ChinaAid, a large U.S. organization that monitors religious freedom published its annual report on the situation in China, yesterday. It concludes that the situation is deteriorating for the seventh year in a row. The report on the year that has just ended is based on 132 cases of persecution which have involved 4,919 people. The number of individuals tried in court has risen by 125% compared to last year; and the rate of persecution, according to ChinaAid has increased by 41, 9% compared to 2011.
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Sadly, it it now customary for the so-called “house” churches, which are less easy to control, to be targeted by the Chinese government. But there is another factor that has made the situation even more difficult and that is that the government and the Communist Party have a specific aim.
ChinaAid examined three elements: the total of all figures relating to persecution, the number of people affected, the number of individuals arrested, the number of people sentences, the number of cases of rights violations and the number of people who have fallen victim to this abuse. The total of the figures recorded for each of these six categories has risen by 13, 1 % compared to 2011. If the previous seven years are taken into account, it is clear that persecution continues to worsen, on the basis of an annual 24, 5 % growth rate in all six categories examined.
According to ChinaAid’s analysts, persecution in 2012 was not just a continuation of the practice, developed in 2008 and 2009, of “targeting “house” church leaders and churches in urban areas,” or the 2010 strategy of “attacking Christian human rights lawyers groups and using abuse, torture and mafia tactics.” Neither was it a continuation of the 2011 strategy of increasing the intensity of the attacks against Christians and “house” churches that have an impact on society.
There was a change of strategy and the reason for this can be found in a document issued by the ministries of Public Security and Civil Affairs. This document, which was written by the State Administration for Religious Affairs, roughly outlines three phases of the operation. The first, from January to June 2012 foresaw intense, thorough and secret inquiries into “house” churches across the country and the creation of a set of archives on these.
The second phase should last between two to three years and be based on the gradual elimination of registered “house” Churches with the aim of closing all of these down definitively, over a ten year period. Indeed, various carrot and stick methods were used to achieve this; churches were closed down and church leaders were sent to labour camps. At the same time, there was an attempt to convince them to enter the State and Communist Party-controlled church system.
The report, however, does end on a slightly optimistic note. The 18th National Congress of the Communist Party is supposed to have put an end to an era of extreme leftist ideologies. "ChinaAid is cautiously optimistic," the report said, pointing out that despite the escalating persecution and the political upheaval of 2012 "the church ... is still standing firm, flourishing like the cedars of Lebanon and fruit trees planted by the streams, bearing much fruit at the appointed time."