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China worse on rights, panel says

Ex-Utahn say some Christians sent to prison or face death

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom — led by a former Utahn — unsuccessfully urged Congress not to give China Permanent Normal Trade Relations until it improved religious tolerance.

Now, it says its worst fears are coming true, including some Christians being sentenced to die or sent to prison.

"Few assumed the human rights situation in China would immediately improve after approval of PNTR. But instead, conditions have worsened," Commission Chairman Michael Young wrote to President Bush last week.

Young, a Brigham Young University graduate who is now dean of the George Washington University Law School, urged Bush to speak out against the death and prison sentences and other abuses when he travels to China next month.

"The administration must continue to tell Chinese authorities at all levels that human rights obligations are every bit as important to the United States, and just as binding politically on China, as other international obligations," Young wrote.

Young explained in his letter that for the first time since adoption of a 1999 "evil cult" law, a Protestant Christian pastor has been sentenced to die in China.

"Pastor Gong Shengliang of the underground South China Church was sentenced to death in December for founding an 'evil cult' and on reportedly questionable charges of assault and sexual violence," Young wrote.

Higher courts are considering his appeal. But Young added, "Fifteen other leaders of the South China Church were sentenced to between two years to life imprisonment."

Also, Young added, "Last month the same law was used to indict a Hong Kong businessman for allegedly smuggling Bibles to another banned Protestant group." Also, "Last August and September, 63 Protestant believers (including Pastor Gong) reportedly were arrested. . . . Two other members of Pastor Gong's church reportedly were tortured to death."

Young wrote that a crackdown on believers outside of China's state-controlled religious organization has intensified since China won PNTR, which eliminated that annual congressional review of China's human rights record.

"The Chinese government delayed announcement of the death sentence against Pastor Gong (which was imposed earlier in December) until just three days after you signed the PNTR trade proclamation on Dec. 27, 2001," Young wrote to Bush.

While Young thanked Bush for raising religious freedom directly with Chinese President Jiang Zemin in October, he asked Bush to raise Gong's case during his February meetings, and to keep up sustained pressure to improve religious freedom.

Young's commission was created by Congress in 1998 to give independent recommendations to the executive branch and Congress on policies to promote international religious freedom.

E-mail: lee@desnews.com