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Babette Francis

When the 2008  Olympic Games were awarded to Beijing seven years ago,  China undertook to improve its compliance with human rights. Steven Mosher, President,  Population Research Institute, USA, did not believe  Chinese promises.  Formerly a  Stanford University scholarship student in China, Mosher   had observed  first-hand its   policy of compulsory abortion after one child;  he lobbied strenuously, but unsuccessfully, against China being awarded the Games.  His forebodings  appear to have been realised.  Economic progress  has occurred in China  without political reform. China's use of brutal force and massive arrests  of Tibetans is only one aspect of  its violations of human rights.   

The Olympic torch  has   been a  propaganda disaster with images of  Chinese police scuffling with Tibetans in London and Paris.  Fr. Raymond de Souza, Canadian commentator on human rights writes: "China  got its bloodstained  fingers burnt......The torch relay brings to mind another image of 'sacred' objects being held aloft, this one   on the Web site of the  religious liberty organization, Aid to the Church in Need.
"That’s John Han Dingxiang,  Catholic bishop of Yong Nian, under house arrest. Bishop Han spent  35 years in forced labour, imprisonment and house arrest for his fidelity to Rome. Knowing that faithful Catholics were watching for him, he would come to his caged-in balcony and raise aloft the cross of Jesus Christ. The image on the site was taken from a camera hidden in  nearby bushes. Like the torch relay, the Chinese secret police are no doubt on hand, but there are no staged crowds, amoral corporate sponsors, no craven Olympic officials -  just a lone prisoner of conscience trying to do what  he could to bear witness to the faith and strengthen the flock.
"When Bishop Han was dying last September, the Chinese regime permitted no one from the
Church to be at this bedside. He was cremated soon after death and buried by night. His grave marker made no indication of his religious faith or that he was a bishop.  Such oppression is  routine in China; there are today bishops and priests in prison". 
Kevan Gosper, Australian Olympics  official,  describes Tibetan  protestors as "professional spoilers", but  has not   criticized China.   Gosper may not have read  the 2007 report "Bloody Harvest" by Canadian MPs, David Matas and David Kilgour,  which alleges  the Chinese government  executed thousands of Falun Gong practitioners  and  harvested their organs for transplants. 
The entire  female population of China  is subjected to forced sterilization and abortion for those who  do not submit to state rules on family  size.  China executes thousands of its citizens annually, many for the crime of challenging the government.
China systematically suppresses  religious liberty, imprisons  Catholic bishops and  priests, and  persecutes  Protestant house church leaders. Mr. Shi Weihan,  leader of a Beijing house church is one who has  been re-arrested after having been previously released without conviction,  and only recently has  he been allowed to meet with his lawyer or have his family  told where he is  imprisoned. 

Hong Kong Catholic diocese's Justice and Peace Commission (JPC) and Commission of Labour Affairs, as well as the Union of Hong Kong Catholic Organizations in Support of the Patriotic Democratic Movement in China,  joined six Protestant groups:   Christians for Hong Kong Society, Christian Industrial Committee, Christian Institute, Christian Patriotic Democratic Movement, Student Christian Movement and Women Christian Council,  in  a letter  calling  for the release of human rights activist Hu Jia,  jailed for writing  on the internet criticising mainland authorities.  The letter also asks the Chinese government to stop detaining human rights activists and placing  their families under house arrest.   Hu's wife, Zeng Jinyan, and their infant daughter have been forbidden to contact the outside world since his arrest.

Todd Nettleton,  spokesman for "Voice of the Martyrs"  says that in the months leading up to the Olympic Games things are  getting worse, referring to the case of  Alimujiang Yimiti, who is in  custody charged with "subversion of the national government and endangering national security". Yimiti could face the death penalty simply for being  Christian.

The Church  in China is one of Pope Benedict's top priorities.  No  country in Asia has received as much of his attention. During  his first consistory  in March 2006, he gave a red hat to Bishop Joseph Zen Ze-kiun,  outspoken bishop of Hong Kong.  In  January 2007 Pope Benedict convened a summit of  Holy See officials and Chinese bishops from Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau, reviewing  the Holy See's strategy to help the Church and Catholics in mainland China, and considering  how to work for an understanding with Beijing to resolve  problems and open the door to diplomatic ties.
Taking  recommendations from that summit, Pope Benedict wrote a letter  in June 2007 to Catholics in mainland China and set up a permanent Commission for the Church in China which brings together Vatican officials, Chinese bishops from Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau, and China experts from religious orders with links to the mainland Church. It met in March 2008 to review reactions to the pope's letter and to reflect on ways to move ahead.
Pope Benedict  also invited Catholics worldwide to join in a Day of Prayer for the Church in China on May 24, the feast of Our Lady Help of Christians, who "is venerated with great devotion at the Marian Shrine of Sheshan in Shanghai." [The Chinese authorities  recently banned a pilgrimage  from Hong Kong to the Shrine]
The Pope has  frequently expressed the Holy See's desire and willingness for "constructive dialogue" with China and  delegations from both sides have met on several occasions and talks continue, though perhaps not as "constructively" as the Holy See would wish.
Vatican officials have noted that while Beijing welcomes cardinals visiting from Belgium,
France, Scotland, USA and Vietnam, it shows no such readiness to allow the world's two
Chinese cardinals, Paul Shan Kuo-hsi and Hong Kong's Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, a Shanghai native, to visit the land of their birth.

Cardinal Shan,  who is suffering from lung cancer but devotes his time to giving talks to a wide range of groups including university students, doctors, prisoners and non-christian religious groups, was in Rome in March to attend a meeting of the  Pope's Commission for the Church in China, expressed optimism about the future of the Church in the mainland, "because we are in the hands of God, and from history we know that no dictatorial regime will last forever.

"If we compare the actual government of Beijing (today) with the government of Mao Zedong or Deng Xiaoping, there is a big change, a big change," he said.

As for persecutions and trials over the years, he believes "God uses them to purify us." Despite everything, he concluded, "the number of Catholics has increased almost five times in over 50 years -- and that's a miracle!"
Following the Olympic torch protests, China has announced it would soon open fresh talks with aides to the Dalai Lama. It would be the first meeting between the two sides for over a year.  The announcement was welcomed by the European Union, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy who had indicated he could boycott the August 8 Olympics opening ceremony, called it a major step that carried real hope. 
However, in New Delhi thousands of Tibetan exiles in India marched to demand the release of the Panchen Lama, the second highest-ranking figure in Tibetan Buddhism who they say has been a prisoner in China since 1995.  The Chinese government needs to talk not only to the representatives of the Dalai Lama but to Vatican envoys, representatives of the Falun Gong and Protestant church leaders.  Religious liberty  is indivisible.

In August we should not have to depend on fuzzy images from hidden cameras to show us violations of human rights in China.  Somewhere there is another like Bishop Han holding up the Cross.  The huge media contingent at  the  Games could ensure that the Olympic torch illuminates not only sporting achievements but  helps break the shackles restricting religious freedom  in China.

Babette Francis is the National & Overseas Co-ordinator of Endeavour Forum Inc., a NGO having special consultative status with the Economic & Social Council of the UN.




Member Organisation, World Council for Life and Family

NGO in Special Consultative Status with ECOSOC of the UN