The Washington Times

Published in Washington, D.C.     5am -- August 27, 1999

(see the
text links at the bottom of the page)
Christian leaders held in Beijing crackdown
By Toni Marshall

Forty leaders of Protestant religious groups have been reported detained by police in China.
     The Hong Kong-based Information Center of Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China said police arrested the Christian leaders, not otherwise identified, in the home of Niu Jianhua in Henan province's Tanghe county.
     These reports could not be independently confirmed.
     Reports of the arrests follow closely the crackdown on members of the Falun Gong, a sect that practices deep breathing and meditation and whose practices, the Chinese government insists, "have inflicted great harm to the people." Falun Gong, which claims 100 million adherents worldwide, was officially banned in China on
-- Continued from Front Page --
July 22.
     A Chinese Embassy official in Washington said he had no information about detention of Protestants. "Nobody would be arrested unless that person has committed a crime or violated the law," Yu Shuning, a spokesman for the embassy said.
     "We have five religions in China -- Protestant, Catholic, Buddhist, Muslim and Tao. If you engage in these religions at home it is better to register if you don't do anything wrong."
     State Department officials said they were looking into the matter.
     Religious groups in China are required to register with the government, and government-approved churches must submit to the control of the Religious Affairs Bureau.
     The Patriotic Catholic Church, for example, disassociates itself from the Vatican and chooses its own clergy. Its services are subject to monitoring and government control. Worshipers who refuse to submit must worship secretly, and if discovered they are often sent to camps called "laogai" -- the Chinese word for thought reform -- to perform forced labor for the government. The government then attempts to renounce their beliefs.
     The embassy spokesman said more than 900 persons had died practicing the Falun Gong's style of tai-chi, which combines breathing exercises and deprivations while forbidding the use of modern medicines to heal ailments. He said the followers illegally seized the government's central compound and disrupted public order.
     Western analysts say China's arrest of the Protestants and the crackdown on the Falun Gong is a clear indication of Beijing's growing intolerance to religious expression. Some analysts say the arrest of the Falun Gong may have been planned as a "cover" for the harassment of millions of underground Christians.
     One analyst speculates that the Beijing government, because it has no clear understanding of the West, regards the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe as the work of an underground religious movement.
     China celebrates 50 years under Communist rule on Oct. 1, a period many Christians call "50 years of religious persecution." The Clinton administration has been severely rebuked by its critics, including Republican presidential candidate Gary Bauer, for ignoring Chinese abuses of human and religious rights.
     Joseph Kung, president of the Cardinal Kung Foundation, a Roman Catholic lay group, said no country "should be complimented for this kind of persecution by awarding them the opportunity to join the World Trade Organization."
     "You cannot de-link human rights and trade. That sends a wrong message," he said. The Connecticut-based foundation was established by an exiled cardinal.
     There are more than 9 million members of Roman Catholic underground churches in China, which grew from 3 million when Beijing organized the Patriotic Catholic Church in 1957.
     A senior congressional aide said Thursday night that Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican, and 180 members of Congress have urged the Clinton administration to withhold trade benefits from China as punishment.
     "We have felt for a long time the administration is not doing enough," he said. "They are in favor of the view of turning a blind eye to human rights abuses and to keep extending economic benefits."
     A State Department official said U.S. concerns are growing over China's human rights abuses, which will be documented in a report to Congress Sept. 7. This report will be the first annual report on religious freedom -- a product of the International Religious Freedom Act signed by President Clinton last fall.
     Under the act, the U.S. government is instructed to condemn or punish continued violations of religious freedom.
     "The report will have a specific chapter on China. We are deeply concerned about the continued pattern of arrest in China," the State Department officer said.
     The timing of the release of the report to Congress comes just before Mr. Clinton's meeting with Chinese President Jiang Zemin next month during the annual summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in New Zealand.
     Free China Movement leader Lian Shengde Thursday called for the United States to implement the International Freedom Act, saying, "[B]efore Oct. 1 the government is going to prosecute and sentence to life the leaders of the Falun Gong detained in China. They are trying to scare Chinese citizens."

Copyright © 1999 News World Communications, Inc.