World Magazine: Protesters confront Chinese president in U.S.

Monday, September 28, 2015

World Magazine
China | Activists blame President Xi Jinping for rampant religious persecution
By J.C. Derrick Posted Sept. 25, 2015, 08:50 a.m.

Washington—Traditionally only Chinese house church leaders have had trouble with the country’s Communist government, but pastoring a state-sanctioned church didn’t help Zhang Shaojie when officials asked to meet with him on Nov. 16, 2013. Authorities used a land dispute to detain Zhang and eventually sentence him to 12 years in prison on bogus charges of “gathering a crowd to disrupt the public order.”
Rebiya Kadeer
Rebiya Kadeer
(Photo: Associated Press/Photo by Koji Sasahara)

Zhang’s daughter, Zhang “Esther” Huixin, told her father’s story to U.S. State Department officials this week ahead of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s first official state visit. Her activism is part of the most coordinated advocacy in 20 years on behalf of persecuted Chinese communities, which will include a protest today at the White House.

“Why should a bad man be allowed to come to America and meet with [President Barack] Obama?” Esther asked me as she rocked her 3-month-old baby on her hip.

Economic issues and climate change are expected to dominate Xi’s Washington, D.C., visit, but activists are highlighting worsening human rights and religious liberty conditions in China. According to China Aid, houses of worship are experiencing state-sanctioned campaigns of harassment and destruction, while religious leaders and practitioners have suffered arrest, imprisonment, torture, and even death at the hands of the government.

“The crackdowns are greater than at any time since the revolution,” said Kody Kness, vice president of China Aid. He noted the government has destroyed at least 1,500 church crosses since last year.

Olivia Enos, a research associate with the Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center, called on Obama to confront Xi about the rise in human rights violations during his tenure.

“If Xi Jinping cares about his legitimacy as the president of China, he should care about human rights,” Enos said. “After all, the legitimacy of a government is largely based on its ability to protect and promote the rights of its people.”

The offenses span a variety of religions and organizations. At a Wednesday press conference Bhuchung K. Tsering, vice president of the International Campaign for Tibet, said the government wants to control how Tibetan Buddhists choose their leader, the Dalai lama. Rebiya Kadeer, president of the World Uyghur Congress, detailed how her people—who practice Islam—are harassed, imprisoned, and forced to break their religious tenants, for instance by selling alcohol.

“Xi is one of the worst dictators in the world,” said Kadeer, who testified before Congress earlier this year. “If Obama and his administration do not raise the religious oppression, then Xi Jinping will see the silence of the U.S. as agreement and the right to further oppress.”

Kadeer said last year officials in Yarkand went door to door at night during Ramadan to ensure people were not observing the Muslim holy month. She said a clash resulted in security forces killing hundreds, if not thousands, of Uyghurs.

Activists will protest at the White House from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. today. They’re calling on Xi to unconditionally release all prisoners of conscience, including those who were part of an unprecedented roundup of lawyers in July.

Also this morning, Reps. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., and Joe Pitts, R-Pa., co-chairmen of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, will host a “Stateless Breakfast” to honor Chinese human rights advocates.

Kness said the administration does raise human rights issues in bilateral talks with China, but they should be brought up more often and at the right times—such as a state visit.

“This is a moment in time when President Xi Jinping is on our turf,” said Tina Mufford, a United States Commission on International Religious Freedom policy analyst, who moderated Wednesday’s press conference. “If we can't say these things now, when he’s in our backyard, when can we say them? This is the time to speak up and be specific.”

China Aid Contacts
Rachel Ritchie, English Media Director
Cell: (432) 553-1080 | Office: 1+ (888) 889-7757 | Other: (432) 689-6985