Human rights groups report that religious believers continue to be arrested in China for the peaceful expression of their faith. According to the U.S.-based Cardinal Kung Foundation, Chinese police reportedly swept through a village in Hebei province looking for Roman Catholic priests who are faithful to the Vatican. The police reportedly detained eight priests and two seminarians taking part in a religious retreat.
Meanwhile, the religious group Voice of the Martyrs says that Chinese authorities have released most of the nearly one-hundred Protestant Christians detained July 12th in China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region. But the group claims that at least five people are still in custody. The detained Chinese are Christians who worship in private homes, or so-called “house churches,” because they object to government involvement in religion.
In addition, the New York Times newspaper reports that authorities this month seized a historic Buddhist temple in northern China and evicted worshipers, including seven Americans, who had gathered for a rededication of the temple. The group’s leader was detained.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher says the U.S. has raised its concerns about religious repression with Chinese officials:
“We know the conditions are different from region to region, but there are consistent reports of harassment, intimidation, detention of religious believers.”
More than one-hundred million Chinese practice their faith in groups registered with and controlled by the government. But many millions of other believers seek to worship free of government control. In response, Chinese police have closed underground mosques, temples, and seminaries, as well as some Roman Catholic churches and Protestant house churches. Many religious leaders have been jailed. Some have been tortured.
Nicolas Becquelin of Human Rights in China says that Chinese are allowed to hold religious beliefs personally. But in terms of activities and church organization, he says, “everything has to be state-controlled”:
“Technically, anyone who practices religion outside of the state control system is liable to punishment, including administrative detention, sentence to labor camps, or even criminal sentences.”
The Chinese constitution says that citizens are guaranteed religious freedom. Millions of Chinese look forward to a day when they can practice their faith openly and without government interference.