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ICC Note: A ‘perfect storm’ of upcoming events should draw greater attention to China’s recent crackdown on human rights and religious freedom: the visits to the U.S. next week of Chinese President Xi and Pope Francis, as well as the unfolding election campaigns of U.S. presidential hopefuls, including Senator Mark Rubio, head of the U.S. Congressional Commission on China.

By reporter, Beijing

09/16/2015 China (

A bishop and a Christian lawyer are among those being featured in a new rights campaign by a U.S. presidential hopeful, designed to apply pressure before Chinese President Xi Jinping visits the White House next week.

The initiative focuses on 20 dissidents and religious figures who are representative of the harshest rights crackdown by Beijing in recent memory, said Sen. Marco Rubio, head of the U.S. congressional commission on China.

“We want to send the message that the imprisonment of rights advocates, lawyers and religious people is unnecessary, unjust and completely counterproductive,” he said launching the campaign in Washington D.C. on Sept. 15. Rubio is a U.S. Republican presidential candidate for next year’s election.

Two dissidents will be featured in the campaign on each of the 10 days leading up to Xi’s meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House on Sept. 25.

Pope Francis is due to meet Obama two days earlier. No meeting is scheduled between Xi and the pope in the United States as both sides continue talks on solving the key problem of bishop ordinations in China.

Christians have faced persecution as part of a broader program by Beijing designed to sideline dissenting voices and those deemed a threat to Communist Party rule.

Bishop James Su Zhimin, one of the 20 prisoners featured in Rubio’s campaign, has spent the past 18 years in prison after refusing to join the state-sanctioned Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association in 1996.

The Communist Party organ overseeing religious affairs, the United Front Work Department, told the bishop’s family last month that he was a “bargaining chip” in talks with the Vatican, a source close to the family told The bishop’s whereabouts remain unknown.

Zhang Kai, a Protestant lawyer who helped churches sue state officials amid a cross-removal campaign in Zhejiang province, is facing charges of threatening state security following his detention last month.

Others featured in the new campaign include Tibetan singer Lolo, arrested in 2012 after singing for the return of the Dalai Lama, and Wangdu, a former Buddhist monk turned AIDS activist serving a life term for “espionage.”

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