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Persecution of House Churches and the Uyghur deepens

BEIJING (UCAN): The Supreme Court of China has reported a huge reduction in state security trials, which typically apply to political and religious detainees, but analysis from the United States of America (US)-based China advocacy group, the Dui Hua Foundation, say there is evidence of a significant rise in cases involving cults and terrorism, which suggests the persecution of unofficial, or House Churches, as well as the Uyghur Muslim community may be worsening.

The Supreme Court released data in its latest work report suggesting Endangering State Security cases fell 44 per cent last year.

Although authorities have announced that they will lighten up on harassment of the Uyghur people, they may have simply shifted the goal posts a few metres.

In Xinjiang, home to 12 million minority Uyghur Muslims, where most Endangering State Security trials are reported, this trend was reflected as state security cases fell to one-third of the level in 2014, which was the highest on record.

But in the same region, data from the Xinjiang High People’s Court shows cases involving cults grew by over 35 per cent and terrorist offences by over 25 per cent last year.

“Dui Hua believes that many of the trials for cult and terrorism crimes had previously been handled as Endangering State Security trials,” the foundation said.

Chinese authorities stepped up a drive to tackle minority Christian sects after members of the Church of Almighty God reportedly killed a woman in a McDonald’s outlet in Shandong in May 2014.

Zhang Lidong and his daughter, Zheng Fen, were executed for the murder in February last year.

China has since considered raising the maximum prison term for cult activity from 15 years to life and earlier this year banned retired party cadres from all religious activity, while requiring they resolutely fight against cults.

Critics of Beijing say manipulation of anti-cult sentiment has fuelled use of the term to attack legitimate Christian groups, particularly House Churches—unofficial places of worship not recognised by the state.

Five members of Daguan House Church in Guizhou province face prosecution for using a cult organisation to undermine law enforcement. Authorities in Henan province detained five House Church leaders during a bible-training session in November.

“Unfortunately, the persecution of the House Churches continues to worsen. The Chinese government continually cites attacking cults as a pretext to launch large-scale persecution campaigns against House Churches,” Bob Fu, a director and founder of the Christian rights group, China Aid, told a US congressional hearing in July.

Although China does not release statistics on the death penalty, as the data remains a state secret, reports point to a spate of executions of Uyghur people following attacks blamed on the Muslim group in recent years.

State media reported that up to 40 Uyghurs people were sentenced to death during the first five months of a strike hard campaign by the government in late May 2014.

China has reduced the number of categories that incur the death penalty and estimates by the Dui Hua suggest the number of people executed in the country has dropped—from around 12,000 people in 2002––the current figure is now believed to be around 2,000 a year.

But William Nee, a Hong Kong-based researcher for Amnesty International, which released its annual report on capital punishment on April 6, said that China is still by far the biggest executor in the world.

 “The progress is still very slow—very gradual—and ironically there may be a perception that this is one human rights issue in China that is on the right track,” Nee said. “So the pressure has come off to some extent.”

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