WASHINGTON – President Bush was urged this week by a U.S. religious freedom body to meet with religious prisoners and to attend a house church service when he goes to China for the Olympic Games this summer.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom – a bipartisan federal body created to monitor religious freedom in the world – commended Bush Thursday for pledging to raise concerns about freedom of religion in China with President Hu Jintao while attending the Summer Olympics.
But the Commission urged Bush to go one step further and request to meet with people detained by the state for practicing their religion or for advocating freedom of religion and human rights.
"President Bush has repeatedly raised religious freedom concerns with the President of China. It is important that this continue," said Commission Chair Michael Cromartie, in a statement.
"During his visit to Beijing this summer, we urge the President to stress, in both private conversations and public action, that protecting religious freedom means more than just allowing worship," he emphasized. "It also means individuals must enjoy the freedom of expression and association, as well as the right to choose their own leaders and freely educate their children in the principles of their religion."
The USCIRF head encouraged Bush to visit an unregistered Protestant church and to press for the immediate and unconditional release of imprisoned unregistered Protestant leaders and Roman Catholic bishops and priests.
More than 600 "house church" Protestants have been detained and arrested by police in the last year, according to USCIRF. Furthermore, over the last two years China has also targeted for arrest and harassment dozens of human rights activists, lawyers, and others who attempted to use the Chinese legal system to defend the rights of Chinese citizens.
On Thursday, China Aid Association reported that 11 minors and two adults were detained by Public Security Bureau (PSB) officials in Xinjiang while attending a House Church Bible Study. The minors were age 16 to 17 years old and were brought to the PSB office in "freezing weather and were not allowed to bring adequate clothing," according to CAA.
One of the detained minors is the daughter of a local house church pastor, who was himself detained in October 2006.
CAA said it called and confirmed with the PSB office that the 13 were being held under the charge of "illegal religious gathering." Family members have been denied visitation.
"President Bush has an opportunity to express the United States' concern about the repression of religious belief and practice in China and show solidarity with the suffering," Cromartie said.
"His visit to the Olympic games allows him a platform to articulate again that China's future is best assured not with the repression or suspicions of the past, but in the full protection of the fundamental freedom and rights of the Chinese people. U.S.-China relations will improve vastly as a result," the USCIRF chair contends.
The United States has designated China a "country of particular concern" since 1999 for its systematic and egregious violations of freedom of religion or belief. Open Doors, a Christian organization supporting the persecuted church, ranked China as the 10th worst Christian persecutor on its 2008 World Watch List.
Open Doors has launched a prayer countdown, called "One Minute/One Year/One Country," to the Summer Olympics in Beijing for Christians in the West to pray for the persecuted believers in China. Christians are asked to pray for at least one minute each day, if possible at 8 p.m. Beijing time.
On the Web: www.opendoorsusa.org