Washington D.C., Oct 8, 2016 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- China’s “utterly disgraceful” human rights record is not just bad, it’s getting worse every year, a new Congressional report has warned.

“The Chinese government’s human rights record is utterly disgraceful, continuing a downward trend over the past three years,” Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), chair of the bipartisan Congressional-Executive Committee on China, which published the report, stated on Thursday.  

“The Chinese government took extraordinary and unprecedented steps last year to decimate the ranks of human rights lawyers, crush independent civil society and religious groups, and expanded controls over the Internet and the press.” The Congressional-Executive Commission on China released its 15th annual report on China on Thursday.

Created in 2000 by the U.S.-China Relations Act, the commission “is mandated to monitor human rights and rule of law developments in China,” the report stated. “China — now ranking as the world’s second largest economy — has benefited greatly from the international rules-based system in driving its economic transformation and growth,” the report’s executive summary stated.

However, it added, the ruling Chinese Communist Party has not improved its human rights record and respected the rule of law as it has been expected to by the international community. From suppression of religious freedom to detaining dissidents and human rights activists to forced population control, the Chinese state “has run roughshod over human rights” Rep. Smith stated, and it must be held accountable.

“The stakes could not be higher for the Christian pastor unjustly imprisoned and devastated by the loss of his church, the rights lawyer languishing under house arrest and forced to confess to crimes she did not commit, and the Hong Kong student activists fighting for their city’s future,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). “This report is dedicated to these people and their aspirations — it is vital that they know the United States, despite its economic relationship with China, will stand with that country’s reformers and dissidents and press the Chinese Government and Communist Party to respect basic human rights and uphold the rule of law, just as we expect of any responsible country.”

For instance, the party announced in 2015 that its decades-old one-child family planning policy — which resulted in widespread forced abortions and sterilizations and a massive gender gap — would be changed, but only to a two-child-per-family policy. The old policy was infamous for its human rights abuses. In addition to the forced abortions, non-compliant citizens and their families were detained or beaten by local officials, women died during violent forced abortions, and the extraordinary ratio of males to females led to an underground sex trafficking industry.

Human rights advocates said that same human rights abuses that occurred under the old policy would continue under the new one, with the only difference being one more child allowed per family. “Families that want a third child will still face the pressure to abort their child or pay exorbitant fines,” Rep. Smith stated. “The sad reality is that policy change will have little effect on China’s shrinking workforce, the social problems of a rapidly aging population, or the human trafficking problems caused by China’s massive sex-ratio imbalance — it is a matter of too little, too late.”

The Chinese government also cracked down on the rise of non-sanctioned religious groups in 2015, the report said, and on Friday it exerted greater control over the practice of religion through its new regulations of religion. “In both law and practice, the Chinese government continued to violate the rights of its citizens to religious freedom,” the report said, noting the state has “broad discretion over religious practice, internal affairs, and interpretations of faith, which is often exercised based on Party and government policy interests.”

Party officials warned at April’s National Conference on Religious Work that religious groups must be loyal to the state and signaled that they will exercise tighter control on religion in the future to guard against the supposed infiltration of foreign powers through religion. When the party released its religious regulations on Friday, Rep. Smith called it “stunning, but not surprising.”

“Religious practice is exploding in China, particularly among Christians, and the religious life of Tibetan Buddhist, Uyghur Muslim, and Falun Gong practitioners persist despite decades of the worst abuses,” he said. However, religious groups must register with the government, and in China there is a state Catholic Church and an “underground” Catholic Church.

Local and national officials have harassed or persecuted Catholics who are not part of the state Catholic Church, destroying churches and detaining or harassing bishops and priests. They have also refused to recognize some bishops appointed by the Vatican because they require that bishops be appointed by state religious groups, a conflict that is in the long process of being resolved.

“After Pope Francis assumed the papacy in 2013, the Holy See and the Chinese government reportedly began a series of discussions regarding the system of bishop appointments in China,” the report noted. “In April 2016, Chinese and Holy See representatives formed a working group to discuss the selection and ordination of bishops in China; as of July 2016, both sides reportedly acknowledged that talks were continuing,” the report added.

The country also keeps thousands of political or religious prisoners and uses “black jails” to “arbitrarily detain” people outside the justice system. According to the commission’s Political Prisoner Database, there were over 8,000 “cases of political or religious imprisonment in China” with 1,383 of those current cases of imprisonment; the remaining 7,000 cases involved prisoners who “have been released, or executed, who died while imprisoned or soon after release, or who escaped.”