As tensions mount in Hong Kong, Release International is calling on China to grant freedom of religion to Christians who face increasing persecution on the mainland. But handing in a petition to the London Embassy is proving quite a challenge.
‘The scenes unfolding on the streets of Hong Kong reflect the desperate cry for freedom in mainland China,’ says Release International CEO, Paul Robinson. ‘Those cries for freedom are being met with tightening control.
‘Persecution has been rising since China imposed tough new religious restrictions in 2018. Release partners say persecution has reached a peak not seen since the bad old days of the Cultural Revolution. Release is calling for those laws to be repealed.’
A delegation from Release International prayed on the street close to the embassy where the Chinese flag was flying. Chinese officials had refused Release’s request for an appointment with the ambassador to explain their concerns.
And when Release tried to hand in the petition of over 10,000 names calling for change, the Embassy would not take it – on grounds of security. Release was asked to post the petition instead.
‘And that we will,’ says Release spokesman, Tom Hardie. ‘We will make sure that China receives every single signature. They need to understand the depth of the feeling of Christians in the UK who will not stand by silently and let the persecution continue.’
China has been highlighted as a country of concern in several recent reports on persecution, including the investigation by the Bishop of Truro, which featured research from Release International, among others.
Freedom under threat
‘We’re greatly encouraged that the UK government has accepted in full the recommendation to put religious freedom as a consideration when allocating the aid budget,’ says CEO Paul Robinson. ‘There is one freedom that underpins every other – and that is the freedom of belief. And this freedom is under severe threat in China.
‘Freedom of faith is guaranteed under Article 36 of the Chinese constitution. But in practice, the authorities bulldoze churches, tear down crosses and imprison pastors. Lawyers who speak up for them in the courts simply disappear. And it’s getting worse.
‘The authorities have labelled some Christians as belonging to “evil cults” and have banned people from holding prayer meetings in their homes. If those prayer groups continue, the hosts risk having their houses demolished or taken from them. China has also banned Christians from sharing religious messages with anyone under 18 and has installed face-recognition cameras in churches to spy on congregations and preachers.
‘Release International’s message to China is: ‘Christians are not a threat to the order and prosperity of their country. They love their land and pray for their government. Give them the freedom they long for and deserve.’
The Release petition expresses deep concern at the growing and sustained campaign against the church under new regulations introduced in February 2018. Unofficial underground churches have long been a target. But now China is also closing churches that have been officially registered with the government.
Last month (July) a leader of a state-run church in Henan leapt to his death in protest over the increasing restrictions on the Christian faith imposed by the atheist Communist Party.
Reverend Song Yongsheng said he hoped his death would highlight the problems Christians were facing before jumping to his death from a building. Song, whose name means ‘eternal life’, was president of the city’s China Christian Council.
An example of the draconian clampdown that drove him to despair is the declaration that it is illegal to teach children hymns.
In July, officials raided a country church in China’s southern Guizhou province. When churchgoers asked what law they were supposed to have broken, they were told: ‘It is illegal for you to teach your children to sing hymns and to spread [Christian] thoughts.’
‘No wonder the people of Hong Kong see the writing on the wall,’ says Paul Robinson.
Through its international network of missions Release International is active in more than 30 countries around the world, supporting pastors, Christian prisoners and their families; supplying Christian literature and Bibles, and working for justice.
Current reports on China
Pew Research Centre Annual Report
The latest Annual Pew Report states: ‘Religious restrictions have been rising around the world for the past decade.’ Fifty-two governments, including China, are now imposing high or very high levels of restrictions on religion.
The Pew Report notes that the Chinese government ‘ramped up efforts to arrest and deport Christian missionaries’. And it highlights that China is restricting the number of religious groups who can register with the government to hold worship services.
The Bishop of Truro’s Christian Persecution Review
This report, which has been accepted in full by the British government, highlights the increasing threat from ‘aggressive nationalism’ in countries such as China, where significant numbers of Christians are at risk of persecution.
It states: ‘The Communist party in China has historically attempted to limit freedoms throughout Chinese society so as to maintain a strong grip on the country and to ensure it stays in power. In recent years President Xi has sought to control the church… legislation came into force in February 2018 which gave the state far-reaching powers to monitor and control religious organisations.’
European Parliament Resolution
In a wide-ranging resolution of April 18 2019, the European Parliament noted China’s hostility to a number of minorities and stated: ‘Christian religious communities have been facing increasing repression in China, with Christians, both in underground and government-approved churches, being targeted through the harassment and detention of believers, the demolition of churches, the confiscation of religious symbols and the crackdown on Christian gatherings.’
It called ‘on the Chinese authorities to end their campaigns against Christian congregations and organisations and to stop the harassment and detention of Christian pastors and priests and the forced demolitions of churches’ and ‘to implement the constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of religious belief for all Chinese citizens.’
This link will take you to the Bishop of Truro’s report for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
And you can read the Tenth Annual Pew Research Center Report in full here