LONDON (ChurchMilitant.com) - On March 31, a U.K.-based human rights group published a report on China, highlighting the extreme vulnerability of religious communities and their ongoing persecution in the communist country.
In the report, "Repressed, Removed, Re-Educated: The Stranglehold on Religious Life in China," Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) states, "The level of freedom of religion or belief in China is rapidly and significantly decreasing."
It draws attention to violations against religion or belief communities across the country, including Christians, Uyghur Muslims, Falun Gong practitioners and Tibetan Buddhists as well as those who defend religious liberty or speak out against the persecution.
The text asserts that conditions have worsened for all religious minorities since the revised Regulations on Religious Affairs of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was implemented in February 2018.
Just months after the revised regulations were put into force, more than 400 Chinese Christian leaders testified that the government was:
An anonymous Christian said: "The newest policy of the government is that they don't want any kind of independent Church. They want all the churches to be led by the [Chinese Communist] Party and devoted to the Party."
The report says that the situation for Catholics has worsened since the Vatican-China deal of 2018 when the Holy See and the People's Republic of China signed a provisional agreement on the appointment of bishops.
Although details of the deal remain secret to this day, the report surmises "that under the agreement, the state-sanctioned Catholic authorities will submit a candidate for bishop to the Vatican, with the pope having final veto power," pointing out that Pope Francis has already officially recognized seven Chinese bishops who were not previously in communion with Rome.
While some Catholics welcomed the agreement, believing it could bring greater unity among Catholics in China and internationally, "many others both inside and outside the country are opposed ... concerned that it creates the perception that the Vatican may appear to have indirectly legitimized the Chinese government's oppressive record against religious groups, including Catholics, at a time when religious freedom is rapidly deteriorating," the report asserts.
Critics also question what this agreement means "for Catholic clergy and laypeople belonging to 'underground' churches in China, and especially clergy who have suffered years of detention and house arrest for refusing to join the state-sanctioned patriotic association."
The report goes on to enumerate the arrests, detention, re-education, torture, house arrests and imprisonment of individual clergy after the agreement as well as those whose current status is unknown. Their names read like a litany, among them: Bp. Peter Shao Zhumin, Bp. Cui Tai, Fr. Su Guipeng, Fr. Zhao He, Fr. Zhang Guilin, Fr. Wang Zhong.
In 2019, university professors, researchers, human rights activists and lawyers wrote an open letter to Catholic bishops' conferences across the world regarding the agreement between the Holy See and the government of the People's Republic of China, urging:
that any agreement must be grounded in the protection of religious freedom and an end to religious persecution. Unfortunately ... we cannot see any possibility that the coming agreement can result in the Chinese government stopping its persecution of the Church and ceasing its violations of religious freedom.
The plight of 3 million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslim believers and their detainment and torture in "transformation through education camps" in Xinjiang, which CCP propaganda maintains are mere schools, is documented.
Similar facilities detain and torture Buddhist monks in Tibet while Buddhist monasteries share the fate of mosques in Xinjiang and are destroyed.
The text speaks to the travesty of organ harvesting from Falun Gong practitioners and other religious minorities, pointing to independent corroboration of the practice by the China Tribunal. "Forced organ harvesting has been committed for years throughout China on a significant scale and that Falun Gong practitioners have been one — and probably the main — source of organ supply," it states.
Activists and other defenders of religious liberty, including lawyers and journalists, have been arrested or "disappear."
Some have managed to escape from China and to seek asylum abroad before the coronavirus crisis. "But, just as [the CCP] spread the virus responsible for COVID-19, [it] is also spreading the virus of religious persecution, trying to have the asylum applications rejected and the refugees deported back to China," it asserts.
CSW's East Asia Team Leader Benedict Rogers said:
In releasing this report, we want to stand with religious communities suffering violations against their right to freedom of religion or belief in China. This report is based on their stories, their struggles and their suffering. We will continue to call on the Chinese authorities to uphold the right to freedom of religion or belief for all people in China, and to cease their campaign of harassment against human rights defenders until we see real and lasting change in the country.
"It seems that the Chinese government is at war with faith. It's a war they will not win. The Chinese Communist Party must hear the cry of its people for religious freedom," said U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, Sam Brownback.
But the authors of the CSW report end where they began, confirming that freedom of religion in China is in "rapid decline."
They point out that "even in the time taken to write this report, there have been numerous new cases of arrest, detention and intimidation of religious believers," adding, "Almost daily new details emerge about the use of technology in surveillance ... alongside news of another church closure ... and another flat denial by the government that any of this violates the right to freedom of religion or belief."