New data shows following and worshiping the divine became much more dangerous in China.

Part of the State Department recently slammed the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) treatment of spiritual groups.

The Congressional-Executive Commission on China revealed conditions for authorized and unauthorized beliefs went from “bad” to “worse” in 2021. It urged federal lawmakers and America’s allies and partners to do everything in their power to deliver a “consistent and coordinated” response.

Bipartisan and bicameral

The latest bipartisan and bicameral Country Reports on Human Rights Practices found the Chinese regime escalated its ongoing crackdown against those with high moral standards.

Political and prisoners of conscience were often treated harshly, dangerously, or degradingly at Chinese correctional facilities. Inmates and detainees are held in overcrowded conditions with poor sanitation.

“Food often was inadequate and of poor quality, and many detainees relied on supplemental food, medicines–and warm clothing provided by relatives when allowed to receive them,” the report said.

“Prisoners often reported sleeping on the floor because there were no beds or bedding. In many cases provisions for sanitation, ventilation, heating, lighting, and access to potable water were inadequate,” it added.

Inmates also suffered from a severe lack of “adequate, timely medical care” despite previously being assured they have a right to prompt medical treatment. Prison authorities periodically delayed medical treatment for political prisoners.

“Multiple nongovernment organizations and news agencies reported detainees at ‘re-education’ centers or long-term extrajudicial detention centers became seriously ill or died,” the report said.

“Political prisoners were sometimes held with the general prison population and reported being beaten by other prisoners at the instigation of guards,” it added.

Authorities have also been accused of preventing dissidents from accessing supplemental food, medicine, and warm clothing from loved ones.

Administrative detention facilities reportedly had similar conditions to those in prisons. 

“Detainees reported beatings, sexual assaults, lack of proper food, and limited or no access to medical care,” the report said.

The publication estimates the CCP has already built enough detention space to hold more than 1 million individuals. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Xinjiang Data Project satellite analysis also found the Xinjiang region has 385 detention centers.

“In some cases authorities used repurposed schools, factories, and prisons to hold detainees,” it said.

“Authorities have closed or repurposed the makeshift detention centers found in cities but in their place [they] have built larger detention centers outside the cities,” it added. 

These camps reportedly focus on “military-style discipline and pervasive political indoctrination of the detainees.” Detainees have complained about “pervasive” physical abuse, torture, overcrowding, and unsanitary conditions.

The Associated Press estimated one detention center in Dabancheng, Xinjiang, could hold up to 10,000 people. The newswire agency observed detainees watching CCP propaganda videos in “uniform rows” with their legs crossed in “lotus position” and backs “ramrod straight.”

Horrors cannot escape world’s gaze

The commission condemned Beijing’s mistreatment of prisoners and ongoing monitoring of dissenters or so-called “illegal” faith groups.

“[CCP] propaganda cannot divert the world’s gaze from the horrors the Chinese government and communist party perpetrate against the Chinese people,” the report said.

“Members of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China unanimously share this judgment and the view that the Chinese government’s systematic violations of human rights, and failure to fulfill its obligations under international treaties, pose a challenge to the rules-based international order,” it added.

Beijing continues to tighten its grip on peaceful Christians, Catholics, Protestants, Buddhists, Taoists, Uighur Muslims, and Falun Gong adherents. Authorized religions have suffered persecution despite the CCP having already signed a Vatican–China bishop appointments pact back in 2018.

The regime even cited the CCP virus (COVID–19) pandemic as a reason to increase monitoring of such groups. This inadvertently implied spiritual believers might be at greater risk of spreading or contracting the disease than atheists.

“Authorities increased their use of advanced surveillance technology to monitor predominantly Muslim ethnic groups, used COVID–19 precautions as a pretext to increase surveillance and detain religious practitioners, and prohibited religious activities while nearby secular activities were allowed to resume,” the report said.

“[The] State Department also noted that Christians, Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, and Falun Gong practitioners reported severe societal discrimination in employment, housing, and business opportunities,” it added.

The commission accused the CCP of abusing Article 300 of the country’s criminal law to detail and jail prisoners of conscience. The regulation prohibits organizing and using a so-called “cult to undermine implementation of the law.”

“Authorities continued to ban the belief in and practice of Falun Gong, detain practitioners, and subject them to harsh treatment … [and,] according to Falun Gong-affiliated website Minghui, Chinese officials were responsible for the deaths of dozens of Falun Gong practitioners in 2020,” the report said.

“At least 622 practitioners were sentenced in apparent connection with their practice of Falun Gong, with the largest numbers in Liaoning, Shandong, Sichuan, Hebei, and Jilin provinces,” it added.

Immensely popular

From 1992 to 1999, Falun Gong enjoyed immense popularity, with an estimated 70 million to 100 million people practicing in mainland China alone. The practice has also spread to the United States and more than 70 countries globally, while Falun Gong’s books have been translated into over 40 different languages.

However, the CCP grew increasingly unsettled by its rapid growth and the high number of influential party members who had joined. Late in 1999, Chinese dictator Jiang Zemin decided to arbitrarily arrest and torture adherents to death, confiscated and destroyed more than 2 million Falun Gong books, and ordered state-run media to publish hundreds of articles that defamed the practice.

The two-decade human rights crisis has caused at least 4,641 known Falun Gong adherents to be persecuted to death, with “tens of thousands more [cases] to be confirmed,” according to the latest data collected by the Minghui website. The CCP’s policy to cremate the dead bodies of victims without asking permission from family members has only added to the difficulty in ascertaining exactly how many Falun Gong adherents have been persecuted to death since 1999.

“Because of government suppression, it is difficult to determine the number of practitioners in China,” the report said.

“Minghui also documented violations of religious freedom against Falun Gong practitioners including extra–legal detention 141 and deaths that family members suspect were caused by torture,” it added.

UN condemns Beijing

The commission applauded the United Nations (UN) for earlier condemning the CCP’s alleged organ harvesting as “extremely” alarming. The intergovernmental organization cited “credible information” that clearly shows that peaceful Falun Gong, Uighur, Tibetan, Muslim and Christian people are forcibly subjected to blood tests, ultrasounds, x-rays, and other forms of medical examination without consent. This is despite the absence of any requirement for prisoners of conscience to undergo such medical tests.

“A group of 12 UN human rights experts said they were ‘extremely alarmed’ and ‘deeply concerned’ by credible reports of forced organ harvesting in China that appears to constitute ‘targeting [of] specific ethnic, linguistic or religious minorities held in detention, often without [explaining] the reasons for arrest or giv[ing] arrest warrants, at different locations,'” the report said.

“Among the groups targeted, the UN group mentioned [ethnic] minorities, Falun Gong practitioners, Uighurs, Tibetans, Muslims, and Christians,” it added.

The UN found forced organ harvesting in China targets specific ethnic, linguistic, or religious minorities held in detention who are not given reasons for their arrest.

“We are deeply concerned by reports of discriminatory treatment of the prisoners or detainees based on their ethnicity and religion or belief,” the UN said.

The agency also criticized Beijing for registering test results in a living source database for “organ allocation.” State-run healthcare providers allegedly use the information to find potential buyers who can pay anywhere up to $1 million per organ.

The CCP further inflicted suffering on grieving family members by preventing them from collecting the deceased’s body and quickly cremating their remains.

Ethan Gutmann, an Asia expert who grew up in Southern Vermont, previously estimated the CCP’s organ black market could be worth between $8 billion and $9 billion each year, according to the Minghui website.

Renewed crackdown

The San Francisco-based Dui Hua Foundation separately identified at least 41 different spiritual groups suffering persecution in mainland China. Many have experienced renewed crackdowns due to their soaring popularity during the pandemic.

“Qigong, an exercise and healing technique involving meditation, controlled breathing, and movement has been the most popular form of spirituality in post-Mao China,” the foundation said in its latest persecution of unorthodox religious groups in China report.

“The popularity of Hong Kong kung fu films, TV series, and novels also contributed to the qigong craze in the mainland … [and] Falun Dafa, commonly referred to as Falun Gong–founded by Li Hongzhi in 1992–has been the most popular qigong organization in China after 1978,” it added.

The publication also revealed CCP officials withheld an estimated 11 million pieces of data from the China Judgements Online. The 2021 decision came after the human rights group unsuccessfully tried to access the legal database to document alleged human rights abuses, and religious freedom violations, across the East Asian country.

Deep concerns

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) expressed deep concerns about the Chinese regime’s continuing persecution, repression of civil rights, and international coercion.

“Beijing continues to obliterate Hong Kong’s basic freedoms, denies Tibetans their culture and religion, punishes Falun Gong practitioners, and is committing genocide against Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang,” he said in a statement.

“Mass internment, forced sterilization, and slave labor are just a few of the long list of crimes that the CCP commits against the Uighur people and–while our nation took an important step with the enactment of my Uighur Forced Labor Prevention Act–more must be done to ensure it is effectively implemented,” he added.

Rubio urged fellow lawmakers to publicly denounce Shanghai’s harsh lockdown, which severely impacted business, food supplies, and mental wellbeing.

“The United States should condemn the CCP’s misuse of COVID-19 as an excuse to turn cities like Shanghai into prisons for millions of innocent citizens, depriving them of food, basic necessities, and freedom of movement,” he said.

The senator also stressed that the Land of the Free must keep standing up for fundamental human rights domestically and internationally.

“Such instability is not just a moral tragedy, it also presents major national security risks [and] the United States has an important role to play as a beacon of strength and freedom for the rest of the world,” Rubio said.

Biden and Congress must act

The commission urged Joe Biden’s administration and U.S. Congress to direct the Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation to protect U.S. citizens, residents of Asian and Chinese descent, and Chinese nationals living or studying in the United States. 

“[Protect them] from undue foreign interference and surveillance and ensure that their civil rights are safeguarded, including freedom from coercion or intimidation, freedom of expression, and the freedom of religion,” the report said.

Every American should also have a “private right of action” to launch civil litigation about unfair dismissal or wrongful demotion due to critical views of the Chinese regime. This theoretically includes supporting human rights in mainland China.

Lawyers harassed, threatened

The CCP reportedly intimidated and pressured judicial professionals who represented so-called prisoners of conscience. Lawyers were harassed, physically threatened, searched, denied access to evidence, unlawfully detained, and even disbarred.

“Authorities used the annual licensing review process administered by the All-China Lawyers Association to withhold or delay the renewal of professional lawyers’s licenses. In October [2021] the association issued new guidelines that banned lawyers from speaking about cases publicly, including organizing press conferences and petitions, publishing open letters, or engaging in any public advocacy work,” the commission’s report said.

Law firms were stripped of their ability to transact and practice law after accepting new clients who are underground Christians, Falun Gong adherents, and belong to other persecuted groups.

“The government suspended or revoked the business licenses or law licenses of numerous lawyers who took on sensitive cases, such as defending pro-democracy dissidents, house-church activists, Falun Gong practitioners, or government critics,” the report said.

Henan Provincial Judicial Department revoked Ren Quanniu’s license because the Zhengzhou human rights lawyer acted for activists and journalists. Local judicial authorities ordered the Henan Guidao Law Firm, where Ren worked, to shut down. Municipal authorities blacklisted Ren and prohibited him from starting his own legal practice.

Beijing’s Municipal Bureau of Justice separately revoked Lin Qilei’s legal license because his employer was deregistered. The decision came despite Lin’s multiple attempts to register Beijing Ruikai Law Firm, which represented religious adherents and pro-democracy supporters.

The same bureau separately revoked Liang Xiaojun’s legal license due to social media posts criticizing Marxism and recognizing Falun Gong as a religion. Throughout his legal career, he represented many human rights defenders, activists, and other disbarred lawyers.

“The law governing the legal profession criminalizes attorneys’s actions that ‘insult, defame, or threaten’ judicial officers, do not ‘heed’ the court’s admonition, or severely disrupt[s] ‘courtroom order,'” the report said.

“The law also criminalizes disclosing client or case information to media outlets or using protests, media, or other means to influence court decisions [and] violators face fines–and up to three years in prison,” it added.

House arrests

Chinese authorities have also been accused of arresting or temporarily detaining lawyers before releasing them due to a lack of evidence.

“Authorities subjected many of these citizens to extralegal house arrest, denial of travel rights, or administrative detention in different types of extralegal detention facilities, including ‘black jails,'” the report said.

Multiple house arrests were conducted during senior foreign government official visits, National People’s Congress annual plenary sessions, and the Tiananmen Square massacre’s anniversary.

“Security agents took some of those not placed under house arrest to remote areas on so-called vacations,” the report said.

“Officials also may place a suspect under ‘residential surveillance at a designated location’ for up to six months,” it added.

Human rights advocates revealed such residential surveillance could expose detainees to a high risk of torture. This is due to the absence of oversight in protecting detainee treatment and appeal mechanisms that generally exist at facilities.

Loyalty pledge

Lawyers are required to be members of the CCP-controlled All-China Lawyers Association. The Chinese Ministry of Justice requires all lawyers to pledge loyalty to communist leaders upon issuance or annual renewal of their license to practice law. Authorities also require law firms with three or more party members to establish a CCP unit within the workplace.

Despite Beijing’s alleged efforts to improve access to legal advice, the All-China Lawyers Association told state-run media that defense attorneys participate in less than 30% of criminal cases. Human rights lawyers reported authorities blocked them from defending certain clients or threatened them with punishment for representing them anyway.

“More than 40 lawyers lost their license due to their human rights work since 2016 [and] some lawyers declined to represent defendants in politically sensitive cases,” the report said.

Authorities have also prevented defendant-selected attorneys from taking cases and instead appointed their own attorneys. In some sensitive matters, lawyers had no “pretrial access” to their clients, limited time to review evidence, and were barred from communicating with defendants during trials.

“In contravention of the law, criminal defendants frequently were not assigned an attorney until a case was brought to court,” the report said.

“Trials were predominantly conducted in Mandarin Chinese, even in non-Mandarin-speaking areas,” it added.

Only a small percentage of trials reportedly involved witnesses, and judges significantly influenced whether live witness testimonies were allowed.

“Prosecutors read witness statements, which neither the defendants nor their lawyers had an opportunity to rebut through cross-examination,” the report said.

“Defense attorneys had no authority to compel witnesses to testify or to mandate discovery, although they could apply for access to government-held evidence relevant to their case,” it added.

Detention curbs protests

Different forms of administrative detention have been used to intimidate political and religious advocates and prevent public demonstrations. These include compulsory drug rehabilitation treatment, custody and training for minor criminal offenders, and legal education centers for political activists or religious adherents like Falun Gong practitioners.

“The maximum stay in compulsory drug rehabilitation centers is two years, including commonly a six-month stay in a detoxification center,” the report said.

Ganjingzi District Court in Dalian City held Ren Haifei without trial or charges since June 2020. The Falun Gong practitioner was arrested without a warrant, hospitalized for severe injuries suffered from his initial arrest, and remanded to the Dalian Yaojia detention center after being released from the hospital. He was previously incarcerated from 2001 to 2008 for his beliefs and peaceful protests against the CCP’s persecution of Falun Gong adherents.

“Ren’s trial was first scheduled for July; however, authorities postponed the trial citing COVID-19 concerns,” the report said.

Re-entry refused

China Customs continues to refuse re-entry for Falun Gong activists and many CCP-designated “troublemakers.” Although some dissidents living abroad have returned, those released on medical parole and permitted to leave the country were often exiled.

“Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, authorities greatly reduced the total number of travelers who could enter the country, including citizens,” the report said.

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