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ICC Note: This article talks about the threat that the government feels from underground Christians and a Christian group called Arch.

Religion and Democracy Threaten Beijing

Mark O’Neill

12/31/06 On December 22 a court in Beijing gave a three-year jail sentence, suspended for five years, to one of the country’s most prominent human rights lawyers, Gao Zhisheng, for posting ‘seditious articles’ on the Internet.

For the Communist government, Gao represents a double threat. Not only has he represented protesting farmers and members of Falun Gong and accused the government of killing its citizens but he is a fervent Christian and democracy activist, belonging to a group named the Arch, the most famous ‘family church’ in China The Arch is one of hundreds of such groups that practice their faith in the privacy of their own because they do not wish to go either to an official church or an underground one.

Religious groups and spiritual movements not registered with the government have continued to experience varying degrees of official interference and harassment, according to the International Religious Freedom Report, released by the US Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. Members of some unregistered religious groups were subjected to restrictions, including intimidation, harassment, and detention, according to the report. .

Virtually since Hu Jintao took power as Communist Party General Secretary in 2003, there have been increasing indications that the party hierarchy are concerned as the party itself comes to be regarded as representing no ideology but merely attempting to preserve itself in power for power’s sake. As an example of this growing concern, in November middle and senior party cadres were required to watch an eight-part series, directed by a general in the People’s Liberation Army, on the breakup of the Soviet Union and the lessons the party in China should learn from it.

The Arch itself was established in 2001 by a dissident writer named Yu Jie and his wife, together with Gao, another human rights lawyer named Li Baiguang and Jiao Guobiao, an outspoken professor of journalism at Beijing University .

At a time of relative calm in Chinese-American relations despite concerns over the trade deficit, the Chinese leadership was jolted on May 11 when Yu and Li, together with another Christian writer named Wang Yi, met George Bush at the White House, the first time a sitting U.S. president has met Chinese dissidents in his office during his tenure. For Bush, faithful to his religious core constituents at home, publicly the most important of these rights is religious rights – and that is the nightmare for Beijing .

For many of these Christian intellectuals, the fight for religious rights has become linked to the fight for democracy, as it was in Eastern Europe , where opposition by the Catholic and Protestant churches was a major reason for the collapse of Communism.

Communist party leaders have long regarded the working class as the biggest threat to its power — a movement like Solidarity in Poland , where unemployed and low-paid workers revolted against falling living standards, the rising wealth gap and official corruption. It is for this reason that it does not allow any trade union other than the official one and deals ruthlessly with those who try to set one up.

True to the words of Karl Marx, the party regards religion as an opiate of the masses’ and restricts it to the temple, mosque and church. Religious groups cannot operate outside their place of worship and cannot run schools, hospitals, orphanages or institutions that would allow them to penetrate the wider society.

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