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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 October 2006, 15:42 GMT 16:42 UK
Archbishop China tour criticised
Dr Rowan Williams
The Archbishop spoke about 'inner freedom' in a sermon
Human rights groups have criticised the Archbishop of Canterbury for not tackling China's poor record on religious freedom.

Dr Rowan Williams should have raised concerns about restrictions on practising religion during his two-week visit, said Human Rights Watch.

But Lambeth Palace said Dr Williams did not want to jeopardise the safety of Christians in China.

The Archbishop held a service in Beijing for the first time on Sunday.

International rights groups have accused China of jailing Catholic priests as well as Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns, for loyalty to the Pope and the Dalai Lama.

I think he should have spoken publicly about the problems of worshiping
Brad Adams, Human Rights Watch

Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said Dr Williams should have used his visit to highlight the problems facing Christians and other religious groups.

He said: "It did seem like he was given an engineered visit with the standard glossing over of the problems there. This happens with a lot of visiting diplomats and dignitaries.

"I think he should have spoken publicly about the problems of worshiping. I think the standard they should employ is what would they accept in their country? If the British government was applying the same sort of controls, he would have been leading the charge."

When you have a high-profile visitor to a country, it's rather difficult to take part in what are illegal activities without putting other people's safety at risk
The Archbishop of Canterbury

But the Reverend Jonathan Jennings, the Archbishop's spokesman, said Dr Williams was concerned not to compromise the safety of Christians in China.

He pointed to the Archbishop's comments at a press conference on Monday, when he said: "When you have a high-profile visitor to a country, it's rather difficult to take part in what are illegal activities without putting other people's safety at risk.

"We've met people informally, we've had contacts in this world; we've been briefed beforehand on this so we are aware of the range of non-registered religious activity in this country."

Mr Jennings added that Dr Williams had already raised concerns with Chinese Communist Party official Jia Qinglin and other ministers of state about restrictions.

Cases raised

He said the Archbishop had raised human rights issues in at least six specific cases of pastors and others suffering harassment.

Dr Williams' first visit to China aimed to give him a deeper understanding of Christianity in the country.

The Chinese Church was established in the 1950s, after Beijing and the Vatican broke off diplomatic relations.

But authorities do not recognise the Pope's authority, insisting that all Chinese Catholics belong to a state-run church.

Church growing

The Chinese Church is believed to have several million followers, but it is thought that millions more belong to the underground Church, practicing in unofficial "house churches".

During his visit, the Archbishop had spoken of a "growing spirit of openness" in the country.

In a sermon delivered at the Chaoyang Protestant Church in the Chinese capital, he said: "Christians must develop an inner freedom.

"A freedom that allows them to see the truth about themselves and about the society they live in."

He also said: "It is no longer true - if it ever was true - that being Christian is to stop being really Chinese."




VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Rowan Williams in Beijing



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