Written by John W. Whitehead
By John W. Whitehead
April 14, 2008
The world is finally seeing China for what it is: a totalitarian dictatorship.
It's widely known that China has been rounding up and persecuting First Amendment advocates. These Chinese dissidents who use the Internet and demonstrations to protest what China has been doing often disappear or are sent to re-education camps.
Little, however, is said about China's religious persecution, especially of Christians. Yet it is on par with, if not worse than, the harsh and oppressive treatment of demonstrators in Tibet that has received widespread news coverage and caused public outrage. And it's been happening for years.
Nevertheless, the 2008 Olympic Games were awarded to China in July 2001, with the expectation that the Games would act as a catalyst for the improvement of human rights in China and cause China to change its image. And over the past seven years, China has invested huge amounts of time and resources in preparing for the Olympics in order to make a good impression on the world. Unfortunately, these preparations have included the "religious repression, torture, sexual abuse and arbitrary detention" of many religious individuals, particularly Chinese Christians.
Although China is officially an atheist country, the Chinese constitution declares that citizens shall enjoy freedom of religious belief with one stipulation: that so-called freedom can only be exercised within the walls of state churches. What this merging of church and state means is that the government dictates religion.
True Christians, however, don't want that. Thus, a growing underground house church movement has sprung up, numbering between 50-100 million Christian Protestants. This, of course, has been labeled illegal by the Chinese government. Consequently, Chinese authorities routinely swoop into home churches, dragging worshippers out in the streets in some instances and beating them. Some have even been killed.
These efforts to squelch the growing home church movement have been ramped up in anticipation of the Summer Olympic Games. The China Aid Association has reported that many house church pastors in Beijing have been "visited" and "requested" to leave the city before the games. Others have been arrested, beaten and tortured. The following incidents paint a grim picture of what Chinese Christians have been subjected to in order that China might discourage the growing home church movement and present a united front for the upcoming Olympics:
In April 2007, Liu Huiwen, a Chinese Christian, was arrested for distributing "Christian literature" to Muslims in the Gansu province. Huiwen was reportedly severely beaten before his arrest and sentenced to 18 months in prison.
Pastor Cai Zhuohua was imprisoned for three years for "illegally printing" Christian literature. He was tortured with a cattle prod, held in a cold and cramped cell with 27 other prisoners and forced to make soccer balls for 10-12 hours a day for the Olympic Games.
Yianan Zhang, a Chinese Christian church leader, was sentenced to two years of "reeducation through labor" for "subverting the national government" after his prayer journal was discovered by officials.
These are not isolated incidents. When it comes to dealing with dissidents, whether political or religious, Chinese officials seem to consider torture part of the routine. This is graphically illustrated in a series of disturbing photographs, smuggled out of the country and available here. These photos depict Chinese policemen, hoping for a promotion, who allowed themselves to be photographed torturing Christians.
These grisly images show, for example, a Chinese policeman standing over Sister Aizhen Miao, a house church believer who has been forced to kneel on a brick. The policeman is gripping the back of her head with one hand and applying an electric cattle prod to her cheek, as Sister Miao expresses great pain.
Another photo shows a man lying on the floor shirtless, while a policeman digs his boot heels into the prisoner's arms, forcing him to wince and, thus, open his mouth. The next photo reveals three policemen forcing water into the man's mouth in an attempt to swell his stomach. Again, the pain is evident.
Persecution of religious individuals has been common in China for more than half a century. However, America cannot continue to ignore these atrocities, especially in light of the upcoming Beijing Olympic Games. We have an American president who claims to be a Christian, yet he's been largely silent on the issue. In fact, he's planning to show up for the opening ceremonies, thereby tacitly endorsing China's totalitarian tactics. The major corporate sponsors have also been silent, but we know where their priorities lie because money remains their bottom line.
The worst of all, though, has been the deafening silence from the evangelical church in America. Content to peddle their trinkets--many of them made in Chinese sweatshops--and wallow in materialism, American evangelicals have turned their backs on Chinese Christians when they should have been calling for a boycott of the Olympic Games.
Shame on American Christians. They've been silent on the war. They've been silent on the question of torture. They've been silent about human rights abuses in China and elsewhere. In fact, they've remained silent on almost every major moral issue of our times.
It's time that Christians in America gain a moral backbone and fight for their fellow Christians. And they need to urge that guy in the White House, the one they helped elect to two terms who claims to be a Christian, to take a stand on the issue at the very least.
John W. Whitehead is an attorney and author who has written, debated and practiced widely in the area of constitutional law and human rights. Whitehead's concern for the persecuted and oppressed led him, in 1982, to establish The Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit civil liberties and human rights organization whose international headquarters are located in Charlottesville, Virginia. Whitehead serves as the Institute’s president and spokesperson, in addition to writing a weekly commentary that is posted on The Rutherford Institute’s website (www.rutherford.org), as well being distributed to several hundred newspapers, and hosting a national public service radio campaign. Whitehead's aggressive, pioneering approach to civil liberties issues has earned him numerous accolades, including the Hungarian Medal of Freedom.