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It's time to play hardball over human rights abuses in China

By John W. Whitehead
Rutherford Institute
Monday, October 13, 2003

Several months ago, I wrote about the violence and injustice being carried out against Chinese Christians by the People’s Republic of China—and the almost oblivious attitude of Congress and the Bush Administration to these atrocities. Shamefully, we continue to stand silently as the blood of Chinese Christians flows.

A recent news report from Voice of the Martyrs indicates that three prominent Christian Chinese citizens were recently arrested and detained by agents of the government of the People’s Republic of China. Mr. Xiao Bi-guang and Mr. Zhang Yi-nan were arrested on September 6, 2003, in Ping Ding Shan City, Henan Province by Chinese police officers. Mrs. Ding Guizhen, the wife of Zhang Yi-nan, was arrested Sunday at her place of work as a doctor at a hospital in Ping Ding Shan and is currently in custody of the government.

The location where the two men are being held is unknown at this time, and their families have received no official notification of their detention. This is in clear violation of Chinese law, which states that the families of arrested persons will be notified of their location within 24 hours after their arrest. It is not surprising, however, that Chinese authorities break their own laws since virtually anything is acceptable as long as it advances the agenda of the state.

The recent arrests appear to be part of a broader effort by the Chinese government to intimidate unregistered churches. Mr. Xiao is an active member of a Beijing house church who spent three years in a “re-education through labor” camp for providing “spiritual aid” for an independent labor union. He is a graduate of Beijing University Law School and was a lecturer there until his house church involvement became known to authorities. He has served as a part of the legal team representing leaders of the South China Church (SCC), a group that has been labeled an “evil cult” by the Chinese government. Several SCC leaders have also been sentenced to death for their activities.

The SCC leader, Pastor Gong Shengliang, is currently serving a life sentence in a prison in Hubei Province and is reportedly in very poor health. Mr. Zhang was one of the writers of the Unity movement’s first Joint Confession of Faith and the United Appeal to the Three Self Patriotic Movement and Chinese Government in 1998. Mr. Xiao’s wife, Mrs. Gou Qinghui, was a teacher of theology at the Beijing Theological Seminary (run by the state-approved Three-Self Patriotic Movement). She was dismissed from her post when it was learned that she was also involved in the unregistered house church movement.

The arrests of Mr. Xiao, Mr. Zhang and Mrs. Ding are only the most recent examples of a continuing pattern of religious intimidation and arbitrary arrest of political dissidents by the Chinese government, as the U.S. Department of State has noted in its human rights report on China.

Not only does the Chinese government need to release these Christian leaders, it must also align its actions toward its citizens in accordance with its professed commitment to internationally-recognized fundamental human rights and the rule of law. However, as the U.S.-China Security Review Commission’s 2002 report to Congress indicates, Chinese authorities consistently limit the freedom of the Chinese people to practice their religious faith. And this is done not only by arbitrary arrests but also by torture and imprisonment. As Amnesty International reports: “Common methods include kicking, beating, electric shocks, suspension by the arms, shackling in painful positions, and sleep and food deprivation.”

In other words, the Chinese regime is barbaric. Yet the U.S. government continues to pour millions of dollars in foreign aid and other benefits into the Chinese government. Add to that the fact that American multi-corporations continue to plant businesses in China and thereby subsidize terrorism against the Chinese people.

As a so-called civilized society, the United States cannot continue to fund such persecution and oppression. It is way past time for the American government to act to stop these horrific practices.

President Bush over the past years has talked much about passing the torch of freedom from America to other parts of the world. And he has filled the air with much tough language on the need to break down authoritarian regimes.

Thus, if President Bush really wants to play international hardball, why not start with China and its long list of human rights abuses? Why not send a strong message that, for once, the U.S. is willing to put its money where its mouth is and sanction China, instead of rewarding its government with greater trade agreements? Why not stop the flow of American business dollars into this evil empire?

The plight of a few hundred nameless individuals from a foreign land may not mean a lot to many Americans, but it should. After all, we are the land of the free and the home of the brave. So let’s share some of that freedom with our brothers and sisters in China.


Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. He can be contacted at johnw@rutherford.org,. Information about the Institute is available at www.rutherford.org

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