The United States accused China of various human rights abuses in its new State Department report, including the disappearance of several Christian leaders.
In the human rights report, issued Thursday, the U.S. State Department specifically mentioned the disappearance of human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, who often represented Chinese house church Christians in court, and underground Catholic bishop Julius Jia Zhiguo of Zhengding, Hebei Province.
Gao, who himself is a house church Christian, was last seen being hauled off by a dozen police officers on Feb. 4, 2009. After more than a year, his family is still unable to confirm his whereabouts.
"In the last several years, more public interest, human rights, environmental lawyers have been taking cases. Law clinics and elsewhere are springing up. There seems to be a real crackdown," said Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner during a media briefing Thursday. "And we learned today that there's also a new press certification system in place which is going to give Chinese journalists training in Marxist news theories.
"So there is a sense that the space is actually closing for those, whether they're journalists, lawyers, or NGO activists."
Gao, who was once named by the Chinese government as one of the country's ten best lawyers, was detained and severely tortured in 2007. He was released and told never to disclose what happened to him while he was in prison.
But after his disappearance last year, his wife released an open letter by Gao that detailed the horrific torture he endured.
Currently, some of the world's leading human rights specialists have joined forces to call on the United Nations to assist in locating Gao.
Similarly, Bishop Julius Jia Zhiguo was arrested last year on March 30 and his whereabouts are still unknown. Several other underground Catholic priests remain missing after being arrested a few years earlier.
China only allows its citizens to worship in religious institutions affiliated with bodies established by the Religious Affairs Bureau. For Protestant Christians, this means worshipping in churches affiliated with the Three-Self Patriotic Movement and the China Christian Council. For Catholics, they are legally allowed to worship at churches that belong to the state-approved Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.
But many Chinese Catholics worship underground because they want to remain loyal to the Pope.
Likewise, many Protestant Christians refuse to worship in registered churches because they feel that joining a registered church compromises their belief that God is the head of the church.
There are up to 100 million underground Chinese Christians, and the number is growing.