|11/09/2005: China: USCIRF releases Policy Focus on China at press conference with Congressional Members|
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
WASHINGTON - The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) today was joined by Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA), Congressman Tom Lantos (D-CA), Congressman Christopher Smith (R-NJ), and Congressman Mark Kennedy (R-MN) for the release of USCIRF's Policy Focus on China at an on-the-record press conference on Capitol Hill. The findings and recommendations in Policy Focus on China are based on the Commission's August 2005 official two-week delegation to China, when the Commission traveled to Beijing, Urumqi, Kashgar, Chengdu, Lhasa, and Shanghai. The release of Policy Focus on China and its recommendations for U.S. policy are especially timely in light of President George W. Bush's November 14 meeting in Beijing with Chinese President Hu Jintao.
During its visit, which was the result of several years of diplomatic effort by the United States government, the Commission engaged senior Chinese officials at the national, provincial and local levels, including Vice Premier Hui Liangyu, who are responsible for the management of religious affairs and the protection of human rights. In addition, the Commission met with Chinese academics and lawyers, UN officials, and representatives of government-sanctioned Buddhist, Catholic, Taoist, Islamic, and Protestant religious organizations.
The Commission raised questions on Chinese law and international human rights norms, the management of religious affairs in China, Chinese policies concerning religious education of minors and unregistered religious organizations, new regulations on cults and religious affairs, the unique situations in Tibet and Xinjiang, and the situation for North Korean asylum-seekers in China. The Commission also raised specific cases of concern with law enforcement officials and was allowed to meet with recently released Tibetan Buddhist nun Phuntsog Nyidron during its visit to Lhasa. The Commission pressed Chinese authorities to restore her freedom of movement so that she could get needed medical attention outside of China.
"The Commission continues to find that the Chinese government systematically violates the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief, contravening both the Chinese constitution and international human rights norms," said USCIRF Chair Michael Cromartie. "Indeed, the room for political openness, public activism, and greater civil and individual freedoms is narrowing in China. Economic freedom, as some had hoped, has not led to more political freedom or human rights protections. Particularly vulnerable are Catholics and Protestants engaged in unregistered activities, Tibetan Buddhists, Uighur Muslims, and members of religious and spiritual movements such as the Falun Gong. Within the last week, the Chinese government has sentenced an ‘underground' Protestant church pastor to three years in prison for illegally printing and distributing Bibles and other religious books, shut down the law firm of Gao Zhisheng, a prominent civil rights lawyer who refused to withdraw an open letter urging President Hu Jintao to respect freedom of religion and stop persecuting members of the Falun Gong, and arrested two priests of the ‘underground' Catholic Church following an interview they gave to an Italian newspaper."
"Moreover," continued Cromartie, "there is a fundamental misapprehension on the part of Chinese officials about what freedom of religion or belief means under international instruments. They have mistaken - cynically or inadvertently - the proliferation of state-sanctioned and state-controlled religious expression with the guarantee of the individual right of freedom or religion or belief. The growth of religious sentiment within the spaces sanctioned by government does not constitute freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief."
Given the ongoing critical human rights problems in China, the Commission believes that these concerns must be raised at the highest levels and that U.S. officials should provide a consistent, candid, and coordinated message about human rights, including religious freedom, in their interactions with Chinese officials. Toward that end, the Commission has recommended policy options to strengthen U.S. human rights diplomacy with China.
The Commission has recommended that the U.S. government: