Chinese Christians Barred From Conference

The New York Times
October 15, 2010

Chinese Christians Barred From Conference


BEIJING — More than 100 Chinese Christians seeking to attend an international evangelical conference in South Africa have been barred from leaving the country, some in the group said, because their churches are not sanctioned by the state.

Organizers say that more than 4,000 Christians from around the world will discuss faith, poverty, the AIDS epidemic and other issues at the nine-day conference, which begins Saturday in Cape Town. But members of the Chinese delegation said that they could get no farther than the passport control at international airports in China before officials confiscated their documents.

“They said it is illegal to attend this conference, and they sent me home,” said Liu Guan, 36, a Protestant evangelical leader who tried to fly out of Capital International Airport in Beijing last Sunday. “The explanation was ‘for your own good.’ ”

China’s policy toward Christians is more relaxed now than a decade ago. Although only government-sanctioned churches are considered legal, millions of Chinese — some say tens of millions — worship in unregistered house churches.

While believers often complain of harassment, officials in much of China turn a blind eye to the activities there. But Chinese house churches are one matter; global conferences are another.

The Chinese authorities said that the government intervened to prevent people from attending the conference because Cape Town organizers failed to honor China’s policy of domestic control over religious activities. In a statement on Friday, Ma Zhaoxu, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that instead of inviting the legal representatives of China’s Christians, the organizers “secretly extended multiple invitations to Christians who privately set up meeting points.”

“This action publicly challenges the principle of independent, autonomous, domestically organized religious associations, and therefore represents a rude interference in Chinese religious affairs,” his statement said.

Officials of the conference, the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, have protested. In a statement, Doug Birdsall, the executive chairman, said that China’s official Christian representatives had been invited but had declined to attend. The Three-Self Patriotic Movement — China’s state-sanctioned Protestant Church — was also involved in the process of selecting participants, he said.

In an open letter released Friday, the Chinese delegation said China was home to tens of millions of Christians, most of whom worshiped in unregistered churches. Pastors and elders were eager for the chance to discuss the growth of Christianity in China and to build ties with religious leaders from other countries at the Cape Town conference, the letter said.

The conference is the third worldwide gathering since a committee led by the evangelist Billy Graham drew 2,700 religious leaders to Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1974. Organizers say most of the speakers are from Africa, South America and Asia because that is where two-thirds of evangelicals live today.

Beginning in July, Chinese officials began individually contacting every Chinese citizen who had been invited and pressuring them not to attend, church leaders said. Some had to give up their passports, some suffered government reprisals against their churches and some were detained, the letter said. Most were turned away at airport passport control checkpoints, according to the letter. “This series of blocking actions violated their right of religious freedom” spelled out in the Chinese Constitution, it stated.

There is precedence for the government’s interference. In accordance with China’s policy against foreign oversight of religion, the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, which officially represents Chinese Catholics, does not recognize the authority of the pope. Ignoring that, Pope Benedict XVI invited four Chinese bishops to attend a church conference in Rome in 2005. Government authorities rejected the invitation.

Mr. Liu, the Beijing evangelical leader, said a half-dozen police officers and government officials met him and four other Christians at the Beijing airport about an hour before their Sunday flight was scheduled to board. He said that his passport was confiscated and that he was ordered not to speak to the foreign media. A 25-year-old Beijing education worker, who asked to be identified only by his English first name of David in order not to call attention to his church, was sent home along with Mr. Liu. He said he later demanded a written explanation of why his passport was seized. The letter he received was brief, he said. It stated that he had volunteered to give his passport to the police.

Demanding Release of Dissident

BEIJING — More than 100 Chinese intellectuals and dissidents signed and posted a letter online Friday, asking that the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Liu Xiaobo, be released from prison and that government security officers stop harassing his wife, Liu Xia. The signers also asked that government leaders “make good on their oft-repeated promise to reform the political system,” in line with Charter 08, the pro-democracy manifesto of which Mr. Liu was a writer and that led to his imprisonment.

The letter added, “This will require it to guarantee the rights of Chinese citizens as they work to bring about peaceful transition toward a society that will be, in fact and not just in name, a democracy and a nation of laws.”

A leading dissident and supporter of Mr. Liu, Ding Zilin, meanwhile, was reported to have vanished, last heard from in the Yangtze River Delta town of Wuxi on Oct. 8, days after Mr. Liu’s prize was announced.

Li Bibo contributed research.

Source: New York Times, October 15, 2010

Read more:

Persecution Blog – Chinese Christians Blocked from World Evangelization Conference

South Morning Post – Beijing bars churches from conference; Protestants unable to travel to Cape Town

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