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Religious Freedom In China

While attending services at a Protestant church in Beijing, President George W. Bush once again called on the Chinese government to uphold the rights of the Chinese people to freedom of religion. "A society that welcomes religion," he said, "is a wholesome society, it's a whole society:"

"My hope is that the government of China will not fear Christians who gather to worship openly. A healthy society is a society that welcomes all faiths, and gives people a chance to express themselves through worship with the Almighty."

China was re-designated this year as one of eight countries of particular concern in the State Department report on international religious freedom because severe violations of religious freedom continue. In China, estimates suggest that Christians who worship at unregistered "house churches" vastly outnumber those who practice their faith at state-approved churches. Without legal recognition, these communities are at risk of having their churches closed or demolished and their leadership arrested and imprisoned. Muslim Uighurs, Tibetan Buddhists, and other communities viewed as threatening the Communist party are also facing increased government scrutiny.

The State Department's religious freedom report states that Chinese security officials in some areas use threats, demolition of unregistered property, extortion, interrogation, detention, and torture against leaders of unauthorized religious groups and their followers. The practitioners of Falun Gong who refuse to recant their beliefs are treated harshly in prison. Some have reportedly been tortured to death.

A number of activists who have attempted to report these abuses to the outside world have been charged with "illegally providing state secrets to foreign entities." In Tibetan areas, the Chinese government maintains tight controls on religious practices and places of worship. The most important figure in Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama, is barred by the Chinese government from returning to Tibet, in large part because the Chinese believe him to be a supporter of Tibetan independence. President Bush called on Chinese leaders to "invite the Dalai Lama, so he can tell them. . . .that he has no desire for an independent Tibet."

As President Bush has said, "By meeting the legitimate demands of its citizens for freedom and openness, China's leaders can help their country grow into a modern, prosperous, and confident nation." The Chinese people deserve nothing less.

The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.