It’s unclear whether Chinese President Hu Jintao, whose U.S. visit begins today, will be confronted by President Obama on the lack of religious freedom for his country’s 1.3 billion inhabitants.
Not even a month ago, the U.S. State Department’s annual report on worldwide religious freedom cited a huge list statistics we’re getting used to hearing from China year after year: Religious leaders imprisoned, their families harassed, certain religious groups termed as “evil cults” and even the strong-arming of religious activists overseas in an effort to shut them down or force them to return to China. These included three Tibetan Buddhists – including one monk – who were hauled back into China from Nepal in 2010.
Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns are still enduring torture and punishment for taking part in protests in March 2008. The treatment (deprivation of food, water and sleep over long periods) was so unbearable, the report said, monks were committing suicide.
China ranks up there with Burma and Afghanistan in terms of the sheer misery it inflicts on members of many religions, especially the Falun Gong, a spiritual group banned in mainland China. At an April news conference on Capitol Hill, a panel including attorney David Matas of B’nai Brith Canada and Ethan Gutmann of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, unveiled their investigation of a grisly trade in which an estimated 9,000 members of Falun Gong have been executed for their corneas, lungs, livers, kidneys and skins. Likening this practice to what the Nazis did to Jewish prisoners during World War II, they said the victims have been expanded beyond Falun Gong members to include Buddhists, Muslims and Christians.
On every side, the Chinese government is either going after Uighur Muslims in the west, Tibetan Buddhists to the south, Falun Gong members, Christians of all stripes and anyone belonging to an unregistered church. Amnesty International, in this report, says 10,000 people a year are executed in China, more than all the rest of the world combined.
Amnesty mentions several long-time prisoners in its release, including Gong Shengliang, a Christian pastor and founder of the South China Church who ended up in a coma after he was beaten and tortured in 2003. Accused by the Chinese of assault and rape, he was sentenced to death, only to have his sentence reduced to life on appeal. What made this case stand out were statements by six female church members in 2002 who claimed they were tortured by police in an effort to provide false testimony against Gong.
In 2007, an investigation by the Texas-based China Aid Association revealed a letter – allegedly written by this pastor – that was smuggled out of prison. In it, the pastor admits to the truth of some of the charges against him. However, CAA said it’s unclear which parts of the letter are accurate or whether it too was extracted under torture.
If Obama wants to suggest a prisoner for the Chinese to release, he could start with Mr. Gong. Or Alim Abdiriyim, son of Uyghur activist Rebiya Kadeer, who also is being tortured in detention in the western city of Urumqi. Or Jigme Gyatso, a former Tibetan Buddhist monk.
And the list goes on and on and on.
Question: Do you think President Obama should pressure Hu Jintao on religious freedom issues?