(RNS) While last month marked the 25th anniversary of China’s silencing freedom in Tiananmen Square, this month China has been cementing this grim legacy — particularly regarding religious freedom.

A man waves a flag in May, 1989, at China's Tiananmen Square.

A man waves a flag in May 1989 at China’s Tiananmen Square. Creative Commons image by Robert Croma

From repressing Muslims to bulldozing churches and tearing down crosses, Chinese officials have been denying the internationally guaranteed right to believe or not believe. The simple proposition that individuals have the right to live out their beliefs openly and peacefully, without fear or intimidation, clearly frightens Chinese authorities, as evidenced by their repressive persecution of numerous faith communities.

During the just-concluded month of Ramadan, China denied Uighur Muslim students, teachers, professors and government employees the freedom to fast and fulfill related duties. With Ramadan coinciding this year with the commemoration of the Communist Party’s founding, Chinese authorities used the occasion to identify fasting Muslims, particularly in Xinjiang province. Those defying the ban have been subject to threats, detention and arrests.

In recent years, officials have shut down religious sites; conducted raids on independent schools, leading to multiple injuries and even deaths; confiscated religious literature; restricted private study of the Quran; monitored the sermons of imams and forced them to undergo political training; restricted Muslim dress and religious expression; banned children from being brought to mosques; and arbitrarily deemed religious gatherings and activities “illegal.”

In neighboring Tibet, religious freedom conditions for Buddhists are deteriorating. Since May 2011, more than 130 Buddhists, including at least 61 monks, nuns and former nuns, have immolated themselves. Their desperate protests are tied directly to Beijing’s brutal repression of Tibetan religious practice and culture.

Beijing also continues its relentless 15-year campaign to obliterate the Falun Gong, maintaining an extrajudicial security apparatus, the 6-10 Office, to further that aim. There have been reports of deaths in custody, the use of psychiatric experiments and the harvesting of organs.

And China continues to persecute Christians.

Catholic and Protestant groups refusing to register with the government face arrests, fines and the shuttering of their churches. China’s government has issued a chilling directive to “eradicate” unregistered Protestant churches over the next decade. In January and March, officials seized 20 members, including the pastor, of the Holy Love Fellowship, an unregistered home church in Beijing, detaining them in space set aside for violent criminals.

Since January, China’s Christians have confronted an ominous new threat to worship and practice — governmental targeting of registered churches and their leaders. In Zhejiang province, where Christianity has grown dramatically, the government has targeted more than 100 churches, demolishing dozens, forcing others to make major alterations and removing steeples and crosses. In April, authorities bulldozed the Sanjiang Church, which housed a congregation numbering in the thousands.

Katrina Lantos Swett serves as Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and is president and CEO of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights & Justice. M. Zuhdi Jasser serves as a USCIRF Commissioner and is president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy.

Katrina Lantos Swett serves as chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. M. Zuhdi Jasser serves as a USCIRF commissioner. Photos courtesy USCIRF

There are signs that this latest persecution of Christians may not be limited to Zhejiang province. On July 4, Pastor Zhang Shaojie of the Nanle County Christian Church, a fast-growing registered church in Henan province, was convicted on trumped-up criminal charges and sentenced to 12 years in prison. Church members have been harassed and prevented from holding services.

The 12-year prison sentence of a pastor marks a chilling turn for the worse in an already bleak scene. China’s appalling religious freedom record underscores the obvious: Little has changed since Beijing shamed itself before the world 25 years ago, massacring its own people for the “crime” of demanding their rights.

China’s leaders undoubtedly believe — as did their predecessors — that repression and fear will solidify their control and bring security. They are mistaken. By denying the bedrock freedoms of conscience and religion, China risks more restiveness and instability.

If China is to assume a truly honored place among the community of nations, its leaders must reject the dark ways of repression and embrace the light of liberty for all.

(Katrina Lantos Swett serves as chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. M. Zuhdi Jasser serves as a USCIRF commissioner.)



  1. I spent almost 8 months in China last year in Tianjin City and more disturbing to me then the recent persecution of Christians was the fact that most Chinese did not care about freedom at all…at least not the young people.I taught English as a second language 2 fairly wealthy people from ages 15 to 60. I tried to engage them n some political and religious discussions but they had no interest. In fact, I doubt that most of the young people today have any idea about Tianimen Sqquare. I realized that I can not want their freedom more than they do.

    • I doubt it’s lack of interest. My wife reads Mandarin and is frequently on WeiBo (Chinese Facebook). There’s a lot of political interest but it’s all in “code” as the censorship, both online and offline, is harsh.

      The reality is no one in China is safe to voice an opinion that’s not state approved. No one generally wants to rock the boat either so everyone clams up even when pressed, the reality is that many know the reality but are rightfully scared to stand up.

      • What you say is only true to a degree but many people like the current system and China’s current economic growth. Since they virtually have no concept of freedom they consequently have little concept or concern over having them violated. China has 1.5 Billion people so I am not trying to say that they ALL feel one way or another. The people I primarily met and worked with were wealthy college educated citizens.

    • ” I tried to engage them n some political and religious discussions but they had no interest. In fact, I doubt that most of the young people today have any idea about Tianimen Sqquare. I realized that I can not want their freedom more than they do.”

      Or maybe they were afraid of talking about such things with the loose-lipped American who doesn’t understand the level of repression that they deal with on a daily basis.

      • Larry…I’ll ignore your smart ass comment because you weren’t raised any better.I’ve been to over 45 countries so I know a helluva lot more than you about cultures and repression.I didn’t explain the circumstances under which our discussions took place, but trust me, it was a very safe venue. You also need to do some research on present-day China yourself.

        • “I didn’t explain the circumstances under which our discussions took place, but trust me, it was a very safe venue. ”

          If its within China, how would you know how safe it really is? At best you are just passing through there. You don’t have to live there. EVA-04 was saying that such discussions have to be veiled and coded because there is the feeling nobody is really safe to talk about such stuff.

          • My point exactly Larry. You have no idea what you are talikng about And you seem to have strong ideas based on heresay.

            You need to ask questions first before you make uniformed insulting personal statements. As I said I lived overseas for four years and I have been to 45-46 countries. I could explain more about why they are apathetic but you don’t seem to have any desire to learn

          • Larry…I don’t mean to be an ass but your personal insult stung. You xantq judge a country’s situation by what you see in the news. Before I went to China I had a student from Juarez Mexico who was afraid of the US because of what she saw in the news. The funny thing was at that time Juarez had the highest murder rate in the world.

          • You are a world tourist and had experience as an expatriate. I work with plenty of people who come to the US and stay for years and never pick up much about the culture or political situation. Living abroad doesn’t make you automatically “plugged in” to what really goes on.

            By your own admission the people you met were wealthy and educated. People who would naturally have a vested interest in being part of the system of the country. Probably the least likely to be dissenters because they benefit from the status quo.

            Most of what I know about China comes not only from the news but from people I know who were from there. I also have several relatives from both mainland China and Taiwan. Very different backgrounds, very different perspectives.

  2. Thankfully, God’s kingdom or heavenly government will soon put an end to all of man’s corrupt governments (Daniel 2:44).

    Meek mankind on earth will finally experience “real freedom” from all the terrible conditions we now face and enjoy the “real life” we were meant to live on earth (Isaiah 11:1-10; Revelation 21:1-4).



    What China is doing is an attempt to destroy and to REPLACE RELIGION
    with a FAITH in the state.

    What China is doing is FAITH.
    The separation of Church and State
    as found in the properly atheistic US Constitution
    with its Establishment clause
    is the best blend of religious freedom and government.

    Long live the Atheist US Constitution and the Establishment Clause which ensures freedom of religion.

    Americans, please KNOW how good you have it.

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