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IFCSS Report: Student Dissident Calls for Religious Freedom in China

By Editorial Staff
Published April 24, 2008

International Federation of Chinese Students and Scholars submits report to President Clinton

WASHINGTON, D.C. (NNI) – Heping Shi represents the new generation of Chinese dissidents. Shi, 40, is a doctoral student at Virginia Polytechnic Institute in Blacksburg, Virginia, and also serves as director of government affairs for the Washington, D.C.-based Independent Federation of Chinese Students and Scholars (IFCSS). IFCSS represents the 40,000 Chinese students studying in the United States and is widely considered to be the most visible and influential Chinese pro-democracy student group in the country.

Shi recently wrote a 10-page report for IFCSS to submit to President Bill Clinton. Although the intent of the report was to bring to light the treatment accorded activists arrested following the Tiananmen Square demonstrations, it also included numerous examples of religious rights violations.

“Although our organization is made up of students,” Shi said, “we are also very much aware of the problem of religious persecution in China. There is not religious freedom in China at all. The church has been a consistent target of persecution.”

One of the five main sections of the IFCSS report was devoted to religious persecution. According to the report, Article 36 of China’s Constitution stipulates that citizens of the People’s Republic of China “enjoy freedom of religious belief.”

IFCSS maintained that this provision has been consistently violated by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Chinese government. The report mentioned the existence of two government-sanctioned church bodies – the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (Protestant) and the Catholic Patriotic Association, but stressed that members of churches affiliated with these organizations do not have any freedom.

“Instead of placing their faith with God,” the report said, “they must first be loyal to the Party’s leadership. For those who demanded independence for the church, the CCP has never relented in its persecution.”

The report noted the cases of well-known Christian leaders who have been imprisoned for their faith, including Wang Mingdao.

“It is forty years since Mao and his followers founded the People’s Republic of China,” the report stated, “but no progress has been made in regard to religious freedom. In fact, with the ‘June 4th Massacre,’ the government has carried out another round of massive repression of Christians, Protestants and Catholics alike.”

The report mentioned the infamous Document No. 6, released in February 1991 by the Central Committee of the CCP, urging that all independent religious groups be eliminated. “What followed was a mass persecution of Catholics and Protestants,” according to the IFCSS report, which listed numerous instances of arrest, torture, and death.

IFCSS also believes that the 14th Congress of the CCP, which was held in October 1992, adopted a more hardline policy toward dissent than the previous Congress.

“Despite the Chinese government’s eagerness to restore and expand trade relations with major industrial countries,” the report noted, “the general human rights situation in China has not been improved. In 1992 … over two hundred people were arrested because of their political or religious views. Given the limited access to China’s vast provincial areas, we have all the reason to believe that the real figure is several times greater.”

IFCSS added that instances of persecution mentioned in the report represent “only the tip of the iceberg; the real situation of human rights in China is much worse. Indeed, with the Chinese government withholding facts in regard to arrests and detentions, with the international community denied any access to China’s prisoners of conscience, with the severe punishment in store for any Chinese citizen who ventures to pass on genuine information on human rights violations, efforts to collect individual cases are severely constrained.”

The report also challenged the notion expressed in some political and media circles that the human rights situation in China has improved simply because the government has made attempts to open up economically.

“It is true that the CCP has started talking about human rights,” the report noted. “It is true that the Chinese government has made repeated pledges that people’s constitutionally granted rights would be guaranteed; it is true that many prisoners of conscience have been released and some well-known dissidents allowed to leave the country, and yet we have no reason to believe the CCP has become more respectful of human rights than it was forty years ago …

“While freedom of speech and freedom of religion remain felonies subject to brutal punishment, we find it impossible to believe that the general human rights situation has improved, not to speak of ‘significant improvement.’”

In fact, the IFCSS report maintained, if any change has occurred in recent years, it is a change for the worse: “The CCP has learned to play with the human rights issue. In fact, prisoners of conscience in China now constitute a special kind of political asset that will never be depleted. When the pressure from the international community builds up or when the Chinese government tries to resolve a disagreement with a Western country over issues of trade, loan, or technology transfer, it will release a few prisoners of conscience.

“Meanwhile, it will fill up its storage by arresting some others,” the report continued. “The CCP has effectively turned the human rights issue to its advantage without making any genuine improvement. And we can assume with confidence that it will continue to do so until this approach is effectively challenged.”

Shi became a Christian in 1990 two years after he began his studies in the United States. He studied at Beijing’s Foreign Affairs College, China’s only diplomatic school, and has finished his coursework at Virginia Tech University for his doctorate degree in sociology. He is currently writing his dissertation and working full-time with IFCSS.

Editor’s note: Watch for a regular column by Heping Shi in future issues of The Mandate.

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