A Chinese human rights activist and former political prisoner has called for renewed focus on the country’s practices of mass detention, religious oppression, and reports of organ harvesting.

Speaking at an event Wednesday, Chen Guangcheng told listeners at the Catholic University of America that there is no doubt about the Communist regime’s determination to hold onto power by any means necessary.

“Human rights have declined and today are very bad,” Chen said of the current situation in China. The ruling Chinese Communist Party is “afraid of losing power,” he said, and so “anything that threatens its power will be a target for violence.”

Chen, a blind human rights lawyer, was imprisoned in China after he educated poor Chinese farmers on their rights and initiated lawsuits against the ruling Communist Party, and spoke out against the forced abortions and sterilizations under the country’s one-child policy, now a two-child policy.

He eventually escaped house arrest, arrived at the U.S. Embassy, and weeks later flew to the U.S. in 2012.

On Wednesday, Chen, who is a distinguished fellow at Catholic University, gave the second annual lecture hosted by the Institute for Human Ecology at Catholic University as part of its human rights program. The previous speaker was Professor Robert George of Princeton University.

William Saunders, a lawyer and Director of the Program in Human Rights at the Institute for Human Ecology, told CNA that “the threats posed by the Chinese Communist party to its own citizens and to the United States could not be clearer.”

“Thirty years after the Tiananmen Square massacres, and while the protests in Hong Kong enter their fifth month, no one has greater authority to speak about what has happened in the years since Tiananmen, and is happening now, in China than Chen Guangcheng,” Saunders said.

“The Communist Party is committed to denying basic freedoms to its people. Americans and American companies should not give into threats but should help the Chinese people gain their freedom."

In recent weeks, China has faced increasing public criticism in the U.S. for its political repression and human rights abuses, with the National Basketball Association coming under heavy criticism for appearing to censor an employee of the Houston Rockets for offering public support for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

Widespread protests in Hong Kong began in the spring, following a proposed law that would have allowed the extradition of citizens of Hong Kong to the mainland for trial. Despite the bill’s suspension, have since grown in opposition to alleged police brutality and in favor of more open democracy.

Last week, a pro-democracy protester was shot by police during a series of mass demonstrations over a period of weeks.

“Many people in mainland China are not speaking out openly about Hong Kong,” Chen said, but “in their hearts, they support Hong Kong.”

The event at Catholic University was set against the backdrop of the recent 70th anniversary of Communist Party rule, which many human rights advocates used to highlight the long history of oppression in China.

For decades, the Chinese Communist Party instituted a coercive “one-child policy.” While the cap has now been increased to two children per family, reports of forced sterilizations and abortions have continued.

Chinese president Xi Jinping has also embarked upon a comprehensive campaign to bring religion in China under the control of the Communist Party. In 2016, he gave a speech at the National Religious Work Conference, where he explained his demand for the “sinacization” of religion, or the effort to make religion conform with Chinese culture and the CCP party line.

Under the Chinese "Regulations on Religious Affairs" that were implemented beginning in February of 2018, “unauthorized” religious teachings have been effectively banned in China.

Government officials believe that freedom of religion “threatens their power,” Chen said, and so the regime has undertaken a brutal crackdown on religion.

Chen also called the 2018 agreement between the Holy See and China to regularize the state-sanctioned Catholic Church and grant the Communist Party a say on the selection of bishops a “bad agreement,” but said that “it’s still hopeful for Catholics in China.”

Last month, during the recent meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, the U.S. co-hosted an event on “The Human Rights Crisis in Xinjiang,” along with Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, and the UK. A Uyghur survivor of Chinese re-education camps, along with an advocate and a family member of a Uyghur detainee, testified on the brutal imprisonment, torture, and mass surveillance of Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, ethnic Kyrgyz, and members of other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.

Over one million individuals in the region are estimated to be detained by Chinese authorities, and some estimates are as high as three million detainees. There have also been reports submitted to the United Nations’ China Tribunal detailing organ harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners and other political and religious prisoners.

Regarding the religious freedom abuses, the “CCP propaganda machine denies all of these things,” Chen said, but “despite massive censorship” by the government, many Chinese “know the truth,” including the Hong Kong protesters.

Chen also accused the Communist regime of practicing despotism at home while trying to whitewash its human rights record abroad.

“The CCP is extending its fingers around the world. It is trying to influence democratic countries, especially western governments,” he said, citing the purchasing of U.S. radio stations, putting up of advertisements in Times Square, buying of stock to influence U.S. media companies, and having officials pose as businessmen to influence politicians.

Chinese government-sponsored Confucius Institutes are being set up on college campuses in agreement with college administrations, purportedly as a way for American students to learn more about Chinese culture. These institutes, Chen said, are meant “to control what people see about China on American campuses,” he said. Colleges “sign contracts that limit what is said about China.”

Yet despite the regime’s human rights abuses, “the Communist Party is not the same as the Chinese people,” he said. “I believe in the Chinese people.”