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U.S. urged to press China on religious freedom

.- Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom is urging U.S. delegates at this weekend’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in Singapore to pressure China to grant its citizens full religious freedom.

Non-official Chinese churches and practitioners of Falun Gong are particularly persecuted by Chinese authorities. The Center for Religious Freedom reports that hundreds of pastors and Christian house church leaders are continually abducted or arrested and led through unjust trials.

“Religious persecution is on the upswing in China,” said Center for Religious Freedom director Nina Shea.  “It is imperative that the U.S. delegation to APEC make clear to their Chinese counterparts that restrictions on religious freedom are intolerable.”

According to the Vatican, Chinese authorities arrested 83-year-old Catholic Bishop Zhao Zhengdong of Shangyingzhuang June 23.  He is reportedly being held at an undisclosed location. The bishop’s arrest is reportedly part of a systematic campaign by the Chinese government to convince Catholic clergy to join the Patriotic Association and bring the so-called “underground church” under its control.

China’s religious affairs bureau representative Liu Yongqing recently insisted that "Mr. Zhao Zhengdong was not arrested" and that he had voluntarily attended courses on religious policy organized by the bureau.

China’s Catholic bishops are reportedly being pressured to renounce their ties to the Pope and subject themselves to exclusive communist party authority.

Clergy affiliated with state-approved churches also complain about being regularly subjected to months of "training,” including lessons on Marxism and the undisputed leadership of the Chinese Communist Party.

Draconian measures have been taken against practitioners of Falun Gong, a peaceful spiritual movement founded in China that promotes meditation and physical exercises. In 1999, the government outlawed the movement, which has at least 100 million members. Hundreds of thousands of members have since been detained, and approximately 100,000 are estimated to have been sent to labor camps.  At least 1,000 members have been killed in custody, according to the Falun Dafa Information Center.

According to a recent survey conducted by Forum 18, a Norwegian religious news service, the Chinese government blocks access to Internet sites related to Falun Gong, the Dalai Lama, certain branches of Islam, Protestant house churches, and major Protestant and Catholic organizations, including the Vatican. Web sites of American groups promoting religious freedom in China are also blocked.


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