As US President Donald Trump begins his state visit to China today (November 8), Release International urges him to press for religious freedom for Christians – and to free imprisoned human rights lawyers.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has been tightening his grip on the levers of power in his country. But in recent years that has included a campaign of imprisoning human rights lawyers, many of whom are Christians, and tearing down crosses from the roofs of churches.
‘There are signs of increased repression in China against Christians,’ says Paul Robinson, the CEO of Release International which supports persecuted Christians around the world. ‘We urge President Trump to use the opportunity of his state visit to press for religious freedom in China – especially the release of the country’s Christian human rights lawyers.’
Last month, Beijing-based Christian lawyer Li Baiguang was dragged into a forest by ten Communist Party agents and severely beaten, according to Release partner China Aid.
The agents threatened to cut off his hands, feet and head if he refused to leave the area. Mr Baiguang had just finished filing a petition for peasants whose land had been seized by the government.
The lawyer has represented another Christian human rights advocate, Zhang Kai, who has campaigned to prevent the authorities from tearing down 100 crosses from church roofs in Zhejiang province.
The Chinese authorities began demolishing crosses in the province in January 2014. They went on to pull down more than 1,800 crosses, many in the city of Wenzhou. The campaign is part of a policy of Sinicization which has been used to target the Church. The thinking behind it is that church crosses have no place in modern China, whose communist government is officially atheist. Crosses are often demolished on so-called health and safety grounds.
Zhang Kai was arrested after taking steps to legally defend the churches against the cross removals. He was refused permission to see a lawyer.
He went on to make a public confession on state television, admitting ‘endangering state security’ and ‘gathering a crowd to disturb public order’. It is believed his confession was made under coercion.
Zhang Kai worked with another Christian human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong who also confessed in August to subversion and attempting to overthrow the socialist system.
Jiang’s wife, Jin Bianling, said before that her husband was arrested he had written a document urging people to ignore any confession he made in police custody. In the letter, he stated that ‘any pronouncement, repentance, or promise that I make while in captivity are invalid.’
In 2014 Jiang and other lawyers were arrested and beaten in detention. Jiang suffered eight broken ribs.
More than 300 human rights defenders have been targeted by the Chinese authorities. Many, likely Zhang Kai, Li Baiguang and Jiang Tianyong are practising Christians.
Jiang Tianyong took on many politically sensitive cases, including the defence of prominent Christian lawyer Gao Zhisheng. Gao has publicly documented the relentless torture he received in prison at the hands of the Chinese authorities.
‘President Trump, we respectfully urge you to use your influence and authority to call on China to free these lawyers, who are only applying the rule of law within their nation to see that justice is done,’ says Paul Robinson of Release. ‘We also urge you to intervene to prevent the removals of crosses from churches in China.
‘As an emerging superpower, we call on China to have the confidence and the wisdom to allow Christianity to flourish within its borders. We respectfully point out that Christians pray for their country and for their leaders and work for the prosperity of China and the public good.
‘President Trump, please stand with these patriotic Christians in their campaign for recognition, freedom and a better China.’
Release is supporting workers in China who are investigating cases of persecution, providing support to families and arranging legal aid. Release is producing and distributing Christian resources, include Bibles and a book about Christian marriage. And Release is organising and facilitating leadership training for leaders of unregistered churches.
Through its international network of missions UK-based Release International serves persecuted Christians in more than 30 countries around the world, by: supporting pastors and Christian prisoners, and their families, supplying Christian literature and Bibles and working for justice.