China Banishes Pastor from Beijing Prior to Games

Jeremy Reynalds | ASSIST News Service | Thursday, August 07, 2008

China Banishes Pastor from Beijing Prior to Games


BEIJING
 -- 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.

Compass Direct News (CDN) reported in a story that several other Christians are still 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 to Yanjiao, 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).

According to CDN, 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.

CDN said 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.

According to CDN, thousands of Christians throughout China belong to similar house churches, which have refused to register with official government agencies so they can avoid legal restrictions on the size of their gatherings, appointment of clergy and sermon content.

History of Arrests

CDN said that 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, CDN reported, 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, CDN reported, officials detained Zhang when he attempted to meet with Bastiann Belder, an official from the European Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs.

CDN said that 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,” CDN said 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?”

CDN commented that 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.

CDN reported that one of the lawyers, Li Baiguang, said it was very difficult to win such cases, but 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

CDN reported that 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.

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

Sources told CDN that Shi’s bookstore continues to operate in its prime location near the Olympic Village.

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

CDN said that 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

CDN said that CAA reported 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.

CDN said CAA also reported that 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.

On July 14, CDN reported, 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 carried 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.

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

CDN said that 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.

CDN said that 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.

Copyright 2008 ASSIST News Service. Used with permission
 

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