CHINA: AUTHORITIES DETAIN CHRISTIAN ACTIVIST


House church leader Hua Huiqi hoped to attend service with President Bush.

DUBLIN, August 11 (Compass Direct News) – Security agents yesterday seized Christian activist and house church pastor Hua Huiqi on his way to a service at the government-approved Kuanjie Protestant Church in Beijing, where U.S. President George Bush was scheduled to appear.

Bush later attended the service before meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao to discuss human rights concerns, including religious freedom.

“I told him not to go because it’s during the Olympic Games, and this period is sensitive,” Hua’s brother Hua Huilin told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. AP reporters said the line was disconnected three times during the conversation, suggesting that authorities were monitoring the phone call.

When Hua insisted on going, however, his brother agreed to travel with him.

As the men cycled towards the church, two black cars approached them. Police seized both men and took them away in separate cars, detaining them in the courtyard of the Hong Kong New World Development Ltd. Co., according to the China Aid Association (CAA). But around noon, police guards relaxed for a moment and activist Hua managed to escape. Police released his brother later that afternoon.

According to the AP report, authorities have arrested and beaten Hua several times in recent years because of his religious activities. Hua also gained a reputation as an activist when he fought against a development project that led to the demolition of his home in 2001.

Hua was baptized at the Kuanjie church 10 years ago but has since been a member of a Beijing house church.

In recent months, as part of a “clean-up” operation in Beijing, authorities forced him to attend services at the Kuanjie church instead. The church is registered with China’s Three Self Patriotic Movement, a government body assigned to oversee Protestant churches throughout the country.

Since registration places strict controls on the appointment of clergy, sermon content and evangelism, many Chinese believers – such as Hua – prefer to worship in unregistered house churches.

As the Games drew closer and Bush was scheduled to attend a service at the Kuanjie church, authorities banned Hua and his family from attending.

According to CAA, most people present at the church on Sunday were “security people, political workers and people trained … to pose as believers.” One church member who spoke to CAA complained, “No one is allowed to enter the church.”

 

Bush on Freedom Concerns

At a press conference in Bangkok, Thailand just prior to his arrival in Beijing, Bush declared that, “America stands in firm opposition to China’s detention of political dissidents, human rights advocates and religious activists,” The Australian reported on Friday (August 8).

He added, “Ultimately, only China can decide what course it will follow.”

After attending the service at Kuanjie, Bush posed for photos on the front steps of the church and told reporters that no country should “fear the influence” of religious freedom, AP reported.

Bush later met with Chinese president Hu Jintao and voiced his concerns about human rights issues, including the jailing of religious activists.

Report from Compass Direct News

CHINA: AUTHORITIES BANISH PASTOR FROM BEIJING PRIOR TO GAMES


Latest incident in crackdown meant to keep him from meeting with foreign officials.

DUBLIN, August 5 (Compass Direct News) – As U.S. President George W. Bush attends Olympic events in Beijing this week and a church service in the capital next Sunday, Chinese authorities have banished house church pastor Zhang Mingxuan from the city for the duration of the Games. Several other Christians remain in detention or face ongoing harassment.

Plainclothes police officers forcibly removed Zhang and his wife Xie Fenglan from a guesthouse in Beijing on July 18 and took them toYanjiao, Hebei province, to prevent them from meeting foreign officials visiting Beijing for the Games, according to Friday’s (August 1) South China Morning Post (SCMP).

The couple had moved from one guesthouse to another at least six times prior to the raid to escape police harassment. They have since moved from Yanjiao to another remote town in Hebei to await the completion of the Games.

Zhang told reporters that constant police crackdowns had reduced the number of house churches he has established over the past decade from more than 10 to just three.

Thousands of Christians throughout China belong to similar house churches, which have refused to register with official government agencies in order to avoid legal restrictions on the size of their gatherings, appointment of clergy and sermon content.

 

History of Arrests

Zhang, a Christian for 22 years, traveled as an itinerant evangelist throughout China before moving to Beijing in 1998. He is co-founder and president of the China House Church Alliance, established in April 2005 to defend the rights of house church Christians.

In 2005, President Bush invited Zhang to a meeting during an official visit to China. The meeting never took place, however, as officials detained Zhang before he could attend.

In June Zhang met with U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf and Rep. Christopher Smith during a visit to Beijing, but officials placed him under house arrest the following night, according to SCMP. Also in June, officials detained Zhang when he attempted to meet with Bastiann Belder, a rapporteur of the European Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs.

When police tried to persuade Zhang and his ailing wife to leave Beijing prior to the Games, Zhang refused.

“A police officer even suggested paying us 5,000 yuan [US$730] if we would leave Beijing for three months,” Zhang told reporters. “We’ve been praying for a successful Olympic Games for eight years. We didn’t do anything wrong, so why are they doing this to us?”

Officials are perhaps aggravated by the activities of the China House Church Alliance, backed by a team of Christian lawyers who file cases against local authorities when Christians are jailed or sent to labor camps. To date some 30 cases have been filed, and six have been successful, Zhang said. Prior to the formation of the alliance, Christians rarely took such cases to court.

One of the lawyers, Li Baiguang, said it was extremely difficult to win such cases, but that when they ended at least officials stopped harassing these Christians.

Baiguang was scheduled to meet with members of the U.S. Congress in Beijing in June, but officials detained him and one other lawyer to prevent them from attending the meeting. Several other lawyers were warned not to attend or they would face severe consequences.

 

Bookstore Owner’s Health Worsens

Christian bookstore owner Shi Weihan, detained without charges by authorities on March 19, has suffered a rapid deterioration in health. In addition, officials have reportedly convinced Shi to sign a “confession” convicting him of engaging in the printing and distribution of a large number of illegal publications.

China Aid Association (CAA) reported on Thursday (July 31) that Shi’s weight had dropped by more than 10 kilograms (22 pounds). Shi suffers from diabetes, a condition exacerbated by a poor diet and restricted access to appropriate medication.

Shi’s bookstore continues to operate in its prime location near the Olympic Village, according to Compass sources.

The bookstore is registered with authorities, and Shi had permission to sell Bibles and other Christian materials. Officials objected, however, when Shi printed some Bibles and Christian literature without authorization for distribution to local house churches, according to Asia Times Online.

Despite a law restricting detention without charges to a maximum of two months, officials in June stated they would delay action on the case indefinitely. By late June, they had granted only one visit by Shi’s lawyer, Zhang Xingshui.

 

Elsewhere in China

Officials also evicted Christian rights activist Hua Huiqi from his home in Beijing on July 2. After using a heavy hammer to break down the doors and locks of his apartment, they beat Hua’s brother and forced the entire family, including Hua’s 90-year-old father, onto the street with their furniture, CAA reported.

On July 6, officials moved Pastor Zhang Zhongxin of Jiaxiang county, Shandong province to a labor camp to begin two years of re-education through labor. With the help of a lawyer, Zhang’s wife Wang Guiyun has since submitted an appeal to the Jining City district court asking it to withdraw the labor camp sentence, CAA reported last month.

On July 14, police raided the home of Lu Xiaoai, a fellow church member of Zhang and Wang, seizing Bibles and Christian materials. They also investigated church member Lian Dehai, seizing Christian material from his home and placing him in criminal detention.

Police then proceeded to carry out several other raids on the homes of house church members in Jiaxiang county.

CAA reported on other incidents in Beijing municipality, Gansu and Henan provinces during June and July.

At Olympic venues however, China has presented a different face, with clergy from the five accepted religious groups providing official religious services to athletes and other visitors. The Chinese Olympic committee has granted athletes permission to bring personal religious articles into the Olympic village and permission for well-known evangelist Luis Palau to distribute his evangelistic book, “A Friendly Dialogue Between an Atheist and a Christian,” to athletes and coaches during the Games.

In June, Chinese authorities announced they would print 50,000 gospel booklets – including 10,000 Chinese-English complete Bibles – for distribution during the Games.

In July, the state newspaper Xinhua published a visitors’ guide to churches in Beijing. The article gave a brief history of the Catholic and Protestant streams of Christianity but made only a brief mention of four Catholic churches in the capital.

Xinhua also noted that “since the Chinese constitution was amended in 1982 to allow freedom of religion,” the number of Christians in China had “surpassed 16 million,” an official figure given by the China Christian Council, an agency representing government-approved Protestant churches.

Compass sources, however, estimate there are at least 60 million evangelical Christians in China: 10 million in major house church networks, 35 million in independent rural house churches and 15 million in independent urban house churches. In addition, there are 15 million Catholics and 15 million members of the official Three-Self Patriotic Movement church.

Report from Compass Direct News