The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released its 2013 Annual Report on the state of international religious freedom on April 30. China was once again listed under “countries of particular concern.” The report notes the government’s continuing mistreatment toward the banned Falun Gong spiritual group.
USCIRF also noted the Chinese government’s rise in mistreatment toward Tibetan Buddhists and Uighur Muslims.
Falun Gong emerged in China in the 1990’s. While the Communist government originally offered its support to the qigong exercise-based communities, Falun Gong’s spiritual philosophy became perceived as a threat to national security and social harmony as its numbers rose.
According to the USCIRF report, Falun Gong members “face some of the most intense and violent forms of persecution.” Members are jailed, forced to renounce their faith, or sent to detention centers where they are tortured. Furthermore, it is hard to find anyone in China to legally speak against the oppression Falun Gong members face. According to the USCIRF report, “The Chinese government also continues to harass, detain, intimidate, and disbar attorneys who defend members of vulnerable religious groups.”
Lens, a Chinese magazine focusing on “society, culture, history, and lifestyle” recently published a 14-page Internet report on the Masanjia labor camp, one of the most intense Chinese labor camps. The report, made up of “interviews with ex-inmates, prosecutors, and former and current camp officials,” details a number of torture techniques, including “prisoners being locked in tiny punishment cells, shocked with electric batons, handcuffed to two bunk beds with arms stretched wide and bound to a bench with their backs hunched over and hands and feet cuffed,” the Huffington Post reported.
Inmates at Masanjia “smuggled out their diaries and appeals used in the reports by hiding them inside body cavities or inside bars of soap,” according to the Lens article, the Huffington Post reported.
Epoch Times wrote a follow-up to the Lens article, claiming that “former Chinese Communist Party leader Jiang Zemin” is behind what they call a “campaign of persecution” against Falun Gong. “His chief lieutenants personally visited the Masanjia facility, and presented awards to guards for devising the most innovative and effective techniques of inflicting pain,” the Epoch Times reported. These methods, like having needles inserted into fingernails, were used on Falun Gong members to break their faith.
In the past, Falun Gong members have referred to Masanjia as “one of the most violent forced deprogramming centers used by the government to suppress what it says is a cult,” the Huffington Post said.
Chinese officials refused to comment on the story and “a retired Justice Ministry researcher called the reports far-fetched,” the Huffington Post added.
As the number of Chinese citizens turning toward religion in the 21st Century grows, the Chinese government justifies its repression of religious freedom by appealing to the need to “banish superstitious beliefs.”
“For a ruling party which follows Marxism, we need to help people establish a correct world view and to scientifically deal with birth, aging, sickness and death, as well as fortune and misfortune, via popularizing scientific knowledge,” head of the State Administration of Religious Affairs Wang Zuoan told the state-run newspaper, the Study Times.
According to a Reuters report, “dissecting” religion from society will be a “long process,” Zuoan told the Study Times. “Religion has been around for a very long time, and if we rush to try to push for results and want to immediately 'liberate' people from the influence of religion, then it will have the opposite effect and push people in the opposite direction.”
Other repeating offenders include Burma, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan. Newly-added first-tier offenders included Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam. The USCIRF report also mentioned Japan as a problem nation for the first time. Although praising Japan’s human rights record generally, they criticized the Japanese government for failing to control the problem of “kidnapping and forced religious de-conversion.”