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Chinese religious leaders defend government's record on religious freedom

Bishop Michael Fu Tieshan, Chinese delegation leader, holds "there is no religious persecution in China"  

August 26, 2000
Web posted at: 8:34 AM HKT (0034 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Religious leaders from the People's Republic of China defended their government's attitude toward religious tolerance Friday after the arrest this week of 130 Christians.

At a news conference at the Chinese Embassy in Washington, the delegation, in the United States for next week's United Nations Summit of Religious and Spiritual leaders, maintained that people practicing various religions in China "fully enjoy freedom of religion."

The delegation said the 130 followers of the Fang-Cheng Christian Evangelical Church, detained Wednesday by Chinese authorities, were arrested because they broke the law.

"The Chinese constitution has explicit provisions," said the Rev. Cao Shengjie, Vice President of the China Christian Council and a member of the delegation. "If you carry out normal religious activities, no one interferes."

But she added that religious activities that interrupt the daily stability of Chinese life or that place Chinese people in danger are "considered an offense and will be disciplined by law."


She encouraged religious groups to register with the Chinese government so that they can achieve "the right to be protected by law."

All of the leaders described a Chinese government that "respects ... all kinds of human rights and rights of religion" and a constitution which "protects freedom of religious beliefs."

"The facts speak louder than anything else," said Michael Fu Tieshan, a Chinese Catholic bishop who is leading the delegation. He said a growing number of religious believers and places of worship in China over the last 20 years made clear "there is no religious persecution in China."

Tieshan said his eight-member delegation, appointed by the Chinese government, includes representatives from Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism and Islam.

"The various religions in China fully enjoy the right of the freedom of religious beliefs under the protection of the constitution and the relevant laws and carry out all kinds of normal religious activities," he said, adding that religion is experiencing a "golden era" in China.

"They are running their affairs on their own."

Three Americans among those detained were released Friday, according to published reports.

The delegation also faced criticism over China's insistence that the Dalai Lama be barred from the U.N. summit.

Geshe Ngawang Samten, a Buddhist scholar, says that the team sent by the Chinese government does not represent the religious communities in Tibet  

Bowing to Chinese government pressure, summit organizers excluded the exiled Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader from activities at the United Nations. The Dalai Lama declined an invitation to speak at the conference's concluding ceremony at a New York hotel.

Jamyang Luosangjijmei, a Tibetan member of the delegation, defended China's position.

"The so-called participation in this summit by Dalai Lama goes against the purpose of this particular summit," he said. "The Chinese nation is actually a nation that puts great emphasis on principles and emotions of feelings. If some people would like to make use of the Dalai Lama to go in for anti-China activities, we have [a] very resolute and explicit stance."

"The Chinese people can't hide the truth," said Bhuchung Tsering, the head of the International Campaign for Tibet, who led a small protest outside the delegation's news conference. "The very fact the U.N. has been forced to exclude the Dalai Lama shows clear which side is engaging in politics. We cannot imagine a conference without the Dalai Lama."


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