I.  NEWS IN BRIEF:    Commission on International Religious Liberty Established in USA    Humanitarian Aid Taxed in Russia    Adventists Encouraged to Build in Uzbekistan    Romanian Christians Build Bridges and Apply their Faith II. CHINESE PRIEST SUBJECTED TO TORTURE IN ‘SPECIAL UNIT’ COMMISSION ON INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS LIBERTY ESTABLISHED As a result of the adoption of the International Religious Freedom Act in the USA in October 1998, four of the six members of a new panel on religious freedom overseas have been appointed. Nina Shea, Elliott Abrams, Bill Armstrong and John Bolton have been named to this commission established to report annually on countries violating religious liberty. The president of the United States is required to respond to the report but is given a wide variety of options ranging from imposing economic sanctions to lodging a diplomatic protest. Nina Shea directs the Washington-based Center for Religious Freedom; Elliott Abrams is a former assistant secretary of State and now president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center; Armstrong served two terms in the Senate before returning to private life in 1991; and Bolton is senior vice- president at American Enterprise Institute. (END) HUMANITARIAN AID TAXED An American missionary in Russia’s Far East has been forced to pay customs duty not only on his container of building materials, but also on donated clothing. Duty officers told him the government also now required ‘special papers’ for humanitarian aid. (END) ADVENTISTS ENCOURAGED TO BUIILD IN UZBEKISTAN Despite the 1 May 1998 Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations requiring all churches to re-register and the seeming prohibition against social work by any non-centralised religious organisation, the Seventh Day Adventist Press Service reports progress in their work in Navoii, Uzbekistan. ‘On 24 November 1998, after seven months of waiting for a response, the Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) church leaders were invited to a meeting at the Mayor’s office,’ reports VIKTOR KRUSHENITSKY, public affairs and religious liberty director for the SDA in the area. ‘All required papers were signed and admitted for processing an official registration for the SDA in Navoii.’ SDA reports that in a speech to those attending the meeting, the Mayor spoke of the need for spiritual growth in the city’s population. He also told the Adventist delegates that they needed to proceed quickly with their plans for a health centre and soup kitchen, saying that ‘all the plans will be a great support to the city. Start working on the completion of your building right now as we want it to be occupied no later than May, 1999.’ While it appears that the Uzbek authorities are prepared to relax some of the law's provisions on an unofficial, ad hoc basis, the principle of strict state control of all religious activity has not changed. (See KNS ‘Are the Uzbek Authroites Softening their Stance?’ (30 Sept 98) and ‘Harsh Uzbek Law on Religion Backed up by Criminal Code Amendments’ (24 June 98). (END) ROMANIAN CHRISTIANS BUILD BRIDGES AND APPLY THEIR FAITH In an effort to stimulate Christians to take responsibility for and to influence their culture, the Areopagus Centre for Christian Studies and Contemporary Culture in Timisoara invited Christians from different denominations and professions to a forum last summer. Areopagus staff invited speakers to introduce a topic such as secularisation or immoral public policy. Participants then reflected, studied and discussed how one could form a ‘biblical perspective’ on the issue. In nourishing an ethos of ‘engagement, responsibility and involvement from the position of Christian servanthood’ Romanian and British staff hope members will begin to seek solutions founded on ‘God’s character and revelation’. Autumn courses offered at the Areopagus in 1998 included ‘Hermeneutics and Biblical Interpretation’ and ‘The Human Being: A Theological Inquiry’.(END) Wednesday 14 January CHINESE PRIEST SUBJECTED TO TORTURE IN ‘SPECIAL UNIT’ Keston News Service Catholic priest FR LI QINGHUA has been arrested and subjected to 'severe interrogation and physical and psychological torture', according to a report sent to Fides by priests who have suffered similarly in China. The article, published on 4 January 1999 by the Vatican's missionary agency news service, explained that this torture includes using prostitutes who pose as cleaning women in the cells. They are videotaped trying to compromise the priests. If the priest is slow to reject the woman, as she tries to embrace or kiss him, 'the picture taken by the [hidden] video camera gives the idea that you have gone along', reports another priest who has been forced into similar circumstances. These tapes are then used to blackmail the priest into 'admitting his connection with other underground priests and force him to join the Patriotic Association'. Such determination to compromise priests and nuns is not new in China. During the Cultural Revolution priests and nuns were obliged to marry. Even earlier, Chinese emperors sent girls to compromise Buddhist monks. In the past few years the use of prostitutes has been revived. Fides reports that policemen and prostitutes bring clergy to karaoke bars and discos and then 'make them slip defenceless into their arms'. In June 1996 the communist authorities forced all Catholic nuns in Quankunin to enroll in a pre-marital class in an attempt to induce them to marry. Reportedly, agents 'took the opportunity to abuse them'. In August 1996 authorities arranged for dancing girls to seduce detained priests and nuns who had been taken to a dancing hall. Photographs secretly taken were used as propaganda in an attempt to destroy their reputation. Fr Li is not an elderly priest who has undergone decades of oppression. Now aged 31, he was ordained a priest for the diocese of Yixian (Hebei province) in 1993. Since 1997 he had been working in Guan county. However, at 1am on 15 November 1998, four police cars arrived at a Catholic layman's house in Weizhuang, where the police arrested Fr Li, confiscated religious books, videos for catechesis and other personal items including a layman's motorbike. The following day police arrested six parish lay leaders and threatened their families. They were released five days later after paying a 7,000 Yuan fine ($900: 14 months’ salary for a workman). Police demanded an extra 3,000 Yuan for the motorbike. No price was put on Fr Li. On 29 November authorities transferred Fr Li from Guan to Xushui where he remained as of 4 January 1999. Xushui is a special place for underground Catholic priests. If arrested anywhere in Hebei province, where Catholicism is especially active, they can count on being sent to a guest house which has been converted in to a 'special unit' by the provincial government. The duty of this 'unit' cum prison is 'to change the mind of the priests'. Iron grilles along all corridors ensure none escape. Chinese government officials reacted strongly against Fides’ report. On 5 January, Catholic World News (CWN) quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman ZHU BANGZAO denying any knowledge of Fr Li's arrest:  'I don't know the details of the case and I don't know the source of the information. But I can say clearly that these reports have not been confirmed.' Fides writes that the State Religious Affairs Commission, the government's highest-level body on religion, denied any knowledge of the case as well, as did police and religious policy officials for Hebei province and in Guan township. Bangzao added that Chinese laws and policy prohibited the use of torture. Dismissing Fides' article as 'irresponsible', Bangzao also denied the existence of underground churches in the atheist communist state. 'So-called underground churches do not exist in China,' he said, according to CWN. Such a comment seems strange in light of YE XIAOWIN's 1997 statement. Ye heads the Religious Affairs Bureau and according to NINA SHEA of Puebla Institute, on 6 June 1997, Ye described unregistered Christian churches as 'evil, illegal organisations that undermine social order'. But on 7 January Bangzao released this statement carried by the Xinhua news agency: '...overseas reports about the custody of Li Qinghua, a peasant of Huxian county, Shaanxi Province, are 'sheer fabrication with ulterior motives'. Li, 31, was taken into custody by the police on 2 December in Xushui county, Hebei Province, after local people reported that he had sabotaged public and private property. He was detained under the relevent articles of the Criminal Law an the Criminal Procedural Law of China. Li had admitted his wrongdoing, which was later found not very severe, and he was released on 8 December…’ (The Chinese government does not recognise Fr Li as a priest because he is not a member of the Chinese Patriotic Association.) Standing by Fides' account, director FR BERNARDO CERVELLERA said Fr Li's case represented a resurgence of the tactics of China's brutal Cultural Revolution. Reports from the Cardinal Kung Foundation confirm this. In 1996 the government mobilized 5,000 soldiers and destroyed the Marian Shrine established in 1924 at Dong Lu in Hebei province. This action was taken after students in Dong Lu who refused to write letters of apostasy renouncing their Catholic religion were beaten and dismissed from school. 2,000 believers in Dong Lu were also beaten or fined for their religious activities. More recently several priests have been arrested for celebrating mass in their homes. At 4am on 15 August 1998, on the Feast of the Assumption, about 100 Roman Catholics were intercepted by the Chinese government security bureau and ordered to turn back from attending mass. They were subsequently fined 800-1000 Yuan (USA$ 100-125), equivalent to 3-4 months’ income for peasant villagers. Other Catholics were fined for donating land to build a church, possessing religious literature, inviting a priest to celebrate mass in their home or housing pilgrims en route to Dong Lu. Fr Li Qinghua remains in the custody of the Hebei provincial government as do several other priests. But the crackdown on unregistered churches, intensified since mid-1996, continues across China today. As Nina Shea of Puebla Institute writes, 'It is national in scope, systematic in form, brutal in style and directed by China's highest authorities.' (END)