By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
BEIJING, CHINA (BosNewsLife)-- Prominent Chinese lawyer Gao Zhisheng, who was jailed after defending prosecuted Christians and other minorities, says China now faces its “harshest and most brutal political oppression since the end of Mao Zedong’s rule.”
In a new commentary obtained by BosNewsLife, he claims that the deterioration of human rights experienced by Christians and others "surpassed even the darkest political rule ever experienced by humanity [during] the ‘June 4th Tiananmen Square Massacre’ [in 1989 that killed at least hundreds of pro-democracy protesters]. He also mentions the "suppression of Falun Gong," a group combining exercises with moral and spiritual teachings.
The document, prepared in 2016 and published this week, is believed to be the first comprehensive human rights commentary written
by a human rights lawyer still living in China. "In comparison to 2015, in 2016 the [Communist Party of China] CPC conspicuously intensified its control and suppression of religious faith, especially targeting Christianity and Falun Gong," he writes. "The external environment for religious faith hit a new low in 2016 after 30 years of suppression."
The English version of the 'Commentary on Human Rights in China' was jointly facilitated by advocacy groups ChinaAid, Human Rights Foundation and Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
Gao disappeared in August this year and is believed to be in custody in Beijing, though Chinese authorities have refused to confirm his whereabouts, according to Christians familiar with the situation. After he defended Christians, Falun Gong followers, and other vulnerable groups in open letters to Chinese leaders and courts, authorities closed down his law firm and revoked his lawyer’s license.
In December 2006, he received a three-year prison sentence and one year’s deprivation of political rights with a probation period of five years on charges of "incitement to subvert state power." Later, in December 2011, officials reportedly said that Gao had violated the terms of his probation and that he returned to jail for three years. Authorities released him on August 7, 2014, while he suffered "serious health problems," but he disappeared again in August 2017, according to friends.
Gao makes clear in the commentary that his troubles are part of a deadly, government crackdown on Christians and others perceived
as questioning China's official Communist ideology. "Intimidated by the fact that Christianity is a faith practiced around the globe, and Christians pursue goodness and kindness, CPC has been cracking down on it harshly and ruthlessly for a long time, while keeping the suppression implicit and focused on typical cases," he writes.
"In 2016, a pastor and his wife were buried alive in Henan [province] while protesting against their church being forcibly possessed. This case marked a new low in the authorities’ cruel and brutal suppression of religious freedom in the history of Christianity in China over the past century," Gao adds.
Also, "Masquerading as ‘Sinicization’2 of Christianity, the CPC authorities launched a massive arrest of lawyers, believers, and rights defense lawyers practicing non-violent protests against forcible cross demolitions [from churches]," he explains.
"They used various illegal methods publicly and extensively, including mafia-style violence, to outlaw and persecute so-called illegal Christian house churches," Gao says. Communist authorities are known to have expressed concern about the growing number of Christians in China, with some officials saying there may be at least 130 million devoted Christian believers in the country.
A "famous case" of "brutal persecution against believers" is the "heavy sentence imposed on Ningbo-based Pastor Bao Guohua and his wife for opposing the forced demolition of crosses," he writes. In February last year Bao, the pastor of Jinhua Christian church, his wife Xing Wenxiang and nearly a dozen other church staff was reportedly found guilty of "embezzlement, gathering a crowd to disturb public order, illegal business operations and concealing accounting documents."
"Bao Guohua was sentenced to 14 years in prison and his wife Xing Wenxiang...to 12 years," recalls Gao. He adds that "this case was the most severe in the CPC authorities’ forced cross demolition campaign in Zhejiang [povince]" intended "to intimidate and deter believers...from protesting the cross demolition campaign."
Gao also mentions as an example "the brutal detention of Pastor Gu “Joseph” Yuese," chairman of the provincial China Christian Council (CCC) after he openly opposed the demolition of crosses. In January 2016, the official religious Three-Self Patriotic Movement and CCC ousted Pastor Gu from his position as senior pastor of China’s largest government-backed church, Chongyi Church. Pastor Gu was detained on trumped-up charges of “embezzling funds” in February and released on March 31 last year but he remains under residential surveillance while awaiting trial, Gao says.
Additionally, he cites the "brutal persecution against believers [such as] the heavy sentence imposed on Ningbo-based Pastor Bao Guohua and his wife for opposing the forced demolition of crosses," as reasons for concern. "Since [president] Xi Jinping came to power, the CPC’s general suppression of Christianity, with a particular focus on individual cases, has become a new and distinctive trend, which has been even more obvious in the past year," the rights lawyer warns.
Gao fears that the reported persecution will "increase rather than decrease" under Xi Jinping's rule following the recent adoption of new legislation known as the 'Revised Draft of Regulations on Religious Affairs.'
Others are suffering as well including Falun Gong practitioners who in the past year "remained the group subjected to persecution of the
greatest magnitude and severity," he stresses. "Unfortunately, the whole world appears to have become accustomed to the most horrific and bloody human rights disaster that is ruining the reputation of human civilization."
Gao notes that "Hundreds and thousands of Falun Gong practitioners have been abducted, forcibly disappeared, framed and tortured."
He complains that Western politicians appear to downplay China's human rights situation as they seem more interested in cooperation with what is the world's second-largest economy of 1.3 billion people.
"Like arrows shot into the ocean, these incidents failed to leave any trace in the world. Only their fellow practitioners monitored their situation and advocated for them, while the general public was numb to their suffering – it left me with a sense of despair."
Gao’s daughter, Grace Gao, is in Britain this week where she talks to policymakers about her father’s case and the broader human rights situation in China, confirmed CSW's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas. "We share many of the concerns raised in the report, which includes examples of grave violations against Christians [as well as] Tibetan Buddhists, Uyghur Muslims and Falun Gong practitioners. We join Gao in calling on the international community to press China to end policies and practices which perpetuate human rights abuses, and we further call on the Chinese authorities to release lawyer Gao Zhisheng immediately and without condition.”