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Radio Free Asia
2016-08-22

■ Chinese political prisoner Guo Feixiong, who has refused food and water for more than 100 days in protest at his treatment in jail, may have had his request for a transfer granted, his wife told RFA on Monday.

Guo, whose birth name is Yang Maodong, had been subjected to forced feeding after beginning his hunger strike in early May in protest at the treatment of political prisoners in China.

His lawyers had requested his transfer from Yangchun Prison in the southern province of Guangdong after a public outcry triggered by his hunger strike.

“I have heard that [Guo has left Yangchun Prison] but we haven’t had this information confirmed yet,” Guo’s U.S.-based wife Zhang Qing said. “Some of the family are planning to visit him on Aug. 26, so we probably won’t hear anything for a while.”

Guangdong rights activist Guo Feixiong in an undated photo.
Photo courtesy of activists
“Our information is incomplete right now,” said Zhang, who was granted political asylum in the United States in November 2009 along with the couple's daughter Yang Tianjiao.

According to rights activist Ai Wu, who heads the Guo Feixiong Concern Group, the initial report of Guo’s departure from Yangchun came in the form of a phone call from Guangdong authorities to his sister, Yang Maoping.

“The Guangdong provincial prison bureau sent out a tweet on Friday, which was followed by a private phone call to Guo’s elder sister, saying that he had been transferred to another prison,” Ai said.

“If this is true, I will be very happy about it, because nobody wants anything bad to happen to him.”

But Ai said it is still unclear whether Guo’s other demands of better treatment for political prisoners have been met, and therefore whether or not he has willingly ended his hunger strike.

“It is a small concession for them to fulfill his request for a transfer, but the government has yet to respond to his demands regarding the bigger, humanitarian issues that he made on arrival at Yangchun Prison,” she said.

Call for reforms, end to torture


Guo began his hunger strike on May 9, calling on President Xi Jinping to implement democratic reforms, end the use of electric shocks in prison, improve the treatment of political prisoners, and ratify a United Nations covenant on civil and political rights.

His action was prompted by a forced rectal cavity search at the instigation of state security police, as well as forced head shaving and verbal abuse from prison guards, his sister said at the time.

More than 400 rights activists have been on relay hunger strikes in support of Guo since he began refusing food and water.

Ai said Guo had also spoken out against a lack of nutritious food in jail, against being beaten and “forced to kneel,” and on “forced exercise sessions.”

“But Guo Feixiong has been forced to squat down with his hands on his head more than three times, and threatened with an electric baton, and these are very serious forms of physical and emotional abuse,” Ai said.

“If he has really been transferred to another jail, then I hope that similar things won’t continue to happen at the new prison,” she said.

According to the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), Yangchun Prison twice admitted guo to hospital between April and May, but only for checkups. No diagnosis or medical treatments were offered.

Guo was sentenced last November for "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble" and "gathering a crowd to disrupt social order" after a prolonged period in pretrial detention.

During his sentencing hearing, Guo shouted in protest at his treatment while in police custody, where he was held in solitary confinement in a small, dark cell and denied permission to exercise outdoors since August 2013.

Reported by Yang Fan for RFA’s Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.



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Radio Free Asia
2016-08-22

■ As millions of Chinese schoolchildren and college students were back in class at the start of the new academic year on Monday, the children of some dissidents and critics of the ruling Chinese Communist Party continue to be denied access to education, activists told RFA.

Grassroots activist Ran Chongbi, who has previously been detained by Chinese police for her support of the 2014 pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, said her school-age daughter has been barred from attending state-run schools for the past five years.

Ran, who once ran an unofficial school for the children of evictees and other long-term petitioners in Beijing's Fengtai district, in a bid to address the problem, called on the authorities to allow her daughter and the children of around a dozen other families to go back to full-time study.

“I have had a number of calls from the government and from the school principals to inform me that there is nothing they can do about it,” Ran said, on the first day of China’s fall semester. “They just keep telling me that my kid isn’t allowed to attend school.”

“My child has committed no crime, and her schooling has nothing to do with my complaints about the government’s injustices,” she said. “My kid shouldn’t be tarred with the same brush, and inherit the status of ‘petitioner’.”

Petitioners whose children have been denied access to school
protest in Beijing’s Fengtai District, Aug. 20, 2016.
Photo courtesy of Ran Chongbi
Ran tried home-schooling her own and other petitioners’ children last year in a rented apartment in a Beijing suburb, in a bid to solve the problem.

But the school was soon ordered to leave the premises, after pressure was put on the landlord of the apartment.

Ran, who once traveled to Hong Kong with the intention of self-immolating over the 2008 rape of her then five-year-old daughter, had planned to teach a different curriculum to that laid down by the education ministry.

“My child is the future of this country, and … the government has a duty to educate her,” she said. “President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang are always talking about not allowing the poorest peasant families to end up on the streets,” she said.

Pressure on petitioners

Fellow petitioner Hao Huanglin said all children should have the right to attend school, regardless of who their parents are.

“The authorities react [to petitioners] with persecution and detention,” Hao said. “Now they are saying we can’t send our kids to school.”

“It doesn’t matter which schools we apply to; they won’t enroll them.”

Hao said the government seems to be insisting that petitioners end their rights campaigning and return to their hometowns.

“They are trying to force us to leave [Beijing],” she said.

Authorities in the eastern province of Anhui last week released rights activist Zhang Lin from a three-year jail term on public order charges after he campaigned publicly for his daughters to be allowed to attend school.

Anni and her elder sister Ruli left China for California after their father's arrest in August 2013, where they were taken in by Reggie Littlejohn, founder of the Women's Rights Without Frontiers rights group, and granted political asylum.

Anni was dubbed "China's youngest prisoner of conscience" after she was taken out of school by state security police and detained for several hours in February 2013, and prevented from attending school during her father’s house arrest.

After his daughters’ escape, Zhang and three fellow activists were jailed for “gathering a crowd to disrupt public order” for their role in the campaign for Zhang Anni’s place in school.

However, Zhang Lin’s whereabouts are still unknown following his release, indicating that he may still be under police surveillance, rights groups said.

Reported by Goh Fung and Hai Nan for RFA’s Cantonese Service, and by Kou Tianli for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.



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Christian Today
By Ruth Gledhill
23 August 2016

■ China's crackdown on house churches not registered with the official state church is growing and now represents the "greatest challenge" faced by Christians in the region, according to latest reports.

Some unregistered churches are resisting the pressure to comply with government regulations, in spite of the risks of retribution.

China Aid, which works to support persecuted Christians in China, is reporting that one house church, Proclaiming Christ, in central Henan province has rejected a government order to cease its religious activities and remove its signs and worshippers intend to continue to defy the authorities.

Fang Guojian, a church attendee, told China Aid: "We are still gathering. We wrote a petition. After they saw it, they were afraid. In the letter, we wrote that we would go to Beijing; go to Beijing and appeal. Now, they are afraid, and they do not dare to provoke us."

Once churches are registed with the official church, the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, they become subject to government supervision. All services and other activities then have to be approved by the state.

The Communist Party is believed to be becoming
progressively more suspicious of the influence of Christianity,
which is experiencing significant growth in China. Reuters
China is number 33 on the Open Doors persecution watch list, which ranks countries where it is most difficult to practice the Chistian faith.

Open Doors says: "While the campaign of breaking down crosses in the province Zhejiang seems to have come to an end, church meetings continue to be disrupted and stopped. Authorities see the meetings as threats when foreigners, media or large groups of people are involved, one example being in the province Guangdong.

"The curbing of reporting and social media after explosions in Tianjin in August 2015 also serve to limit Christian freedoms. The government's goal of maintaining power and social harmony includes the control of all religions, including the quickly growing Christian minority."


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The Japan News
By Kazuhiko Makita
2:13 pm, August 22, 2016

■ In China earlier this month, four people — human rights lawyers and activists — were convicted for subverting state power. It has been over three years since the inauguration of the administration of Chinese President Xi Jinping, and three changes have become apparent in the way the Communist regime suppresses human rights activities.

Video confessions

On Aug. 1, lawyer Wang Yu, who had been detained since July last year, suddenly appeared in a videotaped interview with a Hong Kong media outlet. She was believed to have been released on bail. Wang appeared in front of the camera and declared that her “activities to date have been wrong,” acknowledging her mistake of having engaged in human rights activities.

Some believe that the regime had used her family to pressure Wang. Similar confessions in the media by “political prisoners” are nothing new under the Xi regime. There has been a series of public confessions from high-ranking officials exposed as corrupt.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The Xi administration’s aim is to foster the impression that activists — who have opposed the one-party regime and called for the right to free speech since the 1989 Tiananmen incident, in which the student democracy movement was suppressed by armed forces — are no more than criminals.

A member of a diplomatic group monitoring China’s human rights situation says activists whose confessions are aired in the media are effectively rendered powerless by the process, and that even when they return to society they are unable to continue with their former activities. The aim of the regime is to cause the disintegration of human rights activities, the source says.

Punishments made public

Under the previous administration of President Hu Jintao, when activists were detained they would typically “go missing” all of a sudden. The then “reeducation through labor” system was utilized so that detainees could be held for a long period of time without access to the judicial process. It is said that in some cases detainees were subjected to harsh interrogation and physical torture.

A human rights activist in Beijing said the behind-closed-doors suppression by the Chinese government was derived from a sense of inferiority to the West, which was keeping its eye on China’s human rights situation. However, in 2013 the Xi regime abolished the system. Instead, they claimed to introduce a full commitment to the rule of law.

To illustrate this new approach, the trials of four activists who had been detained with Wang at the Tianjin No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court — a district court — held on Aug. 2-5 emphasized transparency.

Zhou Shifeng, 51, director of the Beijing Fengrui Law Firm, to which Wang belonged, was sentenced to seven years in prison. Activist Hu Shigen, 60, who had participated in the pro-democracy movement in the 1990s and been imprisoned at the time, was sentenced to 7½ years.

Two other activists were also convicted and received suspended sentences.

Official media outlets, including the state-run Xinhua News Agency, and the court made public the details of the detention, prosecution and judicial decisions regarding the four activists.

This trend has become quite clear after the crackdown on the New Citizens Movement, which has been influential since about 2010 as it seeks to advocate for human rights within the framework of China’s current Constitution.

The founder of the movement, Xu Zhiyong, was taken into custody in July 2013, sentenced in January 2014 and in April 2014 had his sentence upheld at the Beijing Municipal High People’s Court. In his case, the authorities and the media did not make public his indictment or the details of the judicial proceedings, and the trial was held behind closed doors.

The tide turned with the handling of the cases of journalist Gao Yu, who was detained in April 2014 for allegedly passing state secrets to foreigners, and human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, who in May that year was detained after attending an event about the Tiananmen incident.

Making public the judicial proceedings against noted activists serves as a form of intimidation aimed at other activists, and since it is ostensibly based on the rule of law, it can be seen as a good reason to reject interference from the West.

According to an analysis by a human rights lawyer, the Xi regime increased its use of force and it seems to have realized that publicizing their crackdowns actually makes them more effective.

Little concern about pressure

In the past, it was typical for China’s Communist regime to pursue crackdowns on those advocating human rights while also making some concessions out of consideration for concerns from the West.

A prominent example is the case of blind human rights activist Chen Guangcheng, who escaped from house arrest in Shandong Province during the Hu administration in April 2014, fled to the U.S. Embassy, and ended up effectively living as an exile in the United States.

After U.S.-China strategic and economic talks in which Chen’s treatment was a focal point, the Chinese government allowed him to leave China to study in the United States.

However, there is no sign of the Xi administration yielding in response to expressions of concern from the West about human rights in China.

Now that economic ties between China and the West are stronger, it is unlikely that the West will impose economic sanctions on China as it did after the Tiananmen incident.

A source related to the Chinese Communist Party reveals a change in attitude, saying: “The gap between China and the United States is narrowing in both the economic and military fields. We no longer need to consider so much what the United States says.”

A lawyer has suggested that human rights activities are at a crossroads, saying that “this year things are unusually quiet.”

The network of lawyers and activists has certainly been weakened after repeated crackdowns. There is a dominant view that activists who live in exile in the West are losing influence within China. The Xi regime is making strenuous efforts to eliminate foreign influence on nongovernmental organizations.

The human rights movement in China has been supported by the West as they share the common values of fundamental human rights and democracy. Perceiving it as a threat, the Communist regime has cracked down on the movement in the fear that these values might take hold within the nation.

China clearly perceives that the West attaches greater importance to economic relations and has no choice but to give less weight to human rights issues. This reality now presents the West with the issue of how to deal with a country so different from themselves going forward.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 13, 2016)


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Christians gather at Proclaiming Christ Church 
in Henan province. (Photo: China Aid)
China Aid
Reported in Chinese by Qiao Nong. Translated by Carolyn Song. Written in English by Brynne Lawrence.

Updated on Aug. 23, 2016, at 11:01 a.m. 

(Shangqiu, Henan—Aug. 22, 2015) Amid escalating pressure to join state-run churches, a house church in China’s central Henan province rejected a government order to stop its religious activities by July 20.

On July 15, the Zhecheng County Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau issued a notice to Proclaiming Christ Church, citing provincial religious affairs regulations and indicating that the church met without government approval. They ordered the church stop its religious activities by July 20.

Fang Guojian, a church attendee, said that the government also unsuccessfully pressured the church members to remove Proclaiming Christ Church’s signs.

“We are still gathering,” Fang said. “We wrote a petition. After [the officials] saw it, they were afraid. In the letter, we wrote that we would go to Beijing; go to Beijing and appeal. Now, they are afraid, and they do not dare to provoke us.”

Several anonymous sources reported that attempts to compel church leaders to register their church with the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), China’s state-run church, comprise the greatest challenge house churches face. Once churches join the TSPM, they must accept government supervision and obtain approval from the religious departments before holding any activities.

According to Fang, officials attempted to persuade the church to join the TSPM, but the Christians rejected the demands.

Fang said that they plan to continue to defy the authorities’ orders, and if officials harass church members, representatives of the church will travel to Beijing to legally defend their rights.

China Aid exposes abuses, such as those suffered by the members of Proclaiming Christ Church, in order to bring awareness to religious freedom violations and support persecuted Christians in China.


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Christians worship at Mengen Church.
(Photo: China Aid)
China Aid
Reported in Chinese by Qiao Nong. Translated by Carolyn Song. Written in English by Brynne Lawrence.

(Lingbao, Henan—Aug. 19, 2016) Church members recently saved their church from demolition in the midst of an ongoing legal case over the church’s land.

According to Wei, the man in charge of Mengen Church, authorities devised a plan to demolish his church and use the land to build a Buddhist temple. On July 28, he said that Pan Dingqun, a local official, hired an electrician to cut off the church’s power and water supply. The church members convinced the electrician not to do so, despite his concerns that he might lose his job.

Additionally, they wrote a petition that garnered 147 signatures and saved their church from demolition. Pan, however, is still gathering groups of officials to discuss continued attempts to cut off the church’s power.

“[On July 28] several Christians went into town to report this matter, because our church has all the legal documents,” a Christian said. “The town’s government personnel replied that they would conducted an investigation into this matter, but I am afraid they have collaborated [with the people who instigated the case]. The result will not likely be good.”

Another Christian attested that government officials have been colluding with gangs to harass Christians, saying, “The government is currently preoccupied with the ‘big tigers’ [Editor’s note: This alludes to an ongoing crackdown on officials the Chinese government deems corrupt], and the ‘little tigers’ [continue to] unreasonably bully people, using means such as burying people alive and thinking they can occupy other people’s land.”

China Aid reports on religious freedom abuses, such as those experienced by the members of Mengen Church, in order to stand in solidarity with persecuted Christians in China.


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Radio Free Asia
2016-08-15

■ The Chinese government is asking school children in the northwestern Xinjiang region to tell authorities who in their family prays, who wears a hijab, and who wears a beard, sources tell RFA’s Uyghur Service.

While the sources say all middle and high school students in Aksu (in Chinese, Akesu) and Hotan (Hetian) prefectures are required to fill out a questionnaire telling authorities of their families’ religious activities, wardrobe and facial hair, the action appears to be directed at the region’s Muslim Uyghurs.

The hijab, a daily routine of prayer and a beard are all hallmarks of Muslim practices.

A Uyghur teacher from Aksu region, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told RFA that the regional educational department prepared a questionnaire that contains questions like: “Is there anybody in your house who prays? Is there anybody who wears a hijab or has a beard? What kind of religious activities do they conduct? What kind of religious books are there in your house?”

During a meeting about the form, Chinese authorities told educators that it was designed to curb the religious and separatist ideology of students entering the schools, the sources told RFA.

‘They tell us not to do any religious activities’

A student from a Kashgar village and a guard at the village school in Hotan’s Lop county confirmed the questionnaire’s existence and contents, but said that similar forms have been issued before.

“After we finish filling out the form, we take it to school, and the school collects them,” said the student who also spoke on condition of anonymity.

An elderly Muslim talks to a younger man outside a mosque
before Friday prayers in Urumqi, capital of western China's
Xinjiang region, May 23, 2014. AFP
“They do it every year,’ the student explained. “We are on summer break, but we are gathered at the school every Friday, and they tell us not to do any religious activities and such.”

The guard, who also declined to be identified, told RFA that the questionnaire has to be stamped by authorities and presented at the school.

“There should be stamps on it,” the guard said. “Both police and government. The students bring in the forms themselves. They are in Uyghur for the Uyghur students and Chinese for the Chinese students.”

Attempts by RFA to reach higher authorities about the questionnaire were unsuccessful.

China has vowed to crack down on what it calls religious extremism in Xinjiang, and regularly conducts “strike hard” campaigns including police raids on Uyghur households, restrictions on Islamic practices, and curbs on the culture and language of the Uyghur people, including videos and other material.

But experts outside China say Beijing has exaggerated the threat from Uyghur "separatists" and that domestic policies are responsible for an upsurge in violence there that has left hundreds dead since 2012.

Written by Gulchehra Ghoja for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Mamatjan Juma. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.



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Radio Free Asia
2016-08-19

■ As China’s ethnic Uyghur Muslim minority group falls under increasing suspicion amid terrorism concerns in the country’s northwest, authorities are fencing off entire neighborhoods in Xinjiang to conduct security checks, Uyghur sources say.

Construction of the barriers began after deadly ethnic riots ripped through the regional capital Urumqi in July 2009, and fences are now being built across the region, a neighborhood committee worker in Urumqi’s Tengritagh district told RFA’s Uyghur Service.

“Every neighborhood has a fence now,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“They have check systems at the gate, but some neighborhoods are stricter and require people to swipe ID cards before they enter,” he said. “Our own neighborhood is more secure, so we have fewer checks.”

“Yes, we have fences in every neighborhood,” a Han Chinese office worker in the Ili River neighborhood of Ili (in Chinese, Yili) prefecture’s Ghulja City told RFA.

A fence surrounding a Uyghur neighborhood in Urumqi is
shown in an undated photo. Photo sent by an RFA listener.
“We check the IDs of everyone who enters the area,” he said. “It has been like this for a while now. There is nothing wrong with it.”

“It’s only for security,” he said.

Yang, a security officer in Urumqi’s Gherbiysay neighborhood, said, “We check suspicious persons more carefully.”

“Basically, we check the Uyghurs,” he said.

“It’s for security, and [our orders are] very strict. We worry that incidents might happen.”

Hardships


Contacted by RFA, a Uyghur businessman speaking on condition of anonymity after recently escaping from China said that similar restrictions are now in place across Xinjiang, with fences also being built in the prefectures of Kashgar (Kashi), Aksu (Akesu), and Hotan (Hetian).

“Enclosed neighborhoods are creating hardships in Uyghurs’ daily lives,” another Uyghur living outside Xinjiang said, also speaking on condition of anonymity.

“They cannot get into the neighborhoods without registering their names or leaving their IDs at the security gate, and security personnel constantly come into their homes without permission.”

“The Han Chinese residents of these neighborhoods are left alone, and are never checked at all,” she said.

Uyghurs in Xinjiang have long been subject to violent police raids on their households, restrictions on Islamic practices, and curbs on their culture and language by Chinese authorities who impose heave-handed rule in the region.

But some experts outside China say Beijing has exaggerated the threat from Uyghur separatists, and that domestic policies are responsible for an upsurge in violence that has left hundreds dead since 2012.

Reported by Gulchehra Hoja for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Mamatjan Juma. Written in English by Richard Finney.




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By Yu Jie
August 2016

■ At the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949, when the Communist party defeated the Nationalists and founded the People’s Republic of China, Christians in China numbered half a million. Yet almost seventy years later, under the Chinese government’s harsh suppression, that population has reached more than sixty million, according to Fenggang Yang, a sociologist at Purdue University. The number grows by several million each year, a phenomenon some have described as a gushing well or geyser. At this rate, by 2030, Christians in China will exceed 200 million, surpassing the United States and making China the country with the largest Christian population in the world.

The beginnings of this immense growth can be traced back to two moments in contemporary Chinese history: the Cultural Revolution launched by Mao Zedong in 1966 and the Tiananmen Square massacre instigated by Deng Xiaoping in 1989. Countless innocent lives were lost as a result of these two cataclysms, and the people’s belief in Marxism-Leninism and Maoism was destroyed. These events opened up a great spiritual void, and the Chinese began searching for a new faith.

When the Cultural Revolution ended, it was as if my parents’ generation had just woken up from a dream: It turned out the man they had worshipped as the Red Sun itself was nothing but a cruel and petty dictator who led a wanton and dissolute life. My father was an engineer and Communist party member. He told me when the plane carrying Vice Premier Lin Biao, once heir apparent but then branded a traitor to Mao, mysteriously crashed into the Mongolian plains in 1971, his belief in Communism shattered along with it.

My own awakening came on June 4, 1989, in the midst of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Sixteen at the time, I listened with my family to reports of happenings that night secretly on BBC and VOA radio. When sounds of screams, cries, and gunshots poured through the speakers, all the political propaganda drilled into me at school, like “Without the Communist party, there would be no new China,” turned to dust. The night of June 4 opened a chasm between the Chinese regime and me. I swore I would never serve a government that opens fire on an unarmed and defenseless people.

Years later in Beijing, I met the Tiananmen Mothers, a group of Chinese democracy activists made up of the parents, relatives, and friends of victims of the massacre. Professor Ding Zilin, the mother of one of the victims, gave me a copy of a book she had compiled, Interviews with June 4 Victims. On the title page was handwritten: “If my son were alive, he would be like a brother to you.” Her son, Jiang Jielian, was only a year older than I was. Had I not been in the faraway province of Sichuan but in the heart of the democracy movement in Beijing, could he have been me?

After Tiananmen, Deng Xiaoping thought the key to keeping the regime in power was to make a select few wealthy. He made their economic dream of getting rich come true while sacrificing the political dream of many to live in a free society. Like a drug, however, money’s hold on people could only last so long. Man cannot live on bread alone. Beyond his material needs lie spiritual ones as well. Government leaders sensed a crisis, too. They started rummaging through the Confucianism and Buddhism they had tossed out, hoping to reclaim the former moral authority of these traditions for the party.

The tradition of teaching that began with Confucius has guided the Chinese over two millennia. Confucianism emphasizes the importance of cultivating one’s character as well as intellect, of curbing desire and keeping things in moderation, and of having goodwill toward all. “Respect any elder as you would your own elders; care for any child as you would your own children.” Such advice would be well regarded anywhere in the civilized world, echoing Jesus’s commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself.” On the other hand, as a political tool, Confucianism has been used by monarchs to control and manipulate the people; they ensure absolute rule by appealing to “heaven’s mandate” and “Confucian orthodoxy.” Beginning with the Han dynasty in 141 bc, it was promulgated as the official state religion. Over time, it became more and more fixated on hierarchy and social rank as the source of all meaning and value. Only since the last century have the Chinese started to reflect critically on Confucian thought, beginning with the May Fourth Movement of 1919 when many leading intellectuals introduced Western ideas of modern science and democracy into the country, knocking Confucianism off its altar.

The Communists had strictly ideological reasons for discarding China’s Confucian heritage, but for Mao, the hatred was personal. In his youth he worked for a brief time at Beijing University Library. There he felt looked down upon by professors and students who took Confucius as their model. From this sprang his abiding hatred of intellectuals. He especially targeted them during the revolution, calling them “stinking nines,” the lowest rung of class enemies after landlords, wealthy peasants, reactionaries, bad elements, rightists, traitors, spies, and “capitalist roaders.” Many scholars and writers were subjected to physical and psychological torture by Mao; a number were driven to suicide. The supreme leader even had his Red Guards tear down Confucius’s temples and dig up his grave.

Today, by contrast, party officials clutch at Confucius like a drowning man clutches at straws. Without ever having apologized for what they did to destroy Confucianism, they now set up so-called Confucius Institutes around the world, no expense spared, to foster their agenda. The institutes offer financial assistance to scholars of China in the West, inviting them on luxury tours of the country in exchange for favorable reviews of the Chinese government. By the same token, they blacklist those critical of the administration and send their names to Chinese embassies around the world, which in turn deny them visas. The Confucius Institutes are political tools for maintaining power, not genuine sources for cultural renewal. Had the Communists not dug up his grave, Confucius would be spinning in it.

Inside China, Confucianism is undergoing a facelift of sorts as well. At the government’s behest, many universities have established Chinese studies centers dedicated to researching classical Confucian texts and history. Some students refuse to wear Western-style caps and gowns at graduation ceremonies in favor of hanfu, traditional dress originating in the Han dynasty. Young scholars write open letters condemning the popular celebration of Christmas as “forgetting one’s roots.” In Qufu, the hometown of Confucius, a number of residents wanting to observe only the Chinese New Year have opposed the construction of churches. To them, defending what they imagine to be Confucian culture is more important than religious freedom. In China, the clash of civilizations appears to be in full swing.

If Confucianism can only be considered an ethical and political philosophy but not a religion in the strict sense, then China today officially recognizes only five major religions: Buddhism, Taoism, Catholicism, Protestantism, and Islam. The government has created the State Administration for Religious Affairs under its United Front Work Department to keep a close eye and a short leash on practitioners, effectively installing itself as the high priest presiding over the internal affairs of religious organizations.

This is exactly what Chinese President Xi Jinping is doing with respect to Christianity. At the National Conference on Religious Work in Beijing in April 2016, Xi declared that religion must adapt itself to China’s existing social order and accept the party’s leadership. As a leader, Xi seems rather insecure. He is suspicious of civil society and sees Christianity as a threat: It is the largest force in China outside the Communist party.

In China, home churches outnumber government-sponsored churches three to one. Against home churches that refuse to cooperate, the government has waged a large-scale cleansing campaign in the eastern coastal province of Zhejiang, particularly in the city of Wenzhou, known as “China’s Jerusalem,” where 15 percent of the population is Christian. In two years, more than two hundred churches in Zhejiang have been demolished, over two thousand crosses removed. The scene of the cross being removed from a church in Ya village, Huzhou city, on August 7, 2015, was typical. Migrant workers hired by government officials flipped over the parish car, then the police came. They arrested the pastor, intimidated parishioners, sequestered church grounds, and pepper-sprayed protesters. They charged into the church with dogs. Buddhist monks and Taoist priests hired by the officials came to chant and perform rites in front of the church. Dozens, including the church attorney, were detained and interrogated.

Zhang Kai, a human rights lawyer who had been providing legal support to churches in Zhejiang province, was taken into custody on August 25, 2015, the day before he was due to meet David Saperstein, United States ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. Six months later Zhang was forced to go on television, stating: “I have broken the law, disturbed the peace, endangered national security, and violated the ethics of my profession. I deeply regret my actions.” Emaciated, his body cruelly bent by torture, he was virtually unrecognizable. In Xi’s China, television has replaced courts of law. Televised confessions are the fashion of the day. Sadly, the Obama administration sits and watches, reluctant to put more pressure on the Chinese government and push for reform.

An internal government document obtained by the New York Times in May 2014 shows that the church demolitions are part of a larger campaign to curb Christianity’s influence on the public. According to the nine-page provincial policy statement, the Xi administration wants to put an end to “excessive” religious sites and “overly popular” religious activities, but it names one religion in particular, Christianity, and one symbol, the cross. The strategy is easy to discern: first Wenzhou, then the rest of China.

However, Chinese Christians have refused to give in. One of the phrases I have heard most often among them is: “The greater the persecution, the greater the revival.” For Christian dissidents, cross removals and church demolitions are only the prelude in a story that repeats the Passion and Resurrection of Christ. They talk about how during the Cultural Revolution, the Christian population in Wenzhou actually grew many times over.

At nearby Zengshan Church, one sees members putting into practice what they have learned in resisting the Communist administration: boulders piled outside the main gate to block vehicle access, black cloths pulled over the steel bars to prevent espionage, barbed wires set on top of the fence around the church to deter trespassers, cameras installed in every corner to detect intruders, loudspeakers in case of emergency, deadbolts on the main door leading to the cross, a special team to protect the cross with their own bodies if necessary, counterspies on various government agencies. Mao might have invented “people’s warfare,” but never did his party imagine that one day it would get a taste of its own medicine.

Since the dawn of the new millennium, Christianity in China has redirected its growth toward a hundred or so central cities throughout the country. Groups of young, well-educated, active professionals have gathered in urban churches, smashing the stereotype in many Chinese people’s minds of Christians as elderly, infirm, sick, or disabled. These churches are unable to register with the Ministry of Civil Affairs and acquire legal status, but they are a first step toward Christians assuming leadership in the development of a Chinese civil society independent of government control. They have websites, assembly locations, schedules, listservs, communiqués, and even publications, which cannot be sold but can be circulated among church members.

China’s urban churches will be a major force in its democratization, for a free society requires a civil society capable of standing up to tyranny and the abuse of power. First, though, they will have to remedy the erroneous notion, present even among some churchgoers, that religion should be a private matter. What is needed is a political theology underscoring the sovereignty of God’s law rather than separation of church and state.

Christianity has transformed how I see myself as a dissident. Over decades of involvement with the Chinese democracy movement, I have seen so-called dissidents think the same, talk the same, act the same as those from whom they are supposedly dissenting. Too often the Communists and dissidents are kindred spirits. I have also seen personal ambitions and power struggles drive friends apart and turn those who should be working with one another against one another. My fellow dissidents attach great hopes to democracy, but it is simply a better method of public management and division of powers—the least worst, as Churchill said. It is not the horizon of all human hope and longing. If one does not believe in something other than democracy, one is no better off than the Communists, making a god of a ­political system.

When I became a Christian, I learned to recognize myself as a sinner. In doing so, I developed a sensitivity to sin that helps me recognize evil and injustice when I see them. As I point out the tyranny of the Communist regime, I reflect on and judge myself. This interior work of repentance for my own sins has transformed my fight against totalitarianism. No longer am I merely pointing out faults in the world. I also recognize them in myself.

Reading Calvin, the theologian of total depravity and predestination, I have come to see him as a more important Founding Father of the United States than Washington himself. General election, habeas corpus, freedom of contract, equality before the law, jury trial, common law, open market, freedom of speech and press, freedom of religion—these are all reinforced by Calvin’s legacy and the legacy of the Bible. Thus I became a classical liberal or, in American parlance today, a conservative—a rarity among my Chinese peers. Calvin, Locke, Burke, Tocqueville, von Mises, and Hayek are all formative for me, though some are not Christian in the ­traditional sense.

No one’s influence, though, has been greater on me than Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s. His warning that, “A state that threatens the proclamation of the Christian message negates itself,” has become a motto for China’s Christians, on whom he exerts a great influence. His focus on gemeinsames Leben or “life together” (meaning that Christians form a tight-bonded community as if a single living organism) has resonated across China. Of course, God has a personal relationship with each of us, but it is the fact that we love one another, help one another, and pray for one another that makes it possible for us to complete our pilgrimage. Since becoming Christian, I have not left the church, in China or America. A Christian is to a church like a branch is to a tree. A branch will not wither as long as it is part of a tree.

Chinese Christians also see in Bonhoeffer a man who dared wage war as an ant on an elephant. He found wisdom and courage in Jesus, knowing that Jesus exists for others, and those who follow him should do the same. Bonhoeffer did not shy away from denouncing the cowardice and collaborationism of the Deutsche Christen, the churches that acquiesced to Nazi control. He exposed the reason behind their failure to resist: cheap grace. “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession,” he wrote in The Cost of Discipleship. Cheap grace makes faith weightless and impotent. Genuine grace empowers us to face our sin and fight against it. Or to recognize and combat society’s injustice. The Chinese Communist regime is heading toward fascism. How timely Bonhoeffer’s thought and practice are for the Chinese today! We, too, must beware cheap grace, which leaves us in bondage to Mammon, the instrument of seduction usually used to buy off our consciences.

Bonhoeffer also perceived that Nazism has its roots in man’s betrayal of God and his worship of himself. The same could be said of Communism. Solzhenitsyn has called atheism the central pivot of Communism, and a hatred of God the principal driving force behind Marxist thought. Overthrowing the Communist regime will not solve all of China’s problems. The Chinese must undertake a profound spiritual transformation in order to restore the freedom and dignity God has bestowed on them when creating them in his image. The way forward requires a turn away from ourselves and toward the divine.

Though Communist China is a totalitarian society, Christians can learn and practice a democratic way of life at church, and then act as a leaven in society. For instance, to this day the Chinese have no real voting rights, but congregants can elect their own board members and administrative leaders. For those inexperienced with running and voting for office, churches are a seedbed of civic activity. Many of these churches are Presbyterian and Calvinist, the same tradition that played such a central role in the rise of democracy in the West.

Churches are already involved in charity, education, culture, and other public sectors, further expanding China’s public space. For example, in the aftermath of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, hundreds of churches quickly formed the China Christian Action Love volunteer association to provide relief, which many disaster victims praised as besting government efforts in both speed and constancy. In addition, some churches have established schools for members’ children as an alternative to the statist curriculum of public schools. Through the churches, Chinese Christians are becoming active agents in society rather than passive subjects controlled by the government.

I myself have not only witnessed, but can also testify to, this revival. My wife, Liu Min, was baptized and became a Christian in Beijing in 2001. Soon she put together a small Bible study group at home with three couples.

Two years later, the Holy Spirit made fellowship with me and allowed me to confess my sins. The Lord gave me the chance to repent and he accepted me as his humble servant. I was baptized on Christmas Eve. Our Bible study group became an ark. As human rights lawyers, independent writers, journalists, and Tiananmen survivors joined us aboard our vessel, our community of faith also became a thorn in the regime’s side. My dear friend Liu Xiaobo, the courageous human rights activist, was a friend of the church and expressed his support for us in writing when we were harassed by the administration.

On the night of December 10, 2010, as the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony honoring Liu was taking place in Oslo, I was kidnapped by the secret police and taken to the outskirts of Beijing. They beat and tortured me for hours, breaking my fingers one by one. I blacked out and was taken to a hospital. A hospital in Changping, a suburb of Beijing, refused to take me, saying I was “hopeless.” Then I was taken to a hospital in Beijing. My life was saved. For days my wife was under house arrest and did not know my whereabouts, or even if I was alive. She was seized by a sinking feeling and could not eat or sleep. In a few days most of her hair fell out. Before I lost consciousness, I prayed: “Lord, if you take me, then make me a martyr. I am not worthy, but I am willing.” In that moment, I clearly heard his voice: “As surely as I live, not a hair of your head will fall to the ground.” And: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” God let me live, for he has greater plans for me. On January 11, 2012, as he did for the Israelites in Egypt, God led my family out of China, on to the capital of the United States of America.

The secret police had warned me: You are number one on the personal list of “two hundred intellectuals to bury alive” kept by Zhou Yongkang, then secretary of the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission. Who would have imagined that today I would be writing freely, praying freely, breathing freely, standing on free soil, while Zhou, once nicknamed China’s “security tsar,” would be sentenced to life in prison for corruption by his political enemies? In God’s plan, tyrants count for little. As Mary said in her great hymn of praise, the Magnificat: “He has shown the strength of his arm. He has scattered the proud in their conceit. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly.”

In 2013 my wife answered the Lord’s call and became a full-time preacher at the Harvest Chinese Christian Church just outside Washington, DC. As part of the ministry, I help teach Sunday school and lead Bible study. I even cook for my beloved brothers and sisters. God lets me wield a pen in one hand and a spatula in the other. Not everyone in my congregation has read my books, but everyone has tasted my food—with rave reviews!

God let me live to witness and testify for him through writing. And for the 1.4 billion souls in my homeland, I shall continue. I do so in great hope. A growing faith in Christ, strengthened by the bonds of fellowship in church life, is breathing new life into my country. Neither the dead hand of Communism, nor the cynical imitation of Confucianism, nor capitalism, nor democracy, nor any earthly thing will determine the fate of my land. Christianity is China’s future.

Yu Jie is a Chinese writer and dissident. This essay was translated from the Chinese by H. C. Hsu.


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Radio Free Asia
2016-08-18

■ Authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Zhejiang have banned all forms of religious activity in hospitals in an ongoing crackdown targeting the region's burgeoning Protestant Christian community.

A public notice posted at the Central Hospital in Zhejiang's Wenzhou, a city that has been dubbed "China's Jerusalem" because of its high concentration of Christians, made patients and their visitors unequivocally aware of the new rules this week.

"Religious activities are banned in this hospital," the notice said. The Wenzhou Central Hospital was originally set up as a Protestant hospital.

An employee who answered the phone at the same hospital on Thursday confirmed the new measures.

"Religious activities in hospitals have never been encouraged ... but some people have been doing it on the quiet, which is understandable, seeing that we are all here to support patients," the employee said.

Cross is shown on a church in Zhejiang province, July 27,
2015. Photo courtesy of a church member.
The new rules don't just ban patients from carrying out religious activities like prayer or preaching; they also prevent ministers or pastors from holding prayer meetings for patients in hospital.

"Some people were really giving it their all, praying aloud and reading out the Bible," the employee said. "That's not allowed."

"The order is shown to patients when they are admitted to hospital telling them that no religious activities are permitted in the hospital," the employee said. "If they do that here, then the nurses and doctors will have a word with them."

Further interference

Guangzhou-based pastor Ma Ke, of the southern city's Guangfu Church, said the rules represent further state interference with freedom of religious belief in China.

"They are interfering with people's religious beliefs, which is against the constitution ... because Chinese citizens should have the freedom to choose their religion, or to have no religion," Ma told RFA.

"I think it's perfectly normal ... people depend psychologically on their religious beliefs to a certain extent," Ma said. "If they are dying, for example, they know that they have nothing to fear."

"Religion empowers people ... to be more optimistic and accepting of their treatment program," he said. "It helps them face up to times of illness, and also to face up to their own mortality."

An employee who answered the phone at the Zhejiang provincial religious affairs bureau declined to comment, saying they didn't know much about the issue.

The ban comes after a province-wide crackdown on churches and an urban "improvement" campaign which has seen crosses removed from dozens of buildings.

Earlier this year, Zhejiang Protestant pastors and married couple Bao Guohua and Xing Wenxiang of the Holy Love Christian church were sentenced to 14 and 12 years' imprisonment respectively by the Wucheng District People's Court in Zhejiang's Jinhua city after they opposed the removal of crosses.

Police-run detention centers in the province have also denied family members’ requests to deliver Bibles and food to the detained, according to the U.S. State Department's 2015 religious freedom report.

'Hostile forces'


Meanwhile, the authorities view many forms of religion as dangerous foreign imports, with Zhejiang officials warning last year against the "infiltration of Western hostile forces" in the form of religion.

And the crackdown looks set to intensify and widen to other regions of China.

Zhejiang has been lauded by the ruling Chinese Communist Party's ideological arm, the United Front Work Department, for "tackling ... the difficult-to-tackle problems, grasping norms, strong management and promoting harmony and stability," according to a report on the official website of the State Administration for Religious Affairs.

Furthermore, this "new situation in religious work" will require an even stronger policy response, the article said, adding that responses will be "problem-oriented, targeted, and pay attention to guidance."

Bob Fu, founder of the U.S.-based Christian rights group ChinaAid, said the Zhejiang crackdown is now being extended into other provinces, including Anhui and the northern region of Inner Mongolia.

"The Chinese government is taking its persecution of religious believers to another level," Fu said.

"They are doing it in the name of the rule of law, but actually it's very clear that there is an element of wanting all religion to be Chinese in character," Fu told RFA in an interview on Tuesday.

"The international community should be aware that are stepping up the pressure on religious practice, so that there is gradually less and less freedom," he said.

The State Department appears to agree with Fu, saying in its latest report that Beijing continues to exercise state control over religion, restricting the personal freedom of religious believers.

It cited a 2012 Pew Research Center report estimating that China is now home to some 68 million Protestants, of whom 23 million worship in state-affiliated churches, and some nine million Catholics, 5.7 million of whom are in state-sponsored organizations.

Reported by Lee Lai for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.



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Radio Free Asia
2016-08-16
Updated at 04:00 p.m. EDT on 2016-08-16

■ The family of a Chinese attorney detained during a recent nationwide crackdown on human rights lawyers has accused the authorities of allowing his torture in detention.

Chen Guiqiu, wife of detained rights lawyer Xie Yang, has said she has good reason to believe that he is being mistreated at the police-run Changsha No. 2 Detention Center in the central province of Hunan.

Xie was initially detained on July 11, 2015, while on a trip to Huaihua in the central province of Hunan and later placed under “residential surveillance at a designated place.”

Under recent changes in the law, such detainees may be held in secret with no access to lawyers or relatives, if the charges relate to matters of national security.

Like many other lawyers and activists detained in the same crackdown, Xie has been denied meetings with lawyers or relatives since his incarceration.

“It seems obvious that you are preventing Xie Yang from meeting with his lawyers because you want to keep him incommunicado so that you can force a confession out of him,” Chen wrote in an open letter to the authorities dated Aug. 12.

“You are also afraid that your brutal actions will be exposed, and you are probably also getting ready to try him in secret,” the letter said.

News leaked out

News of the torture, which is believed to have occurred a year ago, leaked out during meetings between one of Xie’s defense team and the authorities, according to defense lawyer Lin Qilei.

“This news came out when another attorney was trying to arrange to visit Xie,” Lin said. “That’s when we got the information about the torture and his being locked up alongside death row inmates.”

Detained rights lawyer Xie Yang is shown in an undated photo.
New Citizens Movement
Sources close to Xie’s family say one beating incident resulted in Xie being taking to Changsha’s 163 Hospital for emergency medical treatment.

He has also been locked up alongside inmates awaiting execution, the family said.

Xie’s defense attorney Zhang Chongshi told RFA that the detention center had ignored repeated requests from lawyers for a meeting with their client.

“We are still unable to meet with him,” Zhang said. “They say that state prosecutors are still interviewing him, and that there is a clash with the requirement that requests from lawyers for meetings be granted within 48 hours.”

He said Xie’s defense team will continue to press for a meeting with him, however.

“We will be pushing for a meeting, and also pushing to view the evidence amassed by the prosecution,” Zhang said.

Xie now faces charges of “incitement to subvert state power,” and his case has been handed over to the state prosecutors office, paving the way for a trial.

However, his wife rejected the charges.

“Not one of us believes that Xie Yang could possibly have committed these crimes,” Chen wrote in the open letter.

Scripted ‘confessions’

Earlier this month, authorities in Tianjin put on trial four rights lawyers on subversion-related charges after denying them access to lawyers or visits from friends or family for more than a year.

Some were bailed or handed suspended sentences after they produced videotaped “confessions” which activists said were heavily scripted.

Thirteen lawyers and rights defenders remain behind bars in Tianjin and look set to be dealt with similarly, rights groups said.

Police have detained, interrogated, or threatened more than 300 human rights lawyers and activists since the crackdown began with the detention of prominent Beijing Fengrui lawyer Wang Yu and colleagues on the night of July 9, 2015.

Many family members of those detained now also face surveillance, house arrest, or bans on leaving the country.

On Tuesday, the wife of detained lawyer Wang Quanzhang, Li Wenzu, was followed by three men and forcibly taken to the police station, where she was held for most of the day

“I left home at 10 am and found I was tailed by three security people as soon as I left my residential building. I tried to get rid of them by taking the metro train but they dragged me back and did not let me take the subway. They surrounded me so I had no choice but to give up on the metro,” Li told RFA.

“I was sitting at a bus station waiting for my friend, when a police officer came up to me and wanted to take me to nearby police station. I asked why, and at this moment a security guy acted very rude and he grabbed my bag and pushed me. And later he even accused me of attacking him,” she said.

Wang Quanzhang’s attorney, Yu Wensheng, told RFA that he had submitted required documents for Wang’s defense to the prosecutor, and will soon go to Tianjin to ask to meet his client.

Reported by Ha Si-man and Ho Shan for RFA’s Cantonese Service, and by Xin Lin and Yang Fan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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Radio Free Asia
2016-08-17

■ Authorities in the central Chinese province of Hunan two activists who tweeted in support of hunger-striking political prisoner Guo Feixiong, they told RFA.

Guo, whose birth name is Yang Maodong, has been subjected to forced feeding after beginning his hunger strike in early May in protest at the treatment of political prisoners in China, his sister Yang Maoping has said.

"Today is the 100th day of my brother's hunger strike," Yang told RFA on Tuesday.

"I am still very worried about the state of his health," she said, but declined to comment further.

Meanwhile, Hunan-based activist Zhu Chengzhi and Zhou Jie, both close friends and supporters of Guo, were questioned by state security police in their hometowns after they posted photos on social media sites marking the 100th day of his hunger strike.

Guangdong rights activist Guo Feixiong in an undated photo.
Photo courtesy of activists
Zhu, Zhou and two other activists had unfurled a banner proclaiming support for Guo at the popular mountain tourist destination of Yuelu Shan near the provincial capital Changsha on Saturday.

"This is the 100th day of his hunger strike!" the banner proclaimed. The activists then posted photos of the banner to social media accounts.

Zhu and Zhou received calls from the Hunan state security police on Tuesday.

A third activist who took part in the Yuelu Shan protest, known by his nickname Tiezi, was also summoned for questioning by his local police station, Zhu and Zhou said.

"We just wanted to do something to show our support," Zhou told RFA. "There is very little else we can do."

"The authorities should respond to people's concerns about his health; he is in a poor state, and we are afraid he can't take [the hunger strike] anymore," he said.

Threats to use electric batons

London-based Amnesty International recently quoted sources as saying that guards at Yangchun Prison, where Guo is being held in the southern province of Guangdong, have threatened him a number of times with the use of electric batons if he doesn't do as they tell him.

The authorities have also refused Guo's request to be transferred to a different jail, the group said.

It repeated calls for Guo's immediate release, citing his rapidly decreasing body weight.

Zhu said the threats were unlikely to be enough to suppress Guo, or other activists, however.

"From the point of view of Guo Feixiong and many others who dare to stand up in protest, the threat of electric shocks ... won't stop them," he said.

Relay hunger strikes

Guo began his hunger strike calling on President Xi Jinping to implement democratic reforms, end the use of electric shocks in prison, improve the treatment of political prisoners, and ratify a United Nations covenant on civil and political rights.

More than 400 rights activists have been on relay hunger strikes in support of Guo since he began refusing food and water.

According to the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), Yangchun Prison twice admitted him to hospital between April and May, but only for check-ups. No diagnosis or medical treatments were offered.

Guo began his hunger strike on May 9 after being subjected to a forced rectal cavity search at the instigation of state security police, as well as forced head shaving and verbal abuse from prison guards.

Guo was sentenced last November for "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble" and "gathering a crowd to disrupt social order" after a prolonged period in pretrial detention.

During his sentencing hearing, Guo shouted in protest at his treatment while in police custody, where he was held in solitary confinement in a small, dark cell and denied permission to exercise outdoors since August 2013.

Reported by Hai Nan for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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News Deeply
Written by Maya Wang
Published on August 15, 2016

■ Since the sweeping arrest of human rights lawyers and activists in July 2015, Chinese authorities have also targeted their wives and children, sending mothers to prison and kicking families out of their homes, writes Maya Wang of Human Rights Watch.


“If you knew 12 years ago, when you took up your first human rights case, that your beloved daughter would be barred [from school as a result], would you still do it?… I know you would!”

Wang Xiaoling, the wife of Chinese human rights lawyer Li Heping, wrote this to her husband in a moving public letter issued in May 2016. Li is one of 11 lawyers and legal assistants whom Chinese authorities have recently charged with subversion in retaliation for their legal advocacy. After Li was detained in July 2015, his family endured months without information about his whereabouts or well-being. Wang’s quest for information about her husband’s fate has repeatedly landed her in detention for brief periods.

Fan Lili, center, the wife of imprisoned activist Gou Hongguo,
is escorted by Li Wenzu, left, the wife of imprisoned lawyer
Wang Quanzhang, and another woman as they stage a protest
outside the Tianjin No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court in
Tianjin, China, Aug. 1, 2016. Around two dozen supporters of a
prominent Chinese human rights lawyer and three activists
charged with subversion protested outside the northern city
court amid widespread concerns that authorities were holding
their trials in secret. Photo by AP/Gerry Shih
Wang and Li are not alone in their ordeal. Since the government detained two dozen human rights lawyers and activists in a July 2015 sweep, their spouses, children and other family members have suffered from not knowing where their relatives are, how they are being treated and when – and for what – they might be prosecuted. The authorities have also forced families out of their homes, denied them education opportunities, barred them from traveling abroad and put them under smothering surveillance. These totalitarian tactics seem designed to punish not only the detainees but also their families to deter others from taking up human rights work.

Yuan Shanshan, the wife of lawyer Xie Yanyi, was detained for three days, despite having committed no crime. All she did was to seek the authorities’ approval for Xie to attend the funeral of his mother, who had died while he was in detention. Although Yuan was pregnant, she was given very little food and water, denied toilet breaks and threatened and scolded by more than two dozen police officers in an interrogation room during her detentions.

After police took lawyer Wang Quanzhang away in July 2015, they confiscated Wang’s bank cards, leaving his wife Li Wenzu struggling financially. They then pressured Wang’s parents and sister to go on videotape to convince Wang to confess. Wang’s family remain underround-the-clock surveillance.

Some of the government’s targets are very young children. Beijing lawyer Li Heping’s six-year-old daughter was refused entry to an acclaimed primary school because police would not grant her the residency permit she needed to enroll. The authorities also denied her and her 15-year-old brother passports, which would allow them to leave the country, claiming they were “state security threats.”

In another case, authorities confiscated the passport of Bao Mengmeng, the teenage son of detained lawyers Wang Yu and Bao Longjun, preventing him from pursuing studies in Australia. After he fled to Burma, he was snatched – presumably by mainland agents – and has since been detained under house arrest. Altogether, six children of lawyers have been barred from traveling abroad, many who want to leave to pursue education opportunities and escape harassment at home.

Chinese authorities have also employed eviction as a tactic. In July 2016, Yuan Shanshan and her three children were forced out of their rental home after the landlord began receiving threats from the police. A day after Yuan moved into her new home, the new landlord told her to move again, citing “authorities’ pressure.” Police harassment extends not only to families of detained lawyers, but also to families of the lawyers representing those who have been detained. The wife of lawyer Ren Quanniu, who represented detained legal assistant Zhao Wei, was told to leave their home in July with their two young children.

Earlier this month, a court in Tianjin handed down harsh sentencesto four lawyers and activists in the first of a series of patently sham trials of the remaining detainees, suggesting that these families’ ordeals are far from over.

Despite the pressure, the families have not stayed silent. Several lawyers’ wives have courageously banded together and organizedprotests against their husbands’ detentions, argued with the police about blatant violations of the law and issued public letters demanding their husbands’ release. Even with the new convictions, it’s unlikely that they are going to back down.

Li Wenzu told the media that before the crackdown she “was constantly worried and … felt hopeless.” Now, she says, “I feel I’m a useful person who can think what I can do for other [victims] …The crackdown has changed me.”

Beijing may find that its collective punishment of detainees’ families has not crushed peaceful dissent, but has instead inspired a new generation of activists.


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Committee to Protect Journalists
By Yaqiu Wang/CPJ Northeast Asia Correspondent

■ On August 1, prominent Chinese human rights lawyer Wang Yu, who had been detained incommunicado for over a year, reemerged--with an unusual twist on an old script. Wang gave a TV interview in which she renounced her legal work and accused foreign forces of using her to "attack" and "smear" the Chinese government; the report claimed she'd just been released on bail. The public statement of guilt without trial is part of an established pattern in China, with more than a dozen such "confessions" delivered by human rights activists, journalists, and writers. But this time, the state-owned China Central Television (CCTV) failed to play a role. Instead, the interview was carried by a website affiliated with the Hong Kong newspaper Oriental Daily.

Last month, the Hong Kong English-language newspaper South China Morning Post published an exclusive interview with legal assistant Zhao Wei, whom the daily reported had just been released from detention. In the interview, Zhao also said she regretted her activism and accused her former employer of receiving foreign funds.

Many journalists and media experts in China and Hong Kong have questioned the authenticity of the interviews and claims that the pair had been released; their own lawyers, family, and friends said they were unable to make contact, according to news reports. Both South China Morning Post and Oriental Daily declined to explain to international news outlets how the interviews were arranged.

Observers lamented that the Hong Kong news outlets appear to be assuming the role of Chinese government mouthpieces. The interviews are the latest sign of the relentless decline of press freedom in the special administrative territory, which traditionally has enjoyed civil liberties not permitted on the mainland. In June, the local journalists' group Hong Kong Journalists' Association (HKJA) published its annual report detailing the numerous incidents impinging on Hong Kong's press freedom over the previous year, with the case of the disappearances of five booksellers being the most egregious. HKJA in a statement said the year had been an "extremely difficult" time for Hong Kong and the media.

People who feel the effect are not only Hong Kongers, but also Chinese journalists and writers who have used the relative freedom of the Hong Kong press as an outlet to express views censored on the mainland, according to Chinese journalists and columnists who spoke with CPJ.

Protests from mainland writers have come swiftly. On August 5, four days after the Oriental Daily broadcast the interview with Wang Yu, mainland-based columnist Zhao Hui, known by his pen name Mo Zhixu, and journalist Zhao Sile, both announced on social media that they would no longer write for Oriental Daily.

Mo Zhixu told CPJ that Hong Kong media has become a more significant outlet for critical writers in recent years as authorities more strictly censored social media on the mainland. Once, writers shut out by the Chinese government's stringent control over traditional outlets found that they could write directly for their readers on blogs and social media, gaining millions of followers. "In those days, people didn't really care about writing for Hong Kong media," Mo said. In the span of several years, however, the sense of freedom evaporated, as the Chinese government, particularly the Cyberspace Administration, stepped up censorship on digital platforms. Mo Zhixu told CPJ that the last four or five of his Weibo accounts did not last longer than a day.

Mo, a former editor for the daily China Times, wrote on Twitter, "In the past few years, Oriental Net had given me full freedom, allowing me to voice my humble opinions in this era. To my surprise, for this interview with Wang Yu, Oriental Net coordinated with the party-state and served as a tool. At the same time, Oriental Net required its columnists to keep quiet about the crackdowns on the human rights lawyers... If I continue to write this column... I could not convince myself this is a decision out of good conscience."

Zhao Sile, a freelance journalist who won two Hong Kong Human Rights Press Awards for her reporting last year, expressed similar sentiment on her WeChat account: "I know there are good journalists at Oriental Daily... who wish to retain the feeble voices in this harsh media environment, but just like most people in this era, they are crushed again and again, so am I... With appreciation and admiration for these journalists, I announce that I will leave this platform. I don't know what the future will be and I don't think I can change anything... but I still want to make a moral choice." Zhao appealed to readers of her WeChat account to donate if they like what she writes. WeChat, as well as Weibo, has a payment function.

Zhao told CPJ that relying on such donations to make a living is "unsustainable" and "unreliable." "To depend on people to donate to you so you can be a documenter of truth is already a huge tragedy. What's even more pathetic is that the donations are often disallowed because your accounts get removed constantly," Zhao said.

This is not the first time that Oriental Daily--owned by the family of the late media mogul Ma Sik-chun, who died last year--has catered to Beijing. Li Yuhui, a mainland columnist who now lives in the U.S., told CPJ that on August 28, 2014, he received a mass email from Oriental Daily requesting that all mainland columnists not write about the democracy protests in Hong Kong happening at the time.

An Oriental Daily representative told CPJ that the news outlet would return a telephone call seeking comment, but by time of publication, CPJ had not heard from the newspaper.

The South China Morning Post, Hong Kong's most prominent English-language newspaper once famed for its nuanced coverage of China, has steadily moved to adopt a pro-Beijing stance since Robert Kuok, a Malaysian tycoon with close ties to the mainland, acquired a stake in 1993. In recent years, the newspaper has been plagued by accusations of self-censorship, which only intensified after Jack Ma, mainland billionaire and owner of e-commerce giant Alibaba, bought the paper this year. Remarks by an Alibaba executive that the paper desires to offer an alternative to biased coverage of China by Western outlets; the appointments of top editors from the mainland; and lack of coverage on the Panama Papers have all stirred controversy. Many journalists have resigned amid the paper's perceived lack of editorial independence.

The SCMP did not immediately return CPJ's email seeking comment, and a phone call went unanswered.

Ji Dongjie, a mainlander and senior news editor for the Hong Kong news website Initium Media, told CPJ that the freedom to report is an important reason that he chose to work for a Hong Kong outlet. "You also don't have to worry about getting in trouble with the Hong Kong government over a typo or for merely reporting on the financial market," Ji said. Initium, launched in August 2015, is one of several internet-based news outlets founded in recent years in response to the deteriorating situation of the Hong Kong press. Ji said that although he has high hopes for new media in Hong Kong, he worries about the mainland government's influence over the more influential outlets. "It will have to take some time for new media to be established and grow. Meanwhile, people are still going to buy into what is written on South China Morning Post or Mingpao," he said.

Another mainlander writing for the Hong Kong media is Wu Qiang, a former political science lecturer at the prestigious Tsinghua University. The university last year informed him that it would not renew his contract after repeatedly warning him not to write for foreign media. "After I published an article on China Change [a Washington D.C. - based human rights news website], agents from the Ministry of State Security came to my office at Tsinghua with a printout of the article and ordered me to stop writing," Wu told CPJ.

Now Wu freelances for Hong Kong-based news outlets. Wu said he has not received any directives from editors regarding what not to write, but added that further encroachment on press freedom in Hong Kong by mainland forces is "inevitable." When he can longer write freely for Hong Kong outlets, he will seek to write for Western media, he said. "I am not too worried. At the end of the day, I can go and drive a cab."

Yaqiu Wang has a Master of Arts in International Affairs from George Washington University. Her articles on civil society and human rights in China have appeared in Foreign Policy, The Atlantic, China Change, and elsewhere.

China Aid Media Team
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