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Beijing urged to respect religious freedom amid ‘anti-church’ crackd

   THE TELEGRAPH
   
   Influential church leaders, academics and lawyers urge Beijing to respect religious freedoms as demolitions and detentions fuel fears of a campaign against China’s Christians
   
   By Tom Phillips, Shanghai


   
   14 May 2014
   
   
   China must guarantee its citizens’ rights to freedom of religious belief and expression, a coalition of lawyers, religious leaders and academics have told Beijing as church demolitions and the arrests of Christians stoke fears of a nationwide “anti-church” campaign.
   
   
   “Religious freedom is a basic and core value of modern nations and societies,” argued the “Purdue Consensus on Religious Freedom” which was signed by more than 50 people, including some of China’s foremost rights lawyers, underground church leaders and intellectuals.
   
   
   All Chinese citizens had the responsibility "to respect, to protect, and to fight for” religious freedom, the statement added.
   
   
   The consensus was published on Wednesday following a three-day summit at Purdue University in the United States where activists and religious leaders discussed their concerns over religious freedom in China.
   
   
   High on the meeting’s agenda was the demolition of churches in the eastern province of Zhejiang and the recent detentions of Christians in Beijing and Guizhou province in southwest China.
   
   
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   Chinese citizens should have the freedom “to practice their faith, to worship together, to establish religious venues, to use religious symbols, to publish religious books, and to disseminate religious faith,” the consensus said.
   
   Missionary work is currently illegal in China while Beijing’s State Administration for Religious Affairs tightly controls the construction and administration of places of worship.
   
   The statement comes at a time of growing pessimism over the Communist Party’s handling of religious matters.
   
   Many Christians fear Beijing is planning a nationwide campaign to slow the growth of their community, which now counts tens of millions of members.
   
   Those concerns have been fuelled by the total or partial demolition of at least half a dozen churches in Zhejiang province and a spate of detentions across China. Tan Jianhua and Zhang Yuncheng, two members of Beijing’s Shouwang church, have been in custody since last Sunday on charges of “disturbing public order”, said Jin Tianming, a church leader.
   
   Beijing also faces criticism over what some describe as its heavy-handed treatment of Muslims in the far western province of Xinjiang.
   
   During a tour of one Xinjiang mosque earlier this month, Xi Jinping, the president, said he hoped, “religious people would continue their patriotic tradition and take a clear stance against extremism”.
   
   "I believe Xinjiang's religious people are righteous,” he was quoted as saying by state media.
   
   However, activists accuse the Communist Party of meddling in local religious practices and fear such interference will worsen following three deadly terrorist attacks that Beijing has blamed on extremists from Xinjiang.
   
   Teng Biao, a respected human rights lawyer who signed the consensus, said activists were increasingly concerned about Beijing’s treatment of Christians, Tibetan Buddhists and Muslims.
   
   “Religious freedom is protected in China’s constitution but in practice all kinds of religions are persecuted very severely,” Prof. Teng told The Telegraph. “We believe that religious freedom is the most fundamental freedom in human rights.”
   
   Sui Muqing, a Christian rights lawyer who signed the consensus, said Beijing saw the growth of religions such as Christianity, Buddhism and Islam as “a threat”. “Without democracy, religious freedom cannot be achieved.”
   
   Fenggang Yang, the Director of the Centre on Religion and Chinese Society at Purdue University and another signatory, said he hoped the consensus would give Beijing “a better understanding” of the need for expanded religious freedoms.
   
   The document was not a direct response to the demolition of churches in eastern China, Prof. Yang said. However, the recent detentions of Christians in Beijing and Guizhou hinted at the start of a nationwide “anti-church” campaign.
   
   “Things are happening in multiple places that are not positive signs. All the signs indicate expanding suppression.”
(2014/05/14 发表)
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