Sep 24, 2015

China probes deputy religion chief for suspected graft

Ben Blanchard
September 23, 2015

Xujiahui cathedral in Shanghai, 5 Nov 2005/Heurik)
Xujiahui cathedral in Shanghai, 5 Nov 2005/Heurik
A deputy head of the Chinese government department which oversees religious groups is being investigated for suspected graft, the ruling Communist Party’s anti-corruption watchdog said on Tuesday.

Zhang Lebin, a deputy director of the State Administration of Religious Affairs, is suspected of “serious discipline violations”, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection said, using the usual euphemism for corruption.

It provided no other details and it was not possible to reach Zhang for comment.

Zhang, 61, joined the religious administration in 2003, where he was initially in charge of rooting out corruption, according to his official biography.

He had risen up through the party ranks mostly in the Communist Youth League, a powerbase for former president Hu Jintao.

Hu’s successor, Xi Jinping, has warned that corruption threatens the party’s survival and his three-year anti-graft campaign has brought down scores of senior officials in the party, the government, the military and state-owned enterprises.

About half of China’s estimated 100 million religious followers are Christians or Muslims, with the rest Buddhists or Daoists, the government says, though it thinks the real number of believers is probably much higher.

Rights groups say despite promises of freedom of belief, the official atheist Communist Party enforces tough controls, especially on Christians, Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists. Beijing has also banned several spiritual groups as “evil cults”.

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