Chinese Authorities Prevent Protestants From Attending International Evangelization Conference

December 8, 2010

Chinese authorities have harassed, detained, or prevented from leaving the country approximately 200 Protestants in China who received invitations to attend an international conference on evangelization in South Africa. Organizers of the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, which was held in Cape Town from October 16-25, 2010, reportedly invited members of China's unregistered Protestant church communities to attend as participants and invited members of China's state-controlled Protestant church communities to attend as observers. The state-controlled church did not send any representatives to the Lausanne Congress, and authorities in various locations throughout China reportedly warned members of unregistered church communities not to attend the Lausanne Congress because their attendance would "endanger state security."

Authorities Intimidate Unregistered Protestants Who Seek To Attend Lausanne Congress

As early as March 2010, authorities at the local level in various locations throughout China began to warn some of the approximately 200 members of unregistered Protestant communities who had received invitations to the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization (Lausanne Congress) not to attend, according to reports from ChinaAid (CAA) (1 September 10) and Ming Pao (11 October 10, reprinted in Yahoo! News Hong Kong). By early August, authorities had closed at least three house churches―located in Wuhan city, Hubei province; Sanmenxia city, Henan province; and Changsha city, Hunan province―in reported connection to their members having received invitations to the Lausanne Congress. According to the Ming Pao report and an October 11 ChinaAid report, by October 11, authorities across China had taken measures against all of the invitees to prevent them from attending the Lausanne Congress, including questioning them, threatening them, stopping them at airports, confiscating their passports, detaining them, or threatening their family members.

According to an October 13 CAA report, on October 13, the Chinese government dispatched approximately 1,000 public security officers to watch for Protestants attempting to leave China through the Beijing Capital International Airport to attend the Lausanne Congress. Within two days, public security officers and customs officials had stopped over 100 Protestants from leaving China to attend the conference, according to a September 15 New York Times report. According to reports from CAA (17 October 10, 18 October 10), on October 17, public security officers in Shunyi district, Beijing municipality, raided a hotel gathering of over 30 house church Protestants who had met for a worship service and Bible study session after being refused exit from China to attend the Lausanne Congress. The officers detained house church pastors Jin Tianming of the Shouwang Church, Jin Mingri of the Zion Church, Fang Bing of the BCD Church, and Li Shengfeng of the Urban Revival Church. According to an October 15 Radio Free Asia (RFA) report, legal scholar and religious freedom advocate Fan Yafeng said that only three invitees had been able to leave China to attend the Lausanne Congress by that date, although he did not explain how they were able to leave.

Measures To Restrict Freedom of Movement Contravene International Human Rights Standards

While attempting to stop Chinese Protestants from leaving China to attend the Lausanne Conference, public security and customs authorities reportedly offered various explanations that contravene international human rights standards that protect freedom of movement. According to an October 14 National Public Radio (NPR) report, when house church member Liu Guan tried to leave China on October 10, customs officials at the Beijing airport told him that the State Administration for Religious Affairs and the Ministry of Public Security had notified them that Liu's participation in the Lausanne Congress "threatened state security," an explanation apparently drawn from Article 8(5) of China's Law on the Control of the Exit and Entry of Citizens (Chinese, English). According to legal scholar and religious freedom advocate Fan Yafeng―as cited in two RFA reports (3 August 10, 5 August 10)―anecdotal evidence appears to suggest a broader application of the "state security" provision to rights defenders and citizens. The CECC's 2010 Annual Report (p. 126-127) also notes several examples of this phenomenon over the past year. Fan further observed that Article 8(5) deprives citizens of fundamental rights because it does not provide mechanisms for accountability or for Chinese citizens to seek redress. According to the NPR report, in some other cases, officials told invitees that the Lausanne Congress was "anti-China." Such measures restrict Chinese citizens' right to freedom of movement, which is guaranteed under Article 13(2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 12(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Reactions by the Chinese Government to Lausanne Invitations

According to the NPR report and an October 16 AsiaNews report, the organizers of the Lausanne Congress invited members of China's unregistered Protestant communities to attend as participants, while they only invited members of China's state-controlled church communities to attend as observers. According to the official Web site of the Lausanne Movement, one of the criteria for choosing participants in the Lausanne Congress is "affirmation of the Lausanne Covenant" (via the Lausanne Movement Web site), which stipulates that "evangelism and socio-political involvement" are part of the signatories' duty and encourages them to spread Protestant doctrine throughout the world. Undertaking such a commitment, however, could conflict with China's legal framework for the management of religion. For example, Article 12 of China's Regulation on Religious Affairs stipulates that religious activities should take place in state-approved sites of worship, should be organized by state-approved sites of worship or religious organizations, and should be conducted by state-approved religious personnel.

According to the NPR report and an October 14 CAA report, spokesman Ma Zhaoxu of China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) provided a statement to NPR that said the Lausanne Congress organizers did not issue an official invitation to China's state-controlled Protestant church―which the statement reportedly referred to as the "lawful representative of Protestants in China"―as well as of having "secret communications" with members of China's unregistered Protestant communities. In the October 14 CAA report, Liu Tongsu, a pastor at an unregistered church, argued that the MFA statement implies that Protestant communities not affiliated with the government are not lawful, which appears to contradict the guarantee of the "freedom of religion" in China's Constitution (Article 36 of China's Constitution states that "[c]itizens of the People's Republic of China enjoy freedom of religious belief"), an argument reiterated in an October 15 open letter to Chinese authorities (English translation available via CAA, 18 October 10) by Chinese invitees to the Lausanne Congress. Liu also points out that the communication between the Lausanne Congress organizers and unregistered Chinese Protestant communities was completely open, and that the MFA's characterization of that communication as "secret" suggests that the government has the authority to deem "secret" any communication that does not occur within state-controlled parameters.

Public Security Authorities Detain Prominent Christian Rights Advocates

In addition to the pastors detained in Beijing, discussed above, authorities targeted several other prominent members of China's unregistered Protestant communities. For example, according to an October 12 RFA report, on October 12, public security officers from the Shuangyushu police station in Haidian district, Beijing municipality, took into custody legal scholar and religious freedom advocate Fan Yafeng, a member of an unregistered Protestant church, after he refused to cancel an interview with Radio Free Asia, injuring Fan's thumb in the process. According to an October 20 RFA report, on October 20, public security officers briefly took Fan from his home again. Fan's wife connected the incident to events surrounding the Lausanne Congress. In another incident, according to an October 15 CAA report and an October 16 Boxun report, on October 15, public security officers took into custody unregistered church pastor Wang Yi at the Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport as he attempted to leave for the Lausanne Congress. The officers reportedly released him that evening but took his passport and reportedly used force in the process of taking him into custody. For more information about freedom of religion in China and conditions for Protestants in China, see Section II―Freedom of Religion in the CECC 2010 Annual Report (p. 99-100, 108-111).

For more information about Chinese citizens who have been barred from leaving China, see Section II―Freedom of Residence and Movement in the 2010 Annual Report (p. 125-127) and a related CECC analysis.