CHINA: CHRISTIANS PLEAD FOR RELIEF AS OLYMPICS CONTINUE


Hua Huiqi writes to President Bush; seminary staff to face trial after Games

DUBLIN, August 13 (Compass Direct News) – Christian activist and house church pastor Hua Huiqi wrote an open letter to U.S. President George Bush on Sunday (August 10), asking for prayer for his personal safety and for freedom of belief for all Chinese people.

Earlier that day, plainclothes policemen detained Hua to prevent him participating in a service at the government-approved Kuanjie Protestant church in Beijing, where Bush was scheduled to attend.

Hua slipped away from police officers when they fell asleep; at press time he was still in hiding.

Several other Christians also remain in detention or under house arrest as the Games continue this week.

In Hua’s letter, published by the China Aid Association (CAA), he thanked Bush for his “concern for the Chinese house churches” and expressed disappointment at not being able to attend the Sunday service. He also described his detention, saying that seven or eight policemen had kicked and punched him before seizing him and his brother, Hua Huilin.

“At the place where they detained us, they conducted an interrogation,” Hua wrote. “They threatened me: ‘We simply won’t allow you to go to Kuanjie Church today. If you say you will go there again, we will break your legs.’”

Hua managed to escape but was fearful of the consequences. “Now I’m wandering outside and dare not go back home,” he wrote. “I am writing this letter to implore you to pray for my personal safety and for the freedom of belief of us Chinese people.”

 

‘Dangerous Religious Element’

Also in Beijing, Christian bookstore owner Shi Weihan remains in custody at the Beijing Municipal Detention Center.

Police initially arrested Shi on November 28, 2007, charging him with “illegal business practices” after he allegedly published Christian literature without authorization for distribution to house churches; but court officials ordered his release on January 4, citing insufficient evidence. Police, who have labeled Shi a “dangerous religious element,” arrested him again on March 19.

Prison authorities have prevented family members from visiting Shi or bringing food and clothing to the detention center. Shi’s lawyer, permitted to visit just once in recent weeks, confirmed that Shi’s health was deteriorating and he was in need of urgent medical attention, according to CAA.

USA Today reported on Monday (August 11) that Shi’s wife, Zhang Jing, said, “It is good that the president can worship here, but it’s not likely that we will have more freedom or be able to register our churches.”

Authorities forced Shi’s Antioch Eternal Life Church to close in June.

“Several house churches have been closed before the Olympics,” Zhang added. “The police say we are threatening national security and demand that my husband give up his faith.”

In the same report, Dennis Wilder, U. S. National Security Council’s director for Asian Affairs, said after a meeting between Bush and President Hu Jintao on Sunday (August 10) that, “Hu seemed to indicate that the door is opening on religious freedom in China and that in the future there will be more room for religious believers.”

 

Seminary Staff Detained

Elsewhere, in Shandong province, two staff members from a house church seminary in Weifang city await trial for running an “illegal business operation” after they attempted to purchase Bibles from Amity Press, China’s official Bible printing facility.

Police briefly detained teacher Jin Xiuxiang on May 20, before asking her to return home. On May 29, police and officials from the State Administration of Religious Affairs raided the seminary, arresting Jin and another teacher, Zhang Yage, along with Principal Lu Zhaojun, for “running a school without a license.” They also seized seminary property, including Bibles and other Christian literature, a minivan and a bank card, according to CAA.

All three were released on May 28, after CAA reported the raid. When Lu and Jin returned to the police station on June 2 to inquire about confiscated goods, however, officials detained them again and sentenced them to one month of criminal detention for carrying out an “illegal business operation.” The goods were not returned.

Authorities then released Lu and Jin on bail on July 12, informing them that they would face trial after the Games. Compass sources yesterday confirmed that Lu and Jin are under close surveillance.

House church pastor Zhang Mingxuan and his wife Xie Fenglan, detained last week after they agreed to an interview with a BBC journalist, are still in police custody, according to Compass sources.

Police had repeatedly asked Zhang and Xie to leave Beijing for the duration of the Games and eventually expelled them from their apartment. Finally, on July 18 police forcibly took them from a guesthouse in Beijing and drove them to Yanjiao in neighboring Hebei province. The couple then moved to a more remote town to await the completion of the Games, CAA reported.

Report from Compass Direct News

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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