Rome (AsiaNews) – A secret Communist Party document from Hubei province has reached the West that indicates that a nationwide campaign is underway to “normalise" underground Protestant Churches by giving them two options: either join the Three Self-Patriotic Movement—the set of government-sanctioned patriotic Christian organisations—or be suppressed. Either way, the campaign is in clear violation of United Nations resolutions on religious freedom which ban any distinction between lawful (government-controlled) and unlawful religions activities.
The secret document is titled Secret Document Reveals Chinese Government’s Campaign against Unregistered Churches. It was translated and published last Tuesday by the US-based China Aid Association (CAA), an organisation devoted to counter religious persecution in China. The original document was issued on July 24, 2007 by the Duodao District Committee Office of Jingmen Municipality of the Communist Party of China, Hubei province.
In order to protect the source, the CAA omitted the document’s specific number. But copies of the paper were printed, each with its serial number, on the understanding that its “content must not be disclosed.”
The text refers only to an ongoing “crackdown” in Jingmen that started on June 15 and ending November 30. It reveals that the whole campaign was based on papers elaborated at the national and provincial levels and urged and instructed by a National Christian Working Seminar, called “601 Conference” held on June 1, 2007, involving leading comrades in the central government from the Department of United Front of District Committee, District Bureau for Religious Affairs of Ethnic Minorities.
The purpose of the crackdown was said to "[f]ight against infiltration activities by hostile overseas forces under the guise of Christianity and safeguard the stability in our society and in the religious arena.”
It urged co-operation between public security departments and agencies in charge of religious affairs to “do a good job in managing unauthorised sites and gatherings by missionary workers.”
In practice this means taking over all underground communities and incorporating them into the Three Self-Patriotic Movement, the only organisational framework under government control in which Chinese Protestants are allowed to exist.
The document talks about illegal gathering sites involving many people, something important given the fact that in China there are at least 50 million Protestants, with only a minority belonging to official Churches.
The paper goes on to suggest ways to normalise and standardise Christians’ actions through registration of Christian sites, activities and pastors. It suggests that this be done by educating the majority, isolating and cracking down on small minorities, and providing believers a “patient and careful ideological education.”
The document adds that to achieve this result the authorities ought to start with a comprehensive investigation on “gathering sites, participants, locations and patterns.”
Similarly, “[i]nvestigations should also be conducted on whether there is infiltration by overseas forces or whether there is underground missionary work, whether feudal superstition and heresies are involved.”
These investigations “should include the content of the sermons, personal history of the missionaries and their profiles, the sources of the funds, financial situations, system of activities, key members of their organizations and the ordinary people who participate in their activities.”
Normalisation is achieved by “registering the sites established without proper authorisation, replacing the private sites with churches, merging sites, persuading them to dismantle and abolishing the sites.”
Self-appointed missionaries should be given a choice: stop their activities and undergo (government-sponsored) education or see their influence eliminated.
The idea is always the same. Only activities authorised by the government and under its control are deemed rightful so as “so as to keep the development of Christianity reasonable, healthy, and orderly.”
“For those who refuse to mend their ways or to stop their activities [. . .] public security agencies should work together with agencies in charge of religious affairs and resolutely crack down.”
In terms of China’s past religious policy, the document in question represents nothing new. It follows the guidelines on religious activities laid down in 1994 by Li Peng (aka the ‘butcher of Tiananmen) which were reviewed and updated in 2005 (see “Something new but mostly the same old rules on religion,” AsiaNews of January 12, 2005)
Now as then the same principle is asserted. A distinction is made between what is considered normal religious activities as opposed to what is seen as unlawful where normalcy is defined as being under state control, a notion that is in clear violation of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights.
Many Catholics and Protestants have not forgotten the UN report on religious intolerance in China prepared by Abdelfattah Amor (November 1994) that condemned the distinction made by the Chinese government between normal and abnormal or illegal religious activities, a distinction according to Mr Amor that discriminates against believers and which ought to be eliminated from in practice and in law.
Instead since 1994 China has increased police controls in order to eliminate “illegal” underground religious activities.