Chinese house church leaders attend rights defense seminar

June 24, 2011

Hong Kong, 24 June (ENInews)--Chinese house church leaders attended a
training seminar from 14-16 June in Zhejiang, an eastern coastal province in
China, to learn how to safeguard their legal rights. 

Participants included pastors and leaders from Beijing; six provinces,
including Hebei and Shangdong; and the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region,
according to a news release from the Texas-based organization ChinaAid, which
sponsored the seminar. Attendees studied Article 36 of the Constitution of
the People's Republic of China, which relates to freedom of religion.

Rev. Bob Fu, president of ChinaAid, said that more and more churches are
"emboldened by the rights defense movement to take advantage of Chinese
laws, including constitutional ones, to safeguard their basic rights through
administrative review and litigation."

Fu lamented that the situation facing house churches has "worsened
dramatically" since last December, with more and more house churches under
pressure to join the government-sanctioned Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) or
risk being labeled an "evil cult" for organizing "illegal gatherings." He
emphasized that seeking protection within China's own legal framework is
"the most constructive and least harmful way, though it is slow." China still
lacks an independent judiciary system and many officials in the court
would decline to review church cases.

In Hong Kong, Professor Ying Fuk-tsang of the Chinese University of Hong
Kong said that house church leaders are more active now in seeking their
legal rights. Ying, who specializes in church-state relations in China, said
that existing legislation in China cannot catch up with the development of
house churches, noting there is a huge demand to enact the national
religious law. Legitimizing house churches, he said, could be accomplished if there
is enough political will in Beijing.

Hong Kong Catholic bishop John Tong Hon said that China views religion "as
a possible agent which could affect national security and national
harmony," which is why Protestant house churches face government repression. They
have become more popular in the cities, said Tong, attracting more educated
middle class citizens, even though they are consistently refused
registration.

Tong linked the repression to the recent harassment of human rights
lawyers and rights activists, many of whom are Christians, calling it the worst
crackdown on human rights since 1989, when the Chinese government suppressed
the pro-democracy movement in Beijing.

The challenge, he said, is to make Beijing understand that paying due
respect to human rights and religious freedom would contribute to the
development of a prosperous society, creating a win-win situation for both China and
the Church.