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Buddhist Temple Target of Corrupt Official Persecution

August 21, 2006

Human
Rights in China (HRIC) has learned that local authorities in Yichun, Jiangxi
Province have mounted a campaign of intimidation and persecution against a
Buddhist temple administered by a 1989 democracy activist.


The
harassment follows allegations of corruption made by some of the temple
personnel against local officials, and most recently culminated in the temple’s
executive director, Master Shengguan (formerly a political activist known as Xu
Zhiqiang
), being forcibly expelled from the temple.


Sources say
that Master Shengguan’s expulsion was prompted by an incident on June 4, 2006, when
he ignored pressure and obstruction by Yichun’s Religious Affairs and United
Front departments and joined with another 1989 activist, Li Xiang, to perform rituals
of salvation for people killed in the official crackdown on the 1989 democracy
movement. On August 19, Yang Xu and
Yichun’s Municipal Secretariat head, surnamed He, accompanied by seven or eight
state security police, arrived at the HuachengTemple
and reportedly told Master Shengguan that he could choose one of two ways to
leave the temple: withdraw voluntarily, or be forcibly removed through official
enforcement of laws and regulations.


Sources say
that on that same afternoon, two people identifying themselves as public
security police went to the Huacheng
Temple
, and without
producing any legal documentation detained a female temple volunteer responsible
for selling Buddhist books and religious implements. The woman was finally
released nine hours later, in the early hours of August 20. Following her
release, the woman told others that she had been taken to an isolated place and
beaten and threatened until she falsely stated that she was involved in a
sexual relationship with Master Shengguan.


Sources in China told HRIC that several incidents of threats
and harassment against the Huacheng
BuddhistTemple

and its personnel have been instigated by six top Yichun municipal officials: Party
Secretary Song Chenguang, Mayor Yang Xianping, People’s Consultative
Conference Chairman Zhou Yafu,
Religious Affairs Bureau Director Yang
Xu
, United Front Department Director Xu
Jianyuan
and Buddhist Association Chairman Miao’an.


Sources say
that before Master Shengguan became executive director of the HuachengTemple
in February this year, the temple was run by Buddhist Association head Miao’an and Yichun Deputy Party
Secretary Liu Yinghai. Sources
accuse the officials of corruption, expropriation of funds and routine
interference in the normal operations of HuachengTemple,
citing several specific incidents:

  • Liu
    Yinghai reportedly forced the resignation of the temple’s abbot, who refused to
    follow his orders.

  • On
    the pretext of developing the temple, Liu Yinghai reportedly sold a large piece
    of temple farmland to a housing developer. Of the more than four million yuan proceeds from the sale, one million
    yuan was allocated to compensate and
    resettle displaced peasants, and the rest simply vanished.
  • Miao’an
    and Liu Yinghai are also alleged to have a personal interest in the contractors
    hired
    for designing and constructing a new principle temple building.

When Master
Shengguan took over leadership of the HuachengTemple
in February this year, his first priority was to restore orderly operations. In
addition to necessary maintenance, regular religious observance and sutra
readings were resumed, and receipt and expenditure of funds was reported
monthly to dispel the previous atmosphere of corruption. However, in the course
of restoring the dignity and integrity of religious observance, Master Shengguan
and his colleagues provoked escalating suppression by local authorities.

HRIC condemns
the pattern of official attacks on the independence and religious freedom of Master
Shengguan and the Huacheng
Temple
. In sharp contrast
to the acts of Yichun officials, who interfered in temple affairs for personal
gain, Master Shengguan was acting well within his right to free religious
exercise guaranteed by the PRC Constitution. HRIC urges Jiangxi authorities to stop official
intimidation, harassment and interference in temple affairs and to order the
reinstatement of Master Shengguan.


Background chronology:

  • 1984:
    Master Shengguan, originally named Xu Zhiqiang, graduated from the University of Science and Technology of China.

  • 1988:
    Xu published works by dissident journalist Liu Binyan that were subsequently
    banned.

  • 1989:
    During the 1989 democracy movement, Xu organized protest marches in Xi’an and headed the Xi’an
    League for Advancement of Democracy. In June 1989 he went to Beijing
    to mourn those killed in the June 4th crackdown, and on November 17
    he was arrested and imprisoned in the ShanxiProvince
    DetentionCenter
    .

  • 1990:
    Following his release on September 1, 1990, Xu continued to promote democratic
    reform in China.

  • 2001:
    Xu was forced to leave his job at the Shanxi Travel Group because of official
    pressure from the Shanxi Provincial State Security Bureau.

  • 2002:
    In June, Xu took Buddhist orders and was ordained as a monk at Hubei’s Wuzu
    Temple
    in December 2002.
    However, he continued to oppose the authorities’ trampling of basic human
    rights.

  • 2004:
    In September, Master Shengguan acted as the public representative in a civil
    action on behalf of an imprisoned Falun Gong practitioner, Wu Yunrui, in which
    former Chinese President Jiang Zemin was accused of inhuman acts in the course
    of depriving people of their religious freedom.

  • 2005:
    In August, Master Shengguan became a lecturer in the history of world Buddhism
    at the Jiangxi Buddhist Institute

  • 2006:
    On January 20, Master Shengguan became executive director of the HuachengTemple.


Sources say
that Master Shengguan has been harassed and investigated by public security
police many times since 2003, including the following incidents:

  • A
    Buddhist foundation Master Shengguan established with Xi’an activist Zheng
    Xuguang, Beijing activist Li Hai and 1989 Democracy Movement veteran Li Xiang
    in Chenzhou City, Hunan, was forced out of the city by the Hunan Provincial State
    Security Bureau. The head of the Guiyang County Religious Affairs Bureau
    reportedly telephoned Master Shengguan and said, “You can eat, drink, gamble
    and fornicate as much as you want, but don’t oppose the Chinese Communist
    Party.”

  • At
    the beginning of 2005, Master Shengguan went to Hong Kong to meet with
    Democratic Party leader Martin Lee, and upon returning to China was
    reportedly taken aside by State Security officials and told, “Things don’t go
    well for those who don’t obey the government.”


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