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By Ron Brackin
Special Correspondent, ASSIST News Service
NASHVILLE, TN (ANS) -- The sheer volume of hard evidence presented at the press conference was staggering.
Names, addresses and photographs of 23,686 Chinese Christians recently arrested for their faith. Twenty thousand beaten. One hundred twenty-nine killed. More than 4,000 sentenced to labor and â€œre-educationâ€ camps. Homes and property confiscated or destroyed, leaving tens of thousands of children homeless orphans.
All this, in a country that boasts total religious freedom. Article 36 of the PRC constitution promises that â€œCitizens of the Peopleâ€™s Republic of China enjoy freedom of religious belief. No state organ, public organization, or individual may compel citizens to believe in, or not to believe in, any religion; nor may they discriminate against citizens who believe in, or do not believe in, any religion.â€
The reality, however, is dramatically different for people like 50-year-old Gong Shengliang, pastor of the South China Gospel Mission. He was arrested August 8, 2001 and sentenced to death. Jin Tong (20), was sentenced to two years in prison after she refused to join the government-run Three Self Patriotic Church. And Tonghuan Yin (26) was arrested in November 2001. She has not been heard of since.
Behind the podium, holding a stack of documents nearly two feet high, stood Li Shixiong, founder and chairman of the Committee for Investigation on Persecution of Religion in China (CIRPC). Mr. Li himself had spent over 20 years of his life in labor and re-education camps in the Chinese gulag.
â€œEvery Chinese Christian,â€ Li said, â€œknows that to believe in God is to dedicate your whole life.â€
In addition to lists of victims, Li released copies of secret correspondence and mandates written by Beijing government officials. Half had been turned over to the underground church by an official of the Ministry of State Security whose conscience troubled him so much over government abuses that he left his position after providing the documents and went into hiding. The rest of the documents came from officials within Chinaâ€™s secret police.
All of these officials confirmed that their superiors knew that their orders and memoranda would result in severe persecution of peaceful Chinese religious groups.
â€œIâ€™ve never seen anything like it in such quantity,â€ said Robin Munro, a China specialist at Londonâ€™s School of Oriental and African Studies. â€œThese documents are from all around the country, all consistent, all quite draconian, and all expressing implacable hostility toward these groups and determination to eradicate them.â€
The secret documents were translated from Mandarin through the joint efforts of several Christian ministries to the persecuted church, including CIRPC, The Voice of the Martyrs (VOM), Open Doors with Brother Andrew ODUSA, Compass Direct News Service, and Jubilee Campaign U.K.
These groups call on Christians worldwide, who want to help their persecuted brothers and sisters in China, to pray and intercede for them.
In addition, they encourage American Christians to ask President Bush to more actively press for religious freedom in China. The White House mailing address is 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20500, or call 202-456-1414. The email address is President@whitehouse.gov.
â€œThese documents prove that the persecution of Christians is coming from the highest levels of the Chinese government,â€ said VOM spokesman Gary Lane. â€œOur hope is that President Bush will be firm in demanding better treatment for people of faith in China.â€
â€œIf one part suffers,â€ the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, â€œevery part suffers with it.â€ â€œTherefore,â€ he instructed the church in Galatia, â€œas we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.â€