hong Kong (AsiaNews / Se) - The Justice and Peace Commission of Hong Kong diocese is requesting the Universal Periodic Review Regarding Religious Freedom in the People's Republic of China from the United Nations (UN) to urge Beijing to adhere to the requirements of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to both of which it is a signatory.
The formal submission was released by the Justice and Peace commission of Hong Kong diocese on July 18, but only submitted on September 2 at a pre-session hearing ahead of the scheduled periodic review of the mainland's human rights record, which is set for October 22. The Justice and Peace Commission reported in early September that four priests from unofficial Catholic communities in China were detained during August, which adds to the list of those who are still being held in various parts of the country.
In its contribution to the submission to the UN, the commission says, "The Chinese authorities have imposed political and religious policies that have been against the principles and practices of the Catholic faith and have gravely violated human rights."
It says that these policies lie at the basis of the split in the Catholic Church in China into groups that have registered with the government's Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and those which have refused. "This brings pain and suffering within the Church," the submission from the commission states.
It points out that both the registered, or official communities, and the unregistered, or unofficial communities, have suffered as a result of these policies which it labels a violation of human rights. It points to priests who have been placed under illegal surveillance, house arrest, detention, abducted without trace, illegally confined in hotel rooms, forced to attend political classes, conferences or religious activities that are contrary to Church teaching, and even tortured as having their rights to religious freedom abused.It is also claiming that Catholic people are denied the right of freedom of association, as they are sometimes forced to join government-registered groups and, consequently, their religious freedom is being distorted.
"Therefore, the faithful in China have not only their religious freedom distorted, but also their personal liberty and freedom of association being violated," the statement says. The commission points out that this is in direct conflict with Article 18 of the Declaration on Human Rights and also Article 18 of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The commission says that the Chinese authorities have acted in a manner that has split communion within the Church in China, quoting the 2005 letter penned to Chinese Catholics by Pope Benedict XVI as saying, "Communion and unity are essential and integral elements of the Catholic Church."
He also points out that Beijing's push for a Church independent of the Holy See is a religious aberration that denies its very nature, saying, "Therefore the proposal for a Church that is independent of the Holy See in the religious sphere is incompatible with Catholic doctrine."
The commission points out to the UN body that the policy of the Chinese government to create an independent and autonomous Church is, in reality, a violation of the freedom of conscience of the Catholic people and the essential properties of the Catholic Church, in direct contravention of the two Article 18s. It also accuses the Patriotic Association of manipulating Church issues in a manner that is contrary to Church doctrine under the guise of safeguarding the autonomy of the Chinese self-managed Catholic Church.It points out that it does this by placing its own authority above that of the bishops, which violates the autonomy and normal operation of the Church.
The submission from the commission says that Catholic people in China are frustrated with the way they are being manipulated by the Patriotic Association and the National Assembly of Catholic Representatives, which are little more than puppet organisations enforcing or rubber stamping government decisions.The submission then details how the Chinese authorities forced bishops to attend meetings of both organisation against their will in 2010 and abducted priests who refused to attend, forcing them to undergo study sessions at a guesthouse.It adds to the list of violations the illicit ordination of bishops between 2010 and 2012, and points out that some priests were picked up by police and forcibly taken to venues to take part in various parts of the process against their will.
The submission also details a government veto on the normal administration of the diocese of Wuhan in Hubei province in 2012 refusing to allow priests to take up new assignments authorised by normal diocesan procedures. A change was also forced in the personnel in charge of the administration of the diocese.
The submission points out to the UN review panel that these activities on behalf of the government are contrary to Articles 20 and 22 of the declaration of human rights and political and civil rights respectively. It claims that China is subverting the meaning of religious activity into patriotic activity, as refusal to submit to the authority of the government bodies is termed an illegal act.
The submission lists eight priests or bishops who have been illegally detained-some for years or even decades. Others have been tortured by sleep deprivation and physical beatings. Two at least are suffering long term illness and disability from their maltreatment.
The submission points out that this is a direct violation of Articles 5 and 7 of the two rights documents. The Justice and Peace Commission is requesting the UN review panel to urge the Chinese government to seriously investigate ill-treatment and torture of Church people, compensate and apologise to the injured, and stop such torture and inhumane acts against Church people.
It is also asking it to urge the Chinese authorities to stop violating religious rights, respect Church authority and allow it to freely exercise its mandate and carry out normal religious practices and activities without interference.