A Christian charity has urged people to not stop raising awareness of religious persecution happening in China after a recent spate of violations over the Christmas period.
The last two weeks of December into the beginning of 2020 saw further human rights violations against religious communities, activists and lawyers in China. They included arbitrary detention, harassment and restrictions on religious activities, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
On 26th December 2019, Pastor Wang Yi, who leads the Early Rain Church in Chengdu, Sichuan province, China, was sentenced to nine years in prison on charges of "inciting to subvert state power" and "illegal business operations".
On 20th December 2019, China Aid reported that authorities in Henan had forced imprisoned pastor Zhang Shaojie to take an unknown medicine. His family also said that Zhang's mental state has deteriorated significantly.
This is on top of churches reporting that local authorities had warned Christians not to hold public gatherings to celebrate Christmas.
CSW said: "On Christmas Day, authorities in Xining City, Qinghai Province, closed down a church of 300 members, cutting off the electricity supply and forcing worshippers to evacuate in the dark. Witnesses say the authorities in Qinghai have shut down religious venues on a large scale in recent years, including over 20 Christian groups in one year alone."
In the final days of 2019, at least twelve activists were detained, interrogated or disappeared in various provinces, apparently in connection with a small private gathering in Fujian earlier in the month.
Several of the activists have since been released but others are out of contact, including Chinese human rights lawyer Tang Jingling, who was previously imprisoned for five years for "inciting subversion of state power" in connection with his peaceful defence of human rights.
Also, Bitter Winter, an online magazine on religious liberty and human rights in China has said that 20 of its reporters are in jail, some of whose whereabouts are unknown.
CSW's chief executive Mervyn Thomas said religious freedom in China is worsening.
"The right to freedom of religion or belief in China has been severely curtailed in recent years, and particularly since the introduction of the revised regulations of religious affairs in 2018," he said.
"The world must not tire of drawing attention to the marked deterioration in human rights in the country. Every person in this list of incidents has a family and a community. We welcome the international interventions made on behalf of Pastor Wang Yi and urge the international community to continue to raise this and other cases of religious adherents and human rights defenders, as well as the repression of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities, and other human rights violations, in bilateral and multilateral dialogues with China."
The European Union, State Department and the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in China all expressed concern about Pastor Wang Yi's sentence, as did Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, the UK Foreign Office Minister of State with responsibility for Human Rights, and the Deputy Prime Minister & Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kosovo.
A New Year message from the China Human Rights Lawyers Group described 2019 as a year "defined by much tumult" in China.
The statement highlighted the increasing surveillance and crackdowns by the government, saying that "protocols, truth, justice, and hope are nowhere to be found."
They said "by the looks of things, there is really no reason to be optimistic".
However, they urged people to continue to take action against atrocities.
"In 2020, we must not let ourselves lose spirit. On the contrary, we should become closer with the people, listen carefully to their voices, and devise actionable steps to prepare for improvements in human rights...Let us welcome 2020, prepare for 2020!"
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