The State Department rebuked China’s government on Tuesday for shutting down a Christian church service over the weekend.
“We are deeply concerned by reports of Chinese government harassment of Early Rain Covenant Church members,” State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said.
“We call on China to uphold its international commitments to promote respect for religious freedom for all,” she added.
We are deeply concerned by reports of Chinese government harassment of Early Rain Covenant Church members. We call on #China to uphold its international commitments to promote respect for religious freedom for all. pic.twitter.com/9qlKqIOMYa
— Morgan Ortagus (@statedeptspox) May 15, 2018
The New York Times reported that Chinese authorities arrested the nondenominational Christian church’s pastor, Wang Yi, on Friday after he planned to hold a May 12 memorial service to honor the 75,000 victims of the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake. He was released the next day.
“The police also took away dozens of people who arrived for the planned service on Saturday morning, and they used trucks to remove publications belonging to the church, indicating that a broader move was underway against the congregation,” according to The Times.
“Today more than 200 brothers and sisters were taken away by the police, and three still have not been released,” Wang, 44, said in a phone message to members of his church. “The religious case of the Early Rain Covenant has begun.”
More than 200 believers were detailed and questioned from Early Rain Reformed Church in Chengdu, Sichuan province on Saturday. Most were released including pastor WANG Yi. Three leaders including deacon Comte chair Tan Defu are still in custody. PSB has taken away over 15,000 pic.twitter.com/cDXkVQAC52
— Bob Fu傅希秋 (@BobFu4China) May 12, 2018
The pastor has been a strong critic of the Chinese government’s efforts to control religious worship in his country.
Wang pledged to keep up the fight for religious liberty.
“We will also face this following faith and conscience,” he said in the message to church members. “We will not obey any unjust and unlawful demands, and are willing to pay the price.”
Nauert joined with the Christian leader in calling on China to live up to its commitments to protect religious liberty.
“Regarding reports that Chinese authorities confiscated Bibles, we call on China to uphold its international commitments to promote respect for religious freedom for all persons,” she said. “The United States government joins the people of China in mourning the loss of tens of thousands of lives in the tragedy, and notes the value of memorializing their lives and calling for full accountability to prevent or mitigate future disasters.”
The Times reported that since the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake, there has been tension between the Chinese government and the local population, with the anniversary each year renewing calls for an official reckoning why so many died due to collapsed buildings, especially students in schools.
The State Department’s condemnation of China’s crackdown on the church comes as the U.S. and the Asian power are engaged in high-stakes trade negotiations.
President Donald Trump tweeted on Sunday that the talks are going well, but more concessions by China are needed.
China and the United States are working well together on trade, but past negotiations have been so one sided in favor of China, for so many years, that it is hard for them to make a deal that benefits both countries. But be cool, it will all work out!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 13, 2018
Trump has promised to impose tariffs on multiple Chinese goods if an agreement cannot be reached, which lowers the trade deficit with China and protects American intellectual property.
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