Rights organisations have made a fresh and damning condemnation of China’s human rights record.
This comes after what is said to be a big upswing in persecution of religious minorities in the country.
Speaking in the European Parliament in Brussels, Anna Hill, of Open Doors International, said that China had risen to number 27 on its World Watch List. This compares with 46 in 2018, she said.
“It is a real cause for concern,” she told a meeting on “Religious Freedom of Catholics in China.”
The parliament has previously approved an “urgent” resolution on the “awful” situation of human rights in China and demanding action, notably, on behalf of religious and ethnic minorities.
But Hill and others said the situation had got even worse in recent months.
She said that in 2018, some 1,131 Christians had been arrested for their faith and were often left languishing in “very badly overcrowded” detention camps.
Many were subject to torture and vicious beatings, she told the meeting.
A further 171 churches were attacked in the same period and 15 Christian owned houses and shops were also attacked.
Marco Respinti, director in charge of Bitter Winter, said other religious groups, not just Catholics, were subject to identical problems in China.
An estimated 7.2 million Christians live in China. Despite their large numbers, they are in the minority in China, where they make up less than seven per cent of the total population of 1.4 billion.
Open Doors International says, “The goal of the Communist Party of China is to maintain its power through national unity – including the control of all religions. Since the Communist Party took over the implementation of the regulations on religion, the treatment of religious groups has become much harsher. Christians are a particular focus because they are the largest social force in China that isn’t controlled by the state.”
Christians from Muslim or Tibetan Buddhist backgrounds also face rejection and attack by their communities, as leaving their traditional religions is seen as a betrayal, the meeting heard.
Churches are monitored, and some have been attacked by the security forces or closed down. Church leaders are detained. Children under 18 are banned from attending church. Religion is banned from the public sphere, and teachers and medical staff have been pressured to sign documents saying they have no religious faith. In some areas, elderly people have been told that their pensions will be cut if they don’t renounce their Christian faith.
Open Doors Int said, “Believers from Muslim or Tibetan Buddhist backgrounds often keep their faith a secret. They may hide their Bibles, and it can be difficult for them to meet with other believers safely. If discovered, they may be threatened, beaten, or even reported to the authorities and imprisoned for a few days.”
Hill said, “Of course, catholics are not the only minority under threat.”
Respinti called on the EU and wider international community to “do more” to take China to task over what he called its “quite terrible” human rights record and policy towards religious groups.
The meeting on 25 September was organised by two MEPs, Michaela Sojdrova, of the EPP and Bert-Jan Ruissen, of the ECR group.