrevolution or the 1993 State Security Law.
Human Rights Watch/Asia calls on the Chinese government to cease leveling criminal charges against those who participate in religious activities outside the aegis of the official churches, or sentencing them administratively to re-education through labor terms.
Human Rights Watch/Asia calls on the Chinese government to immediately rescind all official restrictions on religious activity, including regulations and decrees controlling religious instruction of those under eighteen years of age and restrictions on publication, distribution, and sale of religious material.
Human Rights Watch/Asia calls on the Chinese government to cease interfering in seminary education.
Human Rights Watch/Asia calls on the Chinese government to abolish the registration procedure, used as it is to restrict freedom of religion as guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Human Rights Watch/Asia calls on the Chinese government to investigate thoroughly all reported incidents of beatings, ill-treatment, and torture of religious leaders and activists and punish those responsible for abuses.
Human Rights Watch/Asia urges the Chinese government to extend to Communist Party members the right to believe in and freely practice religion.
To the International Community:
Human Rights Watch/Asia urges that at the March 1996 session of the U.N. Human Rights Commission, the U.S., the European Union, Japan, and other governments sponsor and vigorously promote a resolution censuring China and specifically calling for an end to religious repression.
Human Rights Watch/Asia urges that in their bilateral contacts, governments call on China to implement the key recommendations of the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance, resulting from his November 1994 visit to Beijing and Lhasa. In particular, governments should urge China to abolish the distinction between normal and abnormal religious activities in its constitution and religious regulations; to extend the right of religious belief to minors and to set up universities dedicated mainly to religious education.
Human Rights Watch/Asia urges that the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance consider making a followup visit to China early in 1996, going to the provinces where religious repression is most pronounced, including but not limited to Henan, Hebei, Zhejiang, Anhui, Sichuan, Yunnan, Shaanxi and Shanxi, and insisting on independent access without official oversight or control of his inquiries.
Human Rights Watch/Asia urges delegations of parliamentarians and foreign ministers and trade delegations to China to make inquiries about specific cases of religious activists still in custody and those detained, ill-treated, and released. They should make inquiries into the police practice of leveling fines against religious adherents before releasing them from detention. Delegation members should also urge the repeal of all official restrictions on free expression of religious belief and practice.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
THE LEGAL TACK: CENTRAL GOVERNMENT REGULATIONS
THE EXTRA-LEGAL TACK: LOCAL RESPONSES
APPENDIX I: ADDITIONAL CASES 1994-95
APPENDIX II: DECREE OF THE GUANGXI AUTONOMOUS REGION PEOPLES GOVERNMENT - NO. 2
APPENDIX III: ORDER OF THE SICHUAN PEOPLES GOVERNMENT NO. 37
APPENDIX IV: DOCUMENTS FROM THE CASE OF HUANG FANGXIN
APPENDIX V: SUGGESTIONS ABOUT DEALING WITH PARTY MEMBERS AND PARTY CADRES WHO TAKE PART IN RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATIONS AND ACTIVITIES OR WHO TAKE PART IN ILLEGAL ORGANIZATIONS
APPENDIX VI: DOCUMENT OF AGENCY OF INFORMATION AND PUBLICATIONS
BUREAU OF RELIGIOUS AFFAIRS OF THE STATE COUNCIL CUSTOMS HEAD OFFICE
APPENDIX VII: ACCUSATION
APPENDIX VIII: ADMINISTRATIVE STRUCTURE OF THE CHINESE PROTESTANT
INDEX OF NAMES
Human Rights Watch December 1995 Vol. 7, No. 16 (C)
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