Dai Jinbo, a lawyer for a network of Chinese house churches that operate independent of state-backed churches, said that religious freedom remains a distant dream in China.
“Religious freedom is the foundation for human rights,” Mr. Dai said.
Any religious activity in China that does not fall within the legal framework of the National Regulations on Religious Affairs (NRRA) law is considered “illegal and subject to restriction, harassment or other punishment including coercion, forced closure, beatings … and criminal prosecution,” according to the 2009 report from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Another lawyer, Li Fangping, said Chinese officials base their opposition on national security concerns.
“For historical reasons, and because of the attention of the international community, religious freedom remains a sensitive topic. Even the Chinese media rarely expose religious activities,” Mr. Li said.
“Religious cases are a matter of national security for the Chinese government. When you try to defend such cases, the government can interfere and bar you the access to the documents,” he said.
According to the U.S. report, the Chinese government continues to persecute followers of the Falun Gong movement, which it banned in 1999.
More than one year after the Olympic Games there, which many believed would be an opportunity for human rights values to be advanced, the attorneys said they were skeptical.
“The government used the Games to improve its image and get international recognition,” Mr. Li said. “But since the economic reforms in 1978 and China opening up, ordinary Chinese citizens are more eager to accept those universal values.”
“There has not been substantial change at all before the Games, but in the long run China will change. Not by the Chinese government, but by its people,” he said.
Despite difficulties, Mr. Jiang said lawyers handling human rights cases could promote change. “There are more and more lawyers like us in China, who try to make the government enforce the rule of law,” he said.