U.S. Congress calls for response on Chinese bishop jailed 40 years ago, presumed dead

On Thursday, July 30, 2020, the U.S. House of Representatives Tom Lantos Human Rights Committee (TLHRC) held a hearing on religious freedom in China.

Bishop James Su Zhimin

The focus of the audience was an elderly hero of the faith, the bishop of the Baoding diocese in Hebei province, Bishop James Su Zhimin. A veteran of the Communist system of arrest, imprisonment and torture, Bishop Su has not been seen or heard from since 2003.

The following is the statement from IRD’s International Religious Freedom Program Director, Faith McDonnell, submitted to TLHRC for registration. “We hope and pray that news will come from China about what happened to Bishop Su.”

40 years in prison, hasn’t been seen for 17 years

The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission’s (TLHRC) “Defense of Freedoms Project” notes that “in total, he has spent 40 years in prison, without charge, without trial.”

James Su Zhimin is now 88 years old and has not been seen for many years, and there is a growing fear that he is dead.

He was last arrested in 1997 for refusing to join the state-approved “Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.” He has only been seen once since then, in a hospital in 2003, and has not been seen or heard from in 17 years.

This hearing on how Bishop Su’s treatment and the Chinese communist government’s movement to control the Diocese of Baoding demonstrate the general lack of religious freedom in China today.

The CCP regime has always defended its state-approved “self-patriotic” Protestant and Catholic churches against unregistered underground churches. But in recent years, the regime has not only manifested more control over the state churches, but is trying to eliminate the underground churches altogether.

The key to TLHRC’s hearing is the news that Chinese authorities are asking the Vatican to recognize as the new bishop of the diocese of Baoding the current auxiliary bishop, An Shuxin, a member of the state-sanctioned Church.

The TLHRC notes that religious freedom advocates fear that this “is a test case to attract members of the underground Catholic Church who do not recognize the legitimacy of the official church.”

It demonstrates the folly of the alleged 2018 “temporary protocol” between the Catholic Church and the CCP government. And it fuels the concern that the bishop is dead.

Christianity is dangerous for communism

The test case would also have serious ramifications for the underground Protestant churches. The CCP regime knows that Christianity is dangerous to communism.

Attempting to have total control over the churches could surely fit into China’s overall plan for global hegemony, detailed in official documents of the People’s Liberation Army now published as the book War Without Restraint.

The Institute of Religion and Democracy (IRD) believes that it is the God-given right of all people to have religious freedom. Our International Religious Freedom Program is an advocate for Bishop Su and all prisoners of Chinese faith and conscience.

Defending these believers is our God-ordained responsibility, and nowhere, it seems, is this more necessary than in the People’s Republic of China in 2020. Repression against Christians, Falun Gong practitioners, Uighurs, freedom-loving people in Hong Kong and others has recently intensified.

China’s violations of human rights and religious freedom range from the neurotic, the need to control the churches and every word that comes from the pulpit, to the indescribable: harvesting organs from living Falun Gong prisoners and imprisoning millions of Uighurs in East Turkistan in prison camps.

Torture and physical abuse

In an audience in 1996 the Cardinal Kung Foundation wrote about Su’s suffering:

“During a prison term that lasted 15 years, he was subjected to outrageous physical abuse. In one incident, the board, which was used to beat him, was reduced to splinters. Then the police smashed a wooden door and continued to beat Bishop Su until he too disintegrated into splinters.”

That was not the extent of his torture. And we know it wasn’t unique. The Chinese government has also tortured Christian pastors and evangelists and other religious believers with diabolical skill and creativity. And yet the response of those believers was, in the words of Chris Smith, “shocking”.

In one hearing after another, Representative Smith has marveled at Bishop Su, whom he met in 1996. “He had already spent several decades at Laogai. He was tortured and yet this man had nothing but a sense of love and reconciliation for these tormentors … he prayed for his tormentors.”

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