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Friday, October 28, 2016
New human rights concerns emerge after Archbishop's China visit
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 After the Archbishop of Canterbury concluded his visit to China, grave human rights concerns have begun emerging, with the charging of a leading advocate for religious freedom and renewed fears over the death sentence of a church leader. Gao Zhisheng, a prominent human rights lawyer who has fearlessly defended religious freedom, has been charged with 'inciting subversion of state power'. His lawyer, Mo Shaoping, received the notification of the decision to charge Gao on 12 October after weeks of silence following Gao's removal by a dozen security officers on 15 August. Official notification of his arrest was only given to his wife over a month later on 21 September and he has been repeatedly denied access to his lawyer. According to his lawyer, the charge means Gao may be facing years in prison. The measures taken against Gao for his peaceful activities have been met by international censure. Gao, dubbed 'China's hero of 2005', has been a leading champion of religious freedom, defending important cases, including the prominent case of Beijing house church leader Pastor Cai Zhuohua. He has published reports and open letters over abuses of religious and other freedoms, including the mistreatment of Christians in Xinjiang and, most notably, the violations against the Falun Gong. His fearless pursuit of justice and his open letters to Chinese leaders have incurred the ire of the authorities and Gao has received a number of threats to his life and security, including being the target of several attempted 'accidents'. Meanwhile concern is mounting for church leader Xu Shuangfu and others who were sentenced to death in June for serious crimes after a trial in which Xu and others testified of horrific torture used to extract confessions. Xu, the leader of The Three Grades of Servants, described how he was hung in the air for five hours and how interrogators tied his fingers, toes and genitals with wire connected to an electrical supply. The defendants showed the judge the injuries from torture but received no response. Besides the violence against Xu himself, the female leaders amongst the group of 17 sentenced were stripped before being tortured by male interrogators and placed in male cells where they were gang raped by the prisoners. The fears for Xu's life and those sentenced to death with him are imminent and grave. CSW is urging for a retrial at which evidence obtained through torture is excluded. The torture and abuses against Xu's group were even worse than those used against the South China Church when the authorities sentenced the leader Pastor Gong Shengliang and others to death in 2001. After an outcry by the US President and others the cases were reviewed and Pastor Gong's sentence was changed to a life sentence. Pastor Gong remains in prison, where he has been beaten so severely that he has slipped into a coma and his life has been at risk on a number of occasions. In another court decision in June this year, one of the most important Christian leaders in China, Pastor Zhang Rongliang, who has already spent 12 years in prison for his faith, was sentenced to seven and a half years imprisonment, despite severe health problems, under what is believed to be religious persecution in the guise of passport-related crimes. The contrast between the official view of religious freedom presented to the Archbishop and the reality of life for China's Christians as a whole is striking. While the Archbishop has been hosted by the governmental and official church bodies, Christian leaders are languishing in prison for practising their faith. Christians still face imprisonment, hard labour, torture, fines and other persecution and harassment simply for choosing to live out their Christian faith. The picture presented to the Archbishop by his hosts should therefore not be seen as representative of Christianity in its fullness in China. The vast majority of China's estimated 70 million Christians will not associate themselves with the bodies by which the Archbishop was hosted. These Christians see the official church as being compromised in theology and practice and the existence of a church controlled by an atheist state as being fundamentally contrary to Christian doctrine. While China seeks to present a picture of religious progress, reports indicate it is instead implementing a fresh programme to persecute the house churches. Tina Lambert, Deputy National Director of Christian Solidarity Worldwide said: "If China wants to present a true depiction of religious freedom and progress she needs to provide genuine religious freedom for all. The severe measures taken against proponents of religious freedom and religious leaders provide a very different picture from the official one presented to the Archbishop. Chinese officials cannot credibly claim to be showing the Archbishop the face of Christianity in China when they suppress the majority of churches in the country and punish those who refuse to come under state control. This is not religious freedom and China must not be credited with protection of the right until it starts to behave in accordance with international guarantees and releases all those held due to their peaceful religious activities." Source: CSW
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