Religious Groups Facing Increased Persecution Across China, Experts Say

Experts see influence of Arab Spring and growing size of house churches in worst crackdown since Tiananmen Square protests

Ethnic and religious minorities in China are facing the worst climate for human rights since 1989, the year of the Tiananmen Square massacre, experts say.

One year after Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, ethnic and religious minorities, as well as activists and their lawyers, are suffering from an escalating government crackdown. One reason analysts see for this situation is the influence of unrest from the Arab Spring protests that erupted in Northern Africa in winter of 2010 and spread throughout countries in the region and through the Middle East.

At the time, some observers suspected the revolution might spread to China, but the country's Communist government took precautions, such as tightening security, to ensure that no uprisings occurred.

At least 1,000 people had their homes searched across China in the ensuing security sweep, Bob Fu, founder of the U.S.-based Christian rights group ChinaAid, said in an interview with Agence France-Presse recently. Fu added that over 200 human rights activists, especially lawyers, have recently "disappeared."

On  Christmas Day 2011, police across China tear gassed and beat Christians for worshipping at "unofficial" Christmas services, according to an American aid group in the region.

ChinaAid spokesperson, Mark Shan, confirmed with The Christian Post that the human rights situation has deteriorated since the Arab Spring uprisings started spreading, but he added that persecution of Christians in the country actually intensified after the 2010 Lausanne World Congress, when 200 Chinese house church delegates were reportedly barred from attending the meeting. It was then that China's Communist government found itself caught by surprise at the size of the house church network, Shan told CP.

After the "Jasmine Revolution" (another reference to the Arab Spring movement in Tunisia) broke out, the government intensified its crackdown on other "dissidents" and their lawyers, Shan said.

The Chinese government is well-known for clamping down on the Christian community as well as other religious groups.

"Unregistered religious groups or those deemed by the Chinese government to threaten national security or social harmony continue to face severe restrictions, although the government tolerates some religious activity within approved organizations," reads the 2011 report by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a bipartisan government agency monitoring religious freedom globally. The agency claims the Chinese government has detained over 500 unregistered Protestants in the past year, and stepped up its efforts to destroy churches and "illegall" meeting points.

"Dozens of unregistered Catholic clergy remain in detention or home confinement, or have disappeared," the report reads.

Tibetan Buddhists and Uighur Muslims are other minorities that have experienced persecution from authorities, according to USCIRF. The government has broadened its efforts to discredit and imprison religious leaders, control the selection of clergy, ban religious gatherings, and control the distribution of religious literature, according to the report. Another heavily persecuted religious group is Falun Gong.

"The Chinese government also continues to harass, detain, intimidate, disbar, and forcibly disappear attorneys who defend the Falun Gong, Tibetans, Uighurs, and unregistered Protestants," according to the report.

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