Woman says China targets Muslim population for forced family planning

By Regina Linskey |Catholic News Service
May 1, 2006
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WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Chinese authorities are targeting an autonomous Muslim population for forced family planning, said a woman once held as a Chinese political prisoner.

During a wide-ranging congressional hearing that spotlighted China's often-criticized human rights record, Rep. Christopher Smith, R-N.J., also heard testimony about violations of religious freedom. Smith, the only congressman present, chairs the House subcommittee that oversees global human rights.

The April 19 hearings were conducted the day before U.S. President George W. Bush met with Chinese President Hu Jintao.

Rebiya Kadeer, president of the International Uyghur Human Rights and Democracy Foundation and a former political prisoner, testified through an English translator that in February a senior government official targeted the predominantly Muslim Uighur people, who live in the rural area of Xinjiang, an autonomous region between Tibet and Kazakhstan, for family planning.

The Chinese government recently announced that the Xinjiang region's population has increased, an occurrence Kadeer calls ironic. The increase in population is the result of government incentives that have been attracting Chinese migrants, she said, but the Uighur people's numbers are decreasing because of "forced, late-term abortions" and "forced sterilizations."

"The justification for this is that reducing the number of births in rural areas -- by whatever means -- will reduce poverty and will also reduce the need for more resources to be spent on education, health," she said.

Kadeer, who told the hearing she is concerned for family members harassed by the Chinese police because of her outspokenness, later said in a question-and-answer session that many women are not treated medically before or after the forced abortions, leaving them in physical and psychological pain.

"Coercive family planning policy in China has slaughtered more innocent children than any war in human history," Smith said in his opening statement. Because of forced abortions, sterilizations and the murder of baby girls, one of the psychological consequences of coercive family planning is that some 500 Chinese women commit suicide daily, Smith said.

He later added that the U.N. Population Fund has contributed this year to China's population control policy and that "a stamp of approval by UNFPA (U.N. Population Fund) is unconscionable."

"Brothers and sisters are illegal," Smith said. "One Chinese demographer has admitted that, by 2020, 40 million Chinese men won't be able to find wives because Beijing's weapon of mass destruction -- population control -- has destroyed the girls."

A byproduct of the population control program is that women have become a valuable commodity in the human trafficking trade, said Steven Mosher, president of the Virginia-based Population Research Institute.

A few of the witnesses said the hope that China's economic growth would bring civil and religious rights has proven to be false.

Joseph Kung, president of the Connecticut-based Cardinal Kung Foundation, said the underground Catholic Church in China continues to be persecuted. Kung listed in detail priests and bishops who have been reported missing or were arrested in the past year and estimated that hundreds more Catholics are in prison because of their refusal to join the government-approved Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. He said those who refuse to join and register with the government-approved church risk punishment in labor camps for up to three years. Many Catholics are harassed, Kung said.

He said Bishop James Su Zhimin has not been seen since his arrest in 1997. Bishop Su was arrested at least five times before, Kung said, and so far has spent about 27 years in prison.

Since the late 1950s, China has had a government-recognized church that officially spurns ties with the Vatican, although Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun has said up to 85 percent of government-approved bishops have reconciled with the Vatican. An underground church, which has maintained loyalty to the Pope, continues to exist, and in many areas the two churches intermingle without much government interference.

In March the Vatican's foreign minister, Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, said that unofficial Vatican talks with the Chinese government have been marked by "highs and lows, as happens in any negotiation," but so far "have not been without fruit." He noted that midlevel government officials do not seem as open to church relations as high-level officials; similarly, some Chinese church observers have said midlevel officials are responsible for the persecution of underground Catholics in some areas of the country.

Kung said restrictions on religious freedom are occurring as the Chinese government is preparing for the 2008 Summer Olympics.

"The spirit of the Olympic Games is being downgraded by their coexistence with the evil spirit of religious persecutions in China," he said. "The noble name of 'Olympic' is severely being tarnished."

Kung said he thought the Bush-Hu meeting was a good opportunity, because "difference of opinion can only be deepened if they (the U.S. and China) don't talk."

However, Harry Wu of the Laogai Research Foundation, which documents abuses in China's forced labor camps, asked whether the United States should welcome a president whose nation's policies violate "basic human rights."

China has been listed by the U.S. State Department as a "country of particular concern," a label granted only to countries with gross violations of human rights.

Copyright (c) 2003 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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