The Australian: China ignores faith in liberty

February 26, 2002


Lynne O'Donnell


Even the presence of a US president preaching religious tolerance can't save Beijing Christians from harassment, China correspondent Lynne O'Donnell reports.

AT the very moment that US President George W. Bush was calling last week on China's rulers to end religious persecution, a group of Christians was being targeted by the authorities as they held an illegal prayer meeting in Beijing.

Among the group were eight elderly people, aged between 80 and 99 years of age, who now face eviction from their nursing home, set up to look after aged Christians with no other means of support.

Members of the group and human rights activists said they believed they were being victimised because of their religious convictions. "The old people's home is being targeted by the police now, simply because the residents are Christians," said Lu Siqing, of the Ms Yang's small group is among an estimated 60million Chinese who worship in underground churches, compared to 15million Christians loyal to the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association and the Protestant Three Selfs Patriotic Association.

Thursday's meeting in Haiqingluo village, on Beijing's suburban outskirts, was the first time Chen and Yang had opened their home to fellow Christians at which they were encouraged to testify to their faith.

Mr Chen, a Christian for 10 years, said police swooped on the 43 attendees, arresting and holding them in the local police station for up to two days. Their Bibles were seized as police searched for Christian material.


The police told Mr Chen to close down his house and evict the elderly residents within two days, and fined the head of the village 50,000 yuan ($A10, 000) to pressure him to keep Christians out, he said.
.

The raid on the prayer meeting took place at 1pm last Thursday, just as Mr Bush and his host, President Jiang Zemin, were preparing to take the podium at the Great Hall of the People for a joint press conference broadcast live across the country.

Mr Bush urged China's communist leaders to show greater tolerance for religion and end their
repression of believers who preferred to worship outside the state's sanctioned churches.

Mr Jiang initially ignored questions from American reporters about the jailing of around 50 Catholic bishops loyal to the Vatican, rather than to the government-approved Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association.

He then delivered a rote speech on China's constitutional guarantees of religious freedom, adding
that anyone imprisoned in China was in jail because they had broken the law, not because of their beliefs.


But actions by Chinese authorities repeatedly make it clear the Government will not tolerate loyalty to a higher authority than the Communist Party.

The Government recognises five religions -- Buddhism, Daoism, Islam, Catholicism and Protestantism – and keeps them under tight control through organisations administered by the State Religious Affairs Bureau.

Chinese who worship at illegal "house churches" say they must worship in secret or face constant harassment by local authorities.

Yang Guizhi, who with her husband Chen Zhongxing looks after the elderly Christians in their six-room home, said police who conducted Thursday's raid accused the group of being affiliated with the Falun Gong movement which has been banned and suppressed since mid-1999.

Ms Yang's small group is among an estimated 60million Chinese who worship in underground churches, compared to 15million Christians loyal to the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association and the Protestant Three Selfs Patriotic Association.

Thursday's meeting in Haiqingluo village, on Beijing's suburban outskirts, was the first time Chen and Yang had opened their home to fellow Christians at which they were encouraged to testify to their faith.

Mr Chen, a Christian for 10 years, said police swooped on the 43 attendees, arresting and holding them in the local police station for up to two days. Their Bibles were seized as police searched for Christian material.


The police told Mr Chen to close down his house and evict the elderly residents within two days, and fined the head of the village 50,000 yuan ($A10, 000) to pressure him to keep Christians out, he said.

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