by Robert Morrison
February 10, 2010
When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went to China last year, she chose to remain silent about human rights abuses by the worlds remaining Communist giant. Apparently more worried about not curtailing Chinas financial services to the US, Mrs. Clinton and her boss in the White House sent a clear signal: The Obama Administration would give China a bye on religious and political persecution.
The hint was not lost on the Chinese leaders, who on February 8, 2009 arrested Gao Zhisheng. He has been imprisoned, and unheard from, ever since.
Gao Zhisheng was once a darling of the Chinese Communists. A distinguished lawyer, he had a bright future ahead of him. He was named in 2001 as one of Chinas sharpest legal talents. But Gao made a bad career move: He spoke out in defense of persecuted Christians in China.
That was enough to arouse Beijings party cadres against him. What made matters worse for Gao was the attention his extraordinary moral courage garnered for him in the West. The New York Times even gave his story front-page coverage in 2005.
Last year, he was seized by authorities and is undergoing horrible torture, if he is even still alive. The New Yorker Magazine, to its great credit, has published stories by their Beijing correspondent, Evan Osnos, on Gao Zhisheng. Osnos related the stories coming out on Gaos treament by the brutal guo bao, Chinas euphemistically titled Public Security Bureau. George Orwells ministry of truth couldnt have said it better. Here is part of what Osnos has written:
(One) account not only accused his captors of holding burning cigarettes to his eyes, beating and starving him, and applying electric shocks to his genitals, but it also revealed their warning that he would die if he told anyone about the ordeal. …It is time for the court of world opinion to insist: Show us the prisoner and justify his detention.
Gaos case demonstrates once again a chilling truth: There is more persecution of Christians today than there has been in any century since the early martyrs. Dr. Paul Marshall, author of Their Blood Cries Out, has pointed to the two great sources of Christian persecution—Islamists and the remaining Communist regimes of North Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cuba, and China.
The Obama Administrations silence resounds from the mid-Atlantics snowy streets to the fetid prisons of Beijing. But there was a time when we had a President whose quiet, persistent and iron-strong advocacy for the persecuted spoke to Americas highest self and deepest convictions.
Barack Obama, heralded by some on the Left as our Reagan when it comes to his communication skills, speaks often with confidence and personal appeal. So did Ronald Reagan. But President Reagan didnt just have skill with a teleprompter. He spoke from a heart of profound belief in great ideas, one of which was religious liberty.
President Reagan spoke out publicly for the persecuted Christians in the USSR. He made a point—unlike Sec. Clinton—of always raising the issue of religious persecution with the Soviets. During his Presidency, the Siberian Seven—Pentecostal Christians who had sought refuge in the Spaso House, the American Embassy in Moscow—were finally freed to leave the Soviet Union. Jewish dissident Natan Scharansky famously described how he and his fellow refuseniks heard about the Evil Empire speech of Ronald Reagan. It was through coded messages tapped out on the plumbing pipes of their prison cells. Refuseniks were Russian Jews who wanted to emigrate to Israel, but whose right to depart was refused by Soviet dictators.
Reagan said that religion was the Achilles heel of the Soviet system. Surely it was.
Simply by giving their first allegiance to God, and not to the state, believers deny the premises of Communist atheism.
These are issues around the world. In Beijing, Gao Zhisheng undergoes torture for his beliefs. Here in the U.S.. the harassment usually takes the form of threats of violence, lawsuits, and job discrimination. Recently defeated Democratic Senate candidate Martha Coakley, for example, advised Massachusetts Catholics to stay out of Emergency Rooms, to find other employment since their conscientious objections to abortion-related services prevent them from participating in certain kinds of anti-life medical procedures. Rejected by the voters, Mrs. Coakley is still the Commonwealths Attorney General. Can believers be confident their rights will be respected by Bay state officials?
In the breach of an Administration willing to stand for those suffering, there are things we can all do: Go to www.freeGao.com on the Internet. Sign the petition and contact your elected Representatives. Write the Chinese Embassy and demand an accounting of Gao and insist that he be released. If this Administration will not speak out, we can. And we can pray.
I remember Irina Ratushinskaya. She was imprisoned 28 years ago by the Soviet secret police, the KGB. Her faith sustained her through four long years in the Gulag. We prayed for Irina. She was released on the eve of the Reykjavik Summit in 1986. She said she felt the prayers of believers, helping her to survive her ordeal.
Ronald Reagan wasnt worried about offending the Soviet rulers. He spoke out time and again on behalf of those being persecuted for their faith.
History remembers him kindly. What will it say of Maos admirers and their hirers? God knows what Reagan did. Will we follow in his bold, uncompromising steps?